small talk when you don't want to reveal your stigmatized job



Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

I’m a sex worker but I don’t feel like that’s always an appropriate honest answer when someone asks me what I do. What should I say instead?

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure of anything specific to sex work since I don’t have any direct experience and I’ve never discussed this with someone who does. I’m hoping people who’ve done sex work will weigh in.

I do have some general thoughts on deflecting unwanted questions in social settings: People don’t like to be bored. If you make something you don’t want to talk about sound boring, people tend to make it easy to change the subject.

I think there are a few basic reasons people ask about jobs in social settings:

  • They’re making polite small talk
  • They want to get to know you better and are trying to identify a conversation topic of mutual interest
  • They’re asking you about yourself in hopes that it will give them an opportunity to talk about themself
  • They are trying to figure out your social status
  • They are using the gathering to network, and they’re trying to figure out if you’re in a related field

All of these reasons are amenable to redirection through boredom, along these lines:

  • Say something that’s true, but sounds boring
  • Along the lines of “I run a small business from home”.
  • Possibly with a couple of boring details that will discourage further questions, for fear of having to listen to a verbose explanation of something dull.
  • Change the subject to something that they are likely to find more interesting.
  • One thing that tends to work well is to ask them what they do
  • Once the conversation has shifted away from your job, find a point of mutual interest and discuss that.


  • Them: So, what do you do?
  • You: I run a small business from home. The taxes are so complicated these days. I’ve had to spend so much time this week pouring over the tax code. You wouldn’t believe some of the categories.
  • You: Yourself? What do you do?
  • Them: I’m a cabbage farmer.
  • You: What got you into cabbage farming?
  • Them: I grew up on a family tobacco farm, and we’ve had to find new crops.
  • You: A lot of things have changed in the past few years.

People don’t like to be bored. If they think your job is boring and that a more interesting conversation is available, they will probably not be too inquisitive about your job.

Do any sex workers or former sex workers want to weigh in? How do you handle questions about your job when you don’t feel that the whole truth would be contextually appropriate?

tl;dr Making things you don’t want to talk about sound boring is a fairly effective way to prevent people from asking unwanted questions.

umhowdoesthiswork said:


post on might be of interest. The advice seeker is unemployed rather than a sex worker but a lot of the advice should transfer. (For those unfamiliar with Captain Awkward, don’t forget to read the comments! A lot of the best advice and discussion can be found there and the atmosphere tends to be unusually supportive for a comment section.)

realsocialskills said:

There is a lot of really great stuff on Captain Awkward, and that post is really good.

The extent to which Captain Awkward is helpful and supportive depends to some extent on who you are. It’s from a particular kind of feminist perspective, which is tremendously helpful to many people and not necessarily a great environment for everyone. It’s also very emphatic about recommending therapy to everyone who is dealing with big problems or having trouble functioning. 

And it’s expressed in a kind of tone that can sometimes make it feel difficult to disagree, like it would be somehow shameful or unjust. 

Many things about Captain Awkward are awesome and I recommend checking out that blog and that community — and I also suggest keeping in mind that some assumptions made by that community may not match your experiences, and that it’s ok if you disagree with some things.

(For that matter, people should keep that in mind while reading my blog — I have a certain worldview I’m trying to promote, and I have certain assumptions. And since I’m human, I’m inevitably going to be wrong about some of that, or say things that are applicable in situations I know about but get things wrong in situations that I don’t know about. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to agree with stuff I say just because I say so. I also assume that some people will agree with me on some things but not others. People are complicated, reality is more complicated and diverse than a blog, and people should think for themselves.)