Sex trafficking is an appalling crime in which a person is forced, coerced, or exploited into sexual labor. It is prevalent worldwide, and San Francisco is certainly not immune. "We know first-hand that there are incidents of trafficking within the San Francisco Bay Area," says Laura Lasky of Solace SF, an organization that provides aid and services to both sex workers and survivors of trafficking. However, sex work is a business transaction between two consenting adults; it is simply my job. When sex work is criminalized under the same laws that criminalize trafficking, it drives the industry further underground and results in a climate where consensual sex workers cannot be involved in the fight against human trafficking. If I meet someone who is working under force or coercion, I wouldn't be able to report the crime without facing legal ramifications myself. Anonymous reporting is potentially an option, but if sex workers like myself could actually work with law enforcement and legislators, then real atrocities like rape, assault, forced labor, and trafficking could be more effectively addressed. For now, sex work continues to exist on the boundary between the socially acceptable and the morally repugnant.

As Election Day grew near, I knew I had to do something more than just cast my vote. Then I remembered a road trip Jesse and I had taken once. We were listening to one of filmmaker Kevin Smith's podcasts. Smith is kind of a podcasting evangelist, so when he started to rant about how everyone should make one, Jesse turned down the stereo and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "You should start a podcast."

I called up a friend who had audio equipment and know-how. We recorded the first episode in our living room. Our mission was to humanize people in the sex industry by sharing their stories, art, and voices. I thought that if more people knew the real-life experiences of real sex workers, then maybe they'd reconsider voting "yes" on laws that criminalized them and their families. We crossed our fingers as we uploaded the first episode onto iTunes. The WhoreCast was born.


Two years into dating me, meanwhile, even as thousands of strangers were getting to know my story, Jesse's own family didn't yet know I was a sex worker.
Mike Hendrickson
Carol Leigh (right), also known as "The Scarlot Harlot," has been working as a sex worker, activist, and artist in the Bay Area for more than 30 years.
Tracy Mostovoy
Carol Leigh (right), also known as "The Scarlot Harlot," has been working as a sex worker, activist, and artist in the Bay Area for more than 30 years.

Jesse insisted he was open to telling his parents whenever I was ready, but I continued to put it off. I was afraid that even if they got to know me first, the fact that I was a sex worker would be a deal-breaker. I was plain crazy about Jesse and desperate for his family to think I was good enough for him.

The decision was taken out of our hands in the spring of 2013 when a segment I filmed for CNN Money on sex work was slated to air in homes across America. We knew we couldn't wait any longer to tell them.

Jesse's mother came to visit and we told her. The visit went well as far as we could tell, and she seemed to take the news with an open mind. However, as soon as she arrived home, we learned that nothing was okay.

Jesse's parents no longer speak to me. This time, my greatest fears came true. Despite the Christmases and vacations we had spent together over the past two years, the fact that I was a sex worker had indeed been a deal-breaker. Soon after the visit, boxes filled with things from Jesse's childhood started showing up in the mail.

It's not easy being the partner of a sex worker. Sometimes the consequences of coming out are quite grave, and the loss of Jesse's family is compounded by the threat of criminal prosecution under Prop. 35. There are times when I'm beside myself with guilt. This year hasn't been easy for Jesse or me.

Sadly, there is no shortage of people in San Francisco who have troubled relationships with their families.

I asked my close friend, Courtney Trouble, founder of QueerPorn.TV, for advice. Courtney identifies as gender-queer and has been in the sex industry for close to a decade. Courtney is very close to one parent, but is now estranged from the other.

"Me and my mom haven't spoken in three years. A lot of it has to do with my choice to be a sex worker." Courtney's advice was simple: "Our friends are our chosen family. Queer people have been forced to define their own families for a really long time. Picking people to be your chosen family is so incredibly important for our mental health."

San Francisco has been a destination for outcasts and freethinkers for decades. Beat poets are our ancestors, drag queens are our civic leaders, and flocks of parrots grace our skies; this place is like no other. Many times a year, the city celebrates sexual freedoms with huge events like Folsom Street Fair and LGBT Pride; they are as quintessential to San Francisco as sourdough bread and the Golden Gate Bridge. A culture of free sexual expression, combined with periodic economic booms like the Gold Rush and Silicon Valley, make fertile ground for a thriving sexual economy. What is now the wealthy neighborhood of Pacific Heights was once the red-light district of the Wild West known as the Barbary Coast. The modern sex worker rights movement, founded by Beat Generation darling Margo St. James, was born in this city in the 1970s alongside San Francisco icons like Harvey Milk and Ken Kesey. The Armory, in the heart of the Mission District, is now home to Kink.com, which is the largest producer of kinky adult content in the world. Sex work and therefore sex workers are part of the fabric of this city. Transplants from all over the world have come here in search of acceptance. The queer, the kinky, the radical, and the artistic have made their homes and found community in San Francisco. I am no different. I did not come to this city with the intention of becoming a sex worker, I came here in search of my people and my community. I found them in the sex industry.

