Ed Note: This op-ed guest post by Justin Cleveland is in response to the porn star teacher scandal that made national news last week.
Like many American kids, I grew up being told that I could be anything I wanted to be. Not only that, but I should get a well-rounded education, and with that background, play the field of as many possible career opportunities ahead of me when searching for my true calling in life whatever that may be.
The sky was the limit and there was this an amazing list of professions I personally considered ranging from the highly technical, glamorous and/or thrill seeking types: architect, movie star or astronaut, to the lower pressure, lower profile types: teacher, mail carrier, garbage truck driver.
There was something noble about any one of these careers in it’s own right, but what if I wanted to try them all! I even understood it to be a good rule of thumb that the more experience you have in a diverse range of fields and skills, the better, right? How empowering and exciting the options sounded!
Some lucky individuals found their dream jobs relatively quickly, while for others it would be a lifetime of struggles and upsets. Of course for many of us, the concept of the perfect career turns out to be a bunch of idealistic bullshit and in reality we get our noses stuck to some grindstone doing something mundane for some company just because it pays the bills and, if we’re lucky, provides other benefits such as health insurance.
Whatever the reason we choose the jobs we do, it is rare that you’re likely to get fired from your current job just because somebody discovers you used to legally hold a particular job in a completely different industry two decades earlier. We all have our own unique career path, some of which might be more or less appropriate to include on a resume for a specific job. But once you score the job, put in a good, caring effort or even excel at it, most would argue that it would be terribly unfair for your employer to hold one previously undisclosed line of honest work in an otherwise perfect employee’s history out as grounds for termination. Well, unless that previous line of work has anything to do with the sex industry, and particularly if your current line of work has anything to do with children.
Porn stars can’t become teachers!
Now I’m not going to suggest that being a sex worker somehow fulfills a role in our world as important or as exalted as a teacher does. Comparing the two careers in terms of the skills they require and challenges they present is kind of pointless. But I will argue that those in the sex industry do provide services as valuable if not more so than some social workers I know. They both provide much needed stress relief to those in need in their own special ways and even share some of the same types of occupational hazards.
One big difference, though, is that social workers are often paid by the government and/or work in schools right alongside teachers. Sex workers most certainly are not welcome in our schools. However, in more progressive countries than ours, they are in fact unionized, protected and in some instances on the government payroll because they are indeed valued.
Unfortunately, here in the United States, they have to put up with a whole lot more social stigma, work underground and occasionally take beatings from pimps, but I guess the trade off is that you can make better money than your average social worker here. That’s not saying much is it?
My point is that prostitutes, porn stars, teachers and social workers could learn a thing or two from one another: That they all really deserve a much bigger piece of the pie and a whole lot more respect in their respective fields considering how much social service they do.
As if my statements and comparisons thus far aren’t controversial enough, I’d like to take this further. I bet there are even some very smart and responsible sex workers out there who could be trusted, if invited into middle schools and high schools, for lectures on safer sex practices, to not only keep their pubescent audience highly entertained with their show business skills (no, I’m not talking about a strip tease), but speak very knowledgeably and very frankly with them about human sexuality—a topic far too often shrouded in shame and mystery around that age group. It would thrill me to see a program like that blow some of these bogus abstinence only programs out of the water. This is the sort of honesty that could save lives and prevent teenage pregnancies.
But what do we do instead? We put teachers who were formerly in the sex industry on “administrative leave” or fire them. And doesn’t that make for a sensational story? The media eats it up and if the teacher cares at all about his or her profession, he or she will have to dramatically and publicly distance themselves from both teaching and their former career and lifestyle in porn or whatever debauchery that may have been involved.
Case in point: Tera Meyers, the science teacher who was recently forced to resign from the Parkway school district (the second teaching job she’s lost due to her porn stardom) has been keeping relatively quiet this time around, but was quoted from a 2006 interview in the latest Post Dispatch article surrounding the recent controversy as clearly regretting her past: “Doing pornographic material has ruined my teaching career and my life… …I was broke and wound up meeting some strippers who introduced me to stripping. I was making a lot of irrational decisions, porn only being the worst.”
Now I’m pretty sure I can think of a WHOLE lot worse decisions people can and have made under the circumstances she proceeds to describe being in at the time–broke, suffering from bipolar disorder, homeless and stripping for a living to support herself and two children. I can think of people who simply give up or turn to hard drugs, crime and violence. Those in my opinion, are worse decisions and they don’t pay the bills (legally)!
So despite her hardships, after a stint in stripping and pornography, Myers pulled through and managed to earn a Bachelor’s Degree as well as serve in the Army. Bravo! She should be an inspiration to her current students. She should proudly tell this story of courage to them on the first day of school. But she’s no fool.
Even though many of her high school students could probably handle themselves like adults with this knowledge (granted, some may not and find it hysterically distracting, but I would argue that they are merely symptoms of sex-negativity in our culture not to be pandered to), she knows we’re not mature enough as a society yet for that kind of honesty from a school teacher. So this is how she plays it: “I was not who I am today… I’ve found God… I’ve done everything I could possibly do to prove that I’m a different person now.”
When in doubt, mention finding God and people will forgive you. As if THAT should be her moral redemption for doing something that needs no such apology nor public justification! Because let’s face it, too many people would accept that alone as enough to at least temporarily halt the public stoning when it’s the other things one does with their life to move on that are SO much more substantial like finding herself medication and an education and a career she truly loves. That’s all wonderful! So for those reasons it really sucks that our puritanical society has stripped her (no pun intended) of what she’s built for herself over the past several years.
Here’s another perspective that just boils me to the core:
Why do we not let teachers–part of the backbone of our community and responsible for the functioning of future generations–off the hook for being human and having a sex life on camera outside of the classroom even if it’s many years in the past?
Meanwhile, professional sports super stars are often touted as “role models” for the same younger generation (I call BULLSHIT) while routinely getting caught in all kinds of trouble: DUIs, dog fighting rings, rape, murder, the list goes on …sex scandals being the least damning of them all.
To add insult to injury, these assholes already have millions of dollars in the bank, a manger and other teams fighting for the chance to sign them on for even more ridiculous contracts and millions of “fans” who go right on rooting for them and their career, season after season.
Meanwhile Ms. Myers’ only option may now be to go back to the strip club or porn studio for her income where, even at 38 years old, she can likely make a much better living than she can in the field she professes to love as a teacher.
We seriously need to get our priorities straight.
So what do we do here in the Bible Belt? How do we reverse this mindset where as it turns out, you can’t necessarily be anything and everything you want to be?
Can you imagine the following scenarios?
– a pornographer and a respected journalist
– a sexually well-adjusted individual and moral person
– a stripper by night and an educator by day
– a good parent and a sex blogger