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Sex Lives of Inked People: Melissa Petro

MELISSA PETRO: SEX WORKER

I became a sex worker at 19 years old while living as a student abroad in Mexico. I started working as a stripper in a club called La Trampa—translated, “the tramp” or “the trap or snare.” Earlier that same day, I had gotten my first tattoo.

It was my tattoo artist, Angel, who introduced me to La Trampa. He asked if I was interested in making some cash, and to his mild amusement, I said yes. We met later that evening and, together, took a cab to the club.

To me La Trampa appeared as a neon flare, glowing off the highway in the middle of the night. Something potentially dangerous and thrilling and just what I felt I needed. The tattoo was burning. It felt like I’d been punched in the shoulder, and I couldn’t believe I’d gone through with it. Angel did all the talking. I stood back and watched. The guy at the door called for an older man I presumed to be the owner. There was a lot of nodding over to me as the three men talked. Eventually, the owner turned to me and asked, “Is this what you want to do? Are you sure?”

I worked on and off as a stripper and, later, as a call girl, for nearly a decade. I got six more tattoos, all butterflies, zigzagging up my back. During the darkest period of my life, I got a large tattoo on my left bicep—not a butterfly—that I’ve since covered over. Sometimes surrendering to impulsive, irreversible acts can be a mistake. But an artist can turn a mistake into something beautiful. Today, I work as a writer and teach other sex workers to write and share their stories.

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