On Writing | Origin Story

Between Sex Work and Poetry, a Proposition from a Writing Professor

“I trusted him, as students must their teachers, and he betrayed my trust.”

Note: The name of the instructor has been changed.

As a student in Benjamin Johnson’s experimental poetry class, I held him in the same regard that a grade-schooler might hold their classroom teacher. I took his bio’s word for it that he was a big deal. He was the authority in the room, I believed, simply because he’d said so. There were a dozen or so of us that first day of class, huddled expectantly around a folding table in a common space at St. Mark’s Church. Like most students, I wanted to be noticed by the teacher and perhaps, somehow, singled out as special. I was writing a memoir about my experiences in the sex industry, starting when I was nineteen years old and studying abroad in Mexico.


Not an artist’s life,


I fault him for being a bad teacher and attempting to exploit my insecurities for his own gain. The manuscript on Benjamin Johnson’s kitchen table had been my first attempt to bridge the divides I had built in myself—rigid categories that defined one half of me as a sexually available and tough to the core, another as someone with feelings and concerns, someone to be taken seriously and treated with respect. In becoming a writer, I was aiming to drop all pretense and embrace my truth—that fact that I could be all these things, all at once, and that who I chose to be was ultimately up to me, not dictated by others—but this was not to be the lesson Benjamin Johnson seemed interested in teaching.

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