I’m a Sex Worker, and This is What I’ll tell my Child.

Via Elle Stanger
on Mar 18, 2016
get elephant's newsletter

Elle Stanger

Hello Daughter. As I type this, you are in your bedroom, coloring and playing.

You will be four years old on Wednesday. You asked to see my new shoes today. They were a gift from a customer. “Are those for dancing?” you asked. I smiled, “Yes.” “Are they for your work?” I paused. And smiled again. “Yes.”

You’ve seen me climb on the jungle gym, faster and higher than the other mommies, toes pointed. Your father and I have told you that mommy works at night, “dancing for people.”

I’m not like most other working mommies and daddies: I don’t work five days a week, 9 to 5, not anymore. So those trips to the park, museum, and beach can happen any time of the day or week. I make more than a “living wage,” so I am able to splurge more comfortably on burgers, crayons, books and chocolate milks.

I am able to raise you with minimal help from childcare providers. I cherish the babysitters that I needed at intervals, but I was lucky enough to not have to put you into daycare from infancy, and then only see you for dinner and bedtime and weekends. Some parents are relegated to this, in order to survive and to support their children. Yes, sometimes when I pushed you on the swing, I would use the other hand to check emails from clients, and I was often very tired in the mornings, after dancing furiously for tips on stage all night. But it was a choice, and I chose it. And I would choose it again.

You watch me shave my legs in the tub, wax my inner thighs in the kitchen, and tweeze my eyebrows in the car. You ask about body hair. I tell you, “When you’re older, if you don’t like something about your body, you can change it.” You are a toddler, and respond, “I don’t want to.” I respect your autonomy, and your ability to change your mind. So I respond, “Then you don’t have to.”

We drive past the club, on the way to a play date. I point excitedly, the red-and-black building standing still upon the busy street. “Look honey! That’s where mommy works! I dance and tell jokes and make people laugh.” Forget about the stigma. We drive past the skyscrapers, on the way to lunch. I point excitedly, the silver-gated structure reaching high as the birds, “Look honey! That’s where daddy works! He sells clothing to people.” Forget about the capitalism.

We are at home, on the dining room floor. You see me counting singles, and ask to help. I show you how to identify 1s, 5s, 10s, 20s. We wash our hands. “Money is dirty, it’s been all over the world,” I tell you. You ask if you can help me count. “Some of these are gunky!” Is what you say, and I tell you that you can put five singles in your piggy bank. Then, we wash hands.

When we go to the market, the street musicians play fiddles, violins, banjos. I danced with you until just before my belly began to show. You sure know how to keep a beat, kid. Today, I teach you how to tip people. You clutch $2 and toddle up to the musician. You toss it in the guitar case and turn back to me, smiling. “If someone does something that makes you happy, it’s nice to tip them,” is what I tell you.

I teach you about eating healthy food. Our bodies are machines. You have to give a machine proper fuel. You don’t like most vegetables yet, except carrots. I once knew a client who paid a woman $19 to penetrate herself with a banana. You love bananas. I don’t tell you that story. It’s a funny bit, but it might have to wait until you’re older. Did you see that kid eating ants at the playground? People do all kinds of things for money. People do all kinds of things for free. And yes, some of these “things” might seem absurd, but if they don’t hurt anyone…

We are sitting in traffic. A man pulls up alongside us. He waves, shouts words at mommy’s window. My windows are up. My breathing increases, my heart rate increases. I ignore him. The light changes, and we drive on. I maneuver away, and you’re full of inquiries. “No honey, I don’t know that man.” “Why was he screaming?” “Well honey, some men scream at women.” “Why?” “Because some men don’t understand women. And people are sometimes afraid of things that they don’t understand. Yeah, I’m sorry he was scary. We can go home now.”

I’m sorry that you will grow up in a world that tells you that your mommy is a worthless, disgusting whore, a temptress that leads men to actions that they naturally crave. I’m sorry that you’ll grow up in a world that tells you that your daddy is an animal, because men “can’t control themselves.”

