I’ve been a sex worker most of my adult life, because of this navigating the nuances of civvie life and the sex industry is truly all I know. I have had a plethora of wounds and wins come up around dating. I’m not going to sugarcoat it; dating as a sex worker can feel like a landmine. Between being met with judgment, insults, being outed (or fetishized), or having folks act out violently toward you - navigating whorephobia in a society which does not respect the work we do can be anxiety inducing at best, and dangerous at worst. And for my readers, something tells me I don't need to name it, but the more marginalized identities one holds, the more complex it can be. When I first started dating I didn't have any guidelines for how to keep myself safe and it got me into quite a few sticky situations, now that I have about a decade of experience I'd like to share some of what I've learned in hopes that others may be able to avoid some of the mistakes I made.
At this stage in my life I am out with my family, community, lovers, and with colleagues in my ‘civvie’ career. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by acceptance and when folks do falter they make the choice to grow and re-align. I know this is in part because of the industries I work in as well as the fact that I have intentionally created pockets of safety for myself (as best as one can) within the queer, BI&POC, and activist communities. It was not easy to get here and it is nowhere near where I was a decade ago. When I first became Adriana I had friends who immediately supported me, others who were concerned, and others who asked how I’d ever find love doing such work. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t somewhat demoralizing to have people I loved and respected make such harmful statements. And because I am who I am, I rarely let the judgment of others dictate my choices – my gut was telling me this was the right choice for me and nothing was going to shift that. So I pretty much told folks to get on board or to get out of my way and that I wouldn’t tolerate any harmful statements moving forward. Eventually, most folks got on board.
While I wish it wasn’t true, being a sex worker has absolutely made dating complicated. Between being fetishized, assaulted, told ‘no one will ever love a whore’, and being outed all in my first couple years of being Adriana I learned some hard lessons. I never chose the option to keep it a secret to folks in my life because that didn’t align with my personality nor the type of relationship I wanted. I know some folks keep their involvement in sex work a secret, living their lives in parallel, two lines never quite crossing, and it works for them! I’ve never been the type. So please keep in mind this piece is written from the perspective of somebody who prefers to be out to the people they’re closest to.
Having to choose between safety and acceptance is something many folks who hold a marginalized identity (if not multiple marginalized identities) know well, whether its being queer, trans, or a sex worker – or a combination, the root is the same. Stigma and hatred within society maintain the status quo by teaching us that anything ‘different’ is scary and/or bad. This stigma falls particularly hard on full service providers as the work is criminalized. Should something happen where we are outed the fall out, ranging from legal repercussions to loosing scholarships, our civvie jobs, access to our own bank accounts, can be devastating. I say this not to fear monger within our community, but to name the nuances we each have to navigate that extend far beyond our interpersonal, emotional, and physical safety.
Here are some ways I now assess new people in my life for sex work acceptance in order to keep myself safe.
1. I am very vocal about my involvement in sex work activism and advocacy.
I am vocal because I am passionate about sex workers having access to the same rights as everyone else. I am lucky in the way that I have walked a delicate line of intersecting my civvie work and activism enough that me simply saying I’m a SW ally and not a SW, would absolutely be believed. If someone is newer to the concepts surrounding sex work, politics, and human rights it usually comes up quite quickly. From there I gauge which way they are leaning (against, for, open to learning). I act accordingly, I do not out myself to folks who seem against the work in any way and at this stage in my life I don’t meet them, if this conversation happens on a first date then there is no second date.
2. I list myself as pro sex work on most of my profiles.
This is similar to the point above. I list this publicly so that anyone interested in speaking with me already has an idea that I am supportive of this community. It also helps filter people out before meeting in person. I can’t stand getting done up for a date just to end up realizing I’m sitting across someone who hasn’t worked through their whorephobia (or racism, biphobia, etc etc).
3. I ask people what their thoughts on things like strip clubs, porn, kink providers are.
This helps me get a better idea of their level of awareness surrounding the different types of work in the sex industry as well as whether they’ve internalized some concepts of whorearchy (some forms of sex work being acceptable while others are looked down upon).
4. I try to get a gauge of what their community and politics are like.
This one might not be for everyone, but because I am queer, poly, brown, and a sex worker (with a few mental health struggles) – I prefer to date folks with similar politics to my own. My politics indicate a dedication to human rights and a right to live safely across the board without discrimination. If someone’s values don’t align with that odds are they won’t support more marginalized/stigmatized/criminalized communities publicly. I don’t make exceptions to this rule and since I started following it the quality of my dates has significantly gone up.
5. If 1-4 go well I usually disclose.
It could be right away or it could take several weeks. I prefer to disclose sooner rather than later so as to not waste my time (or another person’s) should they not feel comfortable dating a sex worker. I have enough of a support system that I know if anyone tried anything at this stage in my life my community would show up for me in any way I needed whether it be comfort, safety, or raising hell.
6. After disclosing I listen, observe, trust my gut.
If their body language/energy/action does not match their words when they say they’re ok with the work, I don’t continue seeing them. If they have an expectation that I will leave the industry for them (or anyone), I don’t continue dating them. If they are initially ok with the work then become possessive or diminish the work as they become more emotionally involved, I leave. While I am open to giving folks room to grow there realistically needs to be a certain level of maturity, respect, healthy communication, and honesty involved where I can trust the person to be dedicated to untangling their own internalized whorephobia because I am not going to do that work for them nor will I be collateral to their learning.
By no means is this an extensive (nor full proof) list, but it is a start! And one I wish I had access to when I started in the industry. The reality is perhaps our dating pool options are smaller, I personally like to think it’s better – even if you’re not a sex worker why would you want to date someone who believes in the oppression of any community? Quality over quantity. And yes, it may be frustrating, isolating, at times lonely and painful to navigate dating, sex, and safety while longing for personal connection, touch, and intimacy. But to all the sex workers reading this – I promise you it is so much better to wait it out than to settle for someone who isn’t going to respect and honor the work you do. You don’t need to earn someone’s love because of the work you do, you don’t need to settle for less, and you absolutely do not need to tolerate disrespect. Sex workers are incredible! The truth is, not everyone deserves to date us ‘irl’.