23 Things I Wish I'd Known: #15: Never Assume Anyone Else is Better Off Than You
At age 22, I started stripping. For the next fifteen years I worked off and on as a dominatrix, porn actress, and escort.
Now I’m 49.
Here are 23 things I know now that I wished I’d known then:
#15 Don’t assume anyone else is better off than you. I’m dead serious about this advice, as audacious as it sounds. Looks are deceiving, and nowhere is that more true than the sex industry. No matter how hot someone is, no matter how much money they appear to be making, you have no idea what’s really going on with them.
I know this isn’t easy to do. Money and sexual magnetism are two of our society’s most important markers of status, and someone else always seems to have it all. When I worked, I was constantly wracked by insecurity and envy. I was convinced that I was marginal, only hanging on by my fingernails, and that everyone else around me was far better off.
There were several things I couldn’t see clearly at the time. First, the sex industry is defined by fantasy and projection. Presenting as desirable is the job. That desirability doesn’t just extend to physical appearance—it includes all markers of “class*” and success. It can be hard to see past the ways sex workers puff themselves up to present the image they want the world to see, especially when you’re in competition with that image.
Second, the ability to charge a lot or attract a large clientele has nothing to do with money management skills. I saw far too many people who earned top dollar leave the industry with nothing. A friend of mine was an internationally renowned porn actress and escort who was flown all over the world to shoot more than 60 titles. But by the time she left the Biz, she had little more than a month’s worth of expenses in her bank account and over $20,000 in credit card debt.
Third, I’m not saying this to be mean, it’s just a fact – many, if not most, sex workers lie about how much money they make. If not lie exactly, then exaggerate. Which is understandable, considering how intimate this work is, how cutthroat the environment. We pump ourselves up to feel better about ourselves. The upshot: Whatever someone tells you how much money they’ve made, take it with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s true; more likely it’s not the whole story.
Fourth and finally, no matter how fabulously someone presents, you never can know anything about their inner life. Look at how many movie stars and models crash and burn—even though they have money, beauty, fame, they still feel inadequate—it just seems to be the human condition.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that everyone’s situation is the same, or that we should accept without resentment that “everything is just as it should be.” I know that sometimes our lives suck: partners leave us, or we’re deep in debt, or we’re in over our heads, and that other people earn more than we do. What I am warning against is getting taken in by illusion, mistaking surface for substance. Is there any way to argue that the most joyful, grounded, fulfilled people are the most beautiful? The most intelligent? The richest? There is absolutely no connection between the things our society prizes most and self-acceptance.
I’ve lived long enough to know that very little in life is as it seems at first glance, and wherever we are in our journey, things change. When you experience that bite of envy, wishing you had what someone else has, it’s an excellent time to remind yourself to look inward and count your true blessings. I offer my best advice on keeping your head screwed on straight in my new book, Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, now available in paperback and as an ebook.
Until next time—be sweet to yourself.
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*A loaded term, I know, but the one we use to convey a culturally-specific advantageous mix of education, grooming, social capital, and poise.