I’m sorry that you’ll see hundreds of magazine covers that taunt you with phrases like “tease your man!” and “101 naughty sex tips,” but it’s mutually understood that these bits of information are only for the women who aren’t whores. Look honey, I found another $2. Go put that in your piggy bank.

I’m sorry that, in a few years, men of all ages will terrify you when you’re out in public. They’ll ask to see your legs, or watch you bend over to pick up the softball that you’ll throw in the park. Maybe they’ll whisper under their breath at the bus stop. Maybe they’ll approach you at the ATM. I’m sorry that these things happen to all women, regardless of what they look like, or what they do for work. These things happen to all women. These things happen. To all women. And I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that the television will send you conflicting messages about sex and love. Silly people are always comparing ourselves to another, and beating our chests when we feel insecure. I’m sorry that your beauty will be compared to other women. I’m sorry that your beauty will determine your worth. I’m sorry that you will be deemed worthless by your beauty, depending upon whom you ask. I know, I know, none of it makes sense.

I’m sorry that some aspects of womanhood are oppressive, and it’s true, that in many places around the world, men and women and children are forced to do things with their bodies, for other people.

I hope you understand that mommy gets to say “yes” and “no,” when it suits her. I’m glad that you know that yes means yes, and that no means no.

Yes, your mommy is naked on the Internet. You’ve seen me naked walking around the house. Human bodies are amazing things. When you’re older, you’ll learn that humans like to touch each other. Some of that touch is called sex. Sex is the reason that people exist. It’s why we love and fight. You can have it if you choose, when you’re older. Ask me questions first. Read books. Be kind to people that you touch, and to those that you let touch you.

I’m sorry that you’ll grow up with peers who claim to be so ethical that they couldn’t imagine their mother being a whore like yours. These are the same kids who wear clothing that was made in places of the world that they’ll never visit, by workers and adult laborers making mere cents a day. Nobody will encourage you to grow up to be a stripper, fast-food employee, or garment worker in a factory, and yet these occupations are at the bottom of the employment pyramid. Yes, a pyramid is a triangle, good job! Cheap labor, and sex work is abhorred, and required. But that’s complicated. For now, let’s just play with puzzles. Get that corner piece.

I’m proud to say that I respect my body. I listen to its needs. Drink water. Eat your greens. A little cake is good for you. Stretch your back. Take your vitamins. Hard work and tender touches have nourished my machine. My body is the vessel where you grew; my breasts nourished you in the day, and astounded men at night. My smile stretches across my face when I listen to you sing, and when I laugh at bawdy jokes of strangers. My arms are strong; my knees crack when I carry you “like a horsy” across our apartment.

I’m grateful that I finally feel no shame in my sexuality, and I have raised you to see no shame in yours. You can explore your body with clean hands, on your own private time, but let’s keep those fingers out of your britches in the grocery store, K?

I’m grateful that you already know that boys can wear pink and girls can run fast and some people don’t want to be a boy or a girl. Yes, honey. You can be a dinosaur. You’re a strong lady, you’re already good at math. If someone says something unkind, laugh and walk away. Mean people are suffering. You and I choose to be happy.

Choice. We don’t all have the same options. We live across the street from a construction zone. These people, mostly men, work in the rain and the cold. Sometimes we walk past them, to-and-from the coffee shop. You wave sometimes. I wonder if strangers ever ask those workers if they like their jobs. It doesn’t matter if they like their jobs. Mommies and daddies and people do what they need to do, to eat and live and grow and play. Nobody ever asks the grocery store clerks if they like their jobs, why does everybody want to know what I think of mine? But I chose this work and I would choose it again. I chose the work that fit my needs, years before I decided to birth and raise you. I saw no reason to cease that work, after you were born.

Yes, I’m your Mommy. I am also, what some people call, a sex worker. I’ve been called goddess, whore, princess, slut, healer, skank, artist. So many words. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words hurt if you believe them. Kids say mean things on the playground. Adults say mean things on the Internet. I don’t believe them. My brain is an instrument. My body is a work of art. Those pieces that hang in museums, they care not what people say about them. My flesh is clay. It moves with me, as I will it. Would you like to make some play-dough?

