Whore Next Door: Logical Family Time

Even in Australia, where sex work is legal, shit can be hard.

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

This time of year, my social media feed is flooded with SOS messages.

Sex workers and queers around the globe prepare themselves to spend time with biological families who may not condone, support, or acknowledge the most meaningful parts of their lives.

In the post-election landscape, ideological divisions run deeper and the wounds feel fresher than at any point I can remember. For so many in my community, time with family during the holidays can feel more like going into battle than going home.

This is why the time we carve out with our chosen family — or, as beloved San Francisco writer Armistead Maupin says, our “logical family” — can feel like a lifeline this time of year.

Only days before Christmas, I got to spend some time with someone I refer to as my “queer little sister.” I met her long before I called myself Siouxsie Q and before she called herself Violet. We hung out with the same bands, and liked the same dance parties. She lived on the Peninsula with her parents, and I let her crash at my house when she came into town for Ships in the Night — when it still had a home at Underground SF in the Lower Haight.

“Next time just call a cab, and I’ll pay for it!” I’d say, as I fed her hangover breakfast the next morning. Later, I’d lend her my old ID to get her into the club but scolded her when she walked home alone.

In her second semester of college, she wrote to tell me she was interested in doing some web-camming and, possibly, queer porn.

Though I started my career in the adult industry through similar channels, and I’ve had a largely positive experience, I cautioned her against jumping into sex work before her 21st birthday — especially a part of the industry that stays on the internet forever.

She heeded my advice, but years later — now that she’s studying abroad in Sydney, Australia, where sex work is mostly decriminalized — she’s begun working in a legal brothel owned by two women (one former worker, one current). And she’s loving it.

Violet says she stays quite busy at the working-class establishment, exploiting her image of a “California college co-ed,” complete with bodacious blonde wig, to cover her bright turquoise top-knot. She tucks her septum ring up into her nostrils and plays up her American accent. She’s making a killing, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Though I’m filled with big sister feelings about it, I know that her work environment is far safer than my own, because of the decriminalized setting. Though Violet was brought up around Oakland queers and knows that cops are definitely not buddies, she does feel safer knowing that if she needs to reach out to law enforcement, she knows she won’t be arrested for doing her job.

However, that nagging, internalized whore-phobia pops up, no matter how much eggnog I drink. I have to admit there’s a small part of me that feels guilty and responsible for the path she’s chosen. If her biological family struggles with her choices, or if she experiences violence from the stigma she has inherited from this profession we’ve both chosen, I know I will feel somehow responsible, regardless of how patronizing a notion I know that to be.

“Be safe,” I say, as we embrace while waiting for her Uber to the airport. “You be safe!” she retorts, and we both laugh bitterly knowing that she is right. As much as I still see her as a kid sister in need of my protection, she has more access to resources and justice than I, and my fellow American sex workers, may ever have.

Violet reminds me that sex work in Sydney isn’t perfect. Street work is still illegal there. The state draws a very clear, racist, classist, line about who is criminalized, rather than which activity. (Also, the spider situation Down Under is basically a living nightmare, so I won’t be visiting any time soon.)

As we head into the new year, I’m reminded that all I truly wish for in this life is that the next generation of queers and sex workers will live in a world that is better, safer, and less hostile.

For now, I wish that didn’t mean that this beautiful, bad-ass baby dyke that I helped raise has to live on the other side of the globe. But until we get it together back home in the United States, that’s where she’ll have to stay.

Happy New Year to all the “logical families” out there. Together, we’ll get through this.

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