I sell sex to strangers.
I wasn't always a sex worker. Born and raised in southeast Michigan, to a steel-mill worker and a part-time, stay at home mom, I am the second youngest grandchild on either side of the family (nearly 30 total) and the first of all of us to finish college. I grew up an evangelical Christian because that was the church my mom took us to and was forced to "speak in tongues" before leaving school one day in 3rd grade.
I was encouraged to spend a minimum of 6 hours in the chapel whenever it was "national day of prayer" and in 8th grade earned an award for "Outstanding representation of Christianity and exemplary service to her
community". The most I'd heard about sex was this tip from my Dad: "If a guy tries to get his hands down your pants, watch out". I was anti-abortion until I was 17. People used to tell me they "knew I had the Lord in my heart" because of the way I smiled.
After high school in Michigan, I found a new community in Boulder, Colorado. I worked alongside folks very
unlike me in upbringing, class, native language, politics, spirituality, view of the world. I embraced this diversity and aimed to see myself independent of my family, with my own values, ideals and ambitions. I worked hard in school to earn a degree.. something I was never expected nor encouraged to do back home. Despite the life events that pulled me away from my puritanical values, I still knew nothing about sex until I was nearly 20. I first accompanied a friend to the Boulder County AIDS Project after she had slept with a "dirty hippy" a few months prior and wanted to know her HIV status. I did a lot of knitting and reading in that waiting room. I'd never received formal sex education- not from my Catholic school teachers, parents or friends in Michigan so I started to read up on it to answer my own questions. I realized this situation my pal was in, the agony of waiting 20 minutes for HIV test results, was not uncommon. I made a point to be more informed, supportive, proactive. I would be the one with answers for other people even though I'd never had sex (it'd be another 9 months or so).
Fast forward a couple years. Throw in a college graduation, some personal development, a bit of nudity, lots of kissing, alcohol, etc... I was in Boulder, sitting in a coffee shop having just completed the GRE, scouring
craigslist for volunteer opportunities (who knew what idealist was then?) because I sure as hell wasn't ready for grad school. Five months later I was on my way to Africa, to spend 6 months with grassroots movements
performing HIV testing and counseling, STI education via dance and art, and community building around public health. It was in Africa that the sex work really started.
HIV risk reduction counseling is a pretty amazing tool and something I've practiced in Denver, Seattle,
Washington, DC, and countless communities in Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda and Peru and who knows where I'll use it next. Risk reduction counseling is my form of sex work. In those counseling sessions I spend at least 15 minutes talking with someone about their sexual behavior, their understanding of the risks involved in that
behavior regarding exposure to STIs, and we have a conversation about how to reduce that risk while
maximizing sexual pleasure. I consider myself the pusher of guilt-free sex. Everyone who walks out of that
dialogue, hopefully, has just "bought" the kind of sex I've "sold" them, the safer kind.
If you told me ten years ago that I'd have incredibly graphic, real, genuine, knowledge-filled, empowering
conversations with folks as young as 12 and as old as 84 about their sex lives, I'd have cried. I couldn't have
known then just how good I'd be at these conversations and how some of my upbringing, my experience, my
comfort in who I am as a person and understanding of this terrible epidemic, would eventually lead to my selling sex... passionately, warmly, sincerely. Every other Thursday I'm at the Whitman-Walker Health's Gay Men's Health and Wellness Clinic where folks come in for free HIV testing and STD screening. I sell sex to men, women, and transgender individuals regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, politics or how much they can pay. I can't imagine a day in my life when I don't sell sex.
In Washington, DC, the HIV infection rates are higher than in any other city nationwide. Over 3% of the adult
population in DC has tested positive for HIV, though many do not know their status. Do you know your status?
Get yourself tested.