I’m your mommy, and I am doing the best I can. I chose sex work, and I would choose it again. I’m sorry for how some people choose to treat me. May you never suffer the burden of shame that some children carry, because of their parent’s choices. It is my job to create a better world for you, in all ways. I am a sex worker, and that is what I will tell you, my child.

~

Wendy Strgar of Good Clean Love on Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis:

~

Author: Elle Stanger

Photo: Courtesy of Elle Stanger

Editor: Jean Weiss


288,258 views

About Elle Stanger

Elle Stanger is an activist, feminist and sex worker based in the Pacific Northwest. She has been featured in Hustler magazine, Salon.com, Huffington Post, and hosts a sex and dating column “Elle Oh Elle” for Thrillist. You can connect with Elle on Twitter, Instagram and her NSFW blog.

Comments

45 Responses to “I’m a Sex Worker, and This is What I’ll tell my Child.”

  1. Jenn says:

    This is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. sasscasspdx says:

    I heard you read this the other night! It's amazing and I'm so thrilled to read it here!

  3. ida says:

    Sooo good, it was both cute and thoughtful.

  4. JenG says:

    Thank you so very much for sharing! Simply eloquent.

  5. Leslie says:

    Interesting take on it. I’m glad you are keeping your head on straight and not getting caught up like so many girls in all the things that come along with being a dancer ie. Drugs, prostitution. I was in the industry for 6 months due to some unexpected life events and I do not regret it. I learned a lot about myself and people in general. Mostly, I learned there are a lot of lonely people in this world and dancers offer them a fantasy that helps them make it one more day. No shame in that. Stay positive.

  6. Ta says:

    This is a great take on accepting your degeneracy. Very proud. Your rationale in your thinking perfectly illustrates how someone like you became so weak and pursued so little in life. It’s great you have found a way to convince yourself that what you do is respectable. Others accept their wrongs and don’t make excuses, but you sold out for what is the easiest thing a woman can do.

  7. Collette says:

    I applaud your courage to speak about this, you're also an excellent writer. Particularly like when you said" men of all ages will terrify you when you’re out in public" I'm sorry too :( you should keep writing

  8. Corrine says:

    Thank you for sharing. :) Your daughter is going to grow up with a better view of the world then most other people that might never get to. I follow you on Instagram not only because I enjoy seeing you enjoy your job but how inspirational you are. It’s amazing how you get to reach out to people all over the world.

  9. carmenmistress says:

    You are fabulous! I loved this article. Who says sex workers can't be everything we want to be?

  10. Diane says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t try education so you could realistically be honest with your child about your occupation. It is difficult, but a worthy cause, Taking that route allowed me independence and plenty of free time with my child as a divorced young mom. I was proud to take my son to any of the hospitals or hospice facilities so he could understand how important kindness and empathy was in life. As he became older he volunteered at a local facility, helping with activities and at times just talking and being an active listner. I don’t know why you would show a young child where you work if there is nothing positive for her to gain. I understand why you do what you do and have no problem with it! I just don’t see the benefits of involving a young child in any of even the minor details.

  11. Anonymous girl says:

    This was so sweet , amazing, true, wonderful, and comprehensive that I cried while reading it! I am also a sex worker and I thank you for this treasure of a gem :) :) <3

  12. erinn says:

    I love how positive and open minded you are. Those are such great values teach. You are rocking it! My only caution is – when the time comes – please make science and math and computers and school just as exciting as dancing and counting money and fun new shoes.There is as much (trust me) of a stigmatism on smart/geeky/bossy/know-it-all girls trying to make it in a man's world as there is for a sex-worker. I'm not putting one lige path over another – I'm just saying they are all tough decisions to make and be proud og – and yourdaughter needs to have all the options to weigh before deciding. Much love to a fellow feminist xo

  13. Pat says:

    I know no one can judge and the piece is truly a wonderful one and inspiring. However, is n’t she feeding mens desires by working in the sex industry . So if shes saying sorry to her daughter does that not make her a bit hypocritical

    ? Great justification but I would worry of how my daughter would react as she gets older and is shy of her body as we all are. Guess it could go either way. Lets hope its all positive and empowering and lets see how mum and daughter feel after the daughter attends the club to see for herself.

