Last week, every sex worker’s nightmare happened to me: a guy in one of my classes loudly asked, “So, what DO you do for work?,” clearly hoping that it would embarrass me. Instead, it enraged me.
I made sure my reply was loud enough that every guy in the classroom could hear me and I told him, “I know that you know. Several of you follow me on social media & have attempted to reach out to me. I should be able to come to school without being bothered. You should turn around and stop talking to me now.”
He tried to embarrass me, but instead I got the best of him. I was pleasantly surprised when the teacher spoke up in my defense, but one thing threw me off. His first line was, “I’ve already talked about this with you guys,” further clarifying the fact that this kid knew what exactly he was doing when he asked me that question.
I go to school in a very small town where word travels fast. Everyone knows who I am and what I do for work. And I’m genuinely not ashamed of it, But, I also never, ever talk about the adult industry at school. I’m not there to get that kind of attention. Those aren’t conversations I want to have in class. I’m in my final (and busiest) semester, so I really don’t want to talk about anything but school when I’m at school. I also make it a point to dress totally different from how most would assume a “porn star” would dress. I make sure almost every inch of my body is covered. There are a lot of over-sized grandma sweaters and infinity scarves carefully chosen to cover even the hint of cleavage. The only way I could be more covered is if I started wearing a burka.
I find it interesting that most people who have a problem with the fact that I’m in the porn industry also have a problem with the fact that I’m a college student. If anything, you’d think these people would be happy that I’m making an effort to do other things with my life. My detractors have sent me emails suggesting that I shouldn’t even be allowed to attend college, along with threats of telling the Dean, as if he doesn’t already know.
The Dean has actually been supportive of my academic career, even approving a class change for my last semester when I was being viciously bullied by a male classmate I had quite literally never even spoken to. He repeatedly tweeted me to let me know he hopes I kill myself because I’m a “whore.” It seemed as if he wanted a reaction out of me, so I never replied to him on social media or gave him any indication that it bothered me. I refused to allow my student advisor to speak to him about it because I didn’t even want him to know it hurt me. But it did. Whores have feelings too.
I’m not going to school because I hate the porn industry. I’m going to school because this was my path before porn. Having a job in the adult industry is temporary unless you plan on doing grandma porn. That’s not really my thing, so I’ve been smart enough to carve out other options for myself. Why not get a degree in video production, something I could actually use to transition from being in front of the camera, to being behind it, where I am truly more comfortable?
If you have such a problem with sex work, why not support sex workers when they’re trying to do other things? Women who have porn pasts are often fired from jobs they are highly qualified for. Often all it takes is one complaint to HR and we’re out the door. Obviously when I made the decision to go back to school I knew some of this would happen to me. I expected it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t give me a great deal of anxiety. Now I’m bracing myself for what’s next.
We’ve had one class session since I had to shut my male classmate down, in a room where I am one of only two women in a sea of about 20 men–and thankfully no one said a word to me during that period. As a woman, sometimes it’s very powerful to speak sternly and defend yourself, even when you feel like crumbling.
I’ve had plenty of moments in life where I didn’t speak up for myself for whatever reason. I always regret it when I keep quiet. So I’m proud of myself for being in a place where I feel good enough about myself to defend myself. I’m not sure how all of this will play out going forward, but I’m refusing to drop this class or switch it. I’m going to tough it out and make sure I stand up for myself whenever it’s needed along the way. I can’t stress enough how good it feels to speak up when a man comes at you with even a vague hint of misogyny. Even if it’s hard to get it out, I promise you’ll feel better in the end.
Original by: Sydney Leathers @sydneyelainexo