Consent and Choice in Survival Sex Work

I write this blog because these are the two most used words I perhaps hear from sex workers, radical feminists, abolitionists and Nordic Model supporters. I am constantly trying to tell people that the two are not the same, particularly in survival sex work.

‘Is sex work a choice if you’re poor?’

What a loaded question that is geared towards the intention of you to say no, it isn’t a choice, so then someone can scream sex work must be rape if you haven’t got a choice. It is true that the poorer you are in sex work, the less choice you have over clients. Despite this being so obvious, people still continue to support the Nordic Model. This is quite ironic considering they are the ones who say we need more choices, but then actively cut our income, making us poorer and thus, having less choices over clients. Meaning we are less able to say no, because we need the money. Even if that includes bareback, drunk or dangerous clients.

Sex work is a choice, even when the circumstances are dire. I met many poverty stricken drug users who never became sex workers. Why? because they chose other options such as shoplifting, theft, burglary, begging or fraud. If I robbed your nan then burgled your mum, you wouldn’t be decrying that I had no choice, you’d be calling a scumbag and calling to throw down the gavel and throw away the key. I’m not arguing in these situations that sex work is the best choice, but it is a choice and sometimes the lesser of the two evils. I would rather have sex for money than get a criminal record and be barred from most jobs, or education.

I support greater choices other than sex work for people are drug users or who feel pushed by the desperate hand of poverty, of course I do. However, I chose to get into a client’s car, and I then chose to the ring the dealer.

Sex work is paid rape

Despite antagonists arguing that choice is the key tenet of rape as mentioned above, that same argument is not used outside of sex work discourse. No, rape is all about consent, or more correctly, power. Choices and consent are used whenever it seems to suit the narrative, but the two are not the same here.

It’s important to make the distinction between ‘I had no choice’ and ‘I had limited choices’. I am not including people in this who were forced by a third party, because that is outright exploitation and therefore abuse, and not consensual sex work.

Consent however, is about what happens and what I agree to. My limited choices may have led me to this decision, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to mistreat me whilst I’m here. I chose to get into a client’s car, but I did not consent to unprotected sex for example. This is where consent and choice are not the same, because I didn’t choose for him to hurt me, because I didn’t have the options, even limited ones.

One of the key reasons I have an issue with the ‘paid rape’ attitude is because it conflates genuine abuse with consensual sex work. When you blur these lines and I am genuinely raped, people will just view it as normal sex work, if they think it’s all the same. It reminds me of the attitudes when people say ‘well what did you expect to happen, you’re a sex worker?’ as if it just all merges into one thing.

The issue with radical feminism is that they can no see the difference between consensual sex work and abuse, which causes issues between consensual workers who do experience abuse and those who are abused outright. Rape and given consent do not go hand in hand, and neither does consensual sex work and abuse.

People say sex work is rape, but nobody ever says rape is sex work.

Socioeconomic resources

The less you have, the less you can acquire, the less you can invest for the future. When you have less, you are living for the moment. Not in a cute Tumblr way, but in survival way. You are not thinking 6 months ahead; you are not making investments; you are not even thinking about next month’s rent, because you haven’t even got this months, or last months. The bills are stacking up in the ‘forget reality’ drawer.

When you did not finish your GCSEs, was a heroin addict, or perhaps have a criminal conviction, your choices are now suddenly infinitely narrowed; you may not even be able to move country, or get into further education. Right about now, you should be getting the impression that you are skint, are financially stressed to the eyeballs and worst of all, you have little choice to decide what happens next. You sit down and job search for months but to no avail, or you may not be able to work at all because you’re an addict.

Now, you are on the edge of homelessness, your bills are insurmountable, you can’t find a job and worst of all, your children are going back to school soon and need new uniform. This pressure is IMMENSE. You have no one to turn to for financial help, your Universal Credit isn’t stretching and nobody is getting back to you about a job. So you become a sex worker. Why? The money is quick with no barriers to entry, but it is certainly not easy.

I agree that sex work isn’t the best solution, but it is the best solution for some, especially in times of survival. Again, the choices are narrowed, but it isn’t rape.

Nordic Model

Although there are many safety implications of the Nordic Model, I am here to talk about consent and choice. Despite radical feminists arguing that both are essential to feminism, and I agree, the NM does not help this.

If like me, you are a sex worker, your income is solely dependent upon such. You may have spent years gaining regular clients which keeps you safer due to more trust and knowing a lot of information about them, which you can use if something goes wrong and you need to report them. Now, suddenly, the Nordic Model comes in, but your outgoings are still there and perhaps your drug dealer needs paying. Regardless, you will still withdraw and rattle from drugs and that isn’t going away either. Your good clients have gone because they don’t wanna get arrested.

Now, your choices are limited again as you spiral further and further into poverty because you have just chopped off my income. Financial independence gives freedom, the two are best friends. With little choice, it leaves me with little resistance towards those who do not respect consent, or perhaps I have to lower what I am comfortable with. Why? Because I have less choice over clients I can see, and therefore, even if he doesn’t respect my boundaries, I have little choice but to deal with it because I need the income. If I have little income then I’m not going to be able to get out of poverty either, it’s a lose-lose situation.

To all the ‘rescuers’ of these women who say they need a job that isn’t sex work, brilliant, I agree with you to an extent because it is a cycle that is hard to break. However, nobody will hire heroin addicts, and nobody is going to pay their bills for them either. Above all, nobody is going to pay for their housing. If you think Universal Credit is the answer, then you need to reconsider because UC is a key reason why people become sex workers to begin with.

If you want to rescue them, I suggest you have them working for your organisation directly because that is the only way you will have some success. If you are unwilling to employ homeless drug addicts, or pay their entire living costs, then I suggest you don’t chop off their limited way of surviving.

Children

I only include this section because sadly, child trafficking and sexual abuse are dragged into the sex work debate. No sex worker supporters either of these things – it is absolutely vile. In fact, some of us have experienced it ourselves so of course we don’t support it. A child can not be a sex worker either. Children cannot consent to sex, and they most certainly do not have choice in the matter either.

I remember when children were called prostitutes when in fact, they were victims of CSE. This is why conflation of consensual sex work, exploitation and trafficking is harmful because people end up merging them into one. Teenagers were written off as ‘common prostitutes’ because people thought it’s the same, when it absolutely isn’t.

Poverty

There is absolutely a conversation to be had for those who do have limited options, who do feel forced into sex work due to poverty. I absolutely believe there is space to discuss this, and this includes exited sex workers who support the Nordic Model who felt as though it was rape due to the reasons mentioned above. People think I disagree with exited sex workers because of their experiences, but that is not true. I dislike the conclusions they reached and their rejection of active sex worker voices, and then accuse us of having Stockholm Syndrome. However, I can’t tell someone how to think and feel about their life.

It is important to note that poverty was the key reason I became a sex worker and I begrudged it, and still do. I hate that I can’t leave as easy as what I would like to, and am still in sex work for economic reasons. However, I am angry at the reasons which led me here, not sex work itself. I dislike poverty, austerity, Universal Credit, inequality, cycles of poverty, capitalism, wealth accumulation, inherited wealth and many other things that have structurally resulted in me being here. This is even more so if you are a group that are faced with systemic racism and discrimination, further reducing your choices and exacerbating poverty. Sometimes, you are pissing against the wind.

I’m not even going to sit here and argue that decriminalisation is the answer here, because there is more to it than that. It is immigration and economic policy, propaganda and attitudes towards the poor, the current government, the overriding system of neoliberal economics, chronic underfunding of drug and alcohol services, as well as youth services, child benefit and tax amongst many other things. You will not eliminate prostitution, even when poverty has been eradicated, but you will significantly reduce or abolish those who feel forced for economic reasons. At least, you would give them greater options.

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Sex Work and Mental Health

I always believe sex work is a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both, and this extends to mental health impact of the job too. However, like most bad topics in sex work, nobody likes to talk about it in fear of being told we’re fuelling the SWERFs. However, we can not deny there is sometimes truth to what they say. I’m not agreeing with the debunked Farley PTSD statistics they throw around, but sex work can truly take a toll on your mental health. This is never more so true than for survival sex workers, who feel they have less choice, more anger and feel more entrapped in what I call, the trap of sex work.

I recently read the Untold Stories project book, which is a collation of words, stories, pictures and poems by street sex workers from Hull. I loved it because they told it ‘like it is’ and that includes all the awful shit that comes with sex work, or the impact it has on yourself. They cut through all the sex work debate and quite rightly, spoke about how they think, feel and of their experiences. As I read it, I felt myself nodding my head at the worst bits, knowing full well I perhaps couldn’t be publicly honest about agreeing with these things. I worry that sex workers will get angry at me because I am giving SWERFs what they want, but equally, it’s quite exposing putting your mental health out there for anyone to criticise. 

Another fear is that I will be seen as a victim again, and by extension, so will sex workers. Victimisation of sex workers is something I hate, when in reality, sex workers are very resilient and resourceful. In the same breath however, we can’t just act like everything is fine. It gives the wrong impression and demonstrates that we have to be extremely strong, brave and bottle everything up. This causes even more damage to your mental health. Speak about how you feel or what you experienced without worrying about a radical feminist might say. We are constantly chugging out the marketing machine when it comes to sex work, and is far from the reality of how it can be for some people. 

Breaking down the empowerment model

We all know describing sex work as empowering is irrelevant, because no other job would be described or justified as such. However, when it comes to mental health in sex work, we swing the other day. Sex workers reel off how sex work allows them to manage their mental health, but little room for the opposite discourse. There have been time where that has also been true for me, and if that works for others, I support that fully. I have been able to seek counselling, pay for it and find time for it because of sex work. I have also been able to afford lots of psychoeducation books, and have the time to read them because of sex work. I know when I worked in a civvie job, I was unable to manage, afford and have the time for all of this. 

However, it may be worth bringing the topic back as to why I sought counselling in the first place, it was because of sex work. My local sex work project has a mental health worker and also have a relationship with the local women’s counselling service, which I am part of. I often have mental health problems myself, including ignoring my support worker when she knocked on the door because I didn’t want to see or talk to anyone. I didn’t want to to discuss sex work anymore; I had had enough. I’ve spoken openly about how much I dislike sex work, how it has impacted my mental health and why it is perhaps one of the main reasons I wish to leave. Although, it is rarely a topic I speak about publicly.

I posted on Twitter ‘can we talk about how sex work can actually be detrimental to your mental health too’ and was met with a strong response. I felt like I was tipping my toe in and testing the waters, because it’s not really a topic sex workers like to discuss – at least the negative side of it. The responses echoed mine, that it was the empowerment discourse that prevented people from talking; the feelings about serving abolitionists; fear of being attacked for speaking up; the deeper mental cost of sex work and being honest about the bad side. I also had private messages speaking of similar experiences, and it is quite disheartening. 

The sex work community prides itself in mutual support, but we are quick to suppress topics and censor each other, because we fear the opposition more. A sentiment that was echoed by Ginger Banks who recently tweeted that many had spoken to her about abuse in the industry, but they were scared to talk about it because they didn’t wish for the anti-sex work groups to use it. I fiercely reject this and believe anyone should talk about their experiences, and the issue lies with the people who weaponise that, not the person who spoke about it. I can understand why people do it, and I can’t imagine people do it out of sheer malice, but we’re coming down hard on the wrong person. 

Is there truth in what SWERFs say?

The short answer is yes. Sex work can be awful for your mental health. Of course, the discussion is more complex and nuanced than that, and it is wrong to apply the same concept to all sex workers. Many say sex work is their saving grace for their mental health, and therefore, they have their own experiences which doesn’t ring true to this article. As a result, we shouldn’t apply broad statements to all over work. Also, the statistics radical feminists throw around about PTSD and what not is heavily debunked. They would be better talking to actual sex workers and their experiences. 

I particularly love Deborah’s input into the book, largely because she is direct, straight and is very honest. Sex work is work and deserves the same rights as any other worker, but it isn’t quite like other jobs. I know I will get accused of being whorephobic for saying this, as though I am ‘othering’ us. Although I do partly agree, we have to recognise that sex work is different in many ways. In no other job do you face the being killed, have flashbacks of being raped or take a copious amounts of drugs to numb yourself out to cope with your job. I sometimes feel it is an insult to compare to a ‘civvie’ job because it downplays all that comes with the job – from the stigma, danger, risks and the history of it. Also, nobody is excluded from services simply because they are a therapist, engineer, bank manager; it’s discrimination that is specific to sex workers. Finally, sex work is notoriously difficult to leave, and there are no barriers to entry either. I appreciate this may not be a common trail of thought, so I welcome conversation about it. 

Untold Stories: Hull

I used to sit with women smoking crack before working, and myself using drugs before working because we knew what was ahead of us. None of us liked working. We were at times assaulted, raped, robbed or beaten. How can this not impact your mental health? How can we not be angry that we watched our friends die from overdoses, were drinking themselves into oblivion or those who had a friend killed. We all had solidarity in fear, and knowing the danger of our jobs. It was an unspoken truth about what it entailed. Being constantly on alert doesn’t do much for your mental health, and neither does taking substances to dampen it help either. 

