The H-Word: Maria Talks About the "Real World."

Photo of a woman wearing a white lace top with black hair--her face is out of the frame

The H-Word presents first-person stories from current and former sex workers across the U.S. Maria is a 48-year-old hairdresser and artist who supplements her income selling sexual services to clients that she meets online. She talks about how petitions to shut down adult classifieds sections on sites like Craigslist and Backpage affect real women working in the industry.   

The forces behind the censoring of Craigslist clearly know little of the real world. Now, they're after Backpage. To assume that removing the Adult Services ads sections of our newspapers would magically eliminate the abuse of anyone is absurd. The fact is that there are people who post on Adult Services that are of legal age and independent. I should know—I am one of those women. If Backpage and the many other adult services sites were to be removed as an option for these many men and women, I fear we will be forced to the streets, where the most abuse occurs.

I choose to do this. Everything I do is consensual. I am not coerced by anyone nor am I compelled by any tragic issues other than the need to pay my rent during this fierce economy. Like many other sex workers, I do this as a side job to help offset the losses felt in our other work. I have a regular career, but times are tough and I can't survive on what that brings in alone. Should I get a part-time, low-wage job instead? Of course, there are so many jobs available, so why not? Trust me, I weighed all the other options before choosing to do this.

I rely on sex work for my income. My landlord, PG&E (my local electric company), AT&T, Trader Joe's, CVS, and many more rely on my income from sex work. So does the art supply store I use, the movie theaters I attend, the local farmers markets I support, and yes even a shoe store once in a while. These and many more businesses rely on the income they garner from those of us who can still participate in the sex industry. I prefer to participate. My having this job is good for the economy.

In the chase to be seen as some form of crusader of the innocent, our "advocates" wreak havoc on the world of independent sex workers. They don't stop for a minute to consider the entire story and the negative repercussions that are possible for those of us who are just trying to survive. I'm a mature, intelligent woman who chose an option that made the most sense to me right now. I'm old enough to make my own choices, clearly of sound mind, and right now I live in a bit of fear for what I will do next if this option is taken from me. I may be forced into far more dangerous and uncontrollable circumstances if they take away this choice.

Maria is currently working on a graphic novel about her experiences in the industry.

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Comments

19 comments have been made. Post a comment.

hi maria. thanks for sharing

hi maria. thanks for sharing this. I wonder what your views are how women outside this industry may be affected by it? Do they have any right to an opinion on how they see it impacting on their culture and communities?

I'm not the original poster,

I'm not the original poster, Maria, but I feel compelled to respond to your query anyway. The sex industry can't exist in a culture or a community where there is no demand for it. So, if women outside the industry are so bothered by what they're seeing they need to consider who is creating the market for it, not who the service provider is. It is the men INSIDE the "affected" community that are the CONSUMERS of sex services. Don't want it in your community? Tell your husband/ brothers/ neighbors/ friends to stop buying it.

fitallitas

content you write is extremely interesting for me, so I can get to you to visit his blog. best wishes kedapan hopefully more advanced and successful in the work. thank you.

beraktifitas di toko jual beli online, alat bantu sex dan wanita.

Freedom of business contract

These comments you make are right on: "Everything I do is consensual. I am not coerced by anyone nor am I compelled by any tragic issues other than the need to pay my rent during this fierce economy." and "I’m old enough to make my own choices, clearly of sound mind, and right now I live in a bit of fear for what I will do next if this option is taken from me. I may be forced into far more dangerous and uncontrollable circumstances if they take away this choice."

What you do as an adult is your choice, and since it is all consensual, we can assume that, economically, everyone is gaining from the exchange, otherwise it would not occur! And if all participants to the exchange are better off, then why should it be made illegal? Sexual services are not going anywhere: The market has been, and will continue to be, the arena that many will choose to enter or fall back on, regardless of the legality of it, just because it is so ever-present.

Which brings me to your next comment... There is one consequence of government's interfering in people's freedom of economic exchange by criminalizing certain exchanges that rarely receives enough attention, and that is the violence that is inherent in forcing any market (for sex or drugs or whatever) underground. If contracts cannot be enforced in the light of day, utilizing legitimate courts of justice, that means they will be enforced in other, more violent, extrajudicial ways. And this makes it more dangerous for *everyone*, not just the people directly involved in the underground market activity. Given that the market for sexual services is not leaving this world anytime soon, these attempts to push it underground *will* only result in more harm to the women and men involved in it, just like prohibition did nothing to squelch demand for alcohol, but *did* cause rivalrous, deadly shoot-outs, as the participants in the market attempted to create their own rule of law and mete out retributive justice.

