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.
Poets and Writerswas
Enter your email address to receive notifications for author Melissa Petro
Confirmation link sent to your email to add you to notification list for author Melissa Petro
More in this series
On Serving Knausgaard Coffee and an Omelet
“It’s hard to say why this work means so much to me. You sense the cost of it. It is vulnerable. It feels necessary.”
Making Art Under Military Siege
We stayed inside for days painting papier-mâché objects. Outside, Kashmir had come to a standstill.
Portrait of the Author as a Woman with Adult Acne
Will my face betray me when it’s time to talk about my book in public?