Survival sex work can be even worse for your mental health because you feel less able to escape. For most sex workers, high income can give them the opportunity to fund education, driving lessons, therapy or perhaps training courses for a specific job. Having money allows you to have more freedoms and opportunities in life. When you are being consumed be survival, you simply can’t get to the next level. When you are working to fund a drug habit, that is survival within itself, but worst of all, you have nothing to show for it. The cycle continues, and it can break you down and makes you feel shit. Survival sex workers generally don’t sit down with a bit of paper and decide to become a sex worker, they are pushed by desperate circumstances; poverty, addiction, immigration status, systemic discrimination or structural inequality. For some, they watched their Mum be a sex worker and it was natural for them to become one. I’ve spoken in previous blogs posts the impact survival mode has on you, even after you are no longer in that anymore. The effects are long lasting. 

We must also remember that some radical feminists were sex workers themselves. The crux of their argument and experiences is that it was awful to their mental health; they felt they were being raped and don’t wish it upon anyone else. Although I disagree with their support of the Nordic Model, I am not here to speak over their experiences. The more we shout at them and say you’re lying or that’s not true, the more they argue that we freeze them out and ignore their experiences. They would be right. In fact, I’ve sat and listened to women saying they felt like a piece of meat or have scrubbed their body with bleach because they felt disgusting after working. Who am I to tell them they’re wrong about how they feel? I sit and listen, and try to build their confidence rather than telling them that’s not okay, or support them in the best way I can.

So what does this mean?

Well, first of all, we need to stop the gatekeeping of what experiences we can or can’t talk about, or topics. I find this a lot and it is something that angers me so much about sex work. Although, more importantly, we need to break down the stigma that surrounds these things, and the stigma of sex work itself. This includes services not going into panic mode and pressing the ‘they must leave sex work’ button whenever we disclose sexual violence. Support us in the same way as anyone else, because leaving sex work is difficult to do and you’re fundamentally asking them to give up their income. You also have no idea the efforts they may have put in to doing that themselves. Why should we be treated any differently when we experience violence? 

Sadly, sex workers are often excluded from mental health services. Or like myself, had a counsellor who said hurtful things about sex work and told me her personal opinion on it, making the relationship between us futile. Therapists argue that there isn’t much point engaging with a sex worker if they continue to work, because that means they are actively re-traumatising themselves or not reducing harmful behaviour. As a result, these attitudes stop sex workers ever talking about how they think or feel about sex work. All therapists should practice unconditional positive regard, and allow you to speak about topics in your own way without expectations or judgement. Before you moan about sex workers not seeking help, it might be worth checking as to why – they likely already have tried but met several barriers along the way that need breaking down first. 

If sex work helps your mental health then I absolutely support that. I wish everyone can find a job that is suitable for the mental health, and if that’s sex work then I am happy for you too. This post is not to disregard these people or that they should shut up – quite the opposite. We should just all be able to talk about what is good/bad for us, without being squashed or force ourselves into censorship in fear of anti-sex work lobby. I’ve done it myself, or depicted a different picture of my situation to suit the more dominant narrative, or when a radical feminist has jumped on one of my posts. I realised how damaging this was when a friend of mine became a sex worker and it ruined her mental health, I then also noticed that I had spent weeks saying it was good my mental health when in reality, it wasn’t. People watch sex workers online talk about the positives, when they should also be presented with the reality or the negatives too. 

I will finish this post with a poem, written by Millie, a street sex worker from Hull, called ‘I Will Devour Your Soul’

I will offer you peace for your turbulent mind
The inner tranquility you can’t seem to find
I will soften the edges, lines not so defined
Your everyday turmoil left so far behind

I will take you from all those you adore
Broken relationships you can never restore
Warning bells ringing that you chose to ignore
Anything to score just a little bit more

You’ll practice my ritual again and again
Hollowed out, darkness, all that remains is your pain
No longer your life, this is your domain
Kneel before me I roar my disdain

I’ll scar your heart til there’s barely a beat
Your life stops, judders; then is stuck on repeat
Total surrender, my deceit now complete
Dead inside – now will you admit defeat?

Your future’s not written, but I hold the pen
Your slow suicide, but I’ll decide when
Your body a commodity – for sale to all men
Your misery resplendent, you’re alone, what then?

I will destroy your life and devour your soul,
Spinning kaleidoscope, out of control
Ripping you apart so you’ll never feel whole
Worshipping me is your only goal. 

Written by Millie. 

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Why isn’t everyone a sex worker?

I was laughing with my support worker, asking her why wasn’t she a sex worker when after all, it is better pay and she knows the support, safety, laws and everything else like the back of her hand. After years of supporting sex workers, why did she never make the jump after saying it has crossed her mind? As someone who put my thoughts into actions, I often wondered why more people didn’t. At uni, I would often listen to my mates talk about becoming a sex worker or sugar daddying for money, but very few, if any of them, make the jump and put their words into a reality. In recovery groups, I listened to people talk about being in absolute destitution, that they had no money, were desperate, rattling and were close to being homeless. Some would speak about becoming a sex worker, but again, they never made did it, but why?

Sex work can be enticing, and if it wasn’t, nobody would be a sex worker. Perhaps I jumped into it with a lot of naivety.

Stigma

Listening to my friend talking about how desperate she was, I was thinking in the back of my mind that sex work could cure her ills she was talking to me about. However, I didn’t mention it, because I didn’t wish to plant the seed. Sex work is work, but I would never be the person to encourage others, especially when I know someone is feeling desperate. It just doesn’t sit well with me. A week later, she rung me up saying she was thinking of becoming a sex worker (she didn’t know I was one). I offered safety advice, resources and charities to contact, but out of nowhere, she said ‘No, I could never be that desperate to actually become a dirty prozzie, there must be another way’. I was taken back, and everything in me wanting to unleash a barrage of information about stigma and stereotypes, and tell her I was a sex worker – but I didn’t. There are times to pick your battles, and that wasn’t the time. The last thing she needed was me ripping her throat out to add to her troubles.

Survival sex work is very much a thing, but even the most desperate still reject becoming a sex worker. I don’t blame them, it’s a personal choice. It’s not for everyone and I respect everyone’s decision not to. However, I can’t deny that social stigma is one reason for rejecting it. As demonstrated by my friend, the thought of becoming a ‘dirty prozzie’ was too much. Although I reject what she said, there is no denying that by becoming a sex worker, you take on these stigma and stereotypes, whether you like it or not. This was a line too far for her and she didn’t wish to be branded as a ‘prozzie’ which she associated with as being ‘dirty’. It upset me that she thought that, and I did eventually tell her I was a sex worker and she didn’t take it very well. Social stigma runs deep in sex work, despite knowing someone as a friend, sex work it too much of a barrier to overcome. Children are rejected by their family, friends turn their back on each other and loved ones shame you.

I describe stigma like a weight you have to drag around with you at all times. You can’t get rid of it, and depending on what country you’re in, the weight is heavier. I’d see it as a weight that surrounds your entire body, because you’re constantly having to deflect and it is integral to you. Why would anyone want that? My support worker knows well how badly stigma impacts you, much more than I did before I started working. I didn’t realise it would lock me out of services; be refused mental health support; have people assume I’m dirty or full of STIs; nor did I anticipate people expecting I was sexually abused as a child, or something went wrong in life ‘to end up’ as a sex worker. Stigma runs deep personally also and is reflected in how I present myself, how I act and how I feel about myself. I can’t deny I try to present better than how I feel in fear of being judged for being a sex worker. I carry the social stigma myself, and is a heavy burden on my mental health. Every once in a while, the heavy weight collapses in on me.

Violence

I later reflected on the conversation I had with my support worker and realised that although she knows sex work perhaps better than I do, there are reasons she never became a sex worker. Many of the reasons are possibly personal, but I also realise that she sees the bad side of sex work a lot more than me. I have my own personal experiences, but her entire role is supporting sex workers who have experienced sexual violence and are going through reporting to court. Unlike me, she would enter the sex industry with all the knowledge in mind – I can’t imagine that’s easy. I think ignorance can be bliss sometimes, because I did not have the same experiences before entering, and was quite naive. Although we always offer safety advice, we don’t tell people horror stories of awful attacks on sex workers (rightly so), but it can be a reality for some.

In fact, the idea of violence is a core reason people don’t become sex workers. For some, they almost see sex work as synonymous with sexual violence, and deem that it is inevitable. I reject this idea too, but again, we can’t deny violence does happen in sex work, whether that be rape, robbery, exploitation or any other form of abuse. The blame lies with the perpetrator, not with sex work itself however. It is a hard reality to swallow that these things do happen, and it is something people need to think of when becoming a sex worker. Violence is the core reason sex worker orgs push safety information, because it does happen. It’s the reason why we screen clients, have Ugly Mugs to warn other sex workers and why working with a friend is integral, even if it is considered illegal due to brothel-keeping laws. For those such as my support worker, they know this all too well. Even the small risk of this happening isn’t worth it, and I completely empathise and understand that.

I’m quite open about my bad experiences in sex work. Although I don’t reveal everything, I think it is important for people to realise that there is bad amongst the good, and sex work isn’t all what it is marketed to be. I will always be critical of those who try to silence those who have had bad experiences, in fear of abolitionists weaponising it. Let them, it should demonstrate why we need safety and decriminalisation more than ever. We can’t keep up the marketing facade when we are offering safety advice, or when someone is thinking about becoming a sex worker. We have to be realistic about what can be the realities of it, even if it hasn’t happened to you personally. Yes, you may earn lots of money in a short time span, but you could also be raped, robbed, abandoned on street, or ultimately killed. It’s why sex work is high reward, because it’s high risk.

The reality of sex work

One of the reasons I don’t talk about sex work is because I don’t like to encourage people. If I start talking about the money you can potentially earn, you quickly find people salivating at the mouth at the thought of the idea of a quick fix. They become so blindsided by the thought of earning a lot of money in a short space of time, they forget the actual reality of sex work. I am speaking from experience; I confided in a friend that I earned money from sex work and I didn’t realise just how interested she was. I didn’t brag or glorify it, but I forget how enticing it must seem to others. I sometimes feel I have to quickly balance this out by reminding people if they aren’t ready emotionally and physically ready to be a sex worker, as well as the challenges that comes with it, then don’t take it on if you can avoid it. She became a sex worker without telling anyone, and she hated it. When telling me about this later, she felt that it burst her bubble of what she thought sex work would be. She quickly stopped working.

The truth is, sex work isn’t what the marketing makes it out to be. There is a reason I love following anonymous or shit-posting sex workers on Twitter, because they’re generally the ones I relate to the most. They’re anti-client and talk about the crapness of sex work in general. In fact, there are times where sex work can really shit or take a toll on your mental health, and it has mine. Sometimes, a client can make my skin crawl, or I have a panic attack when they do certain things or I feel generally uncomfortable with them. As mentioned above, I swallow the stigma and stereotypes myself and I feel the internalised whorearchy too. All of which have an impact on how I act, respond or feel about myself. Also, sex can be very personal to some people, and they don’t like the thought of sharing something they feel is so personal with others. There is nothing wrong with this either.

Sex work can also be quite boring, lonely and stressful. There are long periods of time when you may not get work, and you don’t see anyone other than other clients; resulting in you feeling isolated and stressed about money. If you work from home, you may find this difficult to separate work and personal life, which is a challenge for me at times. The reality of sex work is that it can be as dull as any other job, except you deal with clients who message ‘hi’, which they wouldn’t do to any other service provider. Sitting in your lingerie in a hotel room all day on your own, trying to weed out the time wasters is not as fun or glamorous as it perhaps looks.

You need some guts

It isn’t easy being a sex worker, especially when you first start out. I remember one of my first jobs, and I was extremely nervous. I told myself not to go but couldn’t afford not to. It was a sex worker’s worst nightmare. Client arrived and he was about 6’6 and a hefty guy, he told me was schizophrenic and sometimes snaps, that his wife is bipolar and due to their mental illnesses, she pays for him to see escorts four times a year. What a brilliant opening job, but I didn’t feel as nervous as this scenario sounds. I must have hidden my inner thoughts and worries that he might ‘snap’ as he described it because he left me a good review. I wasn’t really deterred by this, and kept going without too much worry. When I recount this to others, they are horrified and can’t believe I didn’t run for the door due to his height, size or mental health disclosures. To be honest, I’m glad he told me, although like I said earlier, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Let’s be honest, it can take some real guts to be a sex worker. You are meeting complete strangers, sometimes inviting them into your home, to have sex with them. There is a lot to manage such as the conversation, expectations, firm boundaries, getting rid of them at the end and safety. When you’re a sex worker, or have been for a while, you do these things naturally without thinking. When you first get into it, it’s a lot to manage especially if you’re anxious. Even when I stopped working and restarted, I still got nervous again and the butterflies in my stomach came back as I arranged my first booking. The job isn’t for the faint hearted because once you’ve handed out your postcode or full address, that’s it, you have to deal with whatever comes after. You are also balancing stigma, potential assault and not knowing what to do if something goes wrong – the police aren’t your friends, and a local sex work charity is a postcode lottery.

