Sex workers aren’t exactly known for always having supportive parents.

Familial relationships are difficult enough to maintain without the added complication of pursuing an alternative, heavily stigmatized, and profoundly misunderstood profession. Personally, I’ve always found the notion that we’re bound by blood and therefore indebted eternally to otherwise arbitrary humans - with whom we often have little to nothing in common with - especially bizarre. Although I always appreciated my parents’ work ethic and remain grateful for their ability to financially provide for my sister and I in our youth, I’ve never felt particularly close to them. The emotional divide intensified as I grew into adulthood and began evolving into the person I am today.

As sex workers, deciding what our disclosure politics are going to look like around our work is never a decision made lightly. In anticipation of one’s “coming out” being negatively received, sex workers frequently opt to withhold their work from their parents, and for good reason. I’ve met many a sex worker who has been excommunicated from their family simply because of what they do for a living. I’ve seen someone’s work weaponized against them, the foundations of their stability pulled out from under them as they’re ruthlessly shamed and shunned. It’s a damn near impossible decision to make: Do I live proudly and authentically in my truth regardless of the consequences? Or do I squirrel essential parts of myself away to prioritize a loved one’s comfort, a decision that could have a devastating impact on my mental health?

As a result of my commitment to complete transparency, my relationship with my mother is antagonistic at best. I hope that changes in the future, but I’m prepared for it to remain static. In the meantime, I’ve celebrated many an unconventional Mother’s Day. Sometimes I use the day to treat myself to something nice, like a day at the Korean spa or a beautiful wilderness hike. Sometimes I spend time with another feminine role model in my life, someone older and wiser who filled in the unconditional love gaps where my own mother fell short. One time I took an ex girlfriend who occasionally got mistaken for my mother (due to an eighteen year age difference) out to brunch. We began the meal cordially, then gradually amped up the PDA until both the wait staff and fellow restaurant patrons looked green in the gills (listen – sometimes you’ve got to create your own fun!).

This Mother’s Day, however, I wanted to carve out some intentional time to commend all the supportive moms of sex workers out there. The moms who don’t judge. The moms who trust in their child’s ability to make good decisions. The moms who cheerlead their child’s accomplishments and speak out supportively on behalf of their child’s work. The moms who do their research and actively resist letting their ignorance dictate their behavior. I profiled five such mother-daughter pairs and asked them questions about sex work, their respective journeys, and their relationships with one another.*

Maggie McMuffin & Mom Julie

When did your child open up to you about performing sex work, and what was your initial reaction?

Julie: “Maggie first opened up to me when she was in college about her doing sex work.  I was initially shocked, but eventually came to accept that this is the life that she has chosen and am okay with it. What I admire most about Maggie is how independent she is. She has so much determination and is going after what she wants in life.”

How has having a supportive mother benefited your life?

Maggie: “My mother raised me to be independent and to take care of myself but always made it clear she was there to help me if I wanted her to. I think having that base, of knowing that if anything happened I could call her and she wouldn't say I was a failure (which is what I tell myself whenever anything happens) made me braver.

The emotional safety she provided me, the constant support even if I did things she didn't fully understand at first – whether it was sex work or being queer, or wanting to get a degree in theatre – made me able to take more risks and live more honestly. It's a privilege really to be able to be so open with my mother about my life and to feel empowered to do whatever is right for me. I think she gives me all the credit for being so brave but I really could not have done it without her.”

Petra Hunter & Mom Ellen*

What’s the quality you most admire about your child?

Ellen: “I think I’m most appreciative of her persistence.  This is not an easy job. Persistence is such an important quality to have in life and often we don’t see the value in it. But my daughter has many qualities I’m proud of — she is kind and loving, sweet and sensitive. I believe she has learned to rely on her intuition (or gut feelings) and has certainly become a good judge of character and how to set and keep boundaries which are all important life skills. None of which we actually teach them, right?”

Is there a quality or skill set you learned from your mother that you now utilize in your work and are grateful for?

Petra: “Growing up, my mom was always open about her life before kids: she traveled a lot, had a variety of jobs, met and married my dad later in life, didn't  have kids 'til she was nearly 40, etc. While I don't directly use these stories to influence my work, from an early age I was exposed to a narrative that was so much different than the whole ‘get married and start a family in your mid-20s’ thing most of my friends were brought up with.

