Thursday, June 30, 2011
Coming Out: Round 2 ...Working Sex While Queer
Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog.
I remember coming out to my family like it was yesterday. I was in the worst possible place (a crowded restaurant) because I thought it would minimize the damage. Wrong. Anyway, I find myself in a similar position today. I am fully out to my family as queer, but no one but my sisters knows that I am a sex worker. And while they certainly have differences (I wasn't born a sex worker), the similarities deliver a heavy sense of nostalgia. All the reasons I gave for coming out to my family as lesbian have vanished when faced with the task of coming out as a sex worker. I remember saying that I came out because I didn't want to hide such a huge part of my identity. That I wanted to show my family that there was nothing shameful about being queer and I was proud, so they should be proud of me too. Where is my courage now? I think those reasons would still apply to coming out as a sex worker. It could even be to my benefit: safety precautions and such. I struggle daily knowing that a huge part of my life is kept in the closet, so to speak. Most of my close friends don't know. Not even people who ask directly about my job: landlords, potential employers, health clinics, etc.
While I think it would be problematic to compare queer oppression to sex worker oppression overall, it's simply a reality of my life. My body happens to be inconvenient that way and aspects of my identity smear and blur over and through lines that say I have to be one or the other. When I started working, I never imagined how much of my old closeted life would be recycled. I figured I wouldn't really mention it, but didn't realize to what extent. I find myself in an old and boring pattern of having to lie about my work, what I was doing last saturday, quickly kicking my stripper heels under the couch for company. It's 17 all over again.
Trying to navigate my way through the intersections of my true sexuality and my work hasn't been easy. I'm not trying to be anyone's role model queer, or role model sex worker. I don't find pleasure or liberation in my work -- except in the income. I haven't evoked my inner sex priestess, or gained spiritual inspiration. Instead, its presented me with additional struggles and challenges to deal with. Sex work has made me rethink the definition of queer activism in my personal life. I am aware of the ways in which sex work has opened up doors for queer folks, and within the kink community to express their sexuality in positive and financially beneficial ways. Those options simply aren't viable for me, however. Up against the reality of bills, rent, and the hidden costs of independent life, my form of sex work has been what makes the most sense for me and my girlfriend, financially. Whatever personal triumph I can gain from it is secondary.
At first I've had to struggle with using my queerness as a tool in my work. I felt that it might be "wrong" to exploit my sexuality for profit...but my entire line of work is based on exploiting ones sexuality for profit, straight or queer (or both or either, for pay). I essentially use my queerness as a prop, just as I use my body and my language. As a stripper, I've referenced my girlfriend numerous times, as she worked with me. I did this for two main reasons: to get more dances/money and so that my customer knows I didn't come/won't leave the club alone. As a webcam model, I work with my girlfriend as a lesbian couple. Yes, we are a lesbian couple but the cam personas we have created are entirely fake, so our performance as a "lesbian couple" is also contrived.( Before you start lecturing me about what a bad lesbian I am, take note that these aren't confessions). I am not going to apologize for taking advantage of an identity that is targeted for hatred. Rather, I'm taking that identity and using it for my success. It's my way of reclaiming an aspect of myself that has been traditionally used to hurt me and turn it around for my benefit.