What you say is right on, but what is even worse about "this fierce economy," is that in times of economic turmoil or domestic unrest, violent sexual crimes against women tend to increase, generally. This means that risk upon risk will be heaped onto the people who work in the sexual services market. The sanctimonious individuals who mistakenly believe they can force their version of morality upon others via the legislative process end up harming everyone, but most especially the individuals directly involved in the market activity.

It is heartening to see that not all people are so senseless and uncaring with regard to human life: I remember reading about a group of New Yorkers who banded together in order to protect women in the Long Island sex industry, when police would not (contributing to a toll of at least thirteen murdered): http://bit.ly/i9Z8Ig, and http://bit.ly/lKHUp5.

God be with you! XOXO

What about those who aren't making this choice?

Also, thank you for sharing your story. I am curious though as to what you mean here by choice. It sounds like you feel that this is the best option you have for survival right now, but if you really had a choice, you wouldn't be doing this work. It sounds like it's hard to make ends meet, and you're doing what you feel have to do to get by. It's unfair that these are your options. It's unfair that your options boil down to doing sex work or being vulnerable to abuse.

You are right that eliminating Craigslist adult services or Backpage will not stop sex slavery from happening. It may not make the sex trade safer for the women involved. But will it start a conversation to create more options for people who feel pressured into this industry for economic reasons? Is it possible that it could bring this industry to light, create a safer venue for those doing this work, and give the independent workers more control?

Maria Here!!

I didn't get a chance to add to these statements that I made right after Craigslist Adult services was shut down so here goes.

Indeed, I did make a choice and many others do not.

The truth about sex work and trafficking is what is rarely discussed at all let alone in depth.
The demand.
The demand of men driven by curiosity, need, aggression and EVERYTHING in between.
Go ahead and close down every site on-line that offers any form of sex. The men will find a way to fill their “needs.”
This demand is an issue we need to have a big conversation about as it is at the heart of the problem.

Those who wish to create change and provide real world options need to shift their focus They should direct the time, energy, passion and no doubt money they throw at trying to kill the ads on these sites towards services and opportunities for those who need / want them.

Getting out of prostitution is difficult for many. Shutting down the websites is only going to make life more risky for those who have few other options.

This is a complicated issue with many variables and no clear solutions.
Misguided puritans are never going to be able to make prostitution go away. What we can do is work to make people safer, provide real world support and maybe even empower them with some form of autonomy.

Those who traffic human being in any way are taking advantage of desperation of most of these people. Working to provide real options for these women and men is the best way to help them.
Closing down Craigslist or Backpage simply temporarily shuts down a symptom. It does not cure the problem.
I liken it to Hydra but its going to take a lot more than Heracles and Iolaus to kill this monster.

Most of the human trafficking is in Thailand and Brasil and closing Craigslist or Backpage Adult Services wont help these people.

Decriminalization, education and public awareness of sex work is a start.
I support the work of the Center For Sex and Culture and St. James Infirmary.

Lets find and fund real options for run aways, the poor and the powerless.

Lets start discussing the demand.

The forces behind the closure of adult services sites are chasing their tails.

Please

I'm sorry if you're concerned about losing business, but honestly, Maria - times are tough for me, too. I struggle, I juggle, I beg, I borrow. But I don't sell my body to strangers. To do so seems extremely dangerous, both psychologically and physically. And to do so would also feed the fire of male contempt for women. ("You see - they don't mind. They like it. I'm helping them out by purchasing their bodies. It's natural for women to sell themselves. It's the oldest profession, and let's face it - that's what women were made for.")
I'm sure there are many "little people" who feel they could make a good living by participating in dwarf tossing. But who would argue that dwarf tossing has no effect on the way little people are perceived and treated?
And how about the rights of African Americans to act in Minstrel shows? Yes, dancing in black face should be a legal choice, but must the communities affected by these choices have to defend them?
Good for you for finding a way to make ends meet. But please don't be a hypocrite: don't pretend your "choice" does not encourage the degradation of women.

Thanks for your comment,

Thanks for your comment, Penny. However, I don't think a comparison of sex work to blackface or dwarf tossing is really fair here. There are many reasons people choose to participate in sex work, either as workers or customers, and not all of those reasons contribute to the degradation of women. Like Maria said in an earlier comment in this thread, for the climate of sex work to change, the customers' demands and attitudes need to change, as well as the treatment of sex workers by the culture at large. Instead of asking women not to feed the fire of male contempt, why not ask men not to degrade women in the first place?

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln

Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry) had his reasons too. We all do, but oppressors make participating mandatory. That's why it's called "oppression."