Street sex work takes a lot of courage or desperation, often both. It is not uncommon for street workers to smoke crack (if they are drug users) before they start working because it gives them more confidence to do the job. You get a lot more shit off punters and passers by when working street, and it really is not an easy place. Unlike indoor, you are completely exposed both to clients, the abusive passerby and the elements. You can’t hide your face, and discretion isn’t your best friend in this situation, even worse if the police are following you when you get into a car. Street workers often risk getting a criminal record, or slapped with a fine. Not to mention the higher dangers and stigma that comes with it. I don’t believe anybody walks down to the local street sex work areas for the first time without questioning their guts to do it. I used to deliberately distract myself or listen to music so I didn’t have to think of the practicality and reality of it – they’re not nice thoughts.

Losing your job

This one is quite simply explained in the title. Being a sex worker means you can risk losing your ‘civvie’ job. Although I would argue this is discrimination, many sex workers who have been fired from their jobs do not feel comfortable tackling it with their employer, and I understand why. I empathise with that because it’s not easy to bring up sex work at an employment tribunal and have your whole life scrutinised. Even worse is when they say you have brought the company into disrepute due to being a sex worker – how disgusting. Morality clauses are the enemy of sex workers, and this is largely due to stigma.

I know a street sex worker who left sex work, she got a regular job but was recognised by a client, who then subsequently told her employer. She was fired on the spot for something she did years ago. Despite having spent years building her life back up from drugs and sex work, she found herself back at square one and even more entrenched in sex work. It ruined her entire life, and she was so proud of her little job. It gave her a life and stability she craved. Firing employees for sex working only pushes them further into sex work. You are forcing them to rely on it even more so as it becomes their sole income. You are not helping anyone in this situation. You can’t either support sex workers, or want to rescue them, if you fire them.

Many fear that a small time in their lives will come back to bite them. Almost like revenge porn. Where for a few months of your life you sold nudes, videos or was an escort, but years down the line, it comes out. Suddenly, you’re sacked from your professional job, been humiliated in front of your colleagues who you’ve worked with for years and hide yourself in shame. Once again, this only fuels the cycle of sex work further. This is also true if you have a job alongside escorting and is the main reason people cover their faces in pictures, or online. It has serious financial and mental consequences. It can truly flip your life upside down. This is even worse if you are a porn performer and it is uploaded to a popular porn site.

Personal reasons

I have met some of the fiercest sex worker allies tell me they could never be a sex worker for personal reasons. I respect all their reasons, but I challenge them to really consider how true that is if you have children at home, the bills are stacked high, you’re about to lose your house and your kids are hungry. I wonder how enticing sex work, which has no barrier to entry, would become their reality. In fact, single mothers are a large majority of sex workers. Many of which work in the margins because they have the most to lose, as they fear losing their children due to their job.

Ultimately, sex work is up to you, and whichever reason you feel is not worth it, that’s absolutely fine, and requires no justification. I would never encourage someone, nor would I bombard them with all the positives. I am a sex worker who made the jump of turning my thoughts into my job, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect those who don’t do the same. I wrote this blog post because I found it interesting to listen to people from the other side, who weren’t sex workers, or feel they could never become one. It also helped me reflect on sex work itself, and actually, how difficult it can be. Sex work, like all jobs, if you find the negatives outweighing the negatives, or it is having a detrimental impact on your life, stop if you can.

To other survival sex workers who feel they are unable to stop, I recommend speaking to other sex workers. Get it off your chest how you feel, rant about how fucking angry you are, how trapped you feel; how you’ve had enough; how much you dislike clients; how you feel money has a hold over you. Speak about your life, your experiences, what bothers you about sex work and be unrepentant when relaying how it makes you feel – either good or bad. Cry about it if you must, scream into a pillow or write it all out. I recommend putting on angry songs and singing as loud as you can – it ain’t easy! But I recommend Cranberries – Zombie.

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What Do I Like About Being a Sex Worker?

I’ve never claimed to be a happy hooker and actively talk about the bad sides of it. So much so, sex workers can sometimes get annoyed because they fear I am playing into the hands of abolitionists. Yet, there is no pretending sex work is always fine and dandy, especially when working street, or driven from a place of desperation. However, there is a lot I do like about it. If it was 100% bad then I wouldn’t keep doing it. Although I’d say more bad than good, the goods can be very good and that’s what keeps me coming back, even if it does sometimes feel like a trap. Sex work can be a true blessing for some, and there has been times where it has felt like exactly that to me.

Money

We all know this is perhaps the main reason for becoming a sex worker, at least, it has been in my experience and that of friends. Money makes the world go round; gives us freedom; allows us to have greater choices in our life. I am not in love with money, but we all need it and enjoy having some – I am no different. Working indoor, I was blown away by the money at first, I couldn’t believe it. I began questioning why doesn’t everyone do this? It seemed like a very quick solution to a problem that has effected me my whole life – poverty. Although the fear of being chronically poor has never left me, I know the option is forever there to prevent destitution.

I studied International Relations at University because I was interested in the connections between states, the history of how we got to where we are today and who made it that way and why. However, the more I dug deep, I realised just how fucked I was as a poor person. Book after book reminded me that poverty is structural, and very few escape it. To rub salt in the wound, they say that social mobility has never been so bad and the rich rely on the poor, thus, there will be always be poor people. Growing up in a large family of eight, I was aware of my socioeconomic status in the world, and it wasn’t good. Sex work felt like breaking free of that. I was no longer chained to the feeling of being poor all the time, because I knew I could simply just earn more money.

As every sex worker will tell you, the thought of going back to a ‘normal’ job feels daunting. Why? Because in no other job can you earn £80 in half hour, or £130 an hour. The thought of going back to a job we don’t enjoy, with colleagues we secretly detest, dealing with work politics and not having much time for a personal life isn’t very appealing. Capitalism works in opposition to sex work in some aspects. For example, capitalism demands you work more and more, in which you will be rewarded greater. Sex work on the other hand, means I can work less and be rewarded equally. Isn’t this what we all want? Of course, there is much more complexities between capitalism and sex work, but it flies in the face of the dominant discourse of get a degree, get a good job, work hard, ruin your family life, retire rich.

This isn’t perfect of course, and there are many jobs I’d happily do other than sex work. The issue is that they don’t pay as well. The critique is of capitalism, not of the workers.

Money feeds largely into the topics below, particularly freedom. Money dominates everyone’s lives, it is the common theme for us all. If you don’t feel it dominates your life, then question why you have a job to begin with, and then imagine yourself having no money and high debts – the thought should induce panic. It does for me too, and is exactly why I became a sex worker, because that panic was constant and wouldn’t switch off. It kept me awake at night, left me in more desperate situations and feel worse off for it. It ruined my sleep, my health and general wellbeing, sex work solved that feeling.

Freedoms

This ties closely with money, but sex work gives me a lot of freedoms. The freedom to be financially independent is the most important to me. Nobody is controlling my income, and I am not accountable to anyone either. I can spend what I like, and regardless of whether you see sex work as work or not, it pays my bills, keeps me housed and fed. I don’t feel accountable to anyone, and provided I have enough to pay my rent and what not, then I’m okay. Anything else is up to me. Money gives you freedom and choices, and I have been grateful to have them. Whether it was during a time where it saved me from absolute destitution, kept me away from an abuser, or allowed me to buy a sofa. This is why I will never support the Nordic Model because regardless of ideology, I do not believe in restricting anyone’s income, because it harms their freedoms, autonomy and choices.

I have so much freedom with my time, and this can feel quite liberating. It has been a long time since I’ve felt rigid and tied down to something, and feeling like I have to commit to anything. This allows for so much spare time, because I don’t have to work often to earn the same as I would full-time elsewhere. I never appreciated this before, usually because I was so busy with other things that were bad. Now, I have time to pick up hobbies, I spent time doing counselling, I now have a part time flexi job. I catch up on my housework without pressure, am able to cook my meals rather than batch cook for the week. I can grab things I need without it being a big chore to do after work. I love it, especially cause the shops are not as busy in the daytime.

For the first time in my life, I have bought houseplants. Before, I never bothered because I didn’t have time, and if they died, I didn’t care. I never used to read, do hobbies or actively take time to look after myself. Now, I have the time to do these things and I know sex work is to thank for this.

Health

Like a fair share of sex workers, I have a chronic health condition, one that puts me in hospital from time to time, and is at times difficult to manage. Becoming a sex worker allowed me work my life around my medical condition and when I ended up in hospital, I had nobody to add to the stress. I didn’t need to bring myself to ring my boss, riddled with anxiety, to tell them I can’t make it to work because I am currently in hospital and will be for the next 2 weeks. I had nobody to answer to, and I loved it. Of course, I wasn’t thinking this at the time, but in hindsight, I am grateful for it.

The biggest benefit was, I also didn’t have anyone pressuring me to go straight back to work either which I did in previous jobs. I allowed myself to heal, recuperate and generally get back on the bandwagon when I felt comfortable to do so again. Although I was poorer for it, I had made my mind up that my health was more important at the time. It was worth it, and I don’t think I’d have been able to allow myself 2 months off work for an adrenal crisis and sepsis recovery in any other job. This may not sound like a big benefit of the sex work, but imagine yourself having to ring up your boss and tell them bad news about your health, and that you can’t work. Then, whilst you’re off, you’re being pressured into returning, or being involved in work stuff when you’re supposed to be at home resting.

Health extends to mental health, and at times mine has been awful. I do feel sex work is partly to blame, but I was having problems long before I became a sex worker. There are times when days are bad, and that’s okay, but it means I don’t have to work when those days happen. I don’t lye in bed feeling horrific, and then think about commuting to work when I would rather crawl up in a ball. I can manage my work around my mental health, rather than the other way around. It also allows me time to schedule in counselling sessions, attend my GP appointments and various other things with regards to health. The opposite is trying to squeeze these things in after work from your 9-5, or letting things get so bad until you finally have to see someone, because you neglected it due to work.

Community

A sense of belonging is important to everyone; it’s almost fundamental. Whether that comes from being part of a family, a friendship group, a religious group or hobbyists. Being a part of a community is even more important when you’re stigmatised, and you know you can’t be open about it with others. This is what I love about sex work. I have met some incredible people who I truly admire. I have seen brave sex workers out themselves in the hope of making better services for others, in the hope of breaking down stigma. I’ve watched support workers relentlessly advocate for sex workers, be the first in the line to defend us against some of the nastiest vitriolic abuse. Above all, sex workers themselves are usually the first to lend a hand.

Internal stigma is a thing, and something I will admit to having. I held it deep and dearly, nurturing it more than I ever wanted to. However, I started meeting other sex workers for the first time and it was like a breath of fresh air. Before you know it, I’m slagging off clients left, right and centre and we’re laughing over sex work *whoops* moments and blowing up condoms. I can’t do this with anyone else, they just wouldn’t get it. They would find it weird, not be able to relate and perhaps keep their distance from me. The stigma feels less when it is shared, and we can laugh about it. Not being judged by your peers is important, and gives you a true sense of relief.

There is a solidarity amongst sex workers, and I believe it’s because we have had to rely on each other for support, as we are often excluded from others; whether the ‘others’ are services, counselling, friends or pushed out by our families. When COVID19 happened, it was SWARM and allies who set up the Hardship Fund to help sex workers. It was during some of the most difficult times in my life where sex workers were the first to help me. In fact, I wouldn’t have been able to do street sex work without the friendship and kindness of other sex workers. They looked out for me and my safety; they mothered me a lot; I was taught all the best places and punters; and they helped me find my unleash my inner anti-client.

I didn’t even know what feminism was until I became a sex worker, let alone the different types of feminism. The sex work community has taught me so much and sits at the heart of my politics. Never have I learned so much about theory, feminism, politics, Jess Phillips, borders, states, immigration and whatever else. I am grateful for it, because it has shaped who I am, what I believe and what I am passionate about. I was always a left-winger, but never for the reasons that I am today.

Overall

As much as I bash sex work, I will always find myself coming back whether I like it or not. It’s not because I love the job, but because it solves a problem and gives me a practical solution. Until you put money in my hand, give me an equally paid job, ensure I will never be poor, or pay all my bills, then I will never turn my back on it, or listen to an abolitionist who wants me to leave. It has helped me when nobody else did, and sex work has ultimately got me to where I am today, even if it has been a shitty journey! When my sofa arrives and I feel carpet under my feet, when I buy my favourite dinner or meet my friends in the daytime, I have sex work to thank.

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Switching off Survival Mode

In a recovery group, we recently covered the topic of motivation. The group worker asked us what motivates us, and immediately I said fear. It wasn’t fear from someone else, or fear of not being perfect but rather, fear that things will collapse if I don’t keep going. I explained that if I don’t do my job, the world around me will cave in and the thought of that is too much to bear. I’m not sure this resonated as much with the group, who met my negative response to motivation with blank stares. This isn’t fear of losing material items, but my home. Similarly, I told my GP that I didn’t care what happened to me, as long as my rent was paid then anything else in life is simply extra. She had to remind me that food, clothing and utilities are not extras, but are in fact, essential.

These feelings aren’t new to me. Growing up, I remember my mum always making sure rent was paid, and any other bills were secondary. Drilled into our mind from an early age was that provided there is a roof over your head, the rest can be sorted after, and that rent should always be paid first. For most people, they likely include their utilities and food bill in this ‘essential’ category, and anything left after is for yourself. This isn’t the case when you are living precariously and you know starving and having no food is not as important as having nowhere to sleep, there is no extra for yourself. These attitudes were reflected in my conversation to the GP, because going hungry doesn’t matter provided you are warm and protected. It’s difficult to get across to people just how ingrained in my mind this is. I would happily eat ice cubes to soothe hunger pains knowing full well my rent is paid.

