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04/23/2019 11:03 EDT | Updated 04/23/2019 11:08 EDT

So Tell Me, Why Can't A Sex Worker Be A Lawyer?

My story of navigating sex worker stigma in society's most conservative profession.

Nadia Guo
Blog author Nadia Guo.

The public's never-ending fascination with sex workers says a lot about society's unease with sex and sexuality. People seem uncomfortable with the idea of a woman choosing to commodify her own sexuality — something traditionally meant to benefit the men around her — and profit off the male demand for casual sex without shame.

They'll define us by our helplessness or our supposed lack of morals and symbols of our apparent decadence — like our choice of designer heels, for instance. They want to put us in our place to make us more easily digestible. But the Madonna-whore complex is so passé.

Read: Nadia shares her story in Why Outing A Sex Worker Can Have Devastating Consequences.

I suppose that's why the narrative of an escort looking to get called to the bar and practice in one of the most conservative professions out there (law) is a subject of curiosity to these people — and to the two major newspapers who publicly outed me as a sex worker late last year.

That the legal world is uncomfortable with sex is nothing new. The profession enjoys giving lip service to high principles like decorum and gentleman's codes, but it has always fumbled when it comes to handling the messy reality that lawyers are just like everyone else: they have sex.

WATCH: How sex work works in Canada. Blog continues below.

I remember how the legal community responded to former Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas when her nudes were leaked. If this is how the old elites in the legal community and the media treat someone who's essentially a victim (of an act which is now a criminal offence), what are they going to think about someone who has willingly posted her own nudes? Someone like me, who is uncompromising when it comes to my right to own — and even profit — from my own sexual narrative?

The social milieu may be a little bit different now than it was in 2012, but the law profession remains full of the joyless types who clutched their pearls over Justice Douglas' lifestyle. Never mind that any of it had anything to do with her ability to do her job, which was to adjudicate cases fairly.

One elderly lawyer told me I would never be successful if I continued to work as an escort (I already consider myself successful). Another well-meaning criminal lawyer asked what my future kids would think if they knew what I did, which I felt was interesting given he had kids and he represented people convicted of first-degree murder. One of the lawyers who would later out me to the Law Society wrote something along the lines of, "I heard she's doing this now. Very sad if true."

I refuse to allow my life to be dictated by the substandard and outdated morals of others.

"Sad?" What about the huge debt loads of new law graduates these days, the average starting wages in criminal defence, the 40- to 60-hour work weeks some articling students are expected to work for free in "abusive workplaces" just to get called to the bar? Lawyers have some of the highest rates of mental-health issues and substance abuse in any profession, much of it directly linked to work-related stress. That, to me, is sad.

When I took a break from my articles to focus solely on sex work, I was able to attend to the other areas of my life I had neglected while pursuing a legal career. I felt financially secure for the first time in years. I had colleagues who didn't try to judge me at every turn. I moved into a nicer place. I bought a nicer car. I got better sleep and exercise. I paid my loans back. Most importantly, I had the downtime to pursue meaningful things that really made me happy — like writing, the arts, photography and my friends. I was enjoying my clients, the dates, the pampering, the sex, the money.

Sex work boosted my life and career

A few years before law school, I was 20 years old and still exploring my evolving sexuality. My curious young mind and body led me to Craigslist's "casual encounters" section, which was basically like an open meat market for any young, adventurous woman. Disappointed with the results, I eventually discovered the "escort services" section of the website, where women were charging men hundreds of dollars an hour for what I was already doing with guys from the "casual encounters" section. That was when I first started to appreciate the power of female sexuality in this world. As someone who had always found being sexually objectified rather appealing, I got a thrill out of meeting men who fulfilled me sexually and paid me.

Nadia Guo

When I started law school, I shut everything down because I was worried about people in the legal community finding out and it "destroying my career." So many sex workers are terrified about being outed, and so many people around us seem intent on shaming us back underground. But when it finally happens, it's like — so what? I refuse to allow my life to be dictated by the substandard and outdated morals of others. And anyway, a sample size of my regular clientele will show you that a majority of male employers — from blue-collar workers to bankers, lawyers, doctors and politicians — clearly have no issue with it, regardless of whether they are willing to admit to it publicly.

From my first criminal law class, I knew I wanted to practice criminal defence law. I went to law school so I could help create top-down change in society, but I've since come to learn that a lot of criminal defence work is grassroots in nature. The idea that you could use the Charter to defend the civil liberties of some of the most marginalized individuals in our society always appealed to me.

As most criminal defence lawyers' incomes are supported by some Legal Aid work, the financial freedom sex work brought me was liberating. Another male sex worker spoke about it recently. Law school tuitions are rising beyond many middle-class people's means, and the annual fees lawyers must pay to law societies for the privilege of practicing law in their provinces are also on the rise. Legal aid programs put a cap on how many hours you can get paid for certain files, far below the number of hours a lawyer actually must spend building a competent defence.

With the financial safety net sex work provided me, I could actually afford to work the long hours required on certain client files, even if I didn't get paid for every hour I worked.

Defining my own success

Like with any job, sex work involves administrative labour and downsides that don't capture the public's attention. However, I think it's misguided to try to get the public to value sex work as "real" work by focusing on how "hard" it can be.

As I find sex work comes naturally to me and minimally disrupts my lifestyle, I also have the time to spend on other, more meaningful labour. The wealthy make passive incomes off their investments, and no one disparages them for the ease of their "jobs." I'm merely living off the labour and capital derived from my existence and my charm. And to many, that's the measure of success, right?

While it's true that exploitation in sex work exists, it doesn't have to. Representations of sex workers in popular culture have a lot of catching up to do. There are diverse experiences across the board, and a nuanced approach needs to be taken.

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Ultimately, change begins at the individual level. The truth is, if I had just been a "former sex worker" like some who have been open about it before me, it would have been safer and less controversial. I specifically chose not to go under the radar when I was outed because I wanted to achieve acceptance and respect on my own terms. By doing so, I hope to demonstrate resilience to all other sex workers who worry about the stigma they face every day.

Thanks in part to the Bedford decision, Canadian sex workers currently have the law on our side (even if it's not on our clients'). Luckily for us, the criminalization of sex work has never actually stopped men from paying for sex. This is our time to thrive and prosper.

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