Do you think in Bitch can arrange to host a blog series called The J Word so we can all learn more about johns? I've been surprised at how little this blog series has mentioned johns over the past few weeks and your idea to put more focus on them is excellent.

The real problem

The problem is not that women sell sexual services (not their bodies- as a sex worker i can assure you it still belongs to nobody but myself!) , but that women are even seen as degraded if they do something sexual. The problem is that women have to avoid being sexual to be taken seriously. In our culture, it's dressing too sexy, being too beautiful and thus attracting male attention, liking sex too much or selling sexual services that leads people (men AND other women) to shame and/or dehumanize us. In more patriarchal cultures, losing one's virginity is enough to be deemed worthless. I won't let such misogynistic thinking restrict my actions.

"honestly, Maria - times are

"honestly, Maria - times are tough for me, too. I struggle, I juggle, I beg, I borrow. But I don't sell my body to strangers. To do so seems extremely dangerous, both psychologically and physically. And to do so would also feed the fire of male contempt for women."

You seem to be showing a lot of contempt for Maria here. I'm sorry, Penny, but you aren't better than her because you don't sell your body to strangers.

I agree, Maria is putting herself in harm's way to pay the bills. So are women who take on work in high-sexual-harassment jobs, like the military, law enforcement and construction. So is any woman who works in any workplace where she's degraded by those she works with and for, which is a lot of women.

I disagree that Maria is feeding male contempt for women. The contempt existed long before Maria's first Craigslist ad was posted. It has existed since the pre-agrarian age, for all women regardless of occupations. I'm finding it hard to think of an occupation, traditionally "female" or not, that hasn't fed, couldn't feed, or doesn't regularly feature in misogynistic rantings.

Argh - Penny, why is it that

Argh - Penny, why is it that when you wait tables, you don;t see it as selling your body for someone else's pleasure of eating? Or when you build a house, it is someone else's pleasure of having a nice home? What is it about sex that is so squitchy and makes you think someone is "buying her body"? There is something awfully Victorian about it. They are buying her time, and SHE chooses what happens in that time. We each sell our time to make money in various ways - I would feel more degraded working in an office. And if sex work is so awfully degrading, then why is there no conversation about male sex workers and how it is women and men who are degrading and dehumanizing them?

The attitude that when a woman chooses to sell her time in a manner that may end in sexual contact, it is somehow degrading is blatantly patronizing, and is just as about as patriarchal as the patriarchy you say you are fighting. You seem to have little concept of the kind of men who actually visit escorts, sex workers, etc. You assume their motivations, but the bulk of men who purchase time with sex workers are not that. At least not in my world, or the worlds of other sex workers I know and read about.

"The arguments against female prostitution are familiar: prostitutes are victims, have no self-esteem, degrade all women, and need to be forcefully removed from their circumstances. However, when one applies these arguments to male prostitutes, and if one treats men and women as intellectual equals, then the arguments contradict the very essence of feminism; instead, they propagate patriarchal and antifeminist values." J.Marlowe Reprinted from Whores and Other Feminists, Jill Nagle, ed., New York: Routledge, 1997.

Degradation?

When I started this I thought it was going to be a cut and dry transactions of sex.
I certainly had plenty sex for free that I later wished I had at least been paid for so what was the big deal?
The truth is that this is rarely just about sex.

Certainly my age brings me a different type of client but I have seen all ages from many walks of life and far more often than not they seek comfort and a form of validation.
I have listened to so many sad, crazy and stupid stories. I listen, give advice, admonish them when they say or do asinine things, laugh with them as well as at them.
Ive been told I have changed some of their lives.
One very successful and generous client comes to me while he is in the midst of manic episodes of his usually manageable Bipolar Disorder. He rants and raves, I listen and play along, tame him down and keep him safe. No sex at all. He even lets me draw while he is here. Bonus!
Sex worker as therapist....not a new story.

I have many clients who suffer from ED and many other issues that clearly make regular dating and sexuality complicated.
Of course many are unattractive but some are drop dead gorgeous.
Most ache for touch and conversation. The happy endings are just a bonus if not an excuse.

Several have helped me through hard times too.

I have NEVER been abused nor felt unsafe.
Grossed out, yeah.

I am also lucky in that I personally really enjoy sex and sensuality and feel that what I offer can be something wonderful rather than sordid and debasing. I advertise myself as such.

Ive been lucky to have met many wonderful people of which several have become close friends.
I am lucky to report that I have had some truly amazing experiences with some of my clients.
A few have fallen in love with me and I will admit to caring too much for one or two of them as well.

