Let me tell you about my employment history.
Actually, to do that, I have to tell you about my education history. When I was growing up, education was Very Important. Getting As (not A minuses, for which I was always jokingly-but-not-really chastised by my father) was Very Important. Going to college and keeping a high GPA was Very Important.
Things that were not Very Important? Part-time jobs, because they might impact my schoolwork. Internships, because they might impact my schoolwork.
You know where I’m going with this, right?
Of course you do. Because it’s the story a lot of other millennials have told more eloquently than I could, so I won’t try. I’ll only say that, yes, I was among the droves of young adults who believed that getting a college education and pursuing my passion (English, writing) was enough to guarantee me full-time, rewarding employment.
I even went to graduate school, an MFA creative writing program. It was about the same time that articles were beginning to appear across the internet declaring MFA programs not only a waste of money but a barrier to eventual employment. I read the articles, but I couldn’t believe them. In my family, I was praised for the decision to attend graduate school. I was smart. More educated meant more employable. Right?
In grad school, I fell in love with teaching. As a graduate teaching assistant, I was given two classes of freshmen composition each semester. It’s hard to explain now, especially since it’s been so long since I set foot in a classroom, but I adored it. Students told me I made writing easy, that I made poetry accessible.
One student came to my office hours and told me I’d changed his life, that through my class he’d finally begun processing what had happened to him in the military during his deployment. I floated on a self-congratulatory high for months, convinced I’d found my calling.
Then I entered what they call the “real world.” In the academic world, that meant adjuncting. Because full-time college teaching jobs are hard to come by and in high demand. And who wants to hire a fresh graduate when there are more impressive applicants with years of teaching and scores of published research under their belt?
Adjuncting was degrading. There really is no other word for it. It’s not just the reality of teaching more classes than full-time staff and getting paid a tenth of their salary, minus benefits and the comfort of job security—it’s the weight of knowing the reality. Again, I won’t say much more, because other sources have already detailed the plight of the adjunct. But I will say that I experienced it and, after less than a year, decided to abandon academia.
Which put me in a grim situation. I had a master’s degree but no practical job experience, not even a part-time stint in food service or retail. A belief in the power of education was instilled in me as a child, and education screwed me over as an adult.
Yeah, I’m still bitter. So sue me.
I got another job, in marketing, from someone who knew someone. I put my silly creative writing dreams away, the same as I’d tucked away my teaching dreams. I devoted myself to the “real world,” to adulting.
Something about academia stayed with me, a sort of post-adjuncting stress disorder, if you will. I became overly sensitive to the feeling of being taken advantage of, of anything that suggested my employer didn’t recognize the true worth of its employees. My unhappiness mounted. Eventually, I abandoned that job in favor of another one, which I hoped would be different.
I essentially became a job hopper, aimless, perpetually dissatisfied, overeducated and underqualified for every job I applied to. In my desperation to find a career that would sustain me financially without making me too miserable, I ignored a collection of red flags during an interview and took a job from hell.
I became a copywriter for the department of diversity at a state university that didn’t give a shit about diversity. I was told to fudge data to make the university seem like a more accepting place for minorities. I would find that my copy had been completely rewritten after I’d submitted it to my supervisor, that it suddenly included errors and incoherent statements that were not mine despite having my name on them.
These are only two examples, and they don’t scratch the surface of the interpersonal issues, the toxic environment, the undercurrent of dissatisfaction and bitterness that permeated the entire department.
I was having panic attacks and crying fits in the bathroom during work hours. I was contemplating suicide at home.
With my wife’s encouragement, I quit after only six months with no job lined up. I reached out to the contacts I’d made while freelance editing during my grad school days—all indie publishers, all specializing in LGBTQ+ literature.
Let me tell you: LGBTQ+ publishers don’t have much money. When self-employment tax is figured in, I’m making minimum wage, sometimes (much, much) less depending on the amount of work required on a particular manuscript. And, like all freelancing, the work isn’t consistent. There are weeks where I make nothing.
Without my wife’s income, I’d have been in a bad, bad state.
So I turned to sex work. Making solo kink videos, to be specific. It’s a very particular line of sex work that probably sounds outright bizarre to the rest of the world, but it can be lucrative if you build up a loyal following.
I make my most money in age play. I call myself Mommy, and I treat the video camera like my little boy. I pretend to diaper it and spank its thighs. I laugh at it for dirtying its diaper, and then I soothe it and tell it I love it. I don’t like ABDL personally, but I’m good at it. My loving Mommy persona is top-notch.
I’m popular in other kinks too, some of which I actually am into, but the Mommy stuff has become my main source of income.
I should mention, however, that it took over a year to get to that point, and it was definitely a case of spending money to make money. Sex work—any form of it—is not easy work, and in some ways I’m still doing poorly at it. My video editing skill is basic, my marketing and self-promotion is inconsistent, and I am not the most self-motivated of individuals.
But I’m in control in a way I never was in other jobs, even my freelance editing. I answer to myself and only myself. I determine my goals and how much effort I put in. I hold the reins on my own creativity and loosen them at my own discretion. No one takes advantage of me.
None of which means I’m completely satisfied. I still wish sometimes I’d chosen a different path, one based on practicality rather than passion, I still curse the faith I used to put in education and academia, and I still search Indeed every once in a while for a traditional position at a traditional employer. I get stressed during the slow periods. I get frustrated that my older age and thicker body shape limit my appeal with customers. I get tired of being torn in three directions: the writing, editing, and video making.
But it has kept me off the streets and fed. It’s given me pocket money to waste on frivolities. It’s kept me from being mired in a toxic office and from crying in public bathrooms.
Isn’t that all that any of us can ask from our jobs?