op-ed: the slippery slope of selling yourself – how i almost landed in the sex industry
August 11, 2015
We are at a restaurant in Santa Monica when he asks how much he owes me. “$200 for 30 minutes,” I say. I don’t remember his name, just his eyes and how they never blinked. Just everyone else’s eyes and how they never blinked too. I am 20 when a 57 year old white man is the highest bidder on one of those websites where you keep the male ego company over dinner while being fetishized all at once. Fools like me will think ourselves to be the ones in power because we do not engage in anything sexual with these men, we are just “pimping our time” instead.
By KiNG, AFROPUNK Contributor
“I guess when you’re broke and beautiful, you can afford to do some crazy things,” – My Aunt
But the conversation turns from about me to about him, to about what he wants to do to me, to about how much he would pay extra to do what he wants to do to me. The thing is, when you’re selling “just conversation,” nothing is off limits. I learned quickly you can take a starving man to dinner and his stomach will still come up growling. He will still be a wolf sitting at an empty table. Will see how coyote in a dress you are. That the way you yearn for his money is the same way his hands do for your face inside his pillow. I am nearly salivating, like him, when I almost say yes because student loans have sucked my bank account into a bloodless cherry. Because when you’re 20, unemployed, without a degree, and you’ve still got bills piling while searching for a job, the river of opportunity tends to dry more quickly than you would’ve ever anticipated. So this, became how I chose to survive a drought.
From July to October 2014, I was unemployed. I spent every day applying for work, yet repeatedly told I was “too young” or “didn’t have enough experience” for office jobs and places such as McDonald’s and Starbucks were confused as to why an “overly qualified individual” was inquiring for work. Looking back, I could say I easily applied to over 300 jobs in that time frame before I landed contract work in November. My parents, of course, used this as an opportunity to “teach me a lesson” and provided no financial assistance. I was scraping together change every week to have at least $8 to make it to the next one. I was still considered a “dependent” so I couldn’t receive government assistance; my credit card was overdrafted and I owed the bank $230. I felt as though I was stuck in a black hole I would never be able to escape.
Then, I found WhatsYourPrice.com at a friend’s suggestion- a website where girls make profiles selling themselves for a “first date.” No sex is involved, you just go to dinner or a movie, set a price, and bam you get paid for your time. It’s basically, young, attractive women, marketing their physicality and youth just to play into a fantasy. I remember my phone bill was due on a Monday and I needed money quickly, so I finally took up my friend’s suggestion and made a profile. Within a weekend, I made $400 by going on two 30 minute dates. I felt a strange sense of control and also thought it hilarious these men were paying an obscene amount of money for conversation.
I started booking dates every weekend and telling my family I was at friends house, while most of my friends didn’t know what I was doing or where I was getting this money from. I would let only two friends know where I was going, the name of who I was with, the exact location, and if I didn’t respond within an hour after the date, I was in trouble. Following the dates, I would typically take the cash then proceed to block his phone number and his profile on the dating app just to protect myself. The get rich quick scheme was addicting, I was making more money in a weekend for just being “pretty” and “outgoing” than I would in a week at my previous job for a required skill set. I started to become hungrier for more money, knowing if I was just getting paid this much for a dinner, the options were endless if I became a sugar baby.
I found SeekingArrangement.com thanks to yet another friend. Again, within a weekend, I had a flood of men interested in giving me their money to spend time with them. I had two offers in particular on the table: one was from a 40 something year old man who was interested in me giving him massages twice a week for an hour- he’d pay $800 dollars each time; the second was a 60 something year old man who was interested in seeing me three times a week and providing an allowance of $5k per month. I was paid to meet with both of them the first time and quickly came to realize there was more than just “spending time and conversation” involved with SeekingArrangement. The massage junkie guy paid $150 to meet at an outdoor coffee shop where he went on to tell me he was interested in me performing “oral stimulation” and every massage naked. The other one paid $500 for me to meet him at a rooftop lounge; requested I wear pink with my hair in a ponytail. He went on to call me “baby girl” the whole night and requested I call him “daddy.” Gripped onto my wrist so tightly at the table, my mother had to ask what happened the next day.
The strangest part was, I found myself seriously rationalizing that these kinds of relationships would be “okay” because I was the smarter one playing into their ideation. I was convinced I was the one in control because in reality I was playing them for their pocketbook. I still called myself a feminist during the week, but swallowed my pride when a man called me a “dirty little whore” because I knew by the end of the night my bills were getting paid. Here is the danger in becoming nearly as manipulative as men with perverted fantasies: you become desensitized to things that are shockingly abnormal and your “limits” become virtually non-existent. I wasn’t in any of this because I was having a “reckless” phase or I needed the satisfaction of male attention, I was purely doing this because my physicality was making me a lot more money than a refined skill set. I needed to survive- this so happened to be the easiest way I could seriously profit from week to week.
I eventually bowed out of SeekingArrangement, WhatsYourPrice, and that whole “industry” in general, after I applied and received a dominatrix apprenticeship at a warehouse in Downtown. After visiting the dungeon, a former co-worker of mine coincidentally gave me “Whip Smart” : a memoir by an ex-domme, in which she details her highs of working in the sex industry (aka the money and this “false sense of control”) followed by a rapid downward spiral including a drug addiction. Needless to say, the book scared me straight because the writer and I shared stark similarities and I put an end to the “phase” I was in. I remember very clearly, that night sitting in my bed, I unleashed everything I had been internalizing. I felt ashamed I allowed myself to place a price on my worth, my time, and my existence. I felt angry because I knew there were so many other women like myself who felt this was their only option and probably wound up deeper than I did. I felt disgusting, I felt used, and I came to realize you don’t have to fuck someone for money to feel dirty or to know you are caressing a sleeping monster.
As women, we are told from a young age, our value rests in our appearance. Our media culture, as a whole, inundates us with the sexualization of female bodies, youth, and the corruption of purity, as seen in music videos, lyrics, games, movies, you name it- there’s a business in doing so and normalizing it. However, at the same time, when a woman in real life owns her sexuality and personhood she’s chastised for it. Our culture has set this double standard as a method of control; as a method of making the female existence an entity meant to only cater to men. So of course, it is an ironic concept, which also happens to make a ton of sense, that women are able to make the most money in the sex industry. It is ridiculous there is more job security and value emphasized when making womanhood a synonym for escape, fantasy, exit sign, or chameleon than there is for being a competitive co-worker at a fortune 500 company. The sex industry is the largest functioning mechanism of the patriarchy, where it will make a woman believe herself to be empowered because “she’s in control,” when reality she is reinforcing every twisted concept society has taught our men to act on.
Here is the only purpose society wants to assign us: that our real job, as women, is to play whatever role is chosen for 30 minutes and, maybe, we could make it to tomorrow that way. I’ve learned to not take a promised tomorrow when I’m compromising everything that makes me light. Leave me in the dark, I will still illuminate and make it to morning just fine.
* KiNG is a 21 year old gender fluid, bisexual, biracial, spoken word poet, as well as co-founder of SLiM Poetry (an open mic at the Container Yard in the Arts District). Through writing and performing, I seek to create dialogue and develop a rapport with readers/audience members. I also intend to shatter stigma pertaining to mental health, feminism, racism, and anything social justice related as well as encourage creative communities to integrate and innovate.
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