The sun was just starting to come up as I took off my heels, organized stacks of my ones, and laughed with the other dancers about the previous night. “See you tomorrow!” I say as I leave the dressing room and head to my little red car.
The early morning hours of March 17th, 2020 were business as usual at my tiny desert gentlemen’s club, just outside of Las Vegas.
Later that afternoon, I would groggily awake to find that due to an increase in cases of SARS-CoV-2, all non-essential businesses in Nevada would be shut down for at least 30 days– including all of the casinos on the strip and all nightclubs. Since Las Vegas is the adult entertainment capital of the world, this left many sex workers out of work as strip clubs, adult film studios, and hotels were no longer permitted to operate.
While other industries were either shifting to remote work or being directed on how to do their jobs safely, us in the adult industry simply were not represented in public health communication. But what makes sex work the oldest profession is the resilience and tenacity of the people who do it.
The Vaccine: Hope for the Hustle
After a year of struggling to make ends meet with babysitting gigs and soul-crushing call center jobs, I was finally eligible for the vaccine and able to return to dancing. Due to the intimate nature of our work, all Vegas clubs required either proof of COVID-19 vaccination or weekly negative testing from all dancers. I was floored when I saw how many dancers chose weekly testing, spouting conspiracy theories about mRNA– some even doubting the existence of COVID at all.
My experience with sex workers of every variety has overwhelmingly been that we are intelligent, kind, and community-oriented. So why then, were my colleagues so averse to something that could not only protect their own health, but the health of others?
The answer is simple: the bridge between us and science has always been lacking. Stigma and lack of representation in scientific research have created an unnecessary barrier to health literacy in the adult industry. We have been left to fend for ourselves when it comes to figuring out how to safely do our jobs in a world that seems increasingly determined to ignore our needs.
Glitter and Graduate School
Talking to my colleagues about the pandemic– empathizing with their unique financial concerns and their frustrations about a lack of relevant information– made me realize that I needed to learn more about public health so that I could better represent the needs of the sex work community with the credentials to back it up. For quite some time, I had gone back and forth with myself about getting an advanced degree. What skills do I even have that a master’s or doctorate program would find useful? I applied to an MPH program, and I got accepted on my first try.
Between lap dances, I participated in class discussions from my iPad on the dressing room’s spotty wi-fi in my cohort full of doctors, microbiologists, and other well-established public health practitioners.
In my second quarter, I took a class about public health in the era of social media, and that was when I really fell in love with science communication. I was able to take dense, complex research data and turn it into sparkly pink instagram posts with illustrations of pop culture references. During group projects, many of my ideas were shot down. The feedback that I remember most is the suggestion that my projects should use a more neutral color scheme and that some of my themes may not be marketable because they aren’t “for everyone.” And that is when it all clicked for me.
And So, The Dancing Data Nerd Was Born
I took my “not for everyone” posts and began sharing them on my Instagram account, where I have always openly spoken about being a sex worker. I began calling myself the Dancing Data Nerd and created colorful infographics about vaccines, antibiotics, STIs, pandemic preparedness and any other concerns that I heard during casual locker room conversations.
Admittedly, I was surprised at how many people, in both adult entertainment and science communication, recognized the need to alleviate this gap. It inspired me to continue debunking misinformation– empowering sex workers to make evidence-based decisions about their health by providing inclusive and stigma-free education. I have since built a website with bi-weekly blog posts, and I continue to post infographics that are rife with glitter and pop culture references. For everyone.