Imp Kerr, The Romper, 2008
By TARA BURNS
Are you a working girl or a Nick Kristof rescue waiting to happen? Take this quiz from our consent issue and find out!
Being a sex worker means that people constantly try to explain to me that I’m a victim who doesn’t know what I’m doing to myself—either that or I must be one of those very empowered, very expensive whores who gets paid thousands of dollars to lounge around in my underwear, enjoying life. The reality of my almost two decades of sex work has swung back and forth, but mostly it’s been squarely, complexly, somewhere in the middle. I’ve been paid hundreds of dollars to receive full body massages. I’ve happily cuddled up to a sweet man and a bottle of champagne in the VIP room until his credit card broke several thousand dollars later. And I’ve had sex with men I didn’t really feel like ever seeing again because I needed the house payment, my truck was about to be repossessed, and I was down to my last 20 bucks.
It’s exciting to think that women in the sex industry are forced into sexual bondage by evil men, but the boring reality is that most often we have to go to work to pay the bills, just like everyone else. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s not, but that doesn’t make our consent—or our right to claim our own agency—any less.
I made this handy quiz to illustrate some of the complexities of choice, coercion, agency, and sex work! You don’t have to be a sex worker to take the quiz and get your own coercion score. It’s fun to take it on behalf of your much younger self and compare scores. Ready? Go!
⟶ How much do you need money? Are your kids hungry at home, your utilities turned off, an eviction notice on your door? Is it your dream to go to college but you can’t get financial aid? Maybe you’ve been accepted to an Ivy League school and don’t have $100,000 for your first year. Perhaps you already have a job that pays okay, but you strive for a more expensive lifestyle or a fatter savings account?
➊ I’m doing very well, I just want more.
➋ If I stopped working, I’d be okay for a little while.
➌ If I don’t go to work sometime this week, I won’t be able to pay my bills.
➍ I have to make a grand in the next two days or I will be homeless or not able to afford a lawyer to keep me out of jail or get my kids back.
➎ I’m homeless and broke, and I need to make some money to take care of my kids tonight before social services finds out or the violent person we’re hiding from finds us.
⟶ Are you underaged, an illegal immigrant, or otherwise unable to get a legitimized job? Do you have degrees or experience that would let you jump into another career? Can you make money in another way? Enough money? How much would it suck?
➊ Sure, I could have another job that pays the same next week.
➋ Maybe if I worked on my résumé and my networking I could find a job that would cover the bills.
➌ I guess if I canceled my smartphone, cured my shopping habit, and broke my lease to move into an affordable studio, I could get by on minimum wage.
➍ I’ve been trying to get a job but the economy is bad, I have a disability that makes me not so employable, or I have to check that box that says “I’m a felon.”
➎ I can’t legally work in this country at this time because of immigration status and/or I am underage with no guardian to sign for me.
⟶ Do you escort because your sex drive is so high? Do you have to drink to get through the night? Do you hate what you do for money?
➊ Dude, the only thing better than sex is getting paid for sex.
➋ I’m good at what I do and I like it.
➌ It’s a job. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t.
➍ It’s all good as long as I’m not sober.
➎ I hate sex work and it makes me hate myself.
⟶ Do you know how to say no in the VIP room, no to guys who show up at your incall expecting anal, or no to customers who won’t follow your screening procedures? Can you confidently pass up the bad dates and wait for the good ones?
➊ Of course. I only see respectful regulars and well-screened newbies.
➋ If they make me uncomfortable I just hang up on them, walk away, call the bouncer, or tell them to leave.
➌ If they’re really bad I stop, but I hate to make them feel bad.
➍ I don’t like conflict; it’s usually easier to just deal with it.
➎ They’re not paying me to tell them no.
⟶ Let’s be honest: Most of us accepted things when we started working that we wouldn’t accept a few years or even weeks later. Maybe we didn’t see anything fishy about the manager who said a lap dance was part of the audition, or we believed the customer who said everyone lets them get away with it in the champagne room. Gosh, maybe you were a waitress who was impressed by someone offering a couple hundred for an overnight you would charge $2000 for now. Some of you were old enough, assertive enough, or jaded enough to know what was up from your first twirl around the pole.
➊ Whatever they want, I know the going rates and conditions, and I can probably negotiate for better.
➋ I’ve been doing this a while and I know how to handle my hustle.
➌ I just do what it seems like everybody else does? I’m still figuring out what’s going on.
➍ This guy says I have to give him a discount for leaving me a good review because everyone else does. That’s cool, right?
➎ I met the nicest guy and he’s taking me to Dubai to become a supermodel! I’m gonna be rich!
⟶ Do you decide what you do and when you do it? Do you set your rates? Do you negotiate directly with customers on your own terms about money and activities? Does a pimp, agency, or strip club set your rates and define your boundaries for you? Can you take a day off for your period if you want to? Does criminalization prevent you from having frank conversations about the services you offer?
➊ My business, my way.
➋ I’m an independent contractor and there are some rules, but they’re reasonable and I basically do what I want.
➌ This club makes me come in by seven and stay till close or I can’t work, and I have to work four days a week. Plus now the bouncer thinks he can tell me how to do a lap dance! Who died and made them God?
➍ I hate bareback blow jobs, but that’s what I have to do to be competitive.
➎ My agency owner says he’s gonna call the state and they’ll take my kids away if I don’t work seven days a week and give him 80 percent of the money.
⟶ Some guys will walk into a dead strip club and see it as an opportunity to make someone’s night. Other guys will see the same dead club as an opportunity to pressure broke strippers for discounts and extras. Just last week one client told me I charge too little and overpaid me by 50 percent, and another emailed to say that other ladies do the same for less and I should give him a discount so he doesn’t write a bad review. How much do the clients you come into contact with respect the way you value your services?
➊ I have a very select clientele who all worship me and always tip.
➋ Most of my clients don’t suck.
➌ Last night was so dead I ended up sitting with this awful guy for two hours and only getting $40.
➍ Almost all my clients want more than I provide for the same amount of money, but mostly they still pay me … reluctantly.
➎ I can’t sell a $20 lap dance without promising a blow job or getting assaulted.
⟳ Now add up your score and keep reading to find out how coerced you are!
Congratulations! You’re lucky and you’ve got this shit figured out!
At least it’s not McDonalds.
You’ve got problems. I hope it’s your personal journey with boundaries and not circumstances beyond your control.
Girrrl, get rid of that pimp!