Sam* and I are both five minutes late to brunch. “Train trouble,” we say in unison.
We laugh as Sam, who prefer they/them pronouns, throws their arms around me, gushing, “It’s so nice to meet you!” I take a moment to drink Sam in. They have long burgundy curls, a flowing colorful skirt, a nose ring, a poly kinky genderqueer identity, and an infectious smile. I am instantly in awe.
There is a wait for brunch, so we settle into a coffee shop. Sam drinks an iced chai; they have too much natural energy for coffee.
“I’ll start telling my story now,” they begin. Their voice feels like warm butter; I lean in.
“I initially went to school for political science in DC, I wanted to be an activist, but college wasn’t for me. There were too many people who came from money and had connections; [while] I didn’t have a community. When I moved here four and a half years ago, I was getting out of what I would consider an abusive relationship. It was challenging, my parents had just cut me off financially [writer’s note: Sam still has a relationship with their mother, but she doesn’t know Sam’s profession], my partner was a mentally ill drug addict and I was also an addict. Also, I’m mentally ill and have chronic pain. I was constantly applying to jobs. In New York, you can only get hired as a barista with experience and I didn’t have any. I saw an ad on craigslist that said ‘Ladies, learn how to make money controlling men,’ and I was like, ‘I can do that!’”
And so Sam became a professional dominatrix in a dungeon, which was their first foray into a sex work community. “I would describe it as a f*cked up sorority,” they say with a chuckle.
Sam could support their life working only three days a week. “I have a niche. I always advertise as Jewish.” When Sam moved away from pro-dom work and into escorting and erotic massage (colloquially referred to as a happy endings massage — it’s a massage with an orgasm at the end), Hasidic Jewish men were their main clientele.
“I’ve moved away from that, though, I’ve really curated my clientele, because I can. I’ve been independent now for two years. I work really hard; this is the only way I make my living. It’s good money, I can afford a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood, I can afford to travel, and I can fully support myself. Sex work has really empowered me to work despite illness. Working made me regain my sense of self and was one of the elements that helped me get sober.”
Sam is first and foremost, a business owner. They work on advertising and client reach out for more time than they spend with actual clients. They never see more than two in a day. They always have a phone call first. They have a specific routine for after each client. They’ve got their business down to a science and they’re good at it.
Sam spends the next few hours regaling me with stories of their business, their life, their friends, and their lovers as we scarf down bacon and biscuits and gravy. What I learn is, as expected, Sam is just a person working for a living. They have good days and they have bad days. They plan on going back to school because they have more to do to make their mark on this world. They will stay in this job until they choose to leave. They’re going to India for a few months because they can. They’re, for the most part, happy.
We end our conversation talking about legalization.
“Obviously, yes, I’m pro-legalization,” they say, “but I tend to be more anarchistic in my political views. I’m not into having a lot of government control. I just want sex work to be legal and normalized so that sex workers can do whatever they want to. I don’t want any set rate, I don’t want people to have to register, but I do want requirements for testing for both providers and clients. And having the ability for sex workers to go to the police if they are assaulted or if somebody doesn’t pay. If it was legal, a client could just PayPal me for a session,” they explain.
“Right now it’s only in cash, it would be so much easier. I can’t put my money in the bank, I’m not on my lease, and I pay rent in cash. Although, sometimes I like taking sexy pictures of myself covered in cash. I can look at it and be like wow I work so hard!” Sam’s face brightens; they smile from ear to ear. “I find ways to make it fun, but it would certainly be more convenient if it was legal. I could take credits cards. And I care about decriminalization mostly for the safety of other sex workers, specifically street workers, trans, low income, and POC workers. I have a lot of privilege as a white attractive feminine presenting person, so it is important to me mostly for other less privileged people in my trade.”
When it’s time to say goodbye, Sam embraces me. We laugh at how hipster Williamsburg is and promise to keep in touch. They giggle as they wave and walk away, burgundy curls bouncing in the March breeze.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF SHUTTERSTOCK.
*Sam’s name and a few details have been changed for privacy.