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37 comments
Pamela Miramontes
Pamela Miramontes

I know this is off story, but do you recommend, any good resteraunts, close to Fisherman's Wraf, that are good for birthdays, sorry ?

Veronika Volok
Veronika Volok

Great article. Defiantly opened my mind and perception of sex workers

libertyfreedompatrio
libertyfreedompatrio

" I chose sex work for many reasons, but mainly because I enjoyed the work, I excelled at it, and it allowed me to live in the city that I love. I understood that choosing sex work made me vulnerable to criminalization and stigma, but seeing myself as an entrepreneur fulfilled me in a way work never had before."


An excellent collection of delusional rationalizations. I usually find narcissism hilarious, but this is just sad... 

ed.rippy
ed.rippy

Props to Siouxie for injecting some sanity into the mix. Props also on yr column, lk forward to it! Prop 35 definitely uses peoples' proper horror @ a really sick & twisted business (trafficking) to attack an entirely different business: willing sex work. Unfortunately its backers have succeeded in confusing the two for many people.

downtownbrown
downtownbrown

Wonder how her BF feels knowing he's exposed to all kinds of bugs including HPV (which she certainly carries and spreads) which can cause cancers in womyn and men.

Spider2
Spider2

I don't know what's more horrifying. That a young Gen-Y sexworker thinks she discovered "hidden kinks" in San Francisco that have been obvious and popular for decades, or that people are STILL commenting that sex work is somehow not real work, or the work of the emotionally damaged.


Come on world, you're changing much too slowly. 



Kestrel
Kestrel

Sorry, long rant. I had a lot of time to think on this. :)

I guarantee the troll is a religious nutjob. If she finds sex working so abhorrent then she should definitely never try sex working. But for religious people to demand their chosen morality should be inflicted upon all Americans is to indoctrinate a FREE society into their own perceived ideal way of life. Separate the church and state. Do not have abortions if you are against them.

Rape victims, women who cannot support themselves or are just teens, women who have done drugs during their pregnancies need to have this option. Why are the conservatives

trying to close abortion clinics and force women into having babies they cannot care for or ones who put out their babies in danger by living a reckless life or birth a baby with horrible health trauma and deformities? But they refuse to teach REAL sex ed, they refuse to make birth control pills an OTC drug though it's safer than Tylenol and they'll die before they make condoms free and available. So, have those babies, girls. We won't give you an ounce of help except we will pray for you. Prayers don't feed babies.

We enjoy our free society and the right to pursue happiness. Do not make your religious beliefs my American law. Do not begin 1.31 lives in a manner that they maybe cannot survive in.

You are a group of people who deny sex for fun. If sex is only for procreation, should infertile couples be required to get divorced? Are you a failure if you only have one or two kids? No. That's insane. We are a free nation. Sex workers may not be your cup of tea - personally, I couldn't do it - but you should allow them the freedom of choosing what to do with their own bodies. WE OWN OURSELVES. I don't believe in your god and refuse to worship him. I don't fear his wrath if some women support themselves this way and maybe support a few children they didn't abort but might have done so without the income that sex work provides.

You religious beliefs cannot become my national law.

Let's begin to make sex work a legitimate industry with health and safety standards, a database or licensing system that treats workers as employees and clients as, well, tax-paying clients. Instead of banishing women to the dark alley or making them fear bullshit trafficking laws, let's bring it out into the open and make it better.

Oh, and lazy? I think that's probably the last thing this writer is. She is aware of her sexual side, embraces it, gains pleasure from her work and makes a good income that would otherwise make her a retail worker needing food stamps. It's HER choice. Her clients are exercising THEIR choice. YOU can go and pray for them. The rest of us are trying to take away the stigma of this "oldest profession".

And if you think your god is against this and our nation must stand firm against this industry, how will you feel when Allah is the god in charge?

We don't have to personally be involved in their world but we do need to make sure that they can pursue whatever they want. It's a basic citizen right. And we are all citizens.

meatsack
meatsack

More power to the sex worker, it's a thankless occupation, a good article.


