When I arrived in California in 2013, I was no stranger to sex work (SW). I was, however, new to dating other sex workers.
The only visible workers I came in contact with back in Baltimore were other strippers. They were predominately straight-identified, and most lacked a political consciousness around the work they did. These traits didn’t hold much romantic compatibility potential. I instead found myself in the intimate companionship of wonderful sex worker allies, folks who had advanced, progressive queer and feminist rhetorics and supported me unconditionally.
But I never realized the unique and necessary beauty of ho-mances until the Bay Area provided ample opportunity to cultivate them.
Shortly after settling in (as much as one can “settle in” when everything still feels super unfamiliar and destabilized), I was at a queer house party with my primary partner. The sun had set long ago, the drinks were flowing, and the vibe was flirtatious. I had yet to purchase a car, and we were getting dangerously close to public transportation shutting down. My partner, ever the lightweight, shakily stood and called for the room’s attention.
“[Andre] and I are going to have to leave soon to catch BART,” they announced. Quite of number of people present booed their dissent as my partner added: “That is, of course, unless someone can promise us a ride home later…”
When the statement was met with soft noncommittal buzz, they forged on: “...And my partner will give whoever volunteers to drive us home a lapdance, right here and now!”
Immediately, an eager hand shot into the air.
Someone dragged a lone chair out to the middle of the living room—another person flipped the Ipod to Michael Buble’s cover of “Feeling Good”. Forty attentive strangers formed an efficient circle around the chair, and the volunteer—wearing a generous smile that failed to conceal a deeply bashful nature—took a seat.
I’d given hundreds of lapdances to hundreds of appreciative club patrons at that point, but never had my heart pounded so hard throughout. Hours later, as our impromptu chauffeur deposited my partner and I at home, I exited the car with their phone number.
I wonder: can whores ever meet each other in circumstances that are altogether removed from our work? Are we somehow drawn to one another as kindred spirits in the sensual arts even before a definitive disclosure is made? Does that “radar”—that relationship conception tinged with the tools of our trade—make the union more powerful? Or doomed to fail?
We’ll call the lapdance volunteer “V”. V was an escort. They were the second escort I’d ever (knowingly) met, and they were damn good at their job. They only cultivated a handful of client relationships at a time, and were deeply connected to their clients in a way that almost looked more like a combination of holistic therapy and life-coaching than my limited understandings of full service sex work (FSSW).
They were intentional, methodical, emotional, messy, honest, powerful, and vulnerable. More importantly, not only were they an amazing sounding board when I needed to vent about work, but instead of just silently absorbing my narratives, they could readily bolster them with experiences of their own. I’d been so used to coming home from a shoot or a client and talking my partner’s ear off about scenarios they were largely unfamiliar with, occasionally withholding stories altogether because my partner lacked the contextual understanding (and to explain would take far too much energy).
They knew how to talk to me as a sex worker. They knew how to listen to me as a sex worker. They knew how to fuck me like a sex worker. They understood how vastly my desires could fluctuate depending on how often I was working, as well as what kind of work I was doing.
Had I been dominating a lot lately, or submitting? Was I experiencing a period of anxiety because I’d recently received a lot of penetration and sensed a yeast infection coming on? Did a client make a body-shaming remark to me that I couldn’t quite shake? I didn’t have to recommend they read some book, or reserve a block of time for me to draw them a diagram leading them through the intricacies of my erotic roadmap. They just knew, because they too were living it.
V and I are no longer dating, but are amicable and still on the pulses of each other’s lives. In writing this essay, I reached out to V to get their permission to write about our relationship (consent is sexy!), as well as to open up a dialogue about the copious benefits of being a sex worker who dates other sex workers.
Together we came up with a list where we also took care to acknowledge the unique challenges also inherent in these kinds of bonds.
The Benefits of HoMances:
Hot sex. Sex workers are adept at direct communication around sexuality—likes, dislikes, intuitive body knowledge, asking for what we want—it’s kind of our job, or something. We often have a great deal of confidence and empowerment around our sexuality, and we rarely intimidate one other with our impressive amassed sexual skill sets.
Talking shop, sharing tips, and learning from one another. About anything from your last client’s awful BO, to how to negotiate higher rates when a regular client wants to increase the emotional labor of your relationship, to how to conform to more stereotypical feminine aesthetics to get more hits on your ads. No laborious context or framework-building required. Much empathy.
Increased, simplistic security. We can act as each other’s safety check-in person with new clients, and we don’t have to field a ton of unnecessary questions in the process.
Doubles FTW! We can refer clients to one another and share clients, either separately or together. I cannot emphasize enough how INSANELY AWESOME it is to see clients with an IRL partner, especially if you’re both natural exhibitionists.
Compassion. We understand sometimes being burnt-out on sex physically or emotionally (I spoke to this earlier).
Challenges of HoMances:
Security concerns. Just like how being in non-monogamous relationships doesn’t eliminate your capacity for jealousy, being a sex worker yourself doesn’t eliminate your safety concerns for your partner, especially when your partner’s services differ from your own. V’s work involved physical boundaries with clients that were different from my own, and they would occasionally work overnights; on a few occasions, taking long weekends with clients. As someone who has never been a FSSW, I would worry about them (despite their ability to totally take care of themselves).
Differing degrees of visibility. While I’ve always been proudly “out” as a sex worker, both personally and politically, V was, and is, very discrete. They described the “stickiness” of navigating that in two parts: 1) Feeling shame that they’re not out (in a doing-the-community-a-disservice way), and 2) Feeling jealousy that I could “be” out, while they felt as though it was less attainable for them.
Internalized whorephobia. V expressed a fear of being judged for dating a sex worker by the very same people they anticipated being judged by should they ever achieve a more transparent level of visibility. “I think about how hard it would be to introduce an out, loud, and proud sex worker partner to my parents,” they said, “I struggle with it all the time, because I’m still dating sex workers. I feel a great deal of shame around it, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sex work; I definitely feel like it’s mainstream society’s take on it that needs to change.” But stigma is pervasive, and haunts even the proudest among us.
While SW/SW relationships are connective, therapeutic forces to be reckoned with, they’re just as undeserving of glamorization as the sex industry itself. With our newfound liberation in discussing and sharing stories about sex work, we overlook the ways in which people use sex to survive. This constant consciousness of what it'll take to survive can occupy space in any relationship, especially those that fall outside a cisheteropatriarchal norm. Whether it's a detriment or a plus is largely up to negotiation!