Motivation

As the recovery group continued discussing motivation, we spoke about positive and negative motivation. Positive motivation is when you do something because you believe there is reward from it, or perhaps by doing something it will make you feel good, such as volunteering. Negative motivation on the other hand, describes when you are motivated because you fear the loss of something, or to run away from the pain by not doing something. This is where survival sex work comes in, why you can’t stop, even if you want to. I have never said I am a happy sex worker and it is these awful attitudes that have kept me chugging along. It is why I cry about how much I wish to leave, but wipe the tears away and get on with it, because I know if I don’t, I will fall back again. I told my support worker this week that I would rather kill myself than go back into the hostel. So, for me, it feels like keep working, or kill yourself. This is of course too simplistic, but I’m running from the fear of the hostel, of killing myself, of being homeless and being without.

People often talk about surviving vs thriving, and it can sometimes feel like a cliché style of phrase. However, it is very accurate. Maslow’s infamous Hierarchy of Needs demonstrates that physiological needs are core, and these include shelter, clothing, water and food. However, if you are constantly chasing the basic necessities, or you simply don’t have them, how do you ever climb the hierarchy? The thought of even considering things such as friendship, self-esteem, or self-actualisation are not even a thing because they don’t matter. I have lost significant respect, status, sense of belonging and relationships at the expensive of trying to sustain the bare minimum. It makes me sound really brutal, but the top of the pyramid can all be sacrificed when you’re desperate. I would argue it’s why addicts steal from their loved ones – it’s not because they hate them or wish them harm, but it’s because their basic needs aren’t being met. Despite the shame they may end up feeling, it doesn’t matter because survival is number one.

I hope you are never in the position but I can assure you, you will hurt you loved ones if you are withdrawing from drugs, or you are so financially desperate to the point your water is cut off and you can’t cook, bathe or even drink.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

I have spent years in this awful cycle of survival. I realised that I have never had the opportunity to pursue positive motivations because I have been too busy running away, keeping my head afloat. Most people go to University for positive motivation, because they believe it will get them a good job and they can see the long-term benefits. For me, I went simply to get away from home. I chose the University the furthest away from home that would accept me and vowed never to return to my hometown, no matter what happened in life. I endured any difficulty because I could not return to what I had left. This is exactly what negative motivation is. I don’t actually care about my degree, and I never did because it was the distance I craved, not the prospects at the end.

All of my siblings had their route to escape home, and mine was education. Some of us got into relationships and moved out as quick as we could; some got a job and took on the burden of poverty by taking on rent we couldn’t afford; some spiralled into crime to earn money to get away. Home wasn’t safe, I was constantly trying to flee. It was this negative motivation that pushed me through my A Levels, which were undertaken during one of the most difficult times of my life. I cried my heart out on a bench on my own on results day because I made the grades to go to Uni. I cried because I knew I was finally free, not because I was overjoyed to reap the rewards of my hard work. I thought about pursuing a masters degree, but I am no longer fleeing so it’s a different motivation this time, and I don’t feel confident or equally motivated.

Sex work

Unfortunately, this survival mode is so entrenched that it naturally intertwined with my decision to become a sex worker. Money is a fundamental motivation in everyone’s life, it’s why we go to work. I was so swept away by the money I was earning at first that it felt like a cure the fears I had been harbouring for so long. I knew it would give me the financial security I could only dream of, so I kept going, even when I didn’t need to. However, as any sex worker will know, this soon came crashing down when I realised just how unreliable the income is. Instead of stopping and working out other streams of income, I kept going instead. My motivations kept changing – from survival, to thriving, to drugs and addiction, to housing security. Sex work has truly saved me from falling off the edge when I have been so close. However, it sometimes feel like a trap because I know I couldn’t now be without it.

It is argued that the term ‘survival sex work’ should be removed from the language of sex work. I disagree. It serves it’s purpose and describes well the differences between those who are scraping by, and the sex workers who have greater choices, financial stability, do not live chaotic lives or facing homelessness, drug use or other disadvantages. People argue that it causes division among sex workers. However, we can not be lumped into one group. The needs of certain sex workers are different, and this needs to be appreciated. If we remove the term, we are not doing justice to tackling the reasons why many felt they had to turn to sex work such as drugs and poverty. Otherwise, it assumes sex workers are a homogenous group who are all facing the same issues, we are not. You can argue that we are all surviving, but that isn’t the reality for those who are at the middle to top. All sex workers work for income to live, but not all are having sex for drugs or for £10.

Above all, survival sex workers are at greater risk of sexual exploitation because they have less financial ability to say no, because they feel they can’t. We all know abusers exploit the most vulnerable or the most desperate. It’s also one of the core reasons why the Nordic Model does very little to help the people they say will benefit mostly from it, because removing income removes choices. When you remove or restrict people’s choices, they make desperate situations such as unprotected sex for more money. I know when working street, the other girls get angry at those who do unprotected sex, but there is also an unspoken understanding as to why, because they are rattling from drug withdrawal and we all empathise with that. Nobody holds a grudge. For me, financial freedom is fundamental to me. I am so scared that without it, I will find myself relying on abusive people again, because I crave security more than the fear of abuse.

As I wrote in a previous blog that financial abuse is my one of the main reasons why I keep shooting myself in the foot, doing things I don’t want to as the fear of being financially insecure is worse. Without financial freedom, you find yourself being controlled by the person you may find income from such as a partner, charity or even your children. When you ask a sex worker why they keep working when they don’t want to, don’t think it’s because we just love doing it. As a street sex worker, I’d get asked that all the time by clients and sometimes by services. It used to make me angry because they are making the presumption that I am deliberately making the worst decision for myself, assuming I am incapable of knowing myself, or acting in my own best-interest.

Switching off

I am housed, my biggest fear has been alleviated. Yet, the fear hasn’t. I still think someone is going to ring me up and tell me they made a mistake, telling me the flat isn’t mine and I have to leave. I still haven’t felt the homely feeling as I walk through the door, because I am too scared to get attached to the thought of having a home, just in case it is ripped away from me – emotionally protecting myself. Chasing money to find a place to stay has gone, the constant anxiety and weight on my chest has slightly lifted, although it’s not gone and I keep expecting it to drop back on me. It’s worse this time though, because now I know what to expect and remember how awful it was, whereas before, I was just making my way through a difficult time, and clinging onto hope that things would get better.

This is learned behaviour, I haven’t reached these conclusions by accident. It is because I have been constantly living on the edge, in a high-stress situation where my fundamental needs have not been met. Needs that are core and essential but I’ve been given no resources, instruction manual or tools to meet the need. How can I ever thrive, or expect myself to when I haven’t even got a foundation to fall back onto? I sound irrational ringing up my support worker and telling her that although I’ve paid my rent this month, I still need to find more money just in case something ever happens, and I have to up and leave and start again. She reminds me it’s not irrational and is to be expected given everything that has happened in the past few years, but I am angry that I can’t shut this nagging in my mind.

As I sit here, feeling relatively safe as it’s past 5pm so I know nobody from the council is going to ring me up tonight to tell me to leave, I ask myself what now, and how do I switch this off? I don’t want to punish myself by not doing so, because that’s counterproductive. I can’t expect myself to change my behaviour when history has shown me how engrained it has been over many years. However, sitting down and realising why I am this way is awful. It reminds me of every bad situation I endured because I was driven by an invisible fear in my mind; of every angry conversation I had with services because they didn’t understand why I was this way; how much I have neglected myself and my health in pursuit of stability; each time I questioned my own sanity because I didn’t understand why I kept doing something I hated.

Last week, I sat watching a documentary, and there was nothing in it that was particularly relevant to myself or my life, but I found myself in floods of tears randomly. I try to explain to people it’s like grief. One day, you are making dinner and you realise you don’t need to get a second plate out because they are no longer there. Before you know it, you’re on the floor in tears despite your loved one having passed months ago, and the sense of loss feels fresh and raw again. These things come out of nowhere, and catch you when you least expect it. Being chronically poor or having chronic instability takes its toll on you. I am forever torn between not wanting to seem ungrateful to have my flat and realising how bad things have been, and hating that I now have the time to sit back and reflect on it from a place of relative safety. When I was in constant fight and flight mode, I didn’t have time nor care to look back because I had to keep going forward or end up worse off.

Tackling your emotions can feel scary. I am sure anyone can relate to when you feel low or bad about yourself, suddenly everything you’ve felt bad about floods your mind, making you feel even lower. It’s why we avoid it. However, I implore people that if, like me, you find yourself crying as you’re walking to the shop because a random memory has popped into your mind, seek help. It’s one of the first signs that your mind is telling you something is wrong, and you need to deal with it. Therapists tell clients that it is only when you are safe does your mind also feel safe to revisit these memories and tackle them. If you keep pushing them down, either by locking them away or downing 2 bottles of wine a night, they’ll continue to eat you up inside. It’s what kept me in the cycle of addiction.

What now?

The truth is, I haven’t switched off survival mode and I don’t feel ready emotionally ready yet to say I have a home. It would be unrealistic of me to expect so much from myself so early on. However, I am recognising that I feel this way and learning why. I am also seeking mental health support, reading lots about c-PTSD and general self-help books. It’s not much, but I’m making an effort and realising that I am this way is half the battle. You can’t resolve something when you don’t recognise there is a problem.

I am no longer a survival sex worker in terms of working to reach the basics anymore. Although I still work to pay my bills, and buy basic furniture. I am no longer on the edge anymore, and I have a foundation. I am still not thriving however, I am stagnant. Although, many may argue this means I am still a survival sex worker. I continue to have the mind-set of a survival sex worker – the fears that come with it, the memories which keep you fuelling that cycle too. My support workers always remark on how little I live off, they encourage me to spend more on myself, to enjoy money and treat myself. However, I can’t, I keep feeling as though I need reserves because an unexpected bill will throw me into an awful spiral again.

There is a lot to be done, both mentally and physically, to get myself out of this mindset. I know I need to allow myself to relax, but rationally, history tells me it’s not okay to and therefore, I need proof first before I can relax. Although, I need to define what the proof is, otherwise I will keep justifying this feeling of survival. Once I have carpets, a sofa, and have lived here for 6+ months, got a job and put my roots down, or lived here long enough for condiments to expire, maybe then will I emotionally allow myself to call these walls my home.

I always keep blog posts free but if you wish to support me, please consider:

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Complicated Feelings About Sex Work

Sex work is a blessing or a curse, and sometimes both. The alleviation of poverty is a blessing, but always knowing it remains an option for yourself may be a curse, if, like me, you dislike sex working. It is a psychological crux that I can not switch off, and it drives me up the wall. The feeling of survival, even when it is no longer needed, hangs over your head like a horrible reminder of how quickly your life can change. It is this drive that keeps me accepting the next job, because I fear another might not come, because I worry about needing enough money just in case my life uproot itself again, or I find myself back in a hostel. I got into sex work for the wrong reasons. Even when I know I don’t want to do it, I always know the consequences are worse if I don’t.

Like all jobs, I get on with it, taking the good with the bad and accepting things as they are. But the lows are so low in sex work, and this hit me hard in January. The cold bites hard, I’m wearing tights under my leggings, my thickest socks, a rape alarm in my coat and hand warmers in my gloves. I am not happy, and I cry my heart out on the outreach bus for 2 hours. I felt too cold to carry on and went home. The next day I was assaulted, and signed myself off sex work forever. I announced online I had quit, wasn’t going to do it anymore and simply couldn’t cope. I have to ask myself, do all those around me want to be here either? No, no they didn’t. Who really wants to be doing this? I’m sick of lack of choice being batted around as a justification of sex work being rape, when the choice was removed due to poverty or addiction, not the client. If you handed me money and told my energy provider to fuck off, I wouldn’t be there. Also, choice and consent are not the same – choice is in the context of socioeconomic resources available to me.

Of course we all know there reasons that led us here that need resolving; Universal Credit, multi agency support with DV, drug and alcohol services, harm reduction and whatever else we may need. But the reality is, sex work felt shit, especially on the street. I can’t paint a good picture of it, I can’t sit there and say we are happy hookers, that we are empowered, that we are all proud to be sex worker either, because we don’t feel that way. In fact, I have gone home crying because of people driving round, shouting and spitting at me, throwing stuff at me, pretending to puke, and generally harassing me. Internal shame, stigma and general feelings of worthless plague me too. You feel extremely exposed on street too – there is no protections against this stuff, and I worry about things like whether they will mount the pavement and run me over.

Working indoors gives me less relief from the crappy thoughts and feelings. I dislike the job even then, and perhaps more so because the emotional labour is higher. At least with street, there is less expectation and I would argue, it is less personal. It’s been a while since I was sex working regularly and I started against recently, and it made me realise more than ever just how much I dislike it. My mind sometimes reels with clients asking me to do things I didn’t want to, only to be met with ‘well I’ve paid so you sort of have to’ and it wasn’t anything particularly bad they asked for, just something I was uncomfortable with. It’s easy to say to me ‘just say no’ but it really isn’t that easy, I am not that confident, and I’m constantly weighing up the punters temperament and assessing if it’s easier to just get on with it or risk him flying off the handle or maybe rob me.