I've always been an unconventional thinker, and as a kid I was the weird, creative one that teachers didn't entirely know what to do with. My mom was always supportive of me and my various creative endeavors, and as far as I remember, never pushed me to do things I didn't want to do. She was always very supportive of me as an individual, and I like to think being a career sex worker (and accepting myself as one!) has been easier for me in a few ways because I was brought up to celebrate lifestyles and thinking that others find unconventional.”

Danielle Blunt & Mom Agnes

How has your understanding and/or acceptance of your child’s work evolved since they first told you about it?

Agnes: “My daughter has always been open with me about what she does.  We worked out a system where I am her safe call. This made me more comfortable and her as safe as possible in her interactions with her clients. Over these last 10 years we have both grown a lot. She is very willing to answer my questions and share her experiences. I think it helps us both grow.  

She truly knows who she is and she understands people. I trust her implicitly with the choices she’s been making in her work life. My daughter is chronically ill and it brings me a sense of relief that she has found work that accommodates her illness and gives her space to care for herself.  It seems to me that her degree in psychology has helped her navigate her interactions with her clients and made her very effective at her job. I think she was born to take charge and care for people.”

If you had your own adult child who came out to you as a sex worker, what would your best advice to them be?

Danielle: “My advice would be what my parents always told me, "spend less money than you make." I’d also offer to be my kid’s safe call too. Having my mom as my safe call is great. It makes me feel cared for. She texts me exactly as the clock changes to the hour, makes me send her a picture because ‘anyone can steal your phone and say they are alive.’ She asks how it was. She asks if I made good money. And she asks if I feel more comfortable having money in the bank because she knows I am anxious.”

Peppermint & Mom Alicia*

How has having a supportive mother benefited your life?

Peppermint: “I have always had encouragement in pursuing my dreams and passions no matter what, and I've never had to fear that my mother's love would diminish. I've never felt judged or criticized by her and I can always come to her for support and advice if I encounter challenges in my life and know that she will have my back what ever I decide to do.”

How has your understanding and/or acceptance of your child’s work evolved since they first told you about it?

Alicia: “My acceptance and understanding of my daughter's work remains positive and always will as long as she's having fun doing it. Really, if she's happy, so am I. As far as evolving, I now seem to be looking in my closet for sexy outfits for her as we're the same size…!”

Lydia Love & Mom Dawn

How has having a supportive mother benefited your life?

Lydia: “I believe that my mother being supportive has protected me in many ways. If I need an opinion about a situation, or if I’m doing something I can’t tell anyone else about I know that I can always count on her. This industry can be very isolating at times and it’s a great feeling knowing that whenever I need a break I can take a flight to my mom and decompress. She is always there when I need outfit advice, room decor inspiration, or just someone to vent to even though she probably has no idea what I’m talking about. I love her so much!”

If you had the opportunity to take an unsupportive mother of a sex worker out for lunch, what wisdom would you bestow upon them?

Dawn: “Words of wisdom to an unsupportive mom: Life goes by so fast, and when you judge with a closed mind then you shut your child out. We as parents want so much for our kids and dream what they will be when they grow up. I thought Lydia would be a teacher or nurse but she chose to go a different path than what I thought.

I feel parents have expectations and can't handle when our kids grow up and don't meet the expectations they had in their head. Love your kids and be an ear for them to vent to. You are the one person that they can 100% trust; you should be their support system. If you shut them out then they might go to people who don't have their best interests at heart. I feel I keep Lydia grounded - sometimes I do have to say, "No, that's not a good idea." But I honestly have fun helping her find ideas for her cam room and help her be the best she can be. Heck, if she’s going to do this then we are all in.”

Take it from me - when you don’t have a supportive mother, it’s easy to get salty about those who do. A big part of living with any kind of privilege (including “awesome mom” privilege) is accepting that there are always going to be less privileged folks out there who see your situation and feel pain.

Part of my personal journey, however, has been practicing intentional gratitude whenever I feel that pain start to crop up. Because hell, I genuinely want to see sex workers thrive and flourish! I’ve gotten quite good at it, and it certainly feels better than being angry all the time. I will be forever indebted to all of the amazing moms out there who are showing up for their kids in the ways that really matter.

I see you. I will always see you. Happy Mother’s Day.

*Some identities have been protected with pseudonyms.