The Nation: the brutal Blanche-du-Bois-ation of an innocent, loving and creative woman

29 Feb

Bloomberg Forced Me From My Teaching Job After He Learned I’d Been a Sex Worker

Elizabeth Warren’s devastating confrontation with the former mayor over allegations of sexual harassment made “billionaire” the dirty word—and made me feel respected.

By Melissa PetroTwitter

Democratic presidential candidates Michael Bloomberg and Elizabeth Warren on the debate stage. (John Locher / AP Photo)

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I’ve never felt more alone in my life than I did 10 years ago when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for my removal from my job as a public-school teacher after he learned I had worked in the sex industry prior to becoming an elementary school teacher.

When Bloomberg said in the South Carolina presidential primary debate that he supported New York City teachers, he lied. When Warren confronted Bloomberg in the pre–Nevada caucus debate about his abusive treatment of women, my heart soared.

I was an idealistic 30-year-old when Bloomberg came for my job, a writer by education who had been working as a public-school teacher for a little over three years. Spurred by an op-ed I had published on Huffington Post, “Thoughts From a Former Craigslist Call Girl,” a New York Post reporter discovered that I currently worked as a teacher, and brought my current and former occupations to the mayor’s attention in a salacious cover story.

In response, Bloomberg abruptly yanked me from the classroom, going so far as to call for the City to take legal action against me.

“Friday night when I was informed that, of the situation of this teacher saying that she had been a sex worker—I think was the term she might have used—I said ‘well, you know, call her, tell her that she is being removed from the classroom,’” Bloomberg is quoted by the New York Daily News as saying.

“We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class,” he said.

His reaction was based on his assumptions about sex workers rather than the facts of my case.

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Even after a months-long investigation into my professional conduct, my competence as a teacher was never called into question. I assumed they would let me return to teaching when they confirmed I was good at my job, despite the misconceptions we harbor about sex workers. Instead, I was slapped with the vague charge, “Conduct Unbecoming a Professional.” I was wrong. The Department of Education cited passages of my writing in which I’d admitted to having worked in the sex industry, implying this fact alone made me unfit to teach; it refused to release its findings.

Unemployed and unemployable, I struggled for years.

Although my life is better today, I doubt I’ll ever fully recover from the trauma of being publicly shamed and ridiculed, which made it all the more gratifying to watch Elizabeth Warren wipe the debate stage floor with Bloomberg’s smug face during the pre–Nevada caucus debate.

With nothing to lose and mad as hell, Warren pummeled the former New York City mayor for his well-documented abusive treatment of women. Her attacks were precise and devastating. It felt as though she were speaking for me, and while watching her felt good, reading the reactions on social media of other women the following morning felt even better.

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“Whatever else happens in this debate and in any of the others…I just want it known that as a woman, as a survivor, as a person who was hurt and silenced…I felt repped today,” tweeted New York State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou.

It’s rare to see the men who take pleasure and profit from their abuse of women held to account. So much more frequently, we see women publicly punished for their own victimization, as was my experience.

At 19, sex work presented itself as a solution—a way of paying for school and covering my living expenses when I saw no other options. Stripping and, later, prostitution, made education attainable, a goal Bloomberg claims he will champion if elected president.

Hearing Warren attack Bloomberg for calling women “fat broads” and “horse-faced lesbians” felt as if she were defending sex workers against the slur “cum dumpster” or calling out “no human involved,” a term used by police to describe crimes committed against people in poor black communities.

Warren achieved the impossible: Without fear or hesitation, she held a white, male billionaire accountable for his sexual harassment on national television. When Warren suggested Bloomberg was an “arrogant billionaire,” her intonation made it sound as if it were a charge worse than “whore.”

When I started working in the industry, I didn’t dwell on the fact that to be or have been a sex worker is considered a mark of failure and shame, or that those who’ve sold sex are tainted in the eyes of others. I didn’t know that targets of stigma often internalize society’s negative beliefs. But for years after, I blamed myself for the suffering I had endured in the name of getting an education and the resulting misfortune that befell me.

Like nearly all women—on and off the job, and no matter the occupation—my boundaries were repeatedly violated. After a particularly negative experience, I left the sex industry for good. I applied for a coveted New York City Teaching Fellowship. To my surprise and delight, I was selected. I began teaching art and creative writing to children in kindergarten through fifth grade at a high-needs elementary school in the South Bronx. I worked hard to make a difference in my community, and I loved my profession.

It was taken from me in one fell swoop, starting with one New York Post headline: “Bronx Teacher Admits: I’m an Ex-Hooker.”

Michael Bloomberg and the media firestorm that followed humiliating me and undid years of work I’d spent recovering my sense of self. Bloomberg made me feel worthless, wrong, and utterly alone.

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On top of the struggles of everyday life, women often forced to survive the retelling of the stories that shaped us into who we are today. When Warren confronted Bloomberg, she made it clear: We deserve a president who respects us—all of us—and she would be that president.

Bloomberg shamed me—he felt entitled to that—but the shame belongs to him. Throughout his political career, he has demonstrated little respect for women in general, and now he feels entitled to the presidency? The gall.

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