Another student sex worker I spoke to, Christina Parreira, had, again, a very different experience from Knox’s. Parreira (@SinCityGrrrl) has an M.A. in clinical psychology and is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She does cam work, some porn, stripping, and some fetish work. Unlike Knox and L., Parreira is out about her sex work. "The department seems to be a sort of hub for sex workers and sex work research, so it has been a non-issue," she says, adding that she was forced to conceal her work in an earlier doctoral program, and that, "It’s a relief to be in an academic environment that does not discriminate against its students based on occupation."
When I asked Parreira about the relationship between sex work and schooling, she said this:
The question makes the relationship sound much more complicated than it is. For me, it’s not a matter of needing to go to school to escape sex work for another career. Sex work just seems like a logical choice for a young woman who wants to indulge in several years of graduate school while simultaneously enjoying a middle-class lifestyle. I’m going to be honest, I could have probably been just fine without sex work and scraped by on meager assistantships, but I like money. I associate money with security, and I like not having to worry. I especially like that I can focus on school without having to work an extra 10 hours a week for low pay. Sex work was a logical decision for me, and a way to work on a Ph.D. while also being financially comfortable. When I finish school, I’ll pursue a career in academia, and I may or may not still engage in sex work from time to time, depending on my financial situation. My hope is that in the future, I will make enough money in my primary job as a professor/researcher without having to rely on a second job/sex work.
Where Knox presents sex work as empowering and L. finds it unpleasant but necessary, Parreira says that sex work "was a common sense decision for me." She adds, "I would never do sex work for free, but then again, I wouldn’t do any job for free."
In her recently published book Playing the Whore, Melissa Gira Grant argues that it's important to understand that all sex workers are not the same, and that attempting to define their work and their lives in totalizing terms is one way that they are stigmatized or controlled. With that in mind, I think it's important not to try to see Knox's experience, or L's experience, or Parreira's experience, as somehow the most real, or typical, or right. The fact that Knox finds porn empowering doesn't mean that porn is always empowering. The fact that L. would like to leave the industry doesn't mean that all sex workers want to leave the industry.
The one thing that they all do agree on, though, is that the stigma against sex workers makes their lives more difficult and dangerous. Even here, of course, the risks are different for each of them. Since she was outed, Knox has been harassed and threatened online; when she contacted police, they minimized her concern: "These brutal suggestions that people should kick me in the face if they saw me were nothing more than ‘childish threats,’ I was told." L., for her part, is condescended to by her department and professors and fears she could face expulsion if her school finds out how she's paying its bills; Parreira has fewer barriers at the moment, but still recognizes that sex work may, as she says, put up "mini road blocks in my professional (academic) future."