I'm A Queer Sex Worker & Dominatrix — But I Don't Sell My Body Any More Than My Father Does

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Like a lot of queers, being honest about my identity has had consequences for my relationships with my parents. My dad and I used to be quite close, for instance. Then I came out. Now we aren’t.

While coming out was definitely the catalyst for what was more or less the end of our relationship, there is more to the clash of our respective "lifestyles" than who I choose to partner with. These differences run the gamut, from the political to the religious, but perhaps the most divisive is one he doesn't know about: I am a sex worker.

I haven't told my dad about my job (nor do I ever intend to), but there are still plenty of good reasons for us to be estranged. Like the fact that he is a conservative Republican. Or that he believes that evolution and climate change are liberal propaganda, that we live in a post-racial America, and that homosexuality is demon possession. Suffice it to say, we disagree on a few key issues.

Coming out at 22 was the last straw of sorts, the moment when I drew a sociopolitical line in the sand between us. I knew he wouldn't handle it well, but I did naively expect that we'd be able to overcome it. But it's been five years, and we still haven't recovered.

I have very intentionally made my life as different from my dad’s as possible, but I can't deny our similarities.

This makes my mom very sad. Her own father died in an accident when she was young, at a time when they weren’t getting along. “I would give anything to talk to my dad again,” she tells me. She and my dad are divorced, and not on good terms, but she still encourages me to rebuild the relationship that I demolished by admitting, at 22, that I was in love with a girl. At 27, I'm so comfortable with who I am —a genderqueer dyke, a gay dominatrix, a sex-critical pervert, a non-monogamous homo deeply in love with my partner — that it's strange to think there was a time I struggled with it.

“Just give him a call sometime,” she urges me.

"We don't have anything in common anymore," I tell her. "There's nothing there. What's the point?"

"I think you'd be surprised," she says.

This reasoning doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I would do a lot of things for my mom, so I consider it. I have very intentionally made my life as different from my dad’s as possible, but I can't deny our similarities.

My dad and I stand the same way when we’re at ease: legs locked, hips forward, arms crossed. We have the same large hands and the same skin, the kind that betrays the slightest fluctuation in emotion or temperature with an unflattering blush. Neither of us can keep our mouth shut during a movie. We are both stubborn and sarcastic, but also, perhaps hypocritically, highly sensitive. At the end of the day, both of us fall asleep with the woman we intend to spend the rest of our lives with.

These similarities feel substantial until we actually have to talk to each other. Unable to comfortably discuss our lifestyles, our politics, or our beliefs, it used to be that we could fall back on our jobs, because like most people, we both have to work for a living. Even after we began talking again, a year or so after I came out, we still had that much in common.

But since I entered the sex industry a couple of years ago, I have to lie to him (and my mom, too, incidentally) about what that work actually is. Now that I trade in erotic pain and power exchange with paying male clients — a career more commonly known as being a dominatrix, although since I play on both sides of the whip, "pro-switch" is more accurate — I feel as if I've nuked the last acre of common ground we shared.

though he would never phrase it that way, my dad sells his body for a living as much as I do. As one of the many people who have chosen to enter the sex industry, I am not only making ends meet: I am carrying on the blue-collar tradition he raised me in.

My dad was a landscaper for most of my childhood, and has worked in agricultural jobs since his teens. I entered the blue-collar workforce as a teenager, too, and (like many people) stayed there as I worked my through school. I've been a maid, an attendant for disabled adults, a delivery person; I've worked in kitchens and behind counters, pushing mops and making beds. Most of my jobs have been physical in nature, but it wasn't until my mid-twenties that I thought of them as blue-collar, or even as physical labor. Unlike my dad’s jobs, most of mine have been the kind that are done indoors and by women.

Being a sex worker means that most people don't recognize the labor that I do as such; it means that most people see me as either a victim or a criminal (or both) by default, ignoring the actual victims of sex trafficking (and the actual criminals, especially police, who exploit them).

