I went back to school after ten years of experience in the fields of art and sexuality. I thought about it for a long time and decided that I wanted an art degree, but one that felt weighted in research and the humanities. What I ended up with with a masters degree, an MFA in studio arts, at a for-profit private art school and half of a “visual critical studies” MA that I ended up wanting to leave. I withdrew from my visual critical program half-way through, with deep sadness.
When I applied for an MFA, I was fresh out of an abusive relationship. It sucks how it seems that trauma can define periods of your life like this, but I can’t seem to remember anything else about what was going in in 2014 and 2015. I wish I could have those years back. (Always trust your gut.) In the meantime a lot of my friends from the music scene where leaving the Bay Area and slowly the only people I knew were Porn People. The day one of those Porn People told me that *I* was “porn people” – because often times when sex workers retire they no longer see other sex workers as anything but sex workers. I needed mentors and friends I felt good around, especially after so many of my friends were needing to leave the Bay due to fucked up housing exploitations. I was also transitioning from a closeted genderqueer to a full blown femme ftm. Leaving my marriage was the beginning of a major gender shift for me; one that had long been repressed by my partners. Within a week at school I found another femme friend who was also asserting “they” pronouns and a new name. My abuser made crowdfunding difficult, so financial aid became much more a part of my life than I was expecting. I had very vivid dreams of funding my entire graduate school experience with tokens from cam shows, clip stores, and GoFundMe campaigns but instead I just kind of laid low and borrowed money from the govt. I regret not being more vocal about what I was going through; I wonder if I could have made it further in my funding goals if I had pushed forward. In the meantime, I have started camming again since I left school and making clips with folks and am realising how much I love sex work, how important it is to me. I wasn’t in the closet about my gender at school or my profession. Though I went by another more personal name, I introduced myself as Courtney Trouble at functions and appeared as such at every public event in order to be a visible sex worker in academia.
Many of my academic goals were – and still are – about inserting myself, a disabled queer femme non binary sex worker, into the conversations that academia has about art and identity. Nothing about us without us, right? I’m not from an academic background; and in fact I wasn’t able to experience much of a real college experience. I did community college in high school, 2 years of independent study at a notorious hippy college, and spent the next ten years after that making a seemingly endless amount of queer porn because as I guessed, it was an idea that would never stop expanding in the mind of myself and my incredible peers. My school embraced everything about me and I loved it there. I don’t regret getting my MFA. Here’s the thing. I’m smart. Like, wicked smart. I care less about things like spelling and academic propriety and more about expanding my understanding of what’s possible through magical realism, poetry and art. My school caught that, loved it and nurtured it and also trained me with all the energy they had to be someone who could spell and could write in an academic voice. I also needed to be resocialized after 13 years in the insulare industry of sex work, where sometimes our only allies are those also in our fields. That’s what school is best for; teaching us how to be in conversation with one another. I needed methods for dialogue and critique, artists and activists from all class levels deserve the access to communication skills around studio work.
I chose art school because I am an artist. I’m a photographer more than anything. And a performance artist too. Those things have carried me through my entire life; like since I was a child and Janet Jackson was being Nasty and Reagan was president. I love improv and poetic gestures and that’s why things like porn and punk music have always been my preferred mediums. I also chose art school because “art” has always been a line of questioning in my work as a pornographer and I wanted to explore that side of everything. I made the right decision. I’ve picked up on painting, sculpture, and installation skills that open up a whole new line of work for me. I love curating film festivals and my school let me/helped me do it twice. I found the mentors I needed; my advisors were ex riot grrrls, poets, art legends, and experts on topics like aesthetic marxist theory, Dada, and contemporary art.
Trump happened while I was in grad school. I also dated some new people; some very good for me and one who would have been worse than all of my abusers combined had I let myself go any further. They knew this as well as I did and continued to hurt me anyways. I ended up being threatened by this person at our final exhibition; and remnants of them telling me they could jerk off to my PornHub videos haunt me every time I consider letting some of my work out from behind a paywall. I figured I would run into some abuse at an academic institution so when I was sexually harassed by this person, it really was no surprise that my school wasn’t able to handle it. They initiated a Title IX against my abuser but weren’t able to do anything more for me than a no-retaliation clause which applied to both of us.
I realise I haven’t written much about what I researched or what I wrote in school. Nor have I spoke to the details of my graduation or my decision to move on as an independent academic. There’s really so much more to discuss but as usual, I have no idea who is reading this and am never sure how to open up to the public about my life and lessons learned. What I don’t need is for my absuors to come back around after I’ve been doing so well. I feel like, “who the fuck would want to be this personal on the internet any more?” Why would anyone commit their thoughts to SEO in this day and age.
I am enraged by how much power the federal govt has over my personal well-being and yours. I am enraged by how institutions sweep abuse under the rug and silence victims. Part of why I made the decision to not complete the second degree is because while academic research is how the foundational research in porn studies, visual culture studies and identity are able to exist; there are very desperate needs right now for people who are able and willing and ready to get out there and fight for the truth to be heard.
I hope that in the future I can express my thoughts a little more clearer. I am proud to be an academic, even if by leaving before achieving one of the world’s wildest double masters makes me sort of feel like an utter failure. I challenge failure to make this a better situation for my family and friends, to people I can be of service to know that I am back in the real world. Being a freelance ANYTHING is difficult, but being a freelancer is something of a miracle.
My biggest take-away from academia is that the sex industry is more legitimate and more important that even I anticipated. Sex is a universal language and while people may look at what we do and who we are and laugh or point fingers or maybe don’t take us seriously as victims or survivors or citizens or leaders but we are, we are actually better. Strippers and porn performers are too good for this planet, too good for you, too good for words. We are the caretakers of the world’s hearts, the keepers of secrets and the backbones of any social body. We are smart and more skilled in THIS world’s trials than even we know ourselves. I probably didn’t need to go back to school to learn that, but I’m really fucking glad I did anyways.
I will be writing more about being a sex working in academia in the future. I know I’m done done processing what happened while I was there.