I recently became aware of Science Hooker, and I was so impressed I immediately asked her to do a guest column. She was able to achieve what in my youth I wanted to achieve, but couldn’t, and that makes her even more awesome in my estimation.
Science does not need to be dry.
Middle and upper class.
Even though people fitting these values dominate it.
Serve my science as a double shot in a sleazy bar.
“What was your name again?”
Learning and ability is not about background.
It’s about will, thought, curiosity, stubbornness and passion.
Science Hooker is about science for ALL.
Nerves jostle my stomach stepping onto the podium, adjusting the mic. Hundreds of academic faces, mostly white, mostly men, mostly upper middle class, peer at me from the cavernous dark. Mars rover tools. I’m here to talk about Mars rover tools, about how ultrasonics enhance performance. The focus envelopes, I calm…. begin. A significant part of my confidence in academia traces back to me fucking for a living. Honing those social skills. Escort, prostitute, courtesan, whore; the label has never seemed important. I remember perching on the radiator in a cold Edinburgh flat, nervous energy bubbling through me and a client due to arrive any minute. The doorbell chimed, the focus enveloped, calm… begin.
I’ve never been ashamed or embarrassed about escorting. Why should I? There was so much learning. So much living. I was an escort in Edinburgh, Scotland, and was studying part time at the Open University of Scotland, a truly fantastic institution for social mobility. I gained a 1st in a geoscience BSc and was half way through an MSc when offered a PhD with the UK Space Agency, investigating the loss of the Mars atmosphere into the rocky crust and what lessons we can take from this in respect to climate change on Earth. I’d never studied full time, nor physically attended an institution. The integral snobbery, bigotry and discrimination is real.
Many academic peers are surprisingly religious, mass on Sunday sort of thing. Their attitude to open discussions of prostitution backgrounds is full of the usual “saddening”, “terrible” and “disgusting”, coupled with trite ignorant sentiments such as, “Well, at least that is behind you know, or I hope it is, otherwise I don’t know what to say”. The idea that there could be any positive life or value within the confines of escorting is anathema. The message clearly announced that sex workers do not belong in academia unless they are very repentant, and acknowledge that their life was very sad, and how grateful they are to have transcended into the academic’s world. Fuck conforming to fit in with this scene.
Science Hooker is my reaction to this elitist, insular environment of privilege. It started in December 2015 as website, Twitter and Facebook platform where I simply shared fun science, but with an “escort” slant, which probably tasted daring and risqué to most academics. The few thousand followers were mostly academics. Yet, the project has evolved since the early days, becoming less timid. A regular blog slot was provided by The Huffington Post, with a relatively free hand regarding content; this has been a powerful platform to engage larger audiences. Following a Huffington article I wrote on prostitution, the House of Commons invited me to a panel discussion on reforming prostitution laws; it suddenly felt like Science Hooker could make an impact. A short film was produced as a Cairn Productions-Science Hooker collaboration about my science research. Thousands of academics followed, hundreds of professors; but still, I felt Science Hooker was pointless in a way. Sharing academic content with academics is preaching to the converted. It is not outreach. It is not real science communication. Added to this, a dozen other platforms are doing the exact same format of science dissemination. I found myself asking: why am I doing Science Hooker? What is the goal? Where is it going?
The answer is still forming. Fermenting. Recently, large numbers of sex workers have followed, sharing their content, thoughts, jokes and issues. I am glad of this demographic shift. Interestingly, the extent I engage with the sex work community correlates with a proportionate decline in academic followers; a price worth paying, but informative about attitudes, and reinforcing my previous conclusions. There has been a mixture of positive and negative reactions to Science Hooker. Recently an academic pulled their copyright and association with a mineral reference book I had been working on with other students because they had stumbled over Science Hooker and my escort history. This was no loss, academics are plentiful; we simply replaced his contribution and took the incident as a perfect example of bigotry and exclusion in the sciences for those from alternative backgrounds. At the other end of the spectrum, Science Hooker recently got nominated by a post-doctoral fellow for the Annie Maunder medal from the Royal Astronomy Society for public outreach. Science Hooker generates impact, disparagement, respect, hatred, encouragement and dismissal in a messy bundle of reactions.
Science Hooker ethos has always been about making science accessible and understandable to all, yet the tangible application of this goal is difficult. How does one achieve this in any concrete sense? Initially the accessibility I had in mind was all about explaining science, but now I feel it has morphed to include smashing down ivory walls of the academic tower, or at least graffiti them up a bit; highlighting discrimination, denial of access and judgemental hatred to sex workers in relation to formal science, education and academia. A new project on the drawing board just now is called “Ask a scientist!” I am collecting a network of scientists from a wide range of disciplines willing to answer public questions in a 1-1 personal way. There will be two functions. Anyone will be able to search for a scientist from a database, read about their history and motivations, their area of research and contact them directly via email. Alternatively, people will be able to ask a question on the website, and any scientist can choose to respond and answer it, or not. Possibly different scientists will forward different viewpoints and a conversation will develop. I hope so. Once this has been trialed successfully, it would be interesting to create another database called “Ask a sex worker”, again, with the aim of developing conversation, connection and mutual understanding. I firmly believe it is through knowledge of each other that stigma dies.
The university is ending my funding soon, and I won’t have finished the PhD in time. I don’t know what will happen, with me, or with Science Hooker. I may even return to escorting. Life is uncertain. I am unpredictable. Science Hooker is fluid. We can all only play with the cards in our hand, make a difference where opportunity and circumstance allow. So why not visit Science Hooker? See what it’s all about.
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