On Taking Men’s Money

Wednesday night, I get on a Skype call with a man who’s paid me for my time tonight. A few minutes in, he confesses, “I looked at your tweets earlier to see what kind of mood you were in, and I saw you’re not too pleased with men today, so I was worried.”

I laugh out loud. “Oh, no. Those tweets were about men who weren’t paying me to put up with them. That’s completely different,” I tell him, and I mean it.

See, the thing is, cis men are frequently exhausting. They’re not socialized to notice and take care of others’ feelings in the way that folks raised as women are, and what results is – not in all men, but in most of them, from my experience – a habitual trampling on others’ emotional boundaries, talking too much and not listening enough, prioritizing their own opinions and experiences over others’, and lacking appropriate empathy for others’ struggles. These qualities often exist even in men I would otherwise consider good people, so even my deep, fond friendships with cis men usually take more out of me than my connections to women, femmes, and anyone who was raised as female.

There’s been a lot of discourse around “emotional labor” these past few years, and it’s well-known that men tend to demand more of it and be comparatively unskilled at providing it in return. I’ve seen this over and over again: on Tinder dates with dudes who monologued at me about their career ambitions without asking me one thing about myself; in long conversations with male friends who unpacked their latest romantic drama until providing support exhausted me so much that I had to leave early; even while fielding endless questions from male customers while working retail (who usually didn’t end up buying anything, mind you). I’m sometimes willing to put in this type of work – that’s what intimate connections require, after all – but only for certain people, only some of the time, and ideally in exchange for something in return.

That “something in return” might be reciprocal friendship and support. It might be a favor done for me, like bringing me coffee, helping me with web design, or (in the case of some of my tiresome Tinder dates and loquacious FWBs) giving me a killer orgasm. Or it might be money. And that’s fine.

In her essay “The Monetized Man,” culture writer Alana Massey explains that she’s titled her checking account “Male Tears” because so much of her income comes from writing about “how the unrestrained, unaccountable emotional lives of men wreak havoc on women.” In a similar spirit, I have never really felt guilty about accepting money from men, because I regard it as reparations of a sort. They still earn substantially more than women and are taken more seriously in professional environments. Why shouldn’t I accept money from the men who want to give it to me, as a way of levelling the playing field so my life more closely resembles what it would look like in a gender-egalitarian world? (This is also why you should give your money to people of color, queers and trans folks, disabled folks, and other marginalized people when and if you can.)

Every day, I receive at least a handful of DMs on Twitter and Instagram from men I don’t know. Most of them lack any creativity or charm whatsoever: “Hey,” they might say, or, “Hi sexy lady.” On a tip from my friend Bex, I’ve started replying to these messages thusly: “What can I help you with?”

This immediately sets a tone for our conversation. I am not willing to idly small-talk with random men, especially those who lack even the basic courtesy to introduce themselves or explain why they are messaging me. What with my blog, podcast, freelance writing, and two “dayjobs,” plus a social life, I literally do not have the time to engage in the banal banter these men are hoping for – unless they pay me.

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – these interactions parlay into an actual financial transaction. They might buy nudes, a cam show, or a few minutes of sexting. Some of these guys have even become regular customers of mine, paying for my media or services every few weeks. The “sex work” column of my finance spreadsheet makes up 7% of my total income this year: not a lot, but nothing to sneeze at, certainly.

What’s better, still, is the men who reach out to me already knowing full well that money will be exchanged if we are to interact. These classy customers do not attempt to haggle my prices down, wrangle free nudes out of me, or waste my time with endless chatter; they just want my PayPal address and a list of upcoming evenings when I might be available to chat. Bless their hearts.

When I publicly express my opinion that Random Men of the Internet should pay me if they want to interact with me, I’m often met with accusations that I make men pay for everything in my life and that I’m a spoiled, entitled princess. While I am definitely a princess, the rest of it is false: I always insist on paying my fair share on dates, I’m not conventionally attractive enough to get offered free drinks at bars the way some women do, and at this point my living expenses are all covered by money I earn by working for it.

I don’t believe these men should pay me just because I exist and I’m great (although I am), but because what they are asking me for is labor and labor deserves payment. Titillating random men, supporting them emotionally, entertaining them – these forms of emotional labor are skilled, valuable labor, worthy of compensation.