This Is Us
How Sex Work Saved Me From Academia
The rhetoric is that sex workers need to be saved from exploitation. But sex work is precisely what protected me from it.
Editor’s Note: This Medium Writers Challenge entry was added to Human Parts on October 20th, 2021.
The job was a one-year teaching position at a private university. Not tenure-track or anything, but good. Jobs were increasingly rare in my field so competition was going to be stiff, and since I still had a year left in my Ph.D. program, the odds were slim.
To my surprise — to everyone’s surprise — I made it to the final round, which meant flying across the country to be evaluated by the department over the course of three days. I stood at a podium and presented my research. I guest-lectured for two undergraduate courses while the faculty observed from the back of the room. I sat down with students to answer their questions, then the grad students, then the dean, who spoke at length about the guiding principles of this university and what made their curriculum so unique. I was taken to lunch and dinner and drinks, where I was introduced to people whose names I would promptly forget, and when I flew home to my cramped apartment, I got the call.
The job was mine, she said. Congratulations. One-year contract, full-time. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, the pay was only going to be $1,200 for the year.
“Twelve hundred total?” I asked, hoping I’d misunderstood.
“Yes, but think of it this way,” she said. “It’ll look great on your c.v.”
She was right — it would. And that sort of thing did matter. As academics, we were defined by the list of grants, awards, fellowships, and publications to our name. But this particular university charged students $55k a year for tuition. It was inconceivable to me that they couldn’t afford to pay their instructors.
And then I wondered: Was this normal? This was a high-profile position. Everyone knew about it. And she didn’t sound particularly embarrassed to offer that figure. Were other people being offered teaching contracts like this? If so, how did they survive?