People stay in the sex work closet for all kinds of reasons: religious families, fear of professional ramifications for other jobs, stigma in community and dating, or just not being ready (and by this, please know that readiness isn't a destination; it's perfectly okay to stay in the closet for life, if you want to!) – any one of those reasons is completely legitimate. After all, no one knows better what you need for your own safety and quality of life than you do.
However, if you've recently decided to out yourself as a service provider: welcome! We realize that there aren't a whole lot of How To guides for sex workers who are looking to tell their friends about their carers, so here's a start. It's by no means comprehensive, but it will hopefully offer a baseline or foundation for you to build your own tool kit.
1.) Don't feel pressured.
Coming out is about many things, but it's primarily about visibility, right? Whenever we come out about anything we're worried about being judged for it tends to be because we're looking to share important parts of ourselves and our identities with those we love and trust. Coming out as a sex worker is no different! In a world where the narratives of providers are wildly misconstrued, you're taking your story into your own hands and controlling how it's told. That's powerful!
But if you're doing this because someone else wants you to, or because they'll out you if you don't yourself – that's a different story. That's another person attempting to control you and your story, and there's very little difference between them and the larger world.
2) You're still a whole person.
Identity is intersectional; being a sex worker doesn't mean you also can't be a person who knits, does zumba, is queer, is vegan, and is going to Episcopalian mass. The stereotypes portrayed by the media that may have given you some of your own internalized (covert) whorephobia are extremely two dimensional. You, however, are not. You're vibrant and you're brilliant and you're resourceful. Being a sex worker means different things to different people, but it still isn't the only facet of your personality. Remember that – make it a mantra, should you need it – just in case anyone tries to tell you otherwise.
3) If you're nervous, start small.
Choose a trusted person in your life. Even if you think you'll experience pushback from them, pick the friend who is willing to be educated. Tell them, and then as them to be an ally in helping you tell others.
4) Normalize, normalize, normalize.
Hearing someone's story is empathy-creating; it's part of the reason why Harvey Milk believed that queer people should come out of the closet. If everyone knows someone who has come out personally, then it makes the entire demographic much harder to demonize.
This is your job – for you, it's already normal. Still, it's likely that the people in your life who aren't providers themselves haven't seen super great representation of sex workers. You may be their first! Feel free to let them know just how normal your day to day is. A few ideas: talk to them about your cancellation policies, advertising, or how you screen. It may astonish them how very far-fetched media representations of workers have been in comparison to the reality of the business.
5) Have a list of resources at the ready.
Ideally coming out to your pals will create a group of ready-to-roll allies who can do future educating for you, but if these are the first folks you're coming out to, you may not be there quite yet. So, compile a tool kit of media resources you can have at the ready, just in case you need something to point your friends to. Looking for some ideas? Glad you asked! Bustle has a pretty great piece, as does Issuu, and Medium.
Got a super feminist community? That's great! Some feminists (for example, Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists, or SWERFS) have a complicated history with the sex industry. Here's a feminist-specific piece on how people can be good allies to sex workers.
Your friends may be politically aware people who read/watch/listen to the news. If so, they could know a bit about FOSTA/SESTA, and get dragged into the debate that fails to differentiate consentual sex work with trafficking. No fear! The listed resources will be a great jumping-off point for combatting those concepts and putting them into a contextual light; from the above-mentioned Bustle article does a great job of chopping that theory to bits:
"Basically everyone is against sex trafficking, but it’s a sloppily-written law that is doing more damage than good both to consensual sex workers and trafficking victims. And don’t take my word for it. Major organizations have come out against SESTA/FOSTA. The ACLU opposes it. One of the biggest anti-trafficking groups in the country — Freedom Network USA — opposes it. Even the Department of Justice opposes it, saying it will make it harder to prosecute sex traffickers."
6) Read the stories of others.
Community solidarity is always helpful, and the stories of people coming out as providers are as varied and plentiful as the community is. Liara Roux's story is great if your intersectional identity also includes disabilities/chronic illness, queerness, and/or religious parents:
"I’m lucky that I’ve grown up in an era where there is more acceptance of my identity as queer, my existence as trans, even more understanding for the disabilities I deal with—but those don’t yet translate to a tolerable existence in the traditional workplace. At least, until I found sex work: A job I can work on my own schedule around chronic pain, a job where being queer is beneficial because it means more people I can work with, a job where I’m surrounded by other trans and queer people who understand me. A job where I could have my own workplace."
7) Give people time.
Any kind of change or knowledge can take a minute to set in and be metabolized; that's okay, and normal, and your friends deserve that (if they need it). If they kindly ask for a little space while they're processing this new (to them) information, then that's 100% about them and not about you. If it's challenging to remember that this could be new and scary for them, try to think of the last time you were challenged by information– a little empathy and understanding goes a long way.
However, whenever, and wherever you decided to come out, remember that it's your decision. It's brave and beautiful, and the world we live in certainly hasn't made it easy for you. You deserve support, care, allyship, and a group of friends who get to experience all parts of your identity, and that's the bottom line. In time, the people who support you and can grow with you are going to be the ones who also end up being your best allies.