The End of an Era: Leaving academia against my will
Last time I was houseless, in 2013, I decided I was going to do the American Dream™️ thing. I really focused on my education and being the kind of person a wealthy white man (Let's be real, my dad) would like and be proud of. I got married to a respectable-seeming cishet white man. A conservative! At his behest I left an industry in which I made very good money and was relatively happy (and tried to erase it from my past). I spent 60-70 hours a week studying, and often worked degrading and miserable waitressing jobs at the same time. I started a small business.
As I moved up in academia, I started having to perform socioeconomic class drag all of the time. My impostor syndrome increased every time I was around other academics. I never once met a single person succeeding in academia who was like me, or came from any background like my own. Sex workers in academia don't exist. People who used to be houseless in academia don't exist.
My mental and physical health declined. I went into massive debt. I woke up with my heart racing every morning, feeling like I couldn't breathe. I was unable to sustain friendships. My dad still didn't like or respect me. I alternated between studying for 14 hours straight and getting so sick I couldn't get out of bed, while guilt ate me alive for not doing more. I felt like I was never doing enough. I felt like I was an alien wearing a human suit. Even on a cocktail of medications. Even after I left my weirdo husband. Even after I moved out of the huge house I couldn't afford. Even after I returned to the sex industry. If anything, it got worse.
I was scared that the school would find out that I'm a poor dirtball person with no support system other than myself and my poor dirtball friends (who are the best people on earth). That my life is precarious in a way most of them have never experienced. That I'm a sex worker. That I live in a house that will never be finished renovating and has mice.
But the more I learned in school, the less interested I became in respectability politics and playing the capitalist, neoliberal game. The more I realized that the system itself needs dismantled. And I started to lose interest in school. I stopped working so hard. I became more anxious because of the guilt of not doing enough, but I couldn't really bring myself to care about any part of academia other than teaching (which I love and am heartbroken to lose). So I watched 12 hours of SVU a day, paralyzed with dread about the future. I was deeply unhappy. I felt like I had ended up somewhere without ever making a conscious decision about the steps that brought me there. And the place I ended up demanded a huge amount of labor and performance from me.
And then it happened. They found out that I'm poor. They overpaid me by a huge amount, in a way in which I would never have known it wasn't the grant I had just been awarded. Then they acted surprised that I couldn't just pay it back as soon as they realized their mistake many months later. I couldn't enroll unless I paid. There were no "oops, that was our mistake"s, grants, or payment plans. And I was no longer welcome in their club. And the world didn't end. It felt like it was. It still kinda feels like it might. But I know in my heart that it's only the end of an era.
Today I woke up sad. I can see this imagined future in which I was finally RESPECTABLE™️ slipping away. I'm battling feelings of letting people, academia, the world, my parents, my grandma- down. But I'm not as anxious. I'm a little bit excited. I'm a high school dropout who is about to have a master's degree. I've done the thing. I played the game successfully. And now I can pick who I actually want to be when I grow up. I can have hobbies again. I can read for fun again. I can take my time deciding what's next. That's freedom, not failure.