Above all, I have moments where I have existential crisis moments; where I sit there and think what the fuck am I doing? There are times where I sit there and really think about the dynamics of a client asking me about his daughter problems, a daughter who I am younger than. When I started working again, all I could think about was what am I doing as the client was clutching me closer – my senses heightened, my skin crawled, my face couldn’t hide how much I disliked the smell of his aftershave, a smell which rubbed off and lingered on me all day. My mind can’t cope, sometimes I can feel a lump in my throat because I am on the verge of crying as I feel like shit. Not just that, I’ve got my own mental heath to be dealing with and the high emotional labour is extremely taxing on my own. I can leave a booking feeling emotionally exhausted, wanting to crawl up on the sofa, watch tele and not talk to anyone for a few days.

Sex work is work, it is a job, but we can’t deny that it is an extremely personal job. One that can sometimes leave you wanting to peel your skin off; scrub it with bleach; not want to sit in your own bedroom because you worked there; scream because you can’t relate to anyone else around you, feeling isolated. When I went to the Sex/Work strike, I felt out of place because nobody around me looked like the people I worked with, it felt like a place of empowerment, one that I didn’t belong to. I feel very out of place in sex worker circles talking about how crap it is, how it was driven by survival, how there are times when I am really fed up with it. In fact, I sat and cried to my counsellor on Monday, telling her I wanted to leave but felt I couldn’t financially, and the drive for survival overrides that of anything I feel. She didn’t know what much to say – she is a pro sex worker counsellor, and she doesn’t suggest to leave or quit, but it still feels frustrating to be having the same conversations.

On Twitter, there is so much baiting and back/forth with SWERFs and sex workers themselves. I can get so caught up in it that I forget about the job itself. I don’t give a flying fuck what Bindel or Glinner are thinking about, tweeting from the solace of their homes when I’m working. I think people don’t appreciate how much your mind is fixed on sex work. In fact, I discovered Twitter long after becoming a sex worker and didn’t know nothing about the politics behind sex work. There are many times where I wish I didn’t because it’s just another layer of things to take on, and sex work politics itself can be a very hostile environment – I don’t regret it, but there are downfalls, and ignorance is bliss. Whether its because it’s been your lifestyle for years, one that you have heavily invested in both emotionally and financially, and that extends to debates, activism, policy making etc. It becomes so integral to your every being, and sometimes, I would give everything to get rid of it. I hate the fact sex work has become a bigger part of me than I ever wanted. I feel exposed and rubber stamped.

If you’ve read to this point, you’re probably worrying that I have become a radical feminist conference speaker’s wet dream; that I am picking up the cuffs and pushing for the Nordic Model. It is this very attitude that prevents me from ever really talking about my feelings about sex work because the backlash I get from sex workers who say I’m fuelling abolitionists. I really don’t care, this is how I feel about sex work. It can be, and is shit, but that doesn’t mean you have to call for abolition or the Nordic Model; I am not that selfish and ready to throw my fellow hookers under the bus like that. You will not be catching me on a podium addressing a radical feminist conference anytime soon. But why not if I hate it so much? Well, no matter how I feel about it, no matter how much I hate it or that it makes my skin crawl, it doesn’t mean it didn’t solve a lot of other problems in my life, nor would it resolve what led me to become a sex worker. It certainly doesn’t mean I wish to stop it for everyone else because I had a bad time.

In the face of that, I also know criminalisation does not resolve any of the problems I mentioned above. Criminalising the client doesn’t remove my need for money, it doesn’t stop his aftershave making my skin crawl, it just means it will be a riskier client’s aftershave instead. Not just that, there are pros of sex work, primarily financial. I am forever grateful for sex work being an option when I needed it in my moment of need, a solution I would not wish to remove for anyone else. Whether it is right to wrong, or even how I personally feel isn’t relevant, because it will happen anyway. I can’t even begin to imagine the situations I would have ended up without sex work – I would likely have killed myself by now because I wouldn’t have been afforded the economic dependence I have now. There were reasons I left home, reasons why I refused to ask for help, why I decided to make it through life on my own. Without sex work, I know things would be worse. Why would I restrict someone else’s choices when I benefitted from these decisions myself?

Not just that, I have learned so much as a sex worker that I would not have anywhere else. In no other job have I learned so much about myself and others, the dynamics of relationships. In activism, I meet people whose courage I admire, whose passion for safety I hope to harness, and the knowledge sharing is immense – politics, society, (anti-)capitalism, economics, feminism, labour, states – all learned outside the textbook. Above all, I have forged friendships in true solidarity, ones that have come to save my ass when working, who have warned me about clients, and despite the whorearchy and at times, very spiteful sex workers, it really is a lovely community. I argue this is because we are used to mutual aid, relying on each other and supporting one another. Despite how abolitionists paint us, sex workers have been first in the line of people who have reached out their hand to help me, and I wouldn’t be here without them. Sex workers themselves were the first to step up when coronavirus devastated the incomes of their colleagues.

I admit, I sometimes struggle with myself when I see workers being so pro-empowerment and that’s not because they’re wrong, they can think and feel what they like, but it’s because I feel so far removed from that – it’s just not my experience. Regardless, I always support their right to work and be safe, and to tell people what being a sex worker is for them. It may not be mine, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. In fact, when someone first told me they just wanted to be a sex worker, I was really taken back because I always assumed people did it for a reason or circumstance just like me and my friends. However, this is a bigger reflection of my narrow minded thinking, and who am I to tell them what to do or be, it’s none of my business, it is a collective responsibility that they’re safe though!

Sometimes, I can’t help feel that sex work is a trap. It is high income, sometimes quick too depending on nature of how you work – even working outdoors can be high finance per hour (at great risk and cost). It is for this very reason why I will never be able to ever turn around and rule it out, and I hate that. I almost feel it has control over me, or perhaps my finances do. I know there is a lot to do mentally to tackle this feeling, and to tackle why I feel so strongly about working even when I don’t need to, because I am so scared of becoming poor again that I go into overdrive. It’s a horrible cycle really. Constantly living on edge is not a life to lead, living in fear of when you may run out, be without, even when you’re not and that no more jobs will come and you will be in a hostel again. On the flip side, I have done a lot of work on myself recently – counselling, self help & care, reading and general wellbeing which I know would not have been achieved slogging 40 hours a week. Something I’ve never been able to do before, and I am glad for.

Will I still cry when I listen to A Team by Ed Sheeran? Yes. Because it reminds me of so many of the women I grew to love, depend on, share life and laughter with, as well as the hardest times of my life. I think of them often, how they are and how sorry I am to have left, cut away from it all and moved away. It reminds me of the times I listened to it whilst getting ready, perhaps in self-punishment for how crap I was thinking and feeling. This feeling will unlikely ever leave me, as well as the awful thoughts that come with it, but I wouldn’t be without it. There is a lot of crap in sex work, and it’s these nuances that need to be appreciated. It’s okay to recognise this, be angry about it, upset about it and recognise it’s not what I want, but appreciating why it’s there, the need which led to it and the solutions it gave me.

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Money, Coronavirus and Returning to Sex Work

It’s been 6 months since I was fully engaged with sex working. It was the end of January working on street. I had been assaulted, he removed the condom and by the next morning, I was in the hospital with sepsis and full blown adrenal crisis, with a temperature of 40.5 Celsius. The illness spread and I ended up needing a catheter due to unexplained urinary retention. My body was now under extreme stress, it was exhausted and I had lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose, lost all confidence and began really questioning my future in sex work. Since then, I have been bouncing between the idea of returning to sex work and trying to work out financial ways to support myself. Every other week, I meet with a support worker and set goals to move away from sex work, and money is the crux and the biggest issue – sometimes an awkward elephant in the room. It’s still my goal to transition away from sex work, but it feels unrealistic at the moment.

Returning home to the hostel flat after hospital, I felt deflated, stuck and the gas meter had run out. I had been discharged wearing skinny jeans which made the catheter painful, but I wanted a bath. My hair was thick with grease, my skin felt oily and overall, I felt dirty. Although when I returned home from working I had a run a bath, I felt exhausted and ended up asleep before I got in it. In hospital, I was too weak to stand up and shower, so I could only give myself a quick cloth wash. Torn between wanting to scrub my skin off or curl up in bed forever, I dragged myself to the shop to top up the meter and returned home to lay in the bath. As I stared at the catheter bag floating by my knees, feeling the slight tug as it tried to float away, but was fixed to an inflated water balloon in my bladder, I was feeling quite sorry for myself. I didn’t tell the doctors why this might have happened, fearing their judgemental response. Instead, I spent all week in hospital staring at the 4 white walls and mulling the events over and over in my mind.

I had wrote on Twitter that because of this, I was going to quit sex work. I felt this was too much, I couldn’t cope and things were getting on top of me. I had finally concluded that the financial reward, albeit low, was not worth that of my mental health, and especially my physical health, which was already on edge. Unfortunately, the lows of sex work are very low. Up to that point, it was something I was doing day in, day out, but now, I felt completely ready to hang up the lingerie, and the nights spent standing on the street in the cold nights for good. I took two months to recover, let my body heal and overcome sepsis as well the emotional distress, but I also felt myself overcome with a persistent heavy weight on my chest. This weight was financial; a thick heavy chain that wouldn’t budge no matter how much mindfulness or zopiclone I experimented with. It was something I couldn’t escape, carried with me everywhere and plagued my late night thoughts.

Most of us, at some point, have felt financial strain and stress. In fact, it is this very thick, sluggish and overwhelming feeling that leads people to become sex workers, myself included. People describe depression like a dark shadow that follows, and then ultimately consumes you, but that’s exactly how I feel about financial problems. There is no talking therapy, understanding friend, or medications for financial problems, only cold hard cash – earned with your hands or on your knees. I wasn’t in debt, I was not at the end of my overdraft, I still had £10 on the gas and electric and I knew the hostel wasn’t going to kick me out in the morning. So why was I feeling this?

Money worries have scared me for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I remember the financial strain my parents felt, one that was covered up with the facade of credit cards, finance and remortgage. I remember seeing overdraft bank statements laying around, my parents vowing to cut up credit cards. When they divorced and I lived with my Mum, I remember going around the house finding pennies, pounds or any form of currency between the sofa cushions or fallen adrift under the fridge. When we had exhausted our hunt, we would walk to the coinstar and buy dinner. I then moved in with my Dad, a taxi driver, when I was 16. Seeing cash and handling cash wasn’t uncommon and I recall the hours he spent counting it, handing it out, talking through his outgoings and how much he needed to earn to get through the week. Long story short, money has dominated my life and not for any good reason, but rather because growing up, I was always an unexpected bill away from crisis. These experiences have since stuck to me like unwelcome gum.

Worst of all, money and control of it, was often used in a manipulative way. My Dad never let my Mum work, in fear of her economic independence and enjoyment of control. He often would lend you money and then make you feel guilty, feel he had a greater say in your life; pass comments. For my Dad, unless he feels he is needed economically, he doesn’t feel wanted at all. Sadly, financial abuse can be just as cruel, emotionally taxing and was one of the main reasons for the divorce. The first thing my Mum did was get a job and enjoy having her own money, one that was not handed over with conditions, in a trickling budget or pleaded for. For me, economic stability and above all, independence, is fundamental and core to my needs and wants. I won’t compromise on it. Simply put, I would rather have sex with a stranger for money, and at great risk to myself, than to ask someone for financial help. Financial abuse is exactly that, abuse. I know I should learn to accept help, and I will, but the fear of it being used for control is stronger than the urge to ask. With no strings attached or people to justify my spending to, I can feel less guilt and only be held to account by myself; avoiding the scrutiny and shame of others.

People speak often of the woes of sex work, that nobody should have to have sex for £5. What we really should be asking and critiquing is why someone felt that desperate to begin with, demanding regulation of debt, loan and finance companies, who by their very nature, economically thrive from poverty. After all, it is only the poor who need to pay in installments, who feel so far pushed to the edge that they kill themselves because the financial crunch is too much – and I can empathise with that. Above that, we should be questioning why wages aren’t enough to live on, that people are unable to save, unable to buy outright for their sofa, phone, carpet, basic furniture. Debt is endemic – it’s in all communities. People have jobs because of it, their bosses buy outright and not on finance because of it. I took out a credit card in November, but I have yet to activate it and asked for a lower limit than what they offered me. I thought it would be a Plan B sort of thing, but I realise I’m too scared to even bringing myself to the point of Plan B.

Debt scares me, frightens me and drains everything out of me. It is a mountain you will never overcome without it getting bigger before your eyes first. A hill that gets steeper for years until its eventually vertical and you can’t hold on anymore. It is, for this reason, why the moment the catheter was removed, I went straight back to sex work on street again. My body wasn’t ready, coronavirus was in the news but only social distancing encouraged, I was still reeling from the assault, and bleeding from the catheter removal. I did a job, a regular thank goodness and went home. After that, when I went back a few days later, the police took me home in their van and said the Zone was closed due to lockdown. I haven’t worked since. 1 job in 6 months. I have been quite glad of it actually, because there were lots of negatives of sex work that I haven’t missed and have enjoyed not having to worry about. I admire people who, first of all, are courageous enough to take on debt, recognising their circumstances, and secondly, tackle it and pay it off. It isn’t easy to tackle a problem head on.