Experiencing the stigma of sex work as someone who is most often perceived of as a woman has given me a new perspective on my past jobs, and on the ways they were rendered less legitimate by dint of their gendering. I've become even more interested the ways in which my labor is conceived and categorized. Is pushing a lawn mower more “physical” than safely moving a fully-grown adult from a wheelchair into a bed? Is digging a ditch more “physical” than loading boxes of food into a freezer? Is building a house more “physical” than cleaning one?

The color of my collar seems to depend as much upon my assigned gender as it does on the type of work that I do, regardless of my income. Is the paid labor that I do — either consensually beating someone up or choosing to get beaten up myself — a service that many pro-switches and pro-subs offer — more “physical” than hauling lumber? While I don’t distinguish between the labor of sex work from the labor of any other job I’ve had, it certainly does pay better (by the hour, anyway).

Not that this would excuse it to someone like my dad, who, as you might guess, thinks of prostitution as an especially sinful sin. But though he would never phrase it that way, my dad sells his body for a living as much as I do. As one of the many people who have chosen to enter the sex industry, I am not only making ends meet: I am carrying on the blue collar tradition he raised me in. And I take pride in that, even if the majority of other people, my dad included, would expect me to be ashamed of myself.

Lying about being a sex worker is not hard for me. In my street clothes, I’m most often read as a boyish lesbian; nobody suspects me of profiting from sexually arousing men by humiliating them while wearing lingerie.

And perhaps it's because of this pride that I gave my dad a call after yet another six-month stretch of not talking, just like my mom asked me to.

As usual, we skipped the small talk, trying to stick to the exchange of concrete information. He talked about his family first, catching me up on my stepmom and my half-siblings. I did not talk about my girlfriend, well aware that he doesn't want to think about lesbians unless they're in his porn.

He talked about a book he was reading. I did not talk about finally getting around to reading the incredible Playing The Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant.

He talked about joining a gym. I did not talk about my plans to take grappling lessons, which would help me cater to a significant segment of my clientele: men who fetishize being physically dominated by athletic women.

Finally, he talked about his job. Then it was my turn.

Lying about being a sex worker is not hard for me. In my street clothes, I’m most often read as a boyish lesbian; nobody suspects me of profiting from sexually arousing men by humiliating them while wearing lingerie.

For another thing, my cover job — helping adults with disabilities to live independently—has a lot in common with my branch of sex work: unconventional hours, extensive biohazard training, seeing other people naked with desensitizing regularity. Sure, the adult diapers I change now are for men with expendable income, rather than Medi-Cal recipients; and these days I strap people onto St. Andrew’s crosses rather than into wheelchairs. But both jobs entail emotionally demanding affective labor, the kind requiring a constitution that can tolerate blood, physical intimacy, and lots of repetition. My dad, at any rate, seemed to buy it.

When we said goodbye, he told me he missed me. He called me "darlin,'" something he hadn't done in a long time. I was surprised, both by his words and how they made me feel. I told him I missed him, too, and despite everything, I meant it.

I think there is a part of me that will always be angry — furious — that my dad's homophobia and hypocrisy and hate were more important to him than I was. Maybe I'm spineless for still wanting his love and approval, if not enough to actually pretend I am a straight woman. Even with the knowledge that his love is conditional, I can't deny it felt good to be spoken to like I was his child; not a pervert, or an abomination, or an embarrassment.

After we hung up, I called my mom. Since I’ve chosen not to tell her about my job, I said only that I regretted not being able to be as “out” to my dad as a queer person in practice as I am in theory. That is, I can only have a civil conversation with him provided that I say nothing about my personal life — about my female partner, my art, my community of queer and trans folk (and fetish workers and escorts and porn performers, though I did not say this to her, of course).

“Well, this is just a step,” she told me. “Keep talking to him. Some people need more time. But he loves you, and that will lead to understanding.”

Her optimism — the warm confidence of a parent committed to allyship, of the kind that will march with you at pride and calls to ask when you and your partner are getting married, now that it's legal — was almost contagious.

"You are more alike than you are different," she insisted.

I would do a lot of things for my mom, so I didn't disagree.

Images: istolethetv, Tanya Dawn, breathtakingly/Flickr