This post is by Eva Rivera and is part of the Stigma, Shame, and Sexuality, a series hosted by Gender Across Borders and cross-posted with RH Reality Check.
Warning: this post contains some sexually explicit language
Camera ready. Lights on. Pink mesh top and matching thong loosely tied. I smile and sweetly greet my morning customers with bright eyes. I’m a web cam model four days a week.
I’m also a writer, a fast food employee (night shift), a daughter, a sister, and partner to my co-worker who sits next to me in a matching pink rhinestone bikini. My mom calls every week to check up on her baby across the country. Always asking me about my “waitressing” job and if I’m working too many hours. I make vague replies about rude customers and not enough sleep, trying to sound casual. I’m out to mother as lesbian, as a college drop-out, and as having experimented with drugs even. But not this.
She knows I’ve had sex with multiple partners, and she knows I used to volunteer at Planned Parenthood, but she will likely never know that I get paid to have sex in front of strangers. Why should she? “Occupation” is left blank on clinic forms, leasing applications, and whatever second job application I fill out. Friends don’t ask, though they suspect. Once you are a sex worker, you can’t erase that past. Too many people have seen you. You can’t run for office, can’t apply for a high-ranking position, there is no corporate ladder for street walkers.
Yet, I do it still. Every morning that I don’t feel exhausted from the heavy silicone toys’ repetitive motions, I’m patting on glittery makeup getting ready for the day’s work. Yes, work. I guess most people don’t understand that it’s just as tiring as any number of your eight-hour days. I would know because I’ve worked nearly every job imaginable. I clock in, just like you, and clock out. I take off my makeup and costume and heels and become myself again. I make dinner, make love to my girlfriend, write an article. I’m not my job. Just as you are not a telephone operator after 5pm. The difference is that you get to push your name tag into a drawer and not worry about it til your next shift. No matter what I store away, I’m always going to be a sex worker.
My sexuality is stigmatized because I have sex with other women. It’s also stigmatized because I use it to pay my bills. The two are sometimes conflated: I can’t be a lesbian sex worker. Do you enjoy seeing exposed penises all day? Enjoy being watched? What kind of example are you to other women, young girls, your own sisters? Everyday I’m reminded that I should be ashamed of myself and the careless and damaging ways I expose, move, and sell access to my naked body. As a woman I should know that my body is not mine, merely a vessel, or an object to be leered at or protected at all times. Not mine. Not mine to sell or give.
As a woman, I’m not supposed to wear that see-through thing, dance that way, talk dirty-mouthed and loud. Spread my legs and part my labia with my lubed-up crude fingertips for men, women sometimes, to peer at, jack off too. I shouldn’t be letting another woman go down on me, and especially not in front of strangers and certainly not for money. If I do then, I’m asking for it. I’m asking for it to come back to haunt me ten years from now when I apply for that teaching position. I’m asking for a client to recognize me on the way back to the grocery store and follow me home. I’m asking to shame my family by leaking my personal information- making sure everyone has had their chance to throw stones.
Today was a good day. I blow a kiss goodbye to the wanderers and regulars left in the chat room and turn off my camera. I throw off my bikini and take a steamy shower with my girlfriend and we make chicken wraps and stuffed mushrooms for dinner. Later, we might watch a movie and fall asleep on the couch. In my parallel universe I call up my mom and tell her I had a regular day on cam, maybe a funny story. Or I’d call up my best friend and tell her the story about the guy with a bellybutton fetish. Or ask the nurse at the clinic what the best tips are for cleaning toys. But that world doesn’t exist yet so I stretch out on the couch and think about tomorrow.
Eva Rivera is a freelance writer and blogger.