My first experience with sex work started when I was on my way home at around 9:30pm on a Saturday night. I was hanging out at a spot in the neighbourhood earlier and I planned on going out with my friend once she finished her shift at work. My friend called me to tell me she needed something to wear so I decided t0 walk back home to get her an outfit. The distance wasn’t long but on my way two different cars stopped to ask me where as I was going. Their typical male minds assumed that because my dress was fairly short that I was on the job. They both offered me money and I said no. In that moment, I felt a very regrettable itch of internalized misogyny that made me feel insulted by their assumptions of me being a sex worker. I brushed them off and went to get the clothes.
A week later I went to hang out at a bar with one of my friends, let’s call her Angela. Angela happens to be a sex worker as well. I told her what happened and her response was “had you said yes, you wouldn’t be doing anything someone hasn’t done before at least you’d leave with money, other people do it for free.” We laughed about it, but I remained thinking about what she said. Angela has a lot of clients and she is not at all afraid to talk about her experiences as a sex worker, she’s got what she says is her first of many cars from sex work and she lives on her own. She’s also saving up to do a business course soon. Sex work is liberating to Angela and I found that to be extremely interesting so I decided to talk to her about it, she taught me a few things and I found interest in sex work and thought I should try it out. At the time, I was unemployed and so was my sister, I needed to make money to tie things up a bit. I had always been sexually liberated and I didn’t mind having sex that I have all the time but this time I’d even leave with money. I told Angela I was willing to try. One day, Angela called me while I was home. One of her clients asked her to come with a friend and she decided to call me. We went to have drinks with the guys and that was when I met my first client. I wouldn’t really say much about him except that we was extremely generous and kind; he drove me straight to my house the next day, somewhat pleasing attributes for my first encounter but sometimes it isn’t always like that. I’d like to think Angela had a lot to do with making sure my first experience was tolerable.
Aside from the many random phone calls or “is our arrangement on” texts that come mostly when you’re in a compromising space, I adjusted pretty well. Sometimes, you get a call from one of your better clients when you’ve already agreed to meet with someone else but hey, nothing wrong with maximizing your profit. The thought of meeting one person after you just had an appointment is exciting sometimes, but somedays you’re burnt out and it seems like a chore. Sometimes you’re enthusiastic about making conversation with a client, some are jokey and quick to ease the tension, but on other days his rambling about his life at home, his weird attempts at being overly romantic or him constantly asking you why you do what you do will annoy you more than anything. A few times, clients take you out after and get you a drink or lunch and they drop you home too but other times it’s just hostility. They give you your money without looking your way, like they’re somewhat ashamed of what they just did or they think you’re about to become obsessed with what they believe is the explosive sex they just gave you. Sex work can teach you patience. You really have to tolerate a lot of weird things. For instance, I hate having people who are too touchy in public but I go along with it. Clients who have had a lot to drink are also a lot to deal with most times, so I like to get an annoyance fee out of it. Between doing your makeup more than once in a day, to almost dozing off while having a drink because you’re just so tired, you really learn to appreciate the hard work and tactical craft that is sex work and somewhere in there, you find more liberation. However, like I said, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.
I’ve met clients who are rude, clients who lie about how much money they have, clients who try to shift your conditions like using condoms and so many other things when Zambia has 56% infection rate for HIV amongst sex workers in Zambia. Zambia continues to criminalise sex work and it is for this fact that many sex workers are subject to harsh treatment from clients knowing they can get away with it because the law fails to protect sex workers. In all this however, I’ve come to realise that my form of sex work has a lot of privilege to it. For me, sex work was something I willingly went into, some of the women I know didn’t have that choice, and they also don’t have the choice to say no to certain things or the choice to pick and choose clients, it’s not an option for them. They can’t be “overpriced” because there’s someone nearby who is even more vulnerable and might charge less.
Men feed off the vulnerability of sex workers. The more vulnerable you are, the more they can take advantage of you. A sex worker at a brothel can set her price and men will stand there almost as if to mock her, waiting as the hours to go by for her to have no choice but to reduce her price to something that can’t even get her a full meal. She could wind up kidnapped, raped, beaten and no one will protect her, not even the police. Various sex workers have reported being sexually abused when they are detained at police stations. Transwomen who are also sex workers also face the risk of their clients turning on them and taking them to the police of which they would be charged for “sex against the order of nature” which holds a 15 year sentence.
Even though I have the same threat of violence, I still feel like my risk is less than the risk of my fellow sex workers. When I leave to meet a client, I have his phone number, if he is driving I can take a picture of his number plate before I leave with him and I can share this as well as my location with friends. I also use certain online platforms for my sex work which means I can choose clients especially those who I think pay well and I can set my price. These are things that sex workers at brothels or on the street usually don’t have access to. They can’t use online platforms there, you have access to pictures from Tinder or Whatsapp or whatever you decide to use which also helps and from applications like these you are also able to report accounts of men who might violate women so that they can banned from using the service. Sometimes clients follow me home but if not I keep some pocket money to get on a bus home if my client ever ran away and left me stranded. I carry a Taser with me most times and my sex work is usually at lodges some even with surveillance and security 24/7. I also am aware of and acquire the various prevention methods such as condoms and PrEP which is given for free by a lot of government institutions however I do feel like not a lot of people are sensitized about where they can acquire these services. There are also a lot of myths surrounding drugs like PrEP and that is a big problem as well.
Sex work isn’t something that can be easily explained. I’ve had a strange relationship with my journey as a sex worker. One thing I’ve come to respect and realise more than ever is sex work is work, I used to say it before but I never really understood it. I know many sex workers who have changed their lives and the lives of their families through sex work. My hope is that one day sex workers will have their full human rights which they are deserving of. They deserve to be protected against abuse, they deserve the right health care to ensure they carry out their work safely and they also do don’t need to be discriminated against in society.