My sister was munching on something in my kitchen. I stood across from her, the counter between us. She was facing away from me. I rolled words around in my mind, trying to construct a sentence that would put her at ease, not evoke disturbing stereotypes about people like me. I had been talking about my stalker, this guy who was convinced I was in love with him and became infuriated when he realized I had a partner.
“I’m an escort,” I told her, “and he was a client.”
I honestly don’t remember if those were the exact words I said, but I do remember my entire body tensing up up. I almost started crying. I was so worried I would lose my sister, who I loved so dearly. I was shocked when she told me: “I’m glad you’re happy! I’m glad you found a job that works for you!”
This tension has always been between us, all these unspoken things.
She asked a couple questions about my job. I answered them, still bewildered at her response. I was expecting some concern. I wondered if she was feeling worry or judgement but didn’t want to burden me with it. My sister has always been incredibly thoughtful like this. I remember coming out to her as queer and how excited and happy for me she had been about that too. I’m crying now, writing this, so grateful to have spent so much of my life knowing someone as accepting and sweet as her.
I told her not to tell Mom.
My mother has always done her best to love me and take care of me, and I know this. But I come from an extremely religious, conservative family—house full of kids and fire and brimstone. I’ve always lived my life in extreme and unusual ways and it scares her. She wants me to be safe. There’s so much I haven’t told her because whenever I try to, I freeze. I was worried if I came out to her while living with her that she and my father would have sent me to gay conversion camp or that they would kick me out of the house and I would be homeless, which had happened to some of my friends. I like to think that she would have accepted me, but I don’t know.
I’ve danced around the subject with my mom and she’s danced around the subject with me. She saw some “suspicious” things in my calendar years ago, when I first started working, and called me about it. There was so much anxiety in her voice—“Are you safe?” I massaged the truth a bit, to make it seem like I was still working in tech—a field I left in pursuit of less misogynistic working conditions, more self control, and the ability to work around my mental illness and physical disabilities.
When I think about it now, I think she must already know. My face is all over the internet. Surely someone at our church who looks at porn or sees escorts has told her about it by now, under the guise of concern. I hate that I haven’t told her myself—I guess I am now and I hope she understands that writing this, in some ways, is easier. I’ve tried to, multiple times, but every time I try I freeze. I remember the most recent time we spent together, we got pie. I promised myself I would tell her as we ate. With every bite I took, I tried to say it. Every time, I froze.
I wondered if she could read the tension in my body. I could feel it radiating out of her as well. This tension has always been between us, all these unspoken things. There’s always been so much I felt I couldn’t tell her. I want so deeply to be loved and accepted by her. I want her to know I’m finally happy, after years of struggling with depression and anxiety and physical pain from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome—a disorder that affects my connective tissues and joints—and cluster headaches, that I’ve finally gotten medical treatment that I need, that I’ve been able to spend time healing myself because my job affords me monetary security and, most importantly, time.
When I thought I had stability in the past, I’ve have the rug pulled out from me like so many others
There’s a second closeting that we don’t talk about as much. As a sex worker, with a brand to maintain for my income and under threat of state violence, I’m closeted both ways.
I don’t have the same fears, of shame or familial abandonment, but I do have serious anxieties that coming out about my personal life to my fans and the public would risk a loss of income and jeopardize my safety. Being a sex worker makes it hard to discuss certain issues; some of my fans complain if my Twitter timeline is anything but sexy pictures. As I become more of a public figure, however, using my visibility to advocate for others like me feels important.
Should I be acting in solidarity with other trans folks by being out about my gender? I’m genderqueer. Until now I’ve used she/her pronouns in advertising as Liara Roux, but I use he/him/they/them in my personal life and changed my name to a stereotypically masculine one years ago. Should I talk publicly about my partners—including a spouse that I own a home with—to show that sex workers can find love, acceptance, and emotional and financial wellbeing? When I thought I had stability in the past, I’ve have the rug pulled out from me like so many others: my bank accounts closed and websites shut down, just because those companies found out who I was.
Like the stalker I struggled to tell my sister about, some clients may turn toxic and possessive. Some fans who were reliable sources of income may turn out to be transphobes. And trolls are always happy to turn anything a sex worker is happy about into an excuse to harass them.
It’s not just potentially harmful fans to worry about. Talking about having a spouse also opens me up to state violence. Law enforcement often tries to arrest and prosecute family members of sex workers, calling them pimps and panderers, and politicians have tried to push bills to make the definition of pandering even more broad. A pandering charge can be applied if a partner drives me to work one day, or even just by the fact that I share material wealth in my marriage. Our life could be torn apart by pandering laws despite the fact my partner also does sex work and is just another struggling queer and disabled person like me. People like us are still arrested and charged regularly.
I have had more success than I could have imagined with this career, but instead of supplying security to my family, my spouse still experiences a PTSD panic attack every time there’s a knock on the door. Everything could crumble down, our house could be seized, they could be evicted again or worse. These aren’t fantastical fears—people I know have lost everything they struggled to build. By coming out to the public as married, being proud of the stability I’ve fought for and found, we risk losing that stability. Like Amnesty International says, under criminalization we don’t have the “comfort of knowing that [our] family will not be charged for “living off the proceeds” of sex work.” But what’s the point of finally making money for yourself if you can’t also support the ones you love?
Stigma and criminalization of sex work cuts both ways—and cuts deep. Like any job, I have bad days, but if I say anything negative about it, people use my words to suggest the entire profession should be done away with. It feels so hard to just be a person when everything in your life can be twisted and used against you in some way.
What we need most is to be treated as people, respected, allowed to survive, be seen, not hunted as criminals or dismissed as victims too damaged to speak for ourselves
I’m lucky that I’ve grown up in an era where there is more acceptance of my identity as queer, my existence as trans, even more understanding for the disabilities I deal with—but those don’t yet translate to a tolerable existence in the traditional workplace. At least, until I found sex work: A job I can work on my own schedule around chronic pain, a job where being queer is beneficial because it means more people I can work with, a job where I’m surrounded by other trans and queer people who understand me. A job where I could have my own workplace.
There are people that are trying to take that option away from my community, using anti-sex worker legislation like FOSTA/SESTA to destroy the independence we’ve gained as sex workers by using the internet to build our own spaces, safety tools, and businesses. They deny the existence of consensual sex work. Forcing us into the closet makes it easier for prohibitionists to make up stories about our lives. Unlike my other identities, sex workers aren’t protected in any way. Quite the opposite, we seem equally reviled on all sides of the political spectrum. What we need most is to be treated as people, respected, allowed to survive, be seen, not hunted as criminals or dismissed as victims too damaged to speak for ourselves.
While I have always yearned for love and acceptance, especially from my mother, I am completely dedicated to living my life the way I want to. I can’t help wanting to live earnestly. I do feel it’s my duty to speak out, even if it may make me a target, because so many don’t have the privilege to choose being political and public. Nothing can stop me from advocating for myself and my community, to do my best to make sure those I love are safe. My fear of rejection will always lose out to my pride and my courage.
Liara Roux is a sex worker, indie porn producer, and organizer for human rights for sex workers and against criminalization of sex between consenting adults. They live bicoastally between NYC and San Francisco, where they have four black rescue cats. You can read more about Liara’s work on the worksafe press page at aboutliara.com or follow Liara on Twitter at @liararoux.