By which I mean, my heart was broken by feminism, and now I’m working on healing it. I have other fractured parts of my heart too: some fixable, some persistent shards, but this isn’t about that. Over the past few years my relationship with feminism has been difficult and sometimes bordering on abusive (I would say feminism has been abusive toward me, but every story has its sides).
Being a feminist was the first identity I knew absolutely belonged to me (or vice versa), when I first heard the word and understood its meaning(s), I felt a pull. Yes. That. There are lots of other identities I feel a pull towards, but the words are kind of fluid and remain open for debate/interpretation (queer vs. bisexual, non-monogamous vs. polyamorous, etc etc). I have remained steadfastly devoted to being a feminist and using the damn f-word.
Since my teen years, I’ve taken feminism for granted as part of my identity – and even when a college hero of mine, Karen Finley, started using the phrase “post-feminism” I didn’t question the place of the word or the movement in my life. Feminism was significant, the word was important, I was a feminist and no one could take that away from me.
Then I went public as a sex worker, and all mayhem broke loose. In the late summer of 2004, I began to write Waking Vixen, in which I detailed my thoughts about my personal life and relationships, as well as my struggles with graduate school and my career trajectory, and my experiences as a sex worker. In January of 2005 Rachel Kramer Bussel interviewed me for Lusty Lady, the sex column she was writing for the Village Voice. The piece got picked up by Feministing and other blogs in the feminist blogosphere, and I faced the intense realization that many feminists not only weren’t okay with how I’d chosen to make my money, but didn’t at all consider me a feminist, even though I’d been one long before I ever worked in the sex industry.
This broke my heart. Seriously. Even a year and change later, when I was interviewed by Debbie Rasmussen for a big article about $pread in Bitch, I got choked up when I talked about the reaction of feminists, women who I thought were my people, to my work in the sex industry and with the sex workers rights movement.
I’ve spent the last few years almost entirely ensconced in the world of the sex industry and the sex-positive sex blogger communities. In many ways, that’s been great and nurturing and awesome. In other ways, it’s been maddening and weird and crazy-making. But with my new job and the growth of my work more generally, I’ve been feeling this pull into larger, more mainstream feminist communities. And that’s been making me wonder whether I’ve really been shut out of that world or if I’ve been standing timidly at the edges because I’m afraid of a big hard sad rejection.
The fact is that I’m sick of that fear and anxiety, and – fuck it, I’m going in. Bolstered by my newfound status as a professional feminist (seriously, I still can’t hide my smile when I’m in a meeting at work and the word feminist is used in context – it’s one of the best things ever), I really feel like it’s time for me to step up and take the risk of rejection from the feminist tribe. I want to be part of the picture, not a fringe voice. Well, I’ll probably always have a fringe thing going on, but it’s a goal of mine this year to have more conversations with people who make me uncomfortable (and vice versa), but to have the conversations themselves not be uncomfortable. If I’m going to grow my activism, my career, my sense of meaning in the world, this has to happen. It has to happen because I am tough, but I take a lot of this stuff personally too, and there are holes in my heart that only feminism can heal.