s a child, I learned that love was highly conditional based upon what you could do or how “useful” you were to someone — what you could do for them.
I remember my mostly-absentee father would only come to see me if I would give him money for drugs. He left for good when I was eight, after cheating on my mom with her trauma therapist (how’s that for trauma?); I haven’t spoken to him since I was fourteen, although I have tried many times to create a relationship with him, he just has no interest. I didn’t have a father, no brothers and sisters, no real extended family close by.
My childhood was quite lonely, actually. My mom did the best she could to hold things down and to her credit, I always had food, clothing and a place to sleep. What I didn’t have was the permission to be myself. My role in the family was that of the “fucked-up one” in order to boost my mother’s self-ascribed identity of the victim, the martyr, the selfless mother with the horrible, problem child.
I’m still the bad child. Only I don’t know how to get out of it. I’ve been so defined this way, I have no idea who I am without these identities that were pushed on me for the benefit of others.
I started doing sex work full time at twenty-seven out of extreme economic desperation. When I finally told my mom, I felt like it was just adding fuel to the “bad child” fire; I couldn’t be anything but a fuck-up.
I have always been desperate to get my mother to approve of me, to see me as a whole person and not just the black sheep. So I started telling her what she wants to hear: I work a good, steady, full time job at the county with a 401K and a pension and everything.
I don’t tell her about my writing, about my offers to speak and to give trainings across the country. I don’t tell her that I’ve been published in the Huffington Post because all of this has been because I’m a very public sex worker. My mom simultaneously needs me to be the stereotype of what “prostitute” is and someone she can consider herself much better than. She can’t allow her daughter to be an out and proud and actually highly laurel-ed public sex worker, because I’m someone to be ashamed of. She’s the only family I’ve ever had and I can’t even be who I am with her.
It’s more than a shame that sex workers like me can’t be who we are to the people who gave us life. That we have to choose between family and being our authentic selves is a tragedy. My mom and I have been estranged multiple times — that’s her way of punishing me. The result is I feel even more alone, more scared, even less secure about being who I am.
My mother is the last link I have to a blood family.
What this whole experience has taught me is that when I’m a parent, this isn’t the kind of mom I want to be. I would never want my kid to feel like they have to be some fake alter ego just to please me. I don’t want fake intimacy.
I’d rather just not have any family at all than be made to feel like I can’t be me. But what an awful choice for a kid to have to make.
If you are the parent to an adult child in the sex industry, please know the extent of how painful it is to be cut from your parents life. Especially if you are from a one parent household, like myself. You are doing your child a tremendous disservice and creating incredible psychological harm by extricating them from your life. Please have the guts to stick around and stay engaged. I wish I hadn’t been taught that love was conditional. I wish I hadn’t been taught that my value was solely to make others’ happy at the expense of my own happiness. I wish I was taught that being authentically me, no matter what kind of waves it causes, is the most important thing I could do with my life.