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Sex work is how I support my family

How would you earn your living if you and your child had a severe disability? One mother shares how she has found a job that makes her life just a little easier.

I’m young, Māori and a sex worker, and my life is harder than you can imagine, but not for the reasons you’re thinking. Some mornings I lay in bed crying. I know that my day will be painful, and so will every other day for as far as I can see into the future.

I’ve lived with chronic pain in my body since I was a child, and my daughter’s severe disability means that I will continue to care for her full time for the remainder of my life. It’s not only hard physical work, it’s hard emotional work, and some days I can’t bear it.

Like many people, I want to work hard now so I can retire comfortably when I’m old. I imagine relaxing in a rustic little cottage by the ocean, nestled into a colourful garden brimming with vegetables and wildflowers. I think about sitting in the sun with friends and making strings of beads and shells to hang in the trees. I think about teenagers giggling and saying that I’m so behind the times. It’s not everyone’s aim in life, but I can’t wait to be behind the times.

In reality though, I live in a capitalist economy where everything is privately owned, and if you don’t own anything then you’re stuck working for the people who do. My body isn’t capable of working a 40 hour week, nor allowing me to become qualified at something that pays well. I’m disabled from working, and I’m part of a society that doesn’t take care of people like me, people like my daughter.

Both my daughter and I will gradually become more and more disabled, but she much sooner than me.

She already needs one-to-one care at all times, and she’s still just a small child. People with her level of needs are not well-accommodated, even in care facilities.

I can’t bear the thought of reducing her life. I need to plan for her future – and I imagine she will outlive me, so I need to plan for that as well.

But how can I plan for her future when I can barely pay the rent?

What will happen to her if I don’t own a house by the time I’m completely unable to work?

These are the questions I contemplate as I cry silently in my bed. I know that my life will always be hard both physically and emotionally, but sex work has given me hope for a future.

Being a sex worker means I can work when I am able and have days off when I’m not. I can fit my work around my disability, I choose when and how I work, and there is no pressure from my workplace. I never have to do more hours than I want to, so I can spend lots of time caring for my daughter.

The hardest thing about my job is being organised to place advertisements, take phone calls, and have somewhere convenient to work from. I pay tax on the money I make, and I save as much as I can so that my dream of a country cottage can come true one day.

Some people make the argument that any woman who needs money is not free to truly choose sex work, but is forced into prostitution by circumstance. They say sex work is not empowering, it is exploitation. They say my clients should be arrested, and they want to stop me from being able to work.

They say I’m in a predicament with no other choices, but I say sex work is getting me out of a lifelong predicament, and I’m glad I have the option to do it legally.

After struggling for years in a desperate situation of poverty and pain, being failed by social welfare and lacking safety nets, I finally found sex work. It’s a job I can do, it enables me to work and save, and it’s making my life a lot better. Sex work buys me mental health and happiness, because it buys my daughter a future, and every day that me and my clients aren’t being arrested is a day that my life gets a little easier.

Is it empowering? I’ll leave it to you to decide.

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