In November 2019 we spoke at the 2nd Annual Laura Lee lecture. We read out a speech by a male sex worker. Male sex workers are absent from the conversation about sex work in Ireland. His speech highlights the stigma and shame that exists around sex work. We have helped this man get refugee status and he is now pursuing a career in journalism. Below is the transcript.
I was asked by Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI) to participate in today’s event, but because of stigma and as I’m exiting migrant sex worker I’ve declined. So, I’ve decided to write some paragraphs to tell my story.
I’m Nando (of course, not my real name) and I’m originally from Venezuela. For about seven years I was a prostitute in the emerald island, because I didn’t have good luck finding a job and the choices were selling my body or drugs.
Back in my country I was a working professional and not even thought of having a sugar daddy during my years in college to get my degree in Journalism.
But when you’re abroad things change, drastically. I’m a gay male average built, dark-skinned fella with long black hair.
By that time, when I arrived in Dublin, I was 26 years old and I thought my look made me exotic for gays, or bi curious straight Irish guys.
So, since I didn’t have any luck finding a job, I decided to be a full-time escort. I have good and bad memories, but I clearly remember when in March 2017, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was commenced into force.
While it has been an offence to buy sex in Ireland, I started to meet fewer clients little by little. I had to reduce to my rates and engage into chemsex to get punters, which I didn’t want to, because when you’re high, sometimes, clients take advantage of you.
I still remember there were hard years, just keeping my head above water. I tried a marriage of convenience and it didn’t work out. I just wasted about 10 thousand euros.
When I was totally undocumented and with my passport about to expire in few months, I looked for help and I was told by experts in immigration and even an NGO that because I was sex worker, I wouldn’t get any papers.
The only good thing, this NGO did was to put me in contact with SWAI. They contacted solicitor Wendy Lyon and she agreed to meet me for a consultation.
Wendy told me it was my right to claim asylum given the circumstances in Venezuela and it wouldn’t care I was an escort.
I was lucky enough to avoid staying in Direct Provision and I must say my case was sorted out in over a year.
After almost four hours interview, in August 2018, with an immigration officer from the International Protection Office in Dublin, unexpectedly I got letter in the first weeks of October of 2018, saying that I should get declaration as a refugee.
Being honest, the immigration officer never asked me how I survived during eight years in Dublin. I think it was good luck.
By the end of October 2018, I got my declaration as recognised refugee in the Republic of Ireland and that was just the beginning of another battle.
So, as I wasn’t getting enough money from sex work since 2017 and I got my papers back last year, I thought I would ask for my social welfare benefits, given they must treat me as any Irish citizen.
I remember the first time approached the Department of Social Protection they asked three times why I didn’t have a passport. I had to explain them it’s the first thing an immigration officer take from you when you claim asylum and showed my ministerial letter.
Last July as I’ve been getting my social welfare allowance, I decided I didn’t want to be an escort anymore, because not even my regular clients were visiting me and because for me there’s no more profits from sex work. It was all the time about money, even though I enjoyed meeting few guys for cash.
Nowadays, I’m happy retraining as Journalist in Dublin, getting the digital skills, and because I got my degree in my native Spanish language 10 years ago, but there are days when I feel scared, you know that they could use my past against me.
I hope to make peace with my past any time soon and be able, in a couple of years, to stand up in front you and tell my story without shame.
And if anybody dare to judge me say or even shout: Bitch! I’m a journalist and I was undercover getting a better inside in the oldest profession.