It's odd that Susie consulted Courtney/Trouble, as Courtney/Trouble is an unpleasant nut job.

Diana Pardini
Diana Pardini

Marine needs spellcheck so, so badly. It hurts.

Lala Bean
Lala Bean

If the strip clubs didn't take so much money from the girls, especially house keys.. Girls wouldn't feel the need to do extras. The term independent contractor means you can walk into work and leave whenever you want you are your own boss. The San Francisco strip clubs have some nerve telling you that you cannot leave. That is illegal. You are paying to work at their dirty ass venue: and yeah yeah so many people have them sacks work now it's just so cool. I'm a former sex worker except I was doing it legally in porn films as well as the ranches in Nevada. I pay taxes on that. I could write a book too but I figured it would all sound the same. The guys are come by are all overweight and have either too big of a penis or too small of a penis. Most of them smell that's why they come to the prostitute. Most of them are cheap. And a whole lot of celebrities. There's my book

ExecuteTamayoNow
ExecuteTamayoNow

It's not a profession.  Medicine, Science, business are professions.  You were showing your cootchie for cash.  There is a big difference. 

RJohn Xerxes
RJohn Xerxes

^^^ You might take your own advice and don't judge but accept that other opinion fully, please

Cassandra Luvv
Cassandra Luvv

^^^ To judge another, is to judge yourself. Unconditional love means to accept another fully without judgement. Stand in front of a mirror, look into your eyes, and say to yourself everything you wrote. Then experience what you feel fully.

whorelover
whorelover

Fantastic article! As someone who loves a sexworker and who has nearly been arrested for being a "pimp" because of it, it feels good to know that there are people like you out there actively working to make things better. You are awesome keep it up! 

Marine Macerot
Marine Macerot

go to school and go put your energy a real career.you are lazy.and stop dragging or keeping ostage fragile /co- depend boyfriend in your desease. and BTW:you are not selling intimacy to the married johns you provide your services to ,no ...you are just sexing them up.The men you serve are sick very sick.You need therapie ,you need to heal,go to "SAGE" it's an community that will provide you with the help you need. .you are worth more then the self inflicted abuse you put yourself through.this paper is well written but the content is pure sex traffic propaganda.she knows and we know it.you are a sad girl.

Federale
Federale topcommenter

What a revolutionary.  That is the way to epater le bourgeoisie.

meatsack
meatsack

@libertyfreedompatrio

What's delusional.  Everyone with a job is being used, I'm not saying that from a moronic SF progressive angle, just as a statement of fact.  If a person does sex work what's that to you. 

libertyfreedompatrio
libertyfreedompatrio

@downtownbrown  But venereal diseases are empowering to this "professional"! You know you've become a real SF entrepreneur when you contract herpes...

urbanlives
urbanlives

@Kestrel I am an atheist and have been since a child. I am pro abortion and OTC birth control. I am also the parent of 3 and having an industry that clothes itself as a profession when it consists of hourly hole rental is not the role model for children. It teaches girls that bodies are not for enjoying in athletics but for sexualizing and monetizing. It teaches boys to pay for the rent a hole dopamine rush. Giving people "choice" to sell flesh and condone this as benign freedom is, at the same time, denying them the freedom to see the other side: a hotbed of low self esteem riddled with essays like this to convince you they are grand entrepreneurs saving sad men, and a body with viruses that spread like wildfire and cause compromised immune systems overwhelmed with so many pathogens. The rent a hole industry is not freedom no matter how many sex workers would love to seduce  with words as well as shaved genitals.

bluechis
bluechis

@ExecuteTamayoNow    Medicine, science and business are industries IN which you can have a profession-like by being a nurse, researcher or accountant. Sex is also an industry, with publications, products, venues and tourism. Even if you reduce the author's work to "showing cootchie for cash" the longevity of her commitment and the skills required classifies it as a profession. And that is discounting her achievements as a sex-work author and sex-work podcast host. 

thatsenough
thatsenough

@ExecuteTamayoNow business can mean almost anything. For example an account execs main tasks include entertaining clients, sealing deals over drinks, making someone feel like the most important person of the room. basically sales. think about it for a second.

mrericsir
mrericsir topcommenter

Go back to the ugly little hole you came from and stay there, please.

Ralph93
Ralph93

Not everyone feels the way or experiences life the way you do. Not every sex worker is "damaged" and many non sex workers are. As long as a person is doing it out of choice and not coercion then there should be no problem.

 
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