  14. Mike says:

    It’s no ones dream to be a stripper, unless you’re a broken person. The author obviously suffered some severe trauma if she’s “proud” of what she does.

    She has to be very careful raising her daughter so that she doesn’t go down the same path.

  15. Taylor Rees says:

    I appreciate you a lot for this. Im a sex worker myself. And ive often thought about how to talk to my future children about what i do. This was perfect. Thank you. So much.

  16. Trish Fisher says:

    Thank you so much Elle for sharing this. My children were adults when I entered the sex industry and I took time to ensure that they understood the industry as I did then shared the extent of my involvement. I own a brothel as well and now I have their full support. Three months ago the love of my life was born and I was asked recently how I would feel when my granddaughter found out what I do. My response, though not as detailed as yours, was very similar. She will know that she can do and be whatever she wants and that the opinions of others do not matter. I intend to print and share this story with her. It’s a powerful and wonderful message and I applaud you for being proud of who you are. Thanks, Trish Fisher

  17. Crystal says:

    To everyone who has negative comments about this..who the he'll are you to judge….I love this article…not all of us are born with a silver spoon in our mouths…or the opportunities some have…I was a mother at 18…than again at 24…than again at 31…while yes these were my decisions I didn't ask to have to raise them alone…I am in college with my second degree and have worked "normal" jobs…the money you make as a dancer is 100 times what I made working three jobs….NO you don't have to have had trauma or be insecure to be proud of doing this job….I'm very proud of who I am…very secure with myself….it's the ones speaking negative who can't physically do what we do…my kids will never need or want anything…I do not get welfare or public assistance…guess ithat would be a problem if I worked 3 jobs but still needed help from the government…so we're gonna get judged or criticized no matter what we do as single parents…I make more money than any of you negative nancys have seen in your life time…when we die…whether u work a 9-5 or work as a dancer …we're all going to heaven if u believe and give your life to God…so judge all you want to…but remember you are not perfect…you don't know our life and our situation…there is a big difference between a dancer and a prostitute…it's not all dirty…it is an art period…God bless

  18. Milou says:

    Hi.I'm from France….I seriously don't think she's a sex worker.Yes, sexiness-sexy attitude of course involved but come on she's a dancer, a performer.In Paris, there's Lido, Crazy Horse, Moulin Rouge etc…Those women in France are considered artists and really respected as in the same way a dancer, performer, or even a geisha in Japanese culture.Her performance is just more than showing skin, doing sexy moves. If Elle Stanger is a sex worker, even Bettie Page, Josephine Baker, Dita Von Teese is a sex worker too…This system is all about women-their sexuality-their body which is not just a curse but a gift of fantasy.

  19. Erica says:

    I'm glad to see the lion's share of the comments here are compassionate. I am no longer a dancer, but was for many years, and choose not to hide that fact from my children. It has not always been an easy decision, but I stand by it.

  20. Rachel Varga says:

    “It’s no ones dream to be a stripper, unless you’re a broken person. The author obviously suffered some severe trauma if she’s “proud” of what she does.”

    We are all so damaged and abused. What a load of bullshit. I am not damaged or abused. I have a very healthy relationship in my life and I work at the Bunny Ranch in NV. I am tired of hearing this from people. “You poor thing.” no I should be thinking that of you for being so ignorant, Mike.

    Why is it so bad to be a dancer or prostitute or porn actress? Why are people so vehemently nasty about it and so self righteous? Well let’s think about this.