As I think about sex work as a whole, I realise there will never be a time where I can say I’ve left for good. I may quit, do different jobs, live a different life and move away from the sex work identity, but it will always be an option. This is what I try to stress to people that once you have been a sex worker, the option will forever be there, because you know it works – you’ve done it before and you can do it again. It’s just whether you decide to make that choice again, and whether your circumstances support it. I may have children of my own and my finances not stretch to their needs, so I will find another way to ensure they do. I may find myself one Christmas up to my eyeballs in debt but within a week, find myself working for presents under the tree. Sex work has no barriers to entry. You can wake up to the morning post, grasping an eviction notice, and by mid-day you can be in a client’s house exchanging sex for money. You need a phone, internet, safety advice and above all, the guts to do it. For all the sex workers who take that step, there are many more who think about it, consider it, and then decide it isn’t for them.

I have been exceptionally lucky and grateful to the many people who have helped me out, supported my blogs or bought items from my wishlist. I wouldn’t be where I am without that help, I wouldn’t be sitting on my bed writing this blog in fact. Such help has allowed me greater freedom over my choices, allowed me to financially plan ahead, to set realistic goals towards leaving sex work and allowed me not to throw myself into the depths of desperation once again. The truth is, without the help and support of others, I would have worked when I still had my catheter in because I would have had little choice otherwise. I would have continued working on street at risk to myself, my health and further instability. I have a rare medical condition and in the shielding group. Although I’ve been teetering along, it has been enough, and that is good enough for me.

Above all, it has afforded me better mental health. I have been able to give myself time to work on myself more than ever; to buy a journal, to buy self-help books, to feel excited about buying things for my flat. I feel giddy when a package arrives or I find myself in Home Sense debating which curtains to buy – it makes me happy to have these home interior problems. I am grateful for every furniture instruction manual that doesn’t seem to be accurate, or each time I realise I’ve screwed the panel on back to front. There is no happiness in a house without it being a home. I still have a long way to go, and over the past few weeks as life has calmed down and I have settled more, the impact of the past has been creeping up on me mentally. So, although I have a long way to go, I am grateful that I have a head start.

Next week, I have a booking in the pipeline and I will go back to sex work. I actually feel quite nervous because it has been what feels like a long time. I feel I’ve lost my confidence, not in myself, but in the job. The Managed Zone remains shut so working the street again is off the cards still, and I expect it to be that way for some time. I don’t wish to work from home either, especially as you have to walk through the living room to get to my bedroom and it just feels too personal. I still feel worried about coronavirus, my health and everything else going in the background but equally, money overrules. I can be unhappy in my decision, but ultimately, that decision will be the thing that buys me carpet, a sofa and whatever else I need for the foreseeable future, at least until I am able to get my feet firmly on the ground, sort out my CV and try to find a job in the worst recession mankind has ever experienced.

I am not going to give myself a hard time though, sex work is a job. It may not be one that I particularly like, but it is a job and despite the lows, it can give rewards I would otherwise not be afforded. And for that, I am grateful.

I always keep blogs posts free but if you would like to support me or my patreon, please consider:

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the race to the bottom of unhappiness

Sitting in my politics lecture, I listened to the lecturer talk about globalisation and how economies ‘race to the bottom’. A term used to describe how international economies compete by reducing costs, which as a result, leads to poorer working conditions, low pay and overall negative outcomes for society. However, for the individuals pursuing this, it has exceptional advantages and high economic reward. This is all good theoretical macroeconomics, so why am I writing about unhappiness?

Do you ever sit in a room and people are competing about who has had the worse life, the most awful circumstances, or perhaps the biggest X Factor sob story? I have been perhaps guilty of it too, and it’s what I grew up around. Every day, me and my Dad would pick my sister up from work. As she got into the car and lit up a fag, she spoke about having a bad day at work and was offloading. Instead of sympathising, my Dad responded with crocodile tears and decried his day was worse and that she has no idea what a bad day was. This is what I describe as the race to the bottom of unhappiness.

My family have had more than their fair share of horrific sob stories – from the house burning down, the death of two siblings, cancer, endless burglaries and a bitter divorce – at one point, it felt as though we had been cursed. All eight of us, in our own way, have been impacted by such events and had to cope with them in the limited resources we had. Then, there are external factors such as friends, schools we went to, our interests, relationships and so on. This adds another layer of events in our lives that have been traumatic, but are no longer a collective experience, but personal.

The collective events no longer bind us as tight, we are individuals, we are adults, and we have surpassed the events. However, our individual experiences are batted around like fodder, and because for that very moment, like the individual pursing the race to the economic bottom, they are receiving a positive outcome. For a small moment in time, in a family that is run by trauma baiting, they have won the race to the bottom. They have made it, nobody can beat their circumstances and therefore, nobody can challenge their traumatic authority. This reminds me of organisations who drag speakers to events to rehash accounts of abuse, rape and domestic violence for gain. It isn’t healthy, but it means they’re unchallenged. To challenge them would be considered dismissive, rude and outright disgusting.

What can be really gained by this? Doing this isn’t listening to others, it does not improve your relationships, and instead just makes the other person feel like dismissed. Having a bad day is fine, you can talk about it. In fact, we can both have bad days and discuss it, but we don’t need to compare and I don’t need to say statements like ‘well at least you didn’t…’ because it’s unnecessary. I can understand why people do it – it’s likely they too are dismissed unless they’re screaming, unless something really bad has happened. It may be the only way they’re taken seriously. Unfortunately, it has negative consequences. Trauma is not a competition and it can feel actually quite exposing to recount these events, especially when you reflect on it later on, and you regret talking about it.

I am fed up of people racing to the bottom, of comparing misery. Why do we aspire for this? Nobody around me ever competed to be the happiest. It was never something to be encouraged. I imagine my family scoffing at me if I ever said that I am happy; it would mean I was above myself, snotty and was not grounded as a person. It would mean that I clearly have my head in the clouds, not receptive to the reality of my life and haven’t had enough bad in my life, and therefore, am not a well-rounded, realistic person.

I am not silly; I am well aware that life is not rainbows, sunshine and fairytales. I too, have had my own fair share of personal events to deal with and have found myself on the edge myself. But why can’t I aim to be happy? It almost feels like I should feel guilty for being content with something. If there is something I’ve realised in the past few months, it’s that you don’t have to swallow the hatred people spew. I deserve to be happy, everyone does, and just because someone else isn’t, or doesn’t want you to be, it doesn’t mean you have to swallow their verbal shit. You don’t need to drag the emotional baggage of other people either, it’s theirs to unpack in a time and environment appropriate for them.

The race to the bottom of unhappiness almost makes you desire more unhappiness because it gives you reason to win, and as a result, you are constantly surrounded by negativity or negative people who partake in the competition. This life consumed me, it happens a lot in addiction too. One of the main reasons people dislike NA/AA, myself included, is because it feels like who has the worse war story to tell. The result? Everyone else in the room feels they have to swallow their own experiences, because it feels it can’t compete or there is no way they can speak after them. Instead, they walk away with the same things they wanted to say, but now, they feel they should shut it down because perhaps it isn’t as bad as what they they thought. They feel as though they’re being silly, stupid for saying anything when others have it worse, they don’t speak up.

How they feel doesn’t change, and instead, it gets shut away and comforted by the bottle, the pipe or the needle – all of whom have total compassion, are the greatest sympathisers, they do not ask you to justify or compete, and above all have no judgement.

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Living in a Complex Needs Hostel

Sitting in a meeting in my local sex work project, I burst out crying. Arguing back and forth with the support workers who I felt hadn’t supported me well enough, or had watched things slide from afar without offering a helping hand, I felt hopeless. Now, despite my many attempts at prevention and intervention, I found myself at a loose end with both my heart and pride shattered. They rang up the hostel who could not take me, instead offering me a safeguarding bed for the night which I refused because I knew I had somewhere to go, so I preferred it to go to someone else who didn’t. The next day, I went to the local council building to find the hostel manager who could do an assessment and she said that I should be placed in a complex needs hostel. After ringing around, she found a room for me, and told me to be there before 6pm so I could have a risk assessment done and move in.

*all names in this blog have been changed to protect their identity*

Moving in

Walking in and pressing the buzzer, I was preparing myself for the unknown. I was led through to an interview room, sat down and went straight into a risk assessment with a support worker who was the same age as me. It’s not her fault, but it felt like a stark reminder of the difference between us. To your left of the interview room was a pile of magazines from a bygone era, of planting, gardening and your holiday home, and to your right were several small boxes several boxes of lube, sanitary towels, condoms – a more present reminder of the sex workers in the hostel. We then proceeded to plough through what seemed like a never-ending amount of paper work; being asked 101 questions and all whilst feeling like a failure and utter shit. Next, was the tour of the hostel. As I walked up the office-looking staircase central to the building, it smelt lovely – like a nice plug in air freshener, and despite all the windows being open, it felt warm. As we reached the top and through another door, there was an open space with doors all around you with numbers on. To the far right, lodged between two bathrooms, was my room, number 6.

I didn’t know what to expect, I had never lived in a hostel before but my brother did, and I knew they weren’t nice places. My room was basic, but that was to be expected. The carpet floor had huge burn marks in, the fridge also had burns on the top due to previous occupant putting out fags on it. The tiny cupboard to your left had a shoe rack hanging in it, then immediately next to that was a basin. The single bed was prepared on my right with a blue duvet with white stars on it. I was handed the keys, given the house rules and wished good luck unpacking. I put a few things in the drawers next to my bed and sat on the wicker chair next to the drawers. It was quite cramped. Looking out the window to one of the most beautiful gardens I had ever seen, but it was never frequented by the occupants. Days later, the fridge and carpet were replaced, but it didn’t make much difference to the look of the room or how I felt about it either.

Within a few hours, a lady knocked on my door, introduced herself, and asked if I fancied going for a walk to the shop. I said yes, as I wanted to get out of this place. On our ‘walk’ she spoke about her life and what not. This walk seemed to be taking a long time and was in the direction of town, but I felt this wasn’t the right time to ask where we were heading. Before I knew it, she was buying crack from a man on a bike and then we walked back. I felt a bit pissed off, because I think she was using me incase something went wrong, and after all, she didn’t even know me. Yet, she was a lovely lady, and I wasn’t angry at her, I understood. It is too easy to be caught up about one thing but she had spent almost an hour pouring her heart out to me, I wasn’t going to write her off because she bought crack, even if she shouldn’t have taken me with her.

sitting on my bed, in view of a new fridge without fag burns

As we got back, I realised I hadn’t brought any of my clothes with me so I asked the staff for pyjamas. They gave me a nightie that came down past my knees and had a V-neck shape that drooped just above my belly button. I was 6st 7lbs and 5ft tall, it was clearly the wrong size. The next day, the same lady who took me for a walk knocked on my door to tell me she had stolen from pjs for me. My heart swelled, what a lovely thing to do! Although it may be perceived as immoral or criminal, I disagree. Her heart was in the right place, and she did the best she could within her means. To this day, it is perhaps one of the kindest and most considerate things someone has ever done for me. The next morning, I sat in the large living room with grand windows and met my new housemates. All but one were crack and/or heroin users but also street sex workers.

I really dislike the term ‘complex needs’ and it is something services use a lot to describe service users, particularly sex workers. A term that assumes that a person is too difficult, has too much going on or is perhaps too much in general. All circumstances are complex, our needs aren’t. All of us wish to be happy, healthy and stable but it is the barriers that prevent that which are complex, not the need itself. It assumes that we are asking too much because we’re under that umbrella. For many services, being a sex worker is enough to be considered complex needs. I also feel it puts the burden of responsibility on the person as opposed to the struggles they’re facing. Wanting to flee domestic abuse isn’t a complex need, wanting to get free from drugs is a difficult process, but isn’t a complex need. It’s a basic and human need. Being described as complex needs makes me feel what I’m asking for in life is too much of a burden, that I’m asking too much of my support workers, that I’m not like everyone else. My needs are as basic and human as everyone else, they’re not complex.

Relationships in the hostel

Hostels are unlike any other environment you will be in. You are thrown into a massive house, with very little privacy. You are on camera in communal areas and you have to lock your door when you go for a piss during the night, in fear of someone robbing your stuff. Everyone is living differently, and there are different people on the safeguarding bed in the living room each night. Nobody has money, and everyone around you is in the same boat but for different reasons. We are all generally at our lowest points of our lives, but we don’t let on and put on a hard front with each other. Despite this, you have little choice but to make friends with each other because you can not escape them, and unlike family, arguing and making up doesn’t quite cut it. To add to the stress, support workers are constantly there downstairs, and the threat of eviction hangs over your head should you fuck up too much.

