Opting In: Coming Out as a Sex Worker in Corporate Tech Spaces

Anna R.
June 25, 2024

Toxic as it might seem, I’m a corporate type of girl, and I absolutely love it. Throughout all my professional endeavors, nothing has fulfilled me the way being in corporate does. It’s often where I feel smartest, and in many ways, I’ve tied my own worth and identity to my ability to succeed in corporate. Which, yeah, is toxic, but I’ve got a laundry list of things I’m working on in therapy, so cut me a fucking break.

I’m lucky to be living and working in a time where many of my identities are valued in corporate, even if through a facade. At the very least, I know that people are willing to pretend they care, just like I’m willing to pretend I’m passive. While I’ve always shown up as an unapologetic Queer woman in all of my work and professional spaces, there’s a part of me I’ve been reluctant to share. For the first time in my life, I’m at a real crossroads with it.

Although I’m open about my past (and sometimes current) career in sex work, I’ve struggled with how this fits with my professional persona. I always swore I’d never tell coworkers about any of my past life in sex work, but the threat of a layoff and a candid (perhaps too candid) discussion recently changed that.

I know it probably seems wild that I talk about sex work on the internet, seemingly without fear of the visibility it could bring, but the truth is most of the time I’m an anxious wreck about people finding out about it. And yeah, it seems like the simple solution would be to just stop and completely deep clean my digital footprint, but that wouldn’t be authentic to me. That would stand in complete contrast to everything I believe and care most about.

I wanted a career in tech and to be in tech spaces because I believe that there needs to be real conversations about sex work and the tech industry. I know that I want to be part of those conversations, especially as they pertain to social media, which makes my background as a sex worker invaluable. And while I have no qualms about walking into any tech space and openly talking about my past (trust me, I have an elevator pitch complete with well-designed business cards with links to this site), I am still really scared of the actual implications this will have on my career.

Photography: Mars Tovar

My career, and thus my life, changed entirely on a March afternoon in 2018. I was working at a Queer healthcare organization overseeing all their digital content and advertising, and I was preparing to attend Lesbians Who Tech in a few days. I had never been to the conference before and was nervous as hell. I was also flat broke. So I asked my digital community for some help to cover minor costs, and in doing so, I called myself a sex worker, something I had never explicitly done online before.

I am still so honored that the community came through, that they believed in me and what I wanted to do, and that they were willing to help me invest in my career. That’s why I will forever be committed to paying it forward. I wouldn’t be here, doing what I do, writing about tech, without them.

And while the community of sex workers came through, my job had a drastically different reaction. A day after posting about being a sex worker, I was called into an office by my superior and department head and told I could still attend, but with conditions. I was to remove any mention of my company from conference identification materials, as well as my personal portfolio and LinkedIn. I was not to mention the company as I was “not a proper representation” of the company.

The words cut so deep. I immediately started crying uncontrollably. I was sad, angry, and utterly humiliated. I left part of myself in that room. I left the part of me that lived without fear in the workplace. Honestly, sometimes I wonder if the person who said those words realized the profound impact they had on me; they changed the entire trajectory of my career in just four words. But life’s weird; one short moment can change everything.

After 20 minutes of crying in the bathroom and reapplying my makeup (including strip lashs), I walked back to my desk and spent the rest of the day working on the most mind-numbing tasks possible. After work, I went home and scream-cried, vowing to never let anyone I worked with again see me that emotional, that broken. I wouldn’t bring as much of myself into work, and I certainly wouldn’t ever mention sex work.

Over the next few years, I did some pretty cool work things. Coworkers would often ask to follow me on social media, but I always lied and said I wasn’t on social media—a crazy statement to make as someone leading social strategy. In the meantime, I was getting more comfortable in tech spaces. I loved getting to talk to other techies about social media censorship, algorithmic bias, and the rise of AI in the sex industry. I quickly realized most techies, especially millennials and Gen Z, actually see sex workers as invaluable in regards to tech. Yeah, I met some prudes, but I also met a lot of really great and smart compassionate people. I also realized most techies are absolute freaks. I mean, who else has the money for a full fur suit?

