My first job was working at a daycare for a few hours after school a few times a week. I helped put out snacks, wiped away tears, read them stories, helped with their craft projects. I was 17, and glad to do something with my time that I hoped would help me with employment further down the line. It was unpaid. No one blinked an eye.
My second job was working retail at the mall. I had to walk for an hour and a half to get to work, and an hour and a half to get back because the bus cost $2 each way even if you were low income. Sometimes, I walked in the snow. Often, I walked home in the dark. I was 18 and already eating at the mercy of food pantries since I could only get four hours of work per day a couple of days a week. Otherwise, the company I worked for would have to pay me health insurance. I was paid the minimum wage of $6.75. When I left that company five years later, having transferred to another state, I was making $7.25. Eventually, I took on another job, also at the mall, to make the walk worth it. Over the holidays, I worked yet another job, ensuring I was working 7 days a week, usually 2 jobs a day. I still wasn’t making enough to consistently pay rent after taxes.
Then I became a sex worker.
I started as a professional dominatrix, which meant that I spanked men and got paid more for an hour of work than I used to be paid for a week’s worth of work. The first place I worked was a house with a madam, who booked the clients, told us what to wear and how to act. Everyone was expected to wear nylons, black pumps, and black lingerie, with a full face of makeup. I appreciated the security of working in a place with other people but disliked the uniform. I quit after a month to go off on my own as an independent sex worker, using Craigslist to book my clients and talking to other sex workers about safety precautions. I was 20, my own boss, setting my rates myself and working on an as-needed basis.
This is the point where people began to express concern that I was being exploited.
I think this is important to take a moment to consider. We are aware that most entry-level jobs are inherently exploitative. It’s the nature of the beast, we say. When you start as a worker…