    What’s the difference between the author and a girl at a club looking to hook up? The author isn’t free. That pretty much enrages the male ego that they cannot have their chance without paying. They don’t get to play the tap that pussy game and brag to their buddies about how awesomely they fucked her. This makes men mad. What other reason could men hate us so much? We aren’t hurting them. We aren’t committing acts of violence. We aren’t robbing people or raping and pillaging. Things that males do frequently in every society. We simply make them pay.

    So why the hatred from women? Easy. It’s the mean girl syndrome. Just find another girl to hate on and who easier than a whore or stripper. Women are mean. Yep I know because I am one. We just tear each other down and hate beauty. Women are so obsessed with hating each other they never realize that guys are fucking them. Literally.

    I’m sure I will get some hate from this because how dare I point out the truth. Go ahead. It will only prove my point.

    Great article by the way.

  21. Joe says:

    Thank you for the article! As a dude in a happy relationship with a dancer who plans to have kids in the relative future, this helps in thinking what to tell them what mommy and daddy’s young adult life was like. It’s like many jobs, in that there are good days and bad days. Unfortunately the bad days are often “deserved” and without any care or compassion due to stigma and closemindedness. The good days are fun and an absolute blast. It sounds like your daughter will grow up to be an excellent human being, given how much mommy cares about raising her to be understanding and conscious about how the world works.

  22. TahitiNut says:

    The greatest shame is in wanting to shame others.

  23. TahitiNut says:

    The greatest shame should be in trying to make others feel ashamed. Sadly, those who want to shame others feel no shame, perhaps because they have so many support groups such as most churches and any gathering of neighbors where most of them get some kind of perverse thrill from shaming others.

    Maybe it's the human condition. Tit for tat. When we're hurt we want to hurt back. When we're shamed we want to shame others. Maybe it's the herd instinct. Tribalism. To fit in, we want to be seen as one of the tribe so we think and do the same things we see our tribal elders think and do.

    Whatever it is, it's hurting us more than helping us. Our feelings of shame are almost never learning experiences. We've been 'taught' to be ashamed of our bodies. We only get one body and, other than caring for it, there's not much we can do about feeling ashamed of it. (Except buying things so others can get rich, of course. Shame sure benefits some.) We've been 'taught' to be ashamed of what our bodies do best, like defecate, urinate, or engage in sexual intercourse. We're even 'taught' to be ashamed of masturbating even though almost everyone does it. Because it feels good, we're even 'taught' to be ashamed of feeling good.

    Then we wonder why there's so much violence. So many killings. So much war. Killing other people is what we seem to do best … without shame. We say we kill people because we had to. Really? We say we kill people because "they deserved it" but we fail to remember that every murderer says exactly the same thing. They "had to" or "the person deserved it." We even have our police killing children because they "had to" and then we approve of the reason. Without shame.

    How can it be that killing people is 'right' and sex is 'wrong'?? How can we applaud our military and want to shame a sex worker?? I'm a Viet Nam veteran. I was one who actually got spit on. I know what it feels like to be shamed. I wish my body was good enough for me to be a sex worker. It's not. It was only good enough to go to Viet Nam and kill people.

    When I grew up, I didn't know anything about sex that I didn't learn from my friends and playmates. What I learned, as I later found out, was mostly wrong. So, when I became an adult, I was taught how to kill but I wasn't taught about sex. I got married. I was so ignorant I felt like an illiterate in a library. I did my best. I loved her. It wasn't enough. She found other guys to sleep with. I was a cuckold. I was supposed to feel shame. For what she did. How much shame must I bear?

    I wish we did as good a job teaching our children about sex as we teach our children how to kill.

    I finally learned. Too late.

    But I still feel shamed.

    I'll get over it. Nobody lives forever.

  24. earth-bound-star says:

    Wow! And I thought Elle's article was heartfelt (which is was!), but wow! Your personal perspective on sex, shame and killing feels so relevant and poignant. It makes me think of the connection of violence and sex we see in some pornography, but that is probably a topic for another's article. On point- I have high hopes for anyone is aware of who they are: sex-worker, dancer, mother, capitalist or ex-vet. I believe the more we self-accept, the more we unload the shame. Keep writing and wondering! It is never too late.

