When Worlds Collide: Grandma Went Through My Dirty Laundry
Today, my grandmother found out about my sex work. It was an intense moment of tears and slut shaming and family betrayal. I wanted to explain a little more fully about what happened and what the impact was, because I want to process it and figure out my own healing, and because I want other people to know exactly what it’s like. On some level, too, I want other sex workers out there to know they’re not alone in this.
I haven’t eaten lunch yet, and am chatting with my fiance and a friend about various things when I get a knock on the closed bedroom door. Grandma opens it and says “I need to talk to you”, to which I mumble “yeah ok” and close the laptop, swinging around to face her.
“No,” she says, looking grim. “In the living room”.
I shrug, figuring we’re going to have a discussion about the car or something, and go into the living room, yawning, not too concerned. I’m still in my pajamas. We sit facing each other.
“I Googled your name.”
The words feel like lead. I sink, somewhat, but try to be upbeat. I mean, I have never been closeted about my sex work or my performances with my grandmother. Friends have marveled at how open and cool she is. They’ve heard me talk to her about the difference between my work name and my legal name, and why these things are important. They’ve seen me talk to her about the Sex Workers Outreach Project. They’ve been kind of shocked when grandma says something about sex toys or the costumes I wear to Kinky Salon. She doesn’t come across as clueless, just more of a “live and let live” type.
Which is why the next words killed me.
Grandma sighed, narrowed her eyes, and spat out, “C (her friend) said she was going to Google your name so I thought I would first. And you disgust me. I can’t believe you’re selling yourself- don’t you have any self-respect, any self-worth? How could you do something like that?” And she shook her head then, sadly, and said “I’m so disappointed. I saw your photos… they were disgusting. You’re disgusting.”
I was silent for a second. The day before, I had been interviewed with other SWOP members about sex work, and one of the questions was about the complications of the job. I had said, proudly, how glad I was that I could be out with my family, how that saved me, how privileged I felt and knew I was. How in a world that says that sex workers are worthless, that violence against them is to be expected and not made a fuss over, that says I should be ashamed, my family stood by me. And here I was, hearing my grandmother say she was disgusted by me. The vitriol was thick.
“Well,” I tried protesting, “I do workshops, too, and lectures, and writing, and I’m touring just this week…”
“Disgusting.” I watched my grandmother fold her arms and look disapprovingly at me. Like I was a stranger. Like she didn’t love me anymore.
And that was when I lost my shit.
“You know what? FUCK this. Fuck your judgments. I am not going to get talked down to by you because I make my own choices with my body. I have always been honest with you, and it’s totally fucked up for you to say these things. How dare you!” I leapt up and ran to my room, tears falling down my face. I slammed the door shut and locked it, needing time to think. What was I going to do?
Because here’s the thing, ultimately. Grandma’s friends also know my real name. And they like to meddle. I have to actively be fearful that they would call the cops on my site, on me, probably in order to “save” me from myself. Grandma must have told them my work name- there’s no way or reason they would know otherwise. She outed me, and I suddenly began to realize, with dawning dread, that I could be in very real danger.
I packed a bag. Laptop, socks, underwear, some jewelry, phone charger, a bit of makeup. I grabbed all the money I had, too, got dressed in layers, and prepared to leave the house. I was suddenly conscious that my grandmother might very well choose to tell me to move out, that I’d have nowhere to go, and money would go quickly. The irony being that, because of all the non-sex work I was doing for less money, I hadn’t had much time to book sex work clients. I was being shamed for prostitution and promiscuity when I was struggling with my libido in my personal life, something that comes and goes with me. Too sexual for some, too frigid for others.
It was not hard to feel like I was carefully treading on a spider’s web of social expectations for women and sex.
A phone call to my mother helped me calm down, as she was immensely supportive, not just of the work I do but how inappropriate Grandma’s behavior was. It was validating to hear words of courage from my mum, and gratifying to know that she and my Dad were behind me and supported me. I’m very lucky to have that- most sex workers don’t. It made the difference between making an escape plan and making a self-harm plan. I began to feel less panicked and scared, and more angry- how dare she tell her friends private information, and then slut shame me for it?
As I walked out the door, I felt pissed off. Seeing Grandma in the kitchen, I stopped. I knew I had to say something.
“I can’t believe you outed me to your friends,” I said, feeling both furious and so, so tired. “You have put me in incredible risk, you have said some awful things, and I am deeply, deeply hurt.” I paused. She was silent, so I continued, annoyed- “People like you are the reason people like me get raped and killed and society calls it an ‘occupational hazard.’ Thanks for that.”
I opened the door, turned and said, “You know what? Your prejudice disgusts me.”
I walked out into the grey afternoon to wait to be picked up. I spent the day with women who understood my pain, for different reasons. We brainstormed. We processed. I talked to my parents and my dad, bless his heart, talked to my grandmother, telling her that they know I’m a prostitute and they support/love me, and are proud of me. He explained that Europe has much more liberal attitudes about sex work. He made it ok for me to stay at the house, tonight at least. I got an incredible amount of support from friends and acquaintances on my twitter feed and my facebook wall, with offers of support from a little financial (which, if you want to, you can donate here) to places to stay. With Momentum coming this weekend, I decided to ride it out, if I can, though am working on plans to move out when I return. I can’t trust her. And until she apologizes to me, I feel pretty ok with cutting her out of my life.
Grandma never apologizes, so that might be a while.
I’m ok for now, though I’m aware I may have to grab my bag and run if she makes home unsafe for me. It’s just heartwrenching, disappointing, and makes me so angry at society, which tells women such complicated mythologies about sexuality. And worse, of course, is that I thought she KNEW all this. I suspect her friends shamed her and so she shamed me. It’s horrible.
This is why I hate dead hooker jokes, and why I hate rescue programs. It’s why I hate the way the media always defines a dead prostitute by her job before her name. It’s why I hate body fascism (I suspect part of what she hated about my photos is the way I sexualize my fat body rather than hide it away).
It’s why I ask you to be allies, both in standing with us when we need it, and in giving us space to speak when we need that.
It’s why I work with SWOP.
You can tell a lot about a country by how they treat their marginalized communities, right?
America is fucked.up.