Cami Strella realized she couldn’t be a graduate student and a creator of sexually explicit content on an October day when she attended a class with her master’s colleagues at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
She sat in the back of her clinical classroom in Hickory, N.C., hoping that the silence and whispers around her hadn’t been sparked by a phone call she’d had the day before with a fellow student, in which she confirmed the existence of her OnlyFans account and risque TikToks.
Strella, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that her given name be withheld to avoid harassment, tried to tune out her anxiety about being outed until a classmate who discovered her online identity brought up the subject of sex and Strella’s online content. That encounter signaled the end of Strella’s time as an occupational therapy student with a neurological rehabilitation track.
“I felt completely out of place. The entire tone of the class has changed, “She stated. “I wasn’t welcome at my school anymore.”
According to Strella, the 28-year-old sought the advice of a trusted academic adviser who advised her to leave the program. She took her advice and submitted her intent to withdraw from the one and only graduate program into which she had been accepted.
“I honestly believed I could do both,” Strella said.
Strella’s experience embodies the disfavored existence of sex workers in the past as well as those who engage in the current digitization of sex work, earning a living in society’s underbelly while attempting to pull themselves up by their garter belts to achieve financial stability.
The destruction of her graduate education and the reaction her online persona elicited among her peers and academic superiors exposes the inherent classism of higher education and the fetor of sex work, which sex workers and scholars told The Post is unlikely to fade.
The Post contacted the classmates Strella mentioned, but none responded to requests for comment.
Lutheran-affiliated A university spokesperson told The Post in a statement that Lenoir-Rhyne University has no policy against digital sex work.
“We do, however, have a policy against bullying,” according to the statement. “Bullying is not permitted or condoned at the university, and we consistently enforce this policy.”
Strella is encouraged to communicate her concerns to university leadership, according to a university spokesperson. Strella said that opportunity faded after she received dropout advice from her program’s academic adviser.
“They said I was in a tough spot and they felt sorry for me,” Strella said of her conversation with the adviser, adding that the adviser made her feel bad for leaving the program because she works in sex work. “It was distressing.”
Classmates began buzzing her phone from numbers she didn’t recognize, she said, putting a further damper on her academic ambitions as money making opportunities through her OnlyFans account dwarfed the money she’d make as a licensed occupational therapist.
The Northern Virginia native went from earning $11.18 (approximately R170) per month when she opened her account in February 2020 to earning more than $300,000 in 2021.
Her popularity grew in part as a result of viral TikTok videos offering veterans discounts and personalized online interactions, as well as a profile in Military Times.
The daughter of two Peruvian parents with Scottish ancestors has enough money to support her family, though she admits it would have been nice to finish the degree she was less than a year away from completing.
“Once I started making money in porn, I still wanted the valuable experience, credentials, and credibility for myself,” she explained, adding that she aspired to be more than just a performer. “However, why do I feel compelled to be someone else?”
Juana Mara Rodrguez, a professor at the University of California Berkeley whose research interests include racialized sexuality and gender, believes that the digitization of adult content necessitates a rethinking of sex and work, particularly in a pandemic world where people have turned to platforms like OnlyFans to survive.
Such discussions, she noted, are difficult to have because sex work is still illegal, making any association with it stigmatizing.
“When the state says this is wrong, people feel justified in saying this is wrong,” she said, referring to the debate over marijuana legalization. “The moral stigma attached to it hasn’t vanished. Again, [stigmas] are activated or attached to specific bodies or situations, and it all has to do with race, class, and age.”
Although pornography is protected by the First Amendment, buying and selling sex is illegal almost everywhere in the country, with the exception of a few counties in Nevada.
According to the 19th, some states, such as Oregon and Maine, have taken steps to decriminalize forms of commercial sex.
Because there are no real legal protections and a whorephobic culture that pervades society, including academia, people who engage in sex work aren’t a protected class and don’t have many places to turn when they face discrimination, according to Heather Berg, assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
“There’s a long history that often goes untold because the cost of being in academia is so high,” Berg explained.
Berg stated that there is a resistance in academia to the idea of people pursuing graduate studies while also working to offset the cost of living, as focus on anything else is seen as a “distraction from the life of the mind.”
What’s different now, she says, is the permanence of putting one’s self online for more people to find and more room for scrutiny or acceptance.
Few people understand the cost of being an outed sex worker as well as Olivia Snow, a 33-year-old humanities doctoral graduate and dominatrix. She told the story of how, like Strella, she faded out of academia after outing herself to a trusted mentor in a viral Chronicle of Higher Education essay.
Snow, who spoke only on the condition that her performance name be used to protect her privacy, told a mentor she had known for eight years that she had worked as a dominatrix when the topic of summer employment came up. That particular set of facts did not sit well with that adviser.
She found out that her adviser had withdrawn all of her letters of recommendation and warned her, “You better not go crying to these other professors because they’ll have the same reaction.”
Snow stated that she did not wish to test that hypothesis.
“I’m not a sexy escort. I’m a dom who has sugared. Those aren’t illegal “Snow stated. “‘I’m not breaking any laws,’ I reasoned. What does it matter?’ If I were an escort and a content creator, I would have concealed that much more.”
Snow stated that her essay received a lot of positive feedback. Her identity was mostly hidden until she dabbled in Medieval Twitter after suspecting a fellow academic of faking her ethnicity.
Snow would come to regret that decision, as she became the subject of lengthy Twitter threads and doxing that revealed the phone number, address, and picture she’d worked hard to keep hidden since undergrad.
The same people who advocated for sex workers’ rights were the ones who called her a racist and made anti-Semitic and slut-shaming remarks about her, she claimed.
Snow relocated to a different part of New York City to avoid being followed by people she met online.
Although sex workers have become more visible in recent years, this does not imply that they have been fully accepted into society. People who choose to engage in sex work online should be concerned about being outed, according to Snow.
Strella plans to use the knowledge she gained from nearly three semesters of instruction to further her philanthropic endeavors, knowing that she will leave the medical field behind as she continues to shoot explicit content.
“I was just unlucky,” she explained. “You can’t enter the industry believing that no one will ever find out. You can’t be at my level without anyone knowing.”
Source: The Washington Post