So, you’ve been holding on to a big secret about being a sex worker on the side, you’re over it, and you suddenly feel the urge to confess all to your family, and what better time than when your entire family has come together to celebrate the birth of Christ? Like ripping off a band-aid, ouch! You may as well get it all over with in one day, right?
Hold on there, sister and let’s consider some issues.
Your reasons for wanting to do this
First of all, what has prompted this sudden urge to disclose what could have profound repercussions for the relationship you have with your family? Is it because you are sick of lying? Is it because you know your loved ones would support you 100% and you think they have a right to know? Is it because you demand honesty from others and it would be hypocritical not to lay all your cards on the table? Is it because you suspect someone might out you? Is it because you want to shock someone, or let someone know that the little girl you are treated as is now someone all grown up?
Those are all valid reasons, although the last one may be a little hurtful, and you know it.
However, as I have said before, coming out as a sex worker is a bell that can not be unrung – people have long memories and some choose to hang on to old prejudices about sex work.
When you live in the bubble of sex work solidarity under the New Zealand model, you forget that there is a whole segment of society, where some of your loved ones spend most of their time, that does not support sex work or have any positive feelings towards sex workers and by coming out, as great as it makes you feel with that dark cloud having been lifted, you may inadvertently be making life harder for your loved ones by their connections to you. This can cause resentments towards you or even towards your loved ones that you could not possibly conceive of.
The reactions you might get
When you come out to your loved ones, there is a risk you may be rejected from their lives – forever! Can you do without them? Should you have to? Life is unfair, as an out sex worker you may come across unfairness you have never dreamed of.
On the other hand, the best possible outcome is that everyone may support you and love you in a new way you never thought possible.
However, that new way of being loved might not be something you are comfortable with – including platonic male friends who suddenly see you as a sexual creature when you never have been and certainly don’t want to be, or well-meaning loved ones, with an inability to understand the reality, taking pity on you and in their concern, spreading the word to those who they do not realise you would rather they not be told of this juicy nugget.
As well as that there are many others who simply do not need to know this little tidbit. This could include your younger family members’ school friends’ parents, religious elders, school teachers, judgmental gossips who will pad the story out a little and of course, prudish distant relatives who are old and doddery and will always think the worst, among others.
So it might be wise to inform those who you choose to disclose to who you would rather they do NOT disclose to.
Why it may not be appropriate to tell everyone
Please consider that not everyone is old enough to process this information well. In particular, I am thinking of your children. I personally think family members under 16 should have the information that their loved and protective family member is a sex worker withheld from them, and anyone thinking of outing a lady as a sexworker to their children is being extremely selfish and tittle-tattles should be ashamed of themselves.
If these children have had the misfortune to be told that their parent or other family member is in the category of ladies whose mention in the media is usually to do with their brutal murders which can create a lot of shame and fear in the mind of children, then care and sensitivity should be used to explain the reality in an age-appropriate way.
At the other end of the scale, elderly family members should be allowed to live out their winter years in blissful ignorance without any feelings of responsibility for their descendants or younger relatives having turned out in a way that they have been raised to think of as shameful. As well as that, older family members have a right to see their children as respected; When I heard of a loved senior family member – at an attempt of someone to out a sex working family member to her – hitting the roof in support of said sex working family member, while I felt admiration and pride for the senior family member, I also felt a little pain that the senior lady still felt she had to protect her sex working family member from such malice and harm and I understood her reasons for preferring that her offspring’s occupational choices to not be a topic up for discussion with her. Seniors should not have to deal with that. They’ve earned the right to be able to think the best of their loved ones and live their lives in peace and joy.
Why it may not be best to tell anyone
I hope you feel protective of those you love and can understand why it is simply not right to tell everyone and sometimes not any one. Please give it some thought.
It is your story, be clear on why you are doing it, and know that it is perfectly fine to not tell a soul if you choose. Not everyone can be trusted, even other sex workers. Sadly I have heard of sex workers, even ex-sex workers, and ladies connected to the industry who should know better, (who do know better than anyone some of the devastating effects that knowledge of this work can have on other people), who have blabbed the private situation of sex workers simply to hurt.
One lady told me that if certain people found out she was a sex worker, she would have to kill herself. That is how bad it can hurt.
But what if someone else tells them?
So why would someone do it? People out sex workers because they want them to suffer from the stigma attached to the sex industry. If there was no stigma about sexwork, more ladies would be doing it and more men would be openly seeing fit to see sex workers, which people in closed relationships, even sexless ones, would prefer did not happen. I witnessed a real life event when a sex worker I know was outed online, it was very sad.
Occasionally sex workers are accidentally outed by those sharing this wonderful thing a little too enthusiastically. See some of my points above.
So, should you tell your entire family you are a sex worker around the Christmas tree this year?
I would say give it a lot of thought. Pick and choose the right time, if you think there is one, prepare for all possible outcomes, own your story, but tell it gently.
Twelve Step Programmes (Alcoholics Anonymous is the most famous one) have a step which says “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others” (Step 9). One of the key points of this step is the last bit – except when to do so would injure them or others. This means that one must always be mindful of what and when to disclose anything. While it may be freeing for us, it can injure other people, and we should always do our best not to do that.
Please note: I have full respect for anyone who has chosen to or been forced to come out as a sex worker to other people in their lives. This blog post is in no way undermining the choices these people have made.
All images are from the 1950s American TV series, I Love Lucy featuring lovable redhead, Lucille Ball. Originally set in an apartment building in New York City, I Love Lucy centers on Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and her singer/bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), along with their best friends and landlords Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance).