During Game Five of the 2010 World Series, my dad and I sat side by side at a sushi bar in my Central Coast hometown. We ordered two scallop hand rolls and two sake bombs. The head rush of the wasabi and the calming heat of the sake dulled the anxiety of a day spent navigating ICU doctors and nursing assistants.
My mom was awaiting brain surgery. She had been diagnosed with a rare cranial bleed that had rapidly claimed her ability to walk, speak, eat, and breathe on her own. I dropped everything I had going on in San Francisco and drove down the Peninsula to be by her side. By the opening pitch of Game Five, I hadn't been to work in more than a week. I had recently quit my horrible retail job at a stationery store in Pacific Heights and started dancing naked full time at the Lusty Lady Theater in North Beach. My dad didn't know that yet, but tonight I was considering telling him. I feared he'd be upset or disappointed, and I'm sure he'd want to know why I'd chosen this new profession.
I've heard that your first year in San Francisco is the hardest, and I had absolutely found that to be true. Even working full time at my retail job, I barely made enough money to make ends meet. The first month I lived here, I didn't have enough to buy groceries, so I rationed myself one piece of pita bread with butter each day. For lunch, I'd go to the La Boulange bakery on Union Street and fill up on free olives and those tiny French pickles.
I also hated my retail job. Hawking rhinestone-covered greeting cards to Danielle Steel and the upper crust of the city took a little piece of my soul each day.
But it wasn't just financial pressures that prompted the leap into sex work. I had read about the Lusty Lady in college. It was a unicorn in the adult industry: a worker-owned unionized peep show where alternative looks and attitudes were celebrated. Sex work had always intrigued me and whenever money got tight post-college I would cruise the Craigslist Adult Services listings and contemplate the option. One of my babysitters when I was little was a retired San Francisco stripper who had danced on Broadway in the early 1980s. She told me stories of Champagne bubble-baths and dancing the night away. It certainly sounded like much more fun than my current position.
I decided to audition. I didn't think they'd hire me; I was chubbier than your average stripper and had always thought that my body would hold me back from doing any kind of sex work. But it didn't. They hired me immediately, and before I knew it I was spinning on a pole in 6-inch heels. As it turns out, I loved dancing naked.
For a while, I was still working my retail job. When I got off work at 5 p.m. each day, I'd hop on Muni with my stripper heels in my purse and transform from frumpy retail girl to powerful goddess of sex and mystery. I felt like I had a delicious secret, and it made the hours at my straight job a little less excruciating. At the end of the shift I'd be tired, and my feet and knees would throb, but I'd also be exhilarated.
My dad had always been supportive of my endeavors in arts and music, but I wasn't sure how he'd react to my recent pivot to the sex industry.
He was also in a union. I grew up going to protests and hearing lectures on the power of the people. Blue-collar values and union pride were an important part of our household. That's partially why I ended up at the Lusty.
We talked baseball instead of feelings, even though baseball makes my dad cry more than any emotional conversation. Then Edgar Renteria hit the three-run homer in the seventh inning and everything shifted. The Giants pulled ahead and it looked like they might actually take the Series for the first time in a half century.
It was a night for miracles, so I just went for it. Made bold by the sake and the magic of baseball, I came out to my father about being a sex worker.
I didn't expect him to be proud, but he was. Without having to explain, my dad understood that sex workers needed labor rights just like any other worker.
Brian Wilson took the mound as the closing pitcher. It was the bottom of the ninth. "Fear the Beard!" my father shouted at the television and ordered another round of sake. We watched the final batters crumble under Wilson's prowess. When Wilson raised his eyes to the heavens in the wake of the historic win, my dad and I stood up and started high-fiving the sushi chefs.
My confession hadn't changed a thing.
My career change had come just in the nick of time. My mother's brain surgery left her unable to work and had given my father the new role of full-time caregiver. Sex work brought along the luxuries of a high hourly wage and a flexible schedule that allowed me to visit regularly, take her to doctor's appointments, and help out financially on occasion.
I have a suspicion that I would have become a sex worker even without the circumstances of my mother's illness, though. I grew up idolizing historical figures like Mae West and Gypsy Rose Lee — outspoken women who used sexuality to leverage their careers. I saw that female sexuality was used to sell clothes, food, cars, and liquor, yet in the United States it is illegal to sell sex itself. That just didn't make sense to me.