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 who 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