Does it make you feel better or worse if you know that I used some of the money to buy art supplies and to travel to Europe?
I am not addicted to any substances and am relatively sane.

I have an exit strategy and big plans already in the making for my future.
I have become involved in the politics of sex work and rally for decriminalization and better protections and services for sex workers.
Lets not forget that MANY sex workers men.

In the end I have paid my bills, made a little extra for some dreams come true, met some really cool people, had some fun times and learned a LOT about myself in the process.
When Craigslist shut its adult section down I struggled to the point of having to borrow money and thankfully I was able to move to a not only less expensive but far better apartment.
My other work is picking back up again and I do not need to rely on sex work as much right now to get by.
My regular clients keep me afloat and generally life is very good.

I do understand that I am an anomaly and that I am very, very lucky.

Yet the FACT is that there are more and more men and women entering sex work with a positive and business like attitude. I have met several of them. I felt like I was in fine company with such intelligent, attractive, progressive, hilarious, warm, friendly, talented, open minded and very caring folks.
One of my favorites bought herself a condo and is involved in local politics. She is working to make a difference.
She is brilliant, hilarious and actually enjoys her work. She grows her own food. She truly is a hooker with a heart of gold.
We whores can be good peeps!

Carol Queen, a founding director of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco who regularly interacts with Bay Area sex workers, said there had been no credible scientific surveys to determine how many prostitutes worked voluntarily. Queen described the situation as “complex,” representing a “diversity of experience, from those who say ‘this is my calling’ to those who felt they had no choice.”

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12cAO)

Yes, there are people being abused out there and these crimes need to end. This aspect of prostitution is horrifying to me and I cant imagine the horrors these people endure.
I do what I can to educate. I inform my clients about the issue. It is shocking how many of them don't understand where those Asian Massage parlor women come from.
I have donated to the Polaris Project even though I disagree with their stance on Craigslist, etc.

I support the Center For Sex and Culture ( http://www.sexandculture.org ), Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA ( http://www.swopusa.org/ )and the St. James Infirmary ( http://stjamesinfirmary.org) and I encourage you to do so as well.

My graphic novel covers my experiences (some drama and so much comedy) as well as a look at the history of prostitution, and the sex trafficking/human slavery issue.
It is called 'Life Is Tricky" and I hope to have it ready for publication by next fall. I have done all the artwork and writing myself.
My own happy ending.

While I would will not advocate sex work as the perfect alternative career choice I will not look back on this chapter of my life with any regrets at all.

Thank you so much for posting

Thank you so much for posting further comments on this, Maria. I will definitely be checking out your graphic novel!
And I've said it before, but I LOVE this column. Very illuminating on different aspects of the sex industry that most people usually don't hear about. Thank you Melissa!

Beautiful, Maria!! Thank you

Beautiful, Maria!! Thank you for articulating it all so well!

This post is offensive and

This post is offensive and irresponsible; it is glamourizating an industry that reduce us women to commodities and destroy the lives of themm all.It will make young girls to think that´s a nice fun job like any other.Why not to promote other carries to us women/ why this insistence in convince anyone on Earth that prostituion is cool? why we don´t see men wishing prostituion for themselves like women do? If you wish to have many men in your life,why not takeing them as your lovers instead of seeling yourself to them?

I doubt if this women really exist( if it´s not a por-porno man in disguise),because the reply is too much pro-prostitution,"she" even says that the johns she has are wonderful guys( if they are,why do they need to pay for sex?To reduce women to a commodity is cool,right?)

Just an other fairy taile who humilated the real women abused in prostitutuon and put Third Worl women in danger.
No matter how much people in the industrialized countries glmapurazing it,prostituion is violence agianst women and a strong barrier in front of gender equality.

Lourdes: I hope you'll search

Lourdes:
I hope you'll search "The H-Word" and read the rest of the column (particularly the first person stories). The H-Word is not trying to convince the world that prostitution is "cool," only that prostitutes are real-- real women (and men and transgendered individuals) with experiences and opinions just as valid as yours. The column represents people with variant experiences within the industry: good, bad and ambivalent. I would read Maria's experience as somewhat ambivalent-- she is certainly not glamorizing the industry, merely defending her right to sell sex as a necessary way of supporting herself. I promise you the sex workers who have shared their stories with me actually exist. It is a sad statement that we are constantly having to convince people of our mere existence but this is exactly where feminism is at when it comes to sex work, and so this is one main the purpose of the H-Word. Thanks for your comment.

-

How come as soon as prostitution is shown as what it REALLY is for the people involved, the good and the bad, without stereotyped sob-clichés- it's "glamourizing"?

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