Sex Work, in our society, is not just submerged but drowned in stigma. Phrases such as “Do they even respect themselves?” “They must not care about their body” and “It’s not even a real job anyway” birth normalized stigma towards those within the industry, that frequently leads to the removal of sex workers’ basic human rights of health and housing, and legal protection in instances of rape and abuse. Women and feminine individuals face much of the brunt of this stigma; fused with the aforementioned stigma is objectification, for women and feminine people are battered with the ideology that their body is made only for another’s sexual pleasure. And yet, when they wish to profit off of this horrific structure, or even, make money whilst pleasing themselves through sexual liberation, they are met with words like, “Whore” and “Slut”; our culture seems to love dehumanization for their own benefit, despite the repercussions ensued upon others.
I had the honor of talking with Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, a 21 year old Latina writer (she is currently composing her debut novel, and also writes for The Odyssey), fervent activist and advocate, council member for Utah’s System of Care, entrepreneur (PaperTrail Pendants is her line of handmade necklaces inspired by your favorite novels!), multimedia artist, self-described Manic Pixie Coffee Drinker, and sex worker–on not only the world of sex work, but existing in society as a multitasking force to be reckoned with while also being a sex worker, and how that has impacted her.
What is your job, and if you are comfortable saying so, what does your line of work entail?
I am a phonesex operator; mainly, my job consists of taking calls (from 2 minutes to 3 hours) from mostly men about their fetishes and fantasies.
I do not have a specific niche–my line is an “anything and everything,” so my calls can become pretty wild. I have talked to clients about tickling, female world domination, cuckolding, and even role-played a scene where I pretended to be a princess stuck in quicksand. Sex work can be VERY interesting, to say the least.
Why did you start this job?
To be honest, I began my phone line as a means of survival; at the time, I was dealing with debilitating endometriosis as well as mental illness, and I knew without a flexible career I would be facing homelessness. I continued my job as a sex worker because I enjoyed not only being my own boss, but the work itself. This job gave me the freedom to pursue my other goals, like writing, as well as more time to dedicate towards my advocacy work.
People say that women in sex work will choose the occupation because of insecurity. What is your response to this?
This is COMPLETELY false! Sex workers are not a monolith; we are all different ages, genders, and races. We all have unique identities, backgrounds, and intersections. Just like any career, our reasons for choosing to enter the sex industry vary depending on the individual. Not to mention, sex work requires a lot of confidence, as you’re constantly socializing and meeting new clients.
Often times, it seems as though society stigmatizes sex work. Do you notice this both while working, and/or when you tell others you are a sex worker? What group of people stigmatize it the most?
I definitely experience discrimination when I share with others I am a sex worker. After my first article about sex work was published, I received a pretty even split of backlash and support among my loved ones. My clients tend to also have a divided perception of me–many are extremely respectful and value my input/other work, while others resort to slut shaming and other sexist stigmas.
Honestly, there are people from all communities that dehumanize sex workers because of internalized misogyny, rape culture, or just plain ignorance. I have felt uncomfortable in spaces I generally feel safe in, like feminist groups or with close family. Even among sex workers, there is a bullshit whorearchy that creates a rift in solidarity and encourages prejudice within the industry.
Have the identities you have influenced your experience, both within your decisions and your experience with others?
Definitely! I was very cautious and weary entering the sex industry, especially as a woman who is a survivor with C-PTSD and other chronic mental illness. To my surprise, I felt empowered and safe as a phonesex worker instead of triggered or re-traumatized. My sex work has actually helped me learn how to set firm boundaries, honor my values, reject coercive behavior, and create healthy relationships with clients.
The privilege I experience in my specific area of sex work also influences me to support other sex workers, and help them find resources for support and safety, like SWOP.
A heavy sentiment prevalent in our society is what a woman should and should not do with her body. It seems as though our society is obsessed with objectification, and yet when one wants to profit off of this system, the reigns of objectification are tightened more.
Do you notice this system? If so, has it affected your decisions in your occupation? Has it affected you?
This is actually a large issue in the sex industry and a cornerstone of sex workers’ rights. You have a lot of companies (mostly cishet men) profiting off the labor of escorts, porn actors, phonesex operators, etc. while simultaneously disrespecting them for their profession. The actual sex workers, like myself, are often forced to give or garnish a cut of our wages to these faceless conglomerates. The dehumanization of sex workers in our society directly allows for objectification to continue, and more abusive practices to occur. I cannot stress this enough: bills and education focused on body autonomy, from safe abortions to effective consequences for sexual assault, will be the only way to lessen objectification against sex workers.
As a writer, activist and small business owner, does being a sex worker influence any of your other trades?
Many of the skills you learn as a sex worker are transferable to other career fields. For example, my phonesex line and small business require the same skill set: marketing, advertising, and branding.
Also, sex work has allowed me to gain a wider perspective as an activist. I engage people whom I never would cross paths with in my day-to-day life, and it has given me a deeper understanding of our patriarchal culture in The United States. Sex work serves as a reminder that sexuality is super fluid and super complicated–our internalized beliefs, from toxic masculinity to gender norms, are often broken down in my work.
What do you think people most misunderstand about being a sex worker?
Sex work and sex workers are not one-dimensional, shallow or hypersexual. More often than not, sex work is about more than sex; clients seek a genuine connection, someone to fulfill a lack of intimacy, empathy, and compassion.
Can you be a sex worker and still be a feminist?
Of course! Some of the most brilliant feminists were sex workers, like Janet Mock and Maya Angelou. Feminism focuses heavily on autonomy, empowerment, and personal CHOICE. My overall quality of life is better since becoming a sex worker, both socially and economically–isn’t that an essential goal of feminism?
I wrote a longer piece about this question here, but frankly, if your feminism does not support sex workers’ rights, then it is not feminism.
What is the one thing you would like others to know about sex work?
Sex work is legitimate work, and a source of income. When it is treated like any other industry instead of being treated as a taboo, we will be on the path towards equality.