Originally published December 13, 2019
Last updated December 12, 2019
Posted in ,

At the intersection employment precarity and whore-shaming, academics who do sex work as a side-hustle are walking a difficult tightrope.

The academic sex worker illuminates the insidious class tension of academia. Look at me, whip in one hand, Foucault in the other.

This past summer, a few months before embarking on my fourth round on the academic job market, and without any courses to teach for the semester, I found myself in a financial snafu. With no money in my checking account and no paycheck on the horizon, I had about a week to cobble together a couple grand before rent was due. The clock kept ticking; there was no lifeboat in sight. I was hungry. So I swallowed my pride, reluctantly dusted off my corset, and dialed up the old dungeon. By the end of the week, I was back in the sex trade, beating, humiliating, and degrading men (and sometimes women) for $90 an hour, plus tips — slightly above my hourly adjunct pay before taxes. I made rent with $60 to spare.

Tenure-line faculty will generally acknowledge that adjunct salaries and graduate stipends are comically insufficient, but their empathy stops short of understanding the material realities of living in poverty. Even though my “fully funded” Ph.D.-program stipend was approximately half of the local living wage, for instance, the faculty regularly implied that those of us with part-time jobs weren’t “serious” about our academic work (another reason I kept the sex work I did as a struggling student — off and on from high school through graduate school — to myself). And when it comes to the plight of adjuncts, these same faculty members seem blissfully unaware that, in the “real world,” everyone is an adjunct — every hustle is a side hustle. If it’s so bad, they ask (without looking for a real answer), then why don’t you leave? Alas, there’s nowhere to go.

 

Something seemed off when I signed into Interfolio one late September morning, during the break between two classes I was teaching. I scanned the dossier a few times, wondering if it could be a glitch, and then it hit me: My mentor had withdrawn her letter of recommendation. In fact, she had withdrawn all of her letters, from 2016 to now. The revelation rang in my ears, like crystal shattering on the floor.

Mistress Snow. “I Told My Mentor I Was a Dominatrix,” December 5, 2019. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191205-Snow-SexAdjunct

Alex Bayley is a tech industry refugee, independent researcher, writer, educator and community builder. They live in Ballarat, west of Melbourne, Australia.

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