Relationships become intense, quite quickly. Suddenly, the people around you are your support network; they are the people you see every day and the same people you’re putting a hard face on for. Sitting in the living room one evening, a girl who called herself China would be blind drunk, talking to me about some of the most extensive trauma anyone could imagine experiencing. Walking in the room, people join in the discussions and before you know it, everyone is talking about being raped, beaten, having their hair ripped out, being stabbed or tortured, and this is general conversation. There are no tears, but it is reeled off as a ‘matter of fact’ manner. I know this is a coping mechanism and I am guilty of it too, but equally, I don’t patronise them and try to hug and tell them I’m sorry to hear of their difficult life, or try to explain their feelings to them. It’s not my place. As I walk away from the room, I walk away with some of the deepest secrets of those I now live with. It takes a toll on my own mental health too.

Despite the closeness you have, there are clear and strong boundaries that you have to maintain otherwise things can go wrong. One girl, I will call Emily for the sake of anonymity would knock on my door, smoke fags in my room, offer me stolen goods to make me feel guilty if I said she couldn’t come in. Once in, she would offer me heroin, start drawing up, ask me to go street working with her and hide behind my door when night staff did their patrol. I realised I was being taken advantage of. I helped her originally; giving her a skirt and make-up, thick tights to go working and generally being amicable but I knew I had to put my foot down and make enemies. I did exactly that, and to this day, she dislikes me. I am okay with that though, because I know if it had kept carrying on, she would have asked more and more of me, continued to take advantage and would continue nodding off on my shoulder, asking me to Facebook her now distant family. Despite our differences, my heart understands and I hold no anger, but I had to draw the line.

You are walking a tight rope in hostels, keeping strong boundaries which piss people off but equally, being caring or considerate to those around you. This isn’t always possible however. One evening, China punched her wardrobe for 7 hours throughout the night, without stopping. Nobody knew until the morning but the noise was frustrating and annoying, but it wasn’t the time to bang on her door and scream at her. It was not the time in the morning either. You have to pick your battles, and pick them wisely; picking too many battles makes you enemies, making it hard for you to live there but if you don’t pick them, you can quickly find yourself working to catch up. For example, one evening, I found myself cornered in the living room after being asked for money from Emily who was withdrawing badly. I said no and she cornered me. This may be a perfect time to pick your battle, but I was surrounded. The next day however, when she asked again, I put my foot down and she never asked again. Neither did anyone else.

Jessica

Being in the hostel felt like being a therapist. I was constantly trying to stop the women talking bad about themselves, trying to remind them that they are more than their circumstances. As I walked down to the Managed Zone one evening with Jessica, I listened to her entire life story, one that was riddled with childhood abuse, suicide attempts, troubles with addiction and her reeling off stories of being stabbed at work and continuing working. Jessica, on the surface, would be written off by society – she was a heroin and crack addict, she was in an extremely abusive relationship, she kept falling out of support services due to chaotic lifestyle and was a street sex worker. However, she was doing well on her methadone script, she was recognising that her relationship was abusive and for the first time, she was talking to me about things she had never disclosed before, and was determined to get her ADHD medication sorted, taking it daily. Not just that, but Jessica is an extremely lovely and loyal person, she just has an extremely hard front but is a soft soul underneath. A soul which has been hardened by others, but not by her.

Jessica perhaps presents as difficult, but once you get past the initial front, you will see someone who works very hard in the best of her capacity to seek help and support. What some people would perceive as small achievements are big achievements for Jessica, and rightfully so. Jessica would explain often how proud she was of me, how much she enjoyed being around me, talking to me, how much she wanted better of her life. I helped her move to indoor sex work, and she did it! Jessica is not complex, although she may seem that way, she needs people to stop giving up with her. Jessica needs help, support, therapy, someone who is a consistent in her life and someone she can find comfort and confide in. Instead, she is bounced around services because she is considered too complex, and nobody knows what to do. It is no wonder I woke up one morning to her screaming down the hostel, arguing with the manager. Once calmer, she explained herself better and had a fair point, but felt nobody was listening to her. Jessica needs someone who is in her corner and actually gives a shit about her as a person, not just as a tick box of issues they have resolved.

Walking home through town one evening, a van pulled over, telling us to get in for a lift. I said no, but she dragged me into the front of the van, and told me to stop being boring. In the van, I told her I wanted to go home, and getting in a car with a stranger isn’t normal. However, who was I to tell her what to do and secondly, we both get into cars with strangers for money!? I didn’t have a leg to stand on. The guy seemed young, friendly and just wanted a joint and a chat. However, my back was up because he said he was from the area, but got lost when driving me back and had no idea where he was. I told Jessica to come in with me, but she refused and said she wanted to smoke a joint. I immediately went in and wrote the number plate down. At 3am, I heard a soft knock on my door and Jessica came in, she had spent 4 hours being raped by him in the back of his van. After 10 minutes crying and giving her a hug, reminding her it’s not her fault, I said I had his number plate should she ever want to report it. She sat up, left my bedroom wiping her tears, and within 30 seconds, she was screaming at the top of her head at China about an argument over crack. That was that, she never spoke about it again.

I spent a few months with Jessica, but she made a huge impact on my life and I think I did on her. One evening, she tried dragging me into a punter’s car and I said no because he said he needed to go to the bank first. I explained that he’s been driving round for ages, there is a reason he hasn’t gone to the bank beforehand, or during the time driving around. She agreed, and promised she would never get into a car if someone said the same. Equally, Jessica taught me a lot about life in general, how to work safely, and she always reminded me how proud she was of me. One evening, someone shouted her name whilst when we were out together, so we quickly rushed home. She handed me a knife just in case we were attacked. Despite this situation, I didn’t feel at scared, but more protected – not by the knife, but by Jessica, because I knew her loyalty had no bounds. There were many qualities I loved and respected about her, ones I hope to harness myself. Jessica always expressed her mind, and that included compliments too. She wears her heart on her sleeve, is self-reflective and had a true love for her sister, whom she fiercely protects and loves.

Jessica is one of many women who find themselves in and out of hostels, services and pass through our lives. She must never be forgotten, written off or left without support. Stop throwing away the lives of others because they feel so far removed from ours. There is no reason why Jessicas don’t deserve as much help, love and support as anyone else.

The dynamics of the hostel

Due to the changing nature of the hostel, the dynamics also change. There is little trust and generally speaking, people side and make friends with the kingpin of the hostel. This sounds really silly to describe them as a ‘kingpin’ but it’s true, a new girl enters and lays the law and the rest follow, including me. This happened all the time, girls moved in and out of the hostel every few weeks and if a new kingpin moved in and disliked the current one, she was quickly knocked off her spot.

This is also shown not just by arguments but by actions. For example, the lady who took me for a walk when I moved in was the kingpin at first. She loved cleanliness and as a result, would scream the house down if people didn’t clean up after themselves and she generally ruled the roost. The behaviours which followed meant that everyone was scared to be untidy, not flush the chain, to drop crumbs on the floor etc. When Jessica moved in, she did what she wanted and said fuck off to her, upsetting her and she now rarely returned. As a result, the hostel became untidy, people no longer gave a shit about tidying up, and if she dared speak up, Jessica would use her speaking up as an excuse to shoot her down. In the end, she rarely bothered to come home. Cleanliness still bothered her, but she tidied without making a sound instead.

I never attempted to become the kingpin, and in the small microcosm of anarchy, I was neutral. I tried to befriend all, not make any enemies and was not keen on baiting. However, everyone around me was addicted to crack or heroin as I moved away from it and siding with the kingpin made sense, because they have the most say. Scoring drugs was a hostel activity. Jessica demanded that everyone share if they scored, and they did. However, it caused the most arguments. Few arguments did not involve drugs, and it was usually around how many or how much was shared. Despite the dynamics, whoever had the most drugs or had scored recently, for a small moment in time, ruled the roost. I sat in the background, listened to people and tried to make my own judgements, but equally, I never put my foot in it or said anything to the contrary of the person ruling the roost. I’ll be honest, I didn’t need the hassle and it was easier to nod and sit back, whether right or wrong, and sometimes, it was too hard to rationalise with people in a frenzy.

Due to the intense nature of the relationships you make in the hostel, these small dynamics are really important. They mean so much to people and you have to remember, everyone is in a low place, leaning on each other for support. These actions have serious consequences and upset people. Small arguments can really hurt, can make you feel betrayed and it’s magnified because you live there all the time, having to deal with it. You can feel quite isolated or hated in your own home. It is a home for some, a lovely lady I met there had been in and out of hostels for 20 years – never having a permanent place of her own. These dynamics were her whole life, one that she had know almost as long as I have been alive. I suppose I am lucky, because I knew I would leave this place eventually so I knew I could swallow the anger or bite my tongue, for others, they were more entrenched in the system. Also, if you’re the enemy of the kingpin and don’t want to come home anymore, it can hurt your own stability.

Mental health

Hostels are not good for mental health. It is exhausting being a therapist, it is exhausting living with people you feel you’re supporting because you don’t switch off. Whether it’s 3am knocks on your door or dealing with your new neighbour breaking down her wardrobe for 7 hours. Of course, it is not the fault of others but it is undeniable that their mental health can impact your own. Whether directly or indirectly, I never realised how much my health had been impacted by living there, and it was only when moving away did I realise just how uptight I had become or much I was aware of privacy and safety.

Living in a hostel is a life where you live on edge. Whether it’s wondering if your door is locked because someone might steal it, preparing for who is in the hostel before you enter the living room to avoid arguments or having to deal with hostel politics. It chips away at you. The more practical things as well are equally gruelling. For example, people screaming at each other at 3am but you know it’s useless to tell them to shut the fuck up as it would cause more arguments and they’re wired on crack, so you lay there all night awake. You don’t bother mentioning it in the morning because there’s no point. Also, nobody ever cooks and when you do, you’re torn between cooking for yourself or for everyone who is suddenly around you asking for food. Or perhaps generally dealing with the emotional distress of constantly being in a high-stress environment.

me, just before I moved into the hostel at my lowest weight

In fact, during this period of my life, I was the most stressed out I had ever been. Not just because I was living in this environment but I also had other stuff and life to be dealing with at the same time. Like everyone else, there were circumstances that led us to being here in the first place that we were having to deal with. I was also juggling 101 appointments between services, trying to get out as much as possible and dealing with hostel dynamics at the same time. I was barely eating, I was unhappy and my weight had plunged to its lowest point.

Generally, I was unhappy and unhealthy. As much as my support workers tried to sort things out, they couldn’t cure everything. Each week you sit in-front of them, talking about your circumstances and having to score out of 10 how you are dealing with things with a chart to describe what stage you’re at for each number out of 10. It is really to fill in a check box for the support worker for the sake of admin. Of course, they all enter the job with their heart in the right place, but unfortunately, they too are assigned things to do for the sake of tick boxes. It is degrading and tiring having to keeping hashing your life out and scoring it, especially if you haven’t progressed. Worst of all, every few weeks your support worker keeps changing for reasons not explained to you, so you have to go through the whole story again and get them to the point of getting to know you a bit more than what they read.

Merry Christmas

I spent Christmas 2019 in the hostel. It was a very difficult time for everyone and a time of emotional turmoil. I was surrounded by women who were long estranged from their children, some had children who have passed away, some women had underlying arguments or hate for each other but were trying to be friendly for Christmas. Some had forgotten to pick up their methadone script before the pharmacists shut so they were rattling and it was incredibly difficult for them. The night before, I had 4 boxes placed in my bedroom from people who had donated stuff to the hostel. The boxes were all the same, they were gloves, socks, sanitary towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, heating blankets, chocolates, and occasionally, we had mens items in there such as boxers and size 10 socks. My heart was full of people’s kindness but there were was only so many tubes of toothpaste I needed.

No matter how old I get, I still wake up with a special sort of feeling on Christmas day and did then, but it wasn’t quite the same. I even considered staying in bed, taking mirtazpeine and not go out, but realised I had to make peace with the day. I had no presents to open and knew I was walking into an emotional abyss. However, we tried our hardest to make the best out of a bad situation. The girls plaited my hair, nicked the tinsel off the tree and wrapped it in the plait. We took pictures, reminded each other how important we were to each other and awaited Christmas dinner. The support workers left boxes of cigarettes around the hostel as a treat, and at risk of their jobs! They made us Christmas dinner and some volunteers came in to sit with us. However, we had Christmas dinner in a conference room, the same room where most of us had arguments or had our life changed in the meetings held here. We all appreciated the effort that went into making our day special and the support workers who gave their day with their family to us, but there was always a reminder of where you were.

This reminder me hit me hard during a game of bingo. There was a big sack of presents and we played games most of the afternoon and I won a gift. There were slippers, chocolate boxes and what not. When I won, I picked out a present which was square shaped and felt incredibly heavy and I was really excited! As I ripped open the paper, it was a Soap and Glory box, I felt even more excited. However, the contents had been removed and replaced with tins of sardine, baked beans and general food items. I felt crushed. I wondered if Victorian children also awoke to a food parcel. I may sound ungrateful, but I didn’t like any of the food in the parcel, so I gave it away to the other girls. Of course, it’s nice to have a food parcel and I’ve accepted many, but it felt like more a sting on Christmas, and a bit deceptive too inside a Soap and Glory box. It was a stark reminder of where I was, or what I felt like I deserved. I felt very much the bottom of the pile of society.

christmas day dinner in the conference room

To anyone who reads this and donates at Christmas, first of all, thank you. These boxes were a lovely surprise to many of us and we enjoyed ravaging through the contents and swapping stuff. However, please donate other things than socks, knickers and toothpaste! I had so many, I ended up donating them myself 6 months later, all unopened. These things are still needed, just not in such quantity!

