everybody has a story
bella green is a sex worker, writer and comedian.
When I was 18 and living in Perth, I walked past a sex shop that said ‘dancers wanted’ in the window. It was a peep show. I’d been working at Mcdonald’s and was on Centrelink before that, and I was like, “This is not sustaining my life.” I’ve always seen myself as an outsider, living on the fringe, so the sex industry wasn’t particularly scary to me. I had a super-liberal upbringing and was fascinated with strippers and sex workers. I remember being a little girl in the city, always wanting to see sex workers on street corners.
I was obsessed with glamorous ladies and loved the idea of Kings Cross in Sydney, where it was a hotbed of debauchery and sin.
No one explained the job to me at all – they kind of just throw you into the peep show. I was doing little sexy stripteases for the guys watching, or they could book a private dance, where you go into a separate room and it’s more of a lap dance situation. Everything in the sex industry you kind of figure out as you go along. There’s no guidebook – you learn from other workers. At the end of my first shift, I remember leaving with all this cash and being like, “Oh my god.” I’d never had that kind of agency before.
I did peep-show work for maybe three years, then I got super-burnt out. I went and did a TAFE diploma and worked in bookshops and did normal world stuff until I was 27 or 28, when I met a girl who was a dominatrix. I was like, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. How do you do it?” She was really generous and set me up with a dungeon down here in Melbourne, and I did a BDSM apprenticeship. People have this view that BDSM is a very cruisy and easy aspect of the sex industry, like you’re just beating guys up, but it’s actually so emotionally demanding – it’s a lot of work to try to get into someone’s head, figuring out why they want to do certain activities. I got into full-service sex work because it was something I know how to do – I know how to play the part of a sexy girl more than trying to understand someone’s head in the kink world. I did BDSM for a year, then got into brothel work, and I’ve been doing that for about six years now, and private escorting for about three years.
I hate the word ‘empowering’. There’s this idea that for something to be legitimate work, you need to be empowered by it, but we’ll never ask someone working at Macca’s if they’re empowered by their job. There’s an idea that you have to love what you do in the sex industry, otherwise you’re being exploited, but sexual labour is labour like any other kind. The thing I find empowering is having the ability to run my own business and work my own hours. It’s one of the few industries that lets a woman with little education or financial backing become her own boss and run her own business, and that’s empowering for me – money and the freedom to pursue comedy and art and writing. The sex itself is the same as being a masseuse or a therapist or working in aged care or childcare, where you’re interacting with bodies and people’s emotions. People are like, “It must be gross and weird to interact with someone’s body,” but I would imagine wiping someone’s butt is quite gross, and if you’re in aged care that’s your job – you just put on your rubber gloves and do it every day. That’s kind of how I feel about having sex with strangers.
People imagine a sex worker as someone with a drug problem on a street corner, or they think of a high-class escort. But there are a million shades of grey in between: some do this because they’re single mums, or because they’re students and need flexibility. People are always surprised that I’m a sex worker, because I’m
not what they think one should look like. You probably see a million sex workers every day that just don’t fit your idea of who they should be.
There’s also a misconception that people who get into sex work probably have mental health issues. They sometimes do, but it’s the other way around: sex work is a really good job to have when you need time off. I have bipolar II and sometimes I can’t work for a month, but I’m in a position where I can call my boss and say I’m not coming in for the next month, and know there’s a job for me when I get back. Or if things are going really well, I can work a heap and stockpile money for future mental health crises.
I got into comedy because I had a Tumblr blog where I would write anonymous stories about my job. I started realising I was pretty funny, and thought it would be cool to perform, but I didn’t have the confidence to do it for a really long time. I signed up for an improv class, and thought I’d just take this one-off class to make me feel more confident – the idea of public speaking was a nightmare for me before that. Improv changed my life. I met a girl there who was a stand-up comedian, and she took me under her wing and showed me how to go to an open mic night, how to structure a set, and I went from there.
I was inspired by Queenie Bon Bon – a Melbourne full-service sex worker who did a comedy show about sex work. I thought, “My Tumblr stuff is pretty funny; I wonder if I could do that, too?” My punchlines are generally commentary on how people see sex workers, or the ways in which sex work is just like any other customer service job, so it came out a lot more political than I intended it to be. I was just like, “You know what’s funny? Comparing getting an STI test at the doctor with the way I would interact with someone else’s genitals, except they’re viewed very differently.”
My mum brought her 73-year-old boyfriend to my show in Perth, and I was like, “Mum, does Bruce know what a ‘brown shower’ is? Because if he doesn’t, you’ll have to explain it to him beforehand!” They came and were fine, and afterwards they were more interested in talking about a busker they saw somewhere else at the Fringe Festival. Like, “Oh yeah, your show was good, but we saw this girl with a hula hoop, she was terrific!”
I’m in a very privileged position that I can be completely out about what I do. I’ve always known I had the kind of mum who wouldn’t care about that stuff, and I’m lucky the partners I’ve chosen are generally on board with sex work and understand and respect it. For most people, being out can be so difficult. Think about telling your family and every romantic partner you’re ever going to have in the future that you’re a sex worker – it’s hard.
I’ve had so many sex workers see my show – full-service workers, strippers, cam girls, porn performers – and they’ve said how important it was for them to see their lives reflected. That means the most to me. What I’m doing is for sex workers before anything else. I’ve had a lot of ‘muggles’ (non-industry folks) tell me it’s totally changed their views on sex work, or given them an insight into the industry they didn’t have. I thought I’d get a lot of shit from other comedians because I’m talking about something quite vulnerable and edgy, but actually, I think most of them are quite intimidated by a woman talking about sex, so no one heckles me or gives me a hard time. They’re just like, “Ahhh, a lady’s talking about sex again!”