Freelance Friday: Finances & Fears

Freelance Friday is my monthly feature where I answer questions about my life as a freelance writer, blogger, copywriter, and scribe-about-town. You can send in questions via email or in the comments!

Q. Is it necessary to have a dayjob as well?

A. I have one part-time dayjob at the moment: I work 8-10 hours a week writing tweets for an adult-industry marketing firm. (I had an additional part-time dayjob until recently, but am no longer working at ye olde sex shoppe – which, frankly, hallelujah, because retail is hard and really not well-suited to how my brain works.)

I make enough money from my more creative work that it isn’t necessary for me to have a dayjob – particularly since, if I didn’t have one, I’d have more time and energy for pitching, writing, and hustlin’ – but I still value my dayjob very much and would encourage writers and other freelance-y types to keep theirs or get one, for a few reasons.

First off: obviously having more money is better. My blogging and freelancing could cover my basic living expenses, but then I’d have very little extra cash for things like meals out, theatre tickets, travel, and gifts for friends – all of which are important to me. I don’t mind working harder to keep my lifestyle at a level where I’m happy with it and don’t feel deprived of anything vital.

Secondly, my dayjob acts as a safety net. Freelancing and blogging, as you may know, can be pretty feast-or-famine endeavors. There are months when I get a few fat freelance cheques and sell a handful of sponsored posts, and there are other months where my email inbox and bank account both remain comparatively barren. My dayjob offers me a flat, dependable monthly income, so that even if I earn absolutely no money elsewhere (which happens rarely but does happen), I will neither starve nor be kicked out of my apartment.

Finally, my dayjob gives me a peace of mind that is honestly crucial to my creativity. When I’m hard-up for cash, I tend to focus on crafting work I think will sell, rather than on what I genuinely want to write, which is more often the quirky, offbeat, original stuff that my readers like better anyway. If not for my dayjob, I’d feel paralyzed by the constant need to earn and earn and earn, and would have no spare energy or space for idle imagination. When the problem of money is more-or-less sorted, there’s more room to play. I am enormously privileged to be in a position where this is true for me.

Even if my career blew up tomorrow and I was suddenly making as much money from blogging and freelancing as I had previously been making in total, I think I would probably keep my dayjob. The security and freedom it gives me is a daily blessing. Plus, writin’ tweets is pretty fun sometimes.

Q. Did you have any fears when you were starting out, or even now that you’re established?

A. For a long time, I feared associating my real-life name and face with my sex blog identity. I worried future potential employers would find out I was a Sex Person and would bar me from their business, thereby denying me employment, money, and security. It was a scary thought, that some irresponsible internet dalliances in my youth could cost me financial stability way into my future.

But the farther I traveled into Sex Writing Land, the more I came to realize that a) making sex-related media is probably the big-picture destiny of my life, b) I can absolutely make a living doing this work (and even moreso if I attach my name and face to it), and c) anyone who would forgo hiring me because of my sex writing background is not someone I would want to work for anyway.

(Worth noting here: being able to be “out” about my identity is a privilege of my financial situation, social standing, geographic location, educational background, and other life circumstances – one that not everyone is afforded, nor should everyone who can be out about their work have to be. It was a personal choice I made for myself and I support folks in this industry who are both out of the closet and in it.)

I also feared I didn’t have anything real or important to say. This was especially true back when I started my blog, because I was in a steady, monogamous, sexually satisfying but unadventurous relationship with the first and only man I’d ever had sex with. I was vanilla back then (or at least, I thought I was), and had hardly any sexual experience to speak of, and feared that would hold me back as a sex writer. That became even more true when that relationship ended in 2014 and I went over a year without dating or having any sex at all.

What I learned about myself, during those monotonous periods, was that I still have eleventy-zillion thoughts and ideas and fantasies and hopes and dreams about sex even when I’m not having sex, or having boring sex. I don’t think someone’s sex life is necessarily a predictor of what kind of sex writer they can be. It’s more about how they approach the topic, the media they consume (or don’t consume) around it, their ideas and beliefs about sex, their kinks and fantasies, the things they allow themselves to want and the things they’re trying not to want.

I still don’t exactly know “what kind of sex writer I am,” what my “niche” is, what people look to me for. But I know that I’ve found my voice and my purpose by pursuing what organically fascinates me. Imitating writers you admire can only take you so far; at some point, you have to follow your heart and all its weird curiosities. It’s there that you’ll find the truest and most original core of what you can do.

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.