Exposure doesn't shelter your head, and goodwill doesn't clothe you.
I have always had a tense relationship to money. As a child, I was deeply self conscious of the class divide that was apparent in my clothing and in my bagged lunches, and in the amount of work I was expected to put in for my allowance compared to my peers. I remember desperately wanting a pair of a.d.i.d.a.s tearaway pants, the only thing that would make going to gym worthwhile, and my parents bought me similar pants . . . but with four stripes instead of three, and a zip that went up the calf instead of fully unsnapping. I felt embarrassed by these pants, and chose to pretend they didn't exist, sitting out PE instead of wearing something that I was certain would get me laughed at.
I felt strongly, as I browsed the delia's catalog and wished desperately to one day be able to afford those denim skirts and platform sneakers, that what I needed for success was more dollars. I would've sold my soul for a pair of shoes from Candies because I believed they would make me popular. Lacking that, I made do with the clearance rack at Hot Topic and thrift stores, going Goth just as much because I could find clothes that fit as because I actually loved the style. I knew, somewhere in my gut, that if I just had more money, so many of my problems would be solved.
I still believe that's true a good portion of the time—more than people want to admit. People say all the time that money doesn't buy happiness, but say that to poor people and they'll laugh in your face. Money may not buy happiness directly, but it does buy security, safety, health, access, all things that help one be a happier person.
Before I did sex work, when working three minimum wage retail jobs at a mall an hour and a half walk away, any money I made went automatically to rent, then cat food, then my food, then anything else if there was any left. Any free time went to playing computer games late into the night and masturbating while chatting with my long distance lover because, as I often said, "masturbation is free entertainment." I didn't go out much, didn't really have friends, quit school because getting up at 5 am to get ready, make breakfast, and take the bus an hour to be at school at 7:00 am wasn't practical or possible while also juggling these jobs.
I started doing sex work when I was 18, though I probably wouldn't have called it that. A local stranger I was chatting with on AOL (back when that was a thing) asked me on a date, and I told him I couldn't because of my work schedule. So, he offered me a day off—he'd pay me whatever my daily take would've been, and I'd get a vacation AND a date. Because I was a little on the impulsive side, I agreed.
He was cute, though now I'd question how much older he was—about 15 years. And he was true to his word, putting some money on a side table as we chatted very casually. Now I wonder if he had seen sex workers before, my cynical mind curious if this was his Thing. Anyway, he gave me a really lovely massage, ate me out with my full consent, and we had a meal and that was that. Afterwards I pocketed the money and thought idly about how easy it had seemed. I went back to my jobs and didn't think much about it.
But then the working nonstop and the lack of social time with humans began to destroy me. I found myself contemplating suicide just to be done with the constant fear of how I'd pay the next bill, and I'd stay quiet about my thoughts because I knew I couldn't afford a trip to the psych ward. A friend from the Internet gifted me with a plane ticket to California, and my grandmother. Without that boost of money, there is no doubt in my mind I would be dead right now. I moved, I transferred my job, I tried to restart my life.
The money was still a problem, though. Still undiagnosed for my anxiety issues and overmedicated for depression, I was struggling with self harm and suicidal thoughts often centered around my fear I was not meant to survive adulthood. I didn't know how I could make ends meet when I wasn't yet back in school and I didn't have the emotional energy to handle a full-time job. Everything I was struggling with came down to a need for financial stability. I needed a car? Money. I needed social time with friends? Money. I needed to pursue interests and hobbies? Money.
To go to school and have a life, I needed to find a better way to make money. That's why I got into sex work —not because of my love of sex, or because I enjoyed the attention, though those things did help, but because I was in dire need of cold hard cash in order to survive. I was teetering precariously on the edge of being homeless and I knew I needed to find a way of making fast and easy under the table cash. Being as I was straight edge at the time, drug dealing was not going to be my savior. So I turned to sex work.
I found an ad for professional domination, figured that as someone who liked kinky sex I could probably hack it, and I tried for a couple months. The woman in charge seemed to hate BDSM, hate sex work, resent her clients, and allowed copious drug use on the premises . . . between that and her obvious disgust at having hired a fat woman (I was perhaps a size 16 at the time), it ended up not being the job for me. So I went independent, started to learn how to advertise on the Internet (I had a Moonfruit site I believe, back in the day, and advertised carefully on Craigslist), and didn't look back. I made more in an hour than I used to in a week after taxes. I also did fetish modeling, cam shows, custom written smut, anything I could find.
Post sex work, I learned to keep my living expenses low, that even a small cushion could be vital. I went to school finally. I started to learn how to save money, how to budget for practicalities and the occasional fancy thing, because I had money enough to make actual decisions with. I could go on vacations, I could take care of my medical needs, I could buy clothes that were more cute than practical. Suddenly I could afford to engage in self care, because I had the things I needed—time and money. And I began, secretly, to fall a little in love with those bills in my wallet.
There's a lot of judgment when you're a broke activist queer who decides to fight tooth and nail to eke out a living, maybe even a comfortable living. I've been accused of being capitalist scum because I don't want to ever be homeless again, because I am unapologetic in my love of making money and having a safety net, however tiny. While I have survived in part because of people being generous with my money, and part of what I love about money is being able to share it with others (huh, kinda like polyamory), having cold hard cash as an interest is often frowned upon. But exposure doesn't shelter your head, and goodwill doesn't clothe you.
I wouldn't be here without the kindness of others, not just through positive thoughts but through resource redistribution. And I wouldn't be able to help my friends in turn if I didn't work to make money for my own education to better serve, to create sustainable resources, to upkeep a car so I could see them or help them out. I can fight capitalism and hate it, but at the end of the day I live under it, benefit from it and am crushed by it, same as everyone else. I can't realistically opt out and also take care of my mental and physical health.
So I'm done with feeling uncomfortable with my desire to make money. This photo shoot, by Courtney Trouble, was done on the floor of the TROUBLEfilms office, surrounded by money I was about to use for rent on a new apartment. Call it an intention, call it a spell, but this year I am done with living hand to mouth. Survival is self care.
I invoke the Power of the Hustle. For me, for you, my readers, for your loved ones.
May 2015 be prosperous for us all, both financially and emotionally.