  25. Chas says:

    Just to answer the question in the article, "Why do people ask you if you like your job, but not the grocery clerk or construction worker?" The answer, at least for me is: Your job is incredibly interesting. I would love to do your job, but I can't. I'm a man and I can't pretend interest in a woman because I just won't be able to perform. I also am a bit ashamed of my body. I'm also scared to death that my clients would judge me for being too ugly, too old, too fat, not strong enough, not handsome enough, whatever. But, let me be clear. I don't judge you, except to say that you are braver than I am. But I would ask you the question because I want to hear the stories! What is your average client like? Am I anything like him? Do you have women as clients? What's your funniest story? What's the most humiliating? Your world is fascinating! My job? I wouldn't get through my title before you were so bored you'd be asleep, let alone explaining some of the tedious, silly things I do for a living. Illegal? Why would consenting adults be illegal? Ridiculous! Why is it legal when there's a camera in the room? Then, it's called porn and it's the most watched thing on the internet. And, it is SOOOO needed. It reduces stress and makes people happy and they can enjoy their life. What you do is wonderful and so interesting. That is why I would ask if you like your job.

  26. Nayeli Rose says:

    Wow, spend half the comment generalizing hatred towards men, then bitch about men hating women; rich.

  27. Jo-Anne says:

    Sex work is required in the pyramid of employment life? I'm going to give an opinion here to play the opposition.
    I think a huge part of why so many men treat women the way they do includes our participation in the sex trade. We objectify ourselves and object when we are objectified? Empowerment is about the person making the choice yes and our right to say no, but we raise men in a society that conditions them to see all women as sexual objects and not real people, and we willingly participate in this conditioning, plaster it all over the place and defend it especially if it serves a purpose or gives us a benefit, then we call it empowerment and blame the men for being inappropriate, scary, and the ones with the responsibility to change when they direct their conditioned responses to a real person. This is not mindless but it is certainly not what we teach them. We all have responsibility here. Blogging about teaching your child how it's ok to take money from dysfunctional men, encouraging their sexual advances for payment but accepting zero responsibility for your part in the dysfunction and using it as a source of pride…that feels like a new kind of entitlement I have not encountered before. Would you teach your son to tip his hooker for doing something nice while making sure he doesn't whistle at her or flash some cash when he passes her in the daytime? I don't mean this as an insult but a true question. The lines are so blurred.
    Where is the healthy shame that keeps us valuing our bodies and relationships to be private and special?

  28. Dan says:

    I’ve recently decided I want to write more often (and blog of course), so I’ve been reading a lot of blogs for inspiration. I purchased a site (WordPress) and haven’t started yet. I must say, out of everything I’ve read, nothing has really inspired me or driven me to write yet like this. This is beautiful.

    I’m an American, and what I see around me daily disappoints me. Men are raised with no idea on how to treat a woman. How to respect them. How to love them. They are only taught how to use them, abuse them and fulfill their own needs with them. In America, a stripper is a sex worker. A slut. A whore. In Europe, most often they are regarded as performers. Dancers. Artists. I love what you did with that line, alternating misconceptions and fact – because you are indeed a beautiful artist & performer, as much as you are a beautiful writer.

    The negative comments in this article are proof that – as a society – we have a long way to go. Bigotry, racism, prejudice… These are things that become all too common on the internet. Where men become boys and woman become girls, and anonymousity protects those who forget the meaning of respect.

    Which is entirely what you deserve.

  29. jazz says:

    Outstanding…Rahab was a sex worker and is listed as one of Jesus Christ's ancestors.

  30. Ann says:

    Will you tell your daughter for me that the reason I couldn't get my daughter a new jacket when hers was stolen at school is because daddy tipped you a third of his paycheck this month? I can't splurge on crayons, burgers etc. either for her. I never minded him going to the club occasionally, but it has become addictive. And I mind very much that my family has to sacrifice necessities for tips of " appreation" for your "art" .

Leave a Reply