Photography: Mars Tovar

While I’m happy to talk about sex work in tech spaces, it was only a matter of time before that and the actual tactical parts of my career crashed into each other; it just didn’t happen the way I thought it would. I’m a delusional romantic and utter optimist, so I always thought I’d get enough of a tech rep (I’d be presenting at conferences and ideally this website would have some recognition) and the pieces would just fall into place. But that is very much not the way it happened. Instead, it happened by chance, motivated by fear rather than empowerment.

Another afternoon that would change my life. One that would force me to confront my own notions of respectability politics as they pertain to me, and of course another afternoon spent crying to a coworker. Humiliating, for me at least. I hate breaking promises to myself, but not nearly as much as I hate showing weakness in a corporate setting. I spilled my guts, confessing my fears that I’d be found out, that someone would sniff me out and I’d be forced to wear a scarlet letter, or perhaps more appropriately, be forced to walk around with a giant red umbrella hanging over my head. I expressed that I had been feeling like I had this secret target on my back my entire career, this target that only became visible to me after a past employer shot directly at it.

And so I “came out,” not in a way I ever imagined, but I didn’t die. The opposite actually happened; it became a nonfactor. Which, in all honesty, is all I want. Trust me, I want a trophy for a lot of things, but not for sex work, at least not from my coworkers. Now an AVN for my impeccable writing and frankness would be nice—there’s that delusion and utter optimism again. 

A couple of months later, it came up in conversation with another coworker, and again, it became a nonfactor. It didn’t change their perspective of me, the work dynamic wasn’t weird, nothing changed. And while perhaps for my coworkers it was another Tuesday afternoon, for me it was THE Tuesday afternoon that changed it all.

At the risk of being controversial, I don’t need my coworkers to know every bit about me. Granted, it’s pretty easy to find quite a bit about me with a simple sleuth, but I choose to believe that they respect the boundaries I set, and that, in all honesty, they aren’t actually that interested in me. I’ve convinced myself that it’s utterly egotistical to assume they are that interested in my life, and honestly, it’s working. It’s done wonders for melting away concerns and fears.

Photography: Mars Tovar

While I’d love to write this story with a happy ending where I overcame my fear and ran through all my meetings proclaiming “I’M A WHORE,” that definitely isn’t happening anytime soon. I’m still fearful of the potential of coworkers, current or future, finding out. I fear their judgment, and perhaps the idea that they might think I’m less capable of doing my job. Where that idea comes from, I’m not quite sure, but I wish I knew. People that I have confided in about my past as a sex worker usually seem to think my background is pretty logical. I notice this most with other marketers; they instantly see the value in sex work, knowing that a bulk of the work is just marketing.

I still have a lot of feelings to work out around this, one thing has become abundantly clear to me over the last nine months, and that’s that I’m good at my job, and I’m good at marketing. With that realization, I find myself having to prove my skills way less, which in all honesty has left me wondering if I feel the need to even come out to coworkers. Maybe it’s confidence in my work, maybe it’s having an entire website talking about sex work available for public consumption, or maybe it’s having hole pictures behind a paywall, but somewhere along the way I’ve found myself far less concerned with others’ perceptions of me. If I just stay focused on what I’m doing and run straight into it, then my work will speak for itself. I refuse to be just good at something; I’ll be the best at it, because when you’re the best, they can’t deny you, no matter what your past may look like. Don’t believe me? Listen to Angelica Ross.

To whoever may be reading or skimming this, I’m sending you love. Navigating careers is never easy. Each field comes with its own politics, none of which are worthwhile to compare. The best advice I can offer is to be both utterly realistic and completely delusional. Be realistic about the confines in which you exist and acknowledge the stigmas that persist. But be utterly delusional about your ability to succeed. Convince yourself you will succeed because you have no other option. TLDR—fake it till you make it. Be unapologetic, but be strategic. Most importantly, run straight towards your goals and never stop running.


Support me by subscribing to my email newsletter.