As Christmas Day turned into evening, we sat and watched films and many of the women got drunk, which soon turned into arguments or emotional turmoil, and I can’t blame them. It was incredibly difficult for many. Some awaited all day for a call from their family which never came, and the lovely lady who had been in and out of hostels for 20 years had given birth to a baby in a carpark on Christmas Eve night just a few years earlier. He was later adopted, and Christmas forever reminded her of this. There is the perception of women who have children taken from them, that they are nasty, bitter and awful women but in reality, they love their children just as much as anyone else. They equally bond with them at birth and have hopes, plans and dreams but unfortunately, they are not always given the same tools or capacity. Instead, they make the incredibly hard decision for their child to have a better life than one they can provide. But, their love and loss still lingers.

Moving into my own supported accommodation

The support workers realised just how much I was struggling being here. The environment didn’t suit me well and they could see I was quickly slipping into bad habits such as street sex work, coming home early hours of the morning and dealing with people using in my bedroom, or being cornered for money. A property came up that they owned that I could move into. It would be my own flat, I would have my own keys but I would keep my support workers. It’s a bit like a half-way house, where you’re out of the system, but not quite on your own into society. You also still live in the same block of flats with other women from the hostel so you quickly get roped into hostel dynamics.

They deemed I was independent to live alone and off I went. However, I had to go silently and not tell anyone. Despite having good news to share, I had no one to share it with, because I wasn’t aloud to say anything. I hadn’t been there as long as some of the other girls and so to say something would be to annoy or upset them, because they also wanted to leave. In addition, a lady there called Ellie had become a bit obsessed with me in a short space of time. She had declared me her new best friend, wanted to be with me every minute of the day, asked me to manage her money and wouldn’t leave me alone. Ellie wasn’t a threat and she meant no harm, but I knew moving would upset her, or having her at my door every day. I packed up all my stuff and moved out by 2 cab drives on the quiet; having to move my stuff through without anyone seeing. Then, once I had gone, I also had to cut everyone off to prevent them finding out where I lived.

Ellie did get upset. She told everyone once I left that I had apparently been messaging her, calling her nasty names, saying I missed the hostel, missed her and thought I was above everyone else. It took everything in me not to bite back and retaliate but I left it, it wasn’t worth the hassle. She ended up moving into the street opposite me just a month later. A month after that, 2 girls had moved in and out of the flat below me and Emily, the girl I had to put boundaries in against moved in. It was fireworks from the start. Things had been calm and quiet for a few months I was living there but sadly, my safety was compromised due to other factors. However, it was made worse by Emily leaving the communal front door open when she went out because she couldn’t be bothered to find her keys, and I confronted her about it. I didn’t argue and I walked away. She spent months after that screaming at me when she saw me, calling me names etc. Even when I moved out, she was shouting at me from her bedroom whilst I was loading stuff into my support worker’s car.

Moving away for good

Now, I live in my own flat and can reflect on these memories, but for some, they are still living there. Many, like Ellie, Jessica and Emily, are still caught up in the system of temporary accommodation and I would be still, had my safety not been so compromised and the council were pressured to get me housed ASAP. Being away from it also means cutting yourself off from it too, and the people who shared the experiences with. Like I said in my last blog post, I can’t have my feet in both worlds anymore. It took a lot of stress, anxiety, sanity and general wellbeing to get to this point and I finally got here. The last thing I need is someone finding out where I live and sliding backwards. In addition, I don’t have the mental capacity to handle that life anymore, it’s too gruelling and exhausting.

I can easily look back and reflect on these times and sometimes laugh, but in the moments, they were very real and personal; they consumed my life. This blog post is a snapshot of the life I lived day in, day out – of the absolute wildness of situations that occurred, but it was considered average and spoken without so much as hesitation. For many, walking into the bathroom and finding a burnt windowpane with vinegar behind the toilet wouldn’t make sense but for me, it meant someone had been cooking up heroin and injecting. Sitting in a room listening to some of the most horrific traumatic situations you could imagine would be too much for some, but in these situations, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence and occasionally led to competition as to who had been through the worst. You walk away and switch your mind off, otherwise you could mull over these disclosures all day.

I don’t miss living in the hostel at all, and as I handed the keys back, I felt almost like a sense of relief rush over me. I was free from the dreary interview room, still laden with magazines about gardening and the holiday homes from Spain – salt in the wound for the homeless. The hostel was still inhabited by some of the same occupants who I had left and generally, the place felt stagnant. It felt like nobody was moving anywhere, doing anything and the wallpaper would still be the same in 10 years time. Knowing what I know now, I would rather kill myself than have to do it all over again. My hat goes off to the lovely lady who spent 20 years doing this, because I don’t think I could cope or manage that type of stress again.

Don’t forget them

Above all, I think it’s important to remember that the people who live this life are very much human as much as anyone else. They are not the bottom of the pile, they are actually incredibly resilient, resourceful and strong women who, despite the odds, have made it through life, largely by their own strength of character, drive and fortitude. Although they may not have the same material goods or opportunities as others, I would choose them as loyal friends any day, and I admire their characteristics, their unruliness and how open and honest they are, even if it is critical of myself. I know many would not stand a chance given the same circumstances, but these women do it daily, and take it in their stride. Despite their hard fronts, they’re all kindhearted in their own way, and you would do well to get to know them or have them as a friend. Some may not have much to give, but they bring a lot to the relationship and show their appreciation in their own way, but it’s up to you to know them well enough to know how that’s expressed.

As I read back through this post, I feel emotional. I miss these women, I miss them mothering me in their own way. I get angry at how little they are helped by services who find them ‘complex needs’ and struggle to cope, or shun them as they walk through the door. I feel angry on behalf of these women who have been so often let down by society who have washed their hands with them. Despite being called a cunt by all of them at some point, I have and will always have the time for them – even Emily who cursed me all the way into the taxi as I left for the last time. Why? Because they aren’t horrible women, they’re reacting to how people have likely treated them their whole lives. Above all, when they’re calling you a cunt, you have no idea what has been going on in their day and only see a snapshot. It is easy to get angry and explode back, but it just leaves you both feeling like shit. I often see people’s behaviour to be a bigger reflection of how they are treated, as opposed to who they are.

In the sex worker world, we get caught up with SWERFs and the ideological debates behind sex work but the reality is, these debates are not on the minds of chaotic sex workers. That is not to disregard them, these are discussions that need to be had. However, is China, Jessica or Emily wondering what Bindel thinks about her? No. They are all busy surviving, doing what they need to do to get through to the next day, for the next hit, for the next meal, to get to the end of the week without falling off the edge. When we are out in the cold, wondering whether a punter has gone to the bank or wants to kidnap me, do I care that I disgust Dr Jessica Taylor? No, I don’t. She is not the one who is on the street corner with me, watching over me for safety. Always keep room in the sex worker debate for those with the most chaotic lives, the ones who are right on the edge of society, who really are shut out by their own communities, services and society. The sex workers that nobody wants to claim, to care for, to support.

I try very hard to include street sex workers in the community, have their voices heard in services and for people to realise the barriers for us, but I am not the only one, so always be ready to reach out a hand to bring others with you when you can. This is a blog post of just one experience of mine, that is personal to just me and does not represent everyone. However, don’t forget, these scenarios and these women exist up and down the UK, largely out of sight and out of mind of society.

As usual, I keep blog posts free, including this exceptionally long one which I hope you enjoyed because breaking down the stigma around sex work is more important! However, if you would like to support these blogs, please consider:

paypal.me/gracesumner22 OR

patreon.com/graceyswer

The Next Chapter in My Life

As I sit here listening to the whirring noises of the fridge, I feel grateful that it is full and these are normal sounds of a home. Around me are the birds chirping and the neighbours dog barking, all familiar and a part of boring life, a life which I have long craved for. Sitting in silence is bliss, with the smell of fresh laundry around me. There is nothing I long for more than a mundane lifestyle, one that is not ever changing or chaotic. A life which is on edge, uncertain and you are reacting rather than responding. Although it is not a mansion and it is no where near where I’d like it to be, I feel grateful I have somewhere I can make these visions a reality without wondering if it is going to be ripped away. It has been an awful few years, and for once, I feel a relative ease.

Like everyone else, I have goals and aspirations – some small, some personal, and some long-term. However, I accept the difficult situation I’m in at the moment and know I have to put some of these on the back burner. I dislike the mantra that is sometimes pushed by right-wing politics that if you work hard, you can get what you want in life. For me, I think this ignores a lot of complex factors and above all, ignores the support system of the individual. Nobody can get to A to B completely alone, it takes a lot of help, support and networking of individuals. I never engaged with any service until last year – it was the first time in my entire life I asked for help. Beforehand, I thought seeking help was for wimps, and we must pull ourselves up and get on with it like good working-class people. I think I am doing well, all things considered.

I have always said that it is instability that keeps me in sex work more than anything else. Such instability doesn’t always mean financial. Housing insecurity for example, scares me beyond belief. The thought of not knowing where you are going to sleep in the long-term, or the worry of packing up your life again and moving every few months riddles me with anxiety. As a result, I always feel like I have to pre-plan and earn money just in case I have to up and move, and start again. It almost feels like being a marionette that is controlled by the hand of systemic poverty. Sadly, the marionette doesn’t always move and occasionally, the owner cuts the strings, forcing me to find a repair with no resources. It isn’t easy. When these strings are cut, I find myself in desperate situations and depending on others – it’s just another hand on the marionette, and sometimes, an abusive one. For now, no one is controlling me from above and the strings are kept stable.

Last week, I signed for a council flat. I am no longer considered homeless. To say I cried as I grasped the keys in my hand would be an understatement, I blubbered like a baby when I had time to myself. I wasn’t sad – it was happy tears, and it was more than just getting a flat. For me, I am working towards feeling safe, feeling secure and putting down roots, forming the primary building blocks in my life. What is the point of going forward when you don’t have a base to relax or retreat to? Feeling safe at home is something people don’t think about, and they shouldn’t do either because it should be a given, but sadly, this is not always the case. I look forward to starting in a place where nobody knows where I live and move away from a life that got me down for so long. I am not ashamed, but I no longer wish to carry the emotional baggage with me. I look forward to having a place where I can walk around naked, and that’s absolutely fine.

It’s too early yet to say what will be because there remains so much to be resolved, but I am feeling more confident about getting things sorted. With regards to sex work, I am still unable to work due to the continued closure of the Managed Zone and I feel it will be a long time until it re-opens. Until then, I am happy to plod along and continue working towards sex worker safety, training of services and generally educating others on the lives of sex workers. I hope to build on this, continue with my ‘train the trainer’ course so I can continue to break down the stigma and the barriers that prevent sex workers from accessing services without judgement. I hope to move away from sex work eventually, I have never hidden the fact that I dislike it and the only reason is financial. However, moving home and unexpected costs has hit me hard, as well as the continued restrictions on sex work due to coronavirus, it feels inevitable to return for now at least. Although, it feels more worth it than before, because now I have a home to invest in and make my own. Buying a sofa is next on the list!

As I look around my flat, 95% of everything in it has been bought by strangers who I have yet to meet and thank. People who have gotten to know me via Twitter and followed my story from afar – from street work, to assaults, to the hostel and now to my own flat and safety. I don’t know how I got so lucky and I feel exceptionally grateful to all those who helped me along the way, I simply wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of your help. It has been the kindness of others who have helped me put together furniture, bought gift cards, PayPal’ed me, helped me move home, offered me DIY advice and continue to support me as I muddle along on my own. I honestly wouldn’t be sitting on this bed frame, on this mattress, looking at my bedroom furniture without the kindness of others. One day, when I am in a better position, I will be sure to pass on to others as others have for me.

I can’t have my feet in both worlds and this is the hardest thing for me. As I move away from the life I lived, I also move away from the people I lived it with. I do this not only for safety reasons, but because I am risking too much by going back or giving into temptation, it simply isn’t worth it. This hurts the hardest because I love these women and they have done me no harm, and I am leaving them for my own selfish reasons. I begrudge doing this and it upsets me to think about, but then I remember how things were and where I want to be, and the two are incompatible. I will always love and support them, but I can’t do it holding their hand anymore – it wouldn’t end well for either of us if I’m not doing it for the right reasons. However, I admit, I enjoy the sounds of the fridge whirring and the birds chirping much more than the screaming, shouting, arguments over crack and heroin, and living in a way that is riddled with anxiety. It cost a high personal and mental price to get to where I am, I don’t want to slide back into something that cost so dearly to leave.

I feel so very grateful and thankful to all the incredible people who have helped me throughout – whether it’s my support worker listening to me rant, dealing with my emotional rollercoasters or the person on the other side of the world supporting my patreon, or sending me a tweet of encouragement. For a change, I look forward what is to come, I look forward to responding instead of reacting to life, I look forward to building a home, feeling safe, walking around naked, cooking and thinking ‘fuck the washing up’ because it’s just me, to watching whatever I want to watch on tele, having a shower after a long day, being woken up by the neighbour’s dog, and watching the seasons change from my window. Above all, I look forward to sharing my home with a dog, which is yet to come x

Thank you everyone for all your help, I don’t know what I did to be so lucky.

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