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On Getting into Sex Work Because of a Disability

The CDC defines a disability as any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Sixty one million people - approximately 20% of the US population- receive social security/disability benefits (SSDI). The Social Security Administration reports that the average monthly payout is $1234, which is below the US poverty line. The average monthly rent in the US as of February 2021 is $1575. Which means more than 100% of an individual’s monthly social security/disability income could be going to rent with no money left for gas, electricity, sewage or water and certainly nothing left for food, transportation and modern necessities like WiFi and cell phone service.

The process to obtain SSDI can take a year or more, a probationary period during which the applicant is not allowed to work. So, someone must already have means to pay rent, or someone to stay with just in order to obtain SSDI - n oxymoron if there ever was one. Rent has skyrocketed and the cost of living has gone up exponentially just in the past few decades while the minimum wage has largely been held down to the federal minimum of $7.25/hour. After they’re approved, people receiving SSDI are only allowed to make a certain amount of income, lest they lose their benefits entirely. SSDI is intended to give disabled people financial safety, but in practice, it frequently keeps them in a chokehold of poverty by ensuring they never get to a certain standard of living. Capitalism is unfriendly to many, if not most people living with disabilities. Most jobs are very unfriendly to disabled people, from the workload to the expectations and the time allowed (or not allowed) for time off, scheduling flexibility etc.

If a sex worker didn’t have to turn to sex work just to try to get out of poverty, they certainly would have to upon receiving SSDI because very few people - unless they can live somewhere rent-free- can afford to live on those meager payments. The American workforce is also highly discriminatory in the way that most jobs are structured - from McDonalds to the corporate world, there are very few concessions made for different abilities, differing physical and mental needs, and unique ways and styles of learning or performing a job. Asking for accommodations is typically seen as an admittance of weakness or being an inferior employee. Especially for people with so-called “hidden disabilities,” or the disabilities that cannot be seen with the naked eye, such as having an autoimmune disorder or living with mental illness. These get far less sympathy than even the sparse sympathy that a visible disability may receive.

Having a disability and trying to work a regular job without accommodations - and sometimes even with them - can leave one in a position to have serious problems at work, and even to be fired for “performance issues,” to which there is little recourse. So people with disabilities often can’t survive without SSDI, and can’t survive with it either. This is what makes sex work such a natural option for folks living with disabiltiies.

Huffington Post guest writer, Hayley Jade writes in her essay on being a sex worker with a disability;

“When I was 27, I started escorting.My disability payments didn’t provide me with much for extras and savings, and I was lonely at home without a job to go to. I desperately wanted to feel part of a contributing member of society. The high market value and short hours allowed me a flexibility I never had in mainstream jobs - where I would have panic attacks and chronic fatigue for being overstimulated and would get fired for bad performance.”

Not everyone can conform to the cookie-cutter rubric of mainstream, 9-5 employment. Some people are just different; require different things to excel. Our workforce pretty much treats everyone like we are disposable and replaceable. No one is really worth investing in, because everyone can be easily replaced. While this may do well for productivity, it’s crap for real human beings that work these jobs.

Sex workers with disabilities and people with disabilities who do sex work are worthy of more than just survival; they’re worthy of having the same dreams fulfilled that we want like a house, stable income, a family, love, and a life without struggle. And we deserve all of this and more.

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