Life is Short

My heart was racing, my body was trembling. I read though my letter one final, agonizing time, and pressed print. And then send.

And then it felt finished. Mostly finished anyway.

I wrote a letter to the faculty and staff at the school I just withdrew from, explaining my reasons for withdrawing. It took me about two weeks to write it. J edited it a few times, and a friend of ours did as well (thank you both for helping me with the nitty gritty part of making it sound all professional and intelligent).

Here’s my favorite part; it happens to be the concluding paragraph:

“I highly encourage the faculty members to reconsider the process in which they evaluated my experiences, to examine their own personal values and perspectives related to sex work and social justice, and to be more mindful of the messages they give to students regarding sharing personal information and the potential ramifications of sharing that information. I also request that the faculty, on behalf of future and current students, consider how they will include and exclude various populations from this profession for which they are gatekeepers. If sex workers, in the opinion of this institution, cannot become competent and ethical therapists, then perhaps the school should include that piece of information in the application process as well as consider the ethics and legality of such a claim.”

I have mostly felt really good about my decision, with the occasional twinge and shade of regret and questioning that seeps into the back of my brain (are you sure that was the right decision? why couldn’t you just stop dancing and agree with your professor so you could stay? most people would think you’re crazy! what if you were just being idealistic and radical? what if there isn’t a program that will feel right? you should have just stayed!). And then I shake it off when I remember the absurdity of the situation and try to imagine myself staying there given the atmosphere. This has been my mantra lately; I love this quote so much that I got a wall decoration with it:

Life is short break the rules forgive quickly kiss slowly love truly

Life IS short. Why waste it on an institution that clearly is un-supportive of my perspectives and experiences? Especially when I can be me somewhere else?

I am talking to a reporter about my experience at my school. We’re waiting to see if I receive any kind of response from the school before moving forward with a formal story. I’ll keep y’all posted on that one for sure.

Social (In)justice: Who Says?

During the course of talking to my advisor yesterday (who, thankfully, is totally on my side), I was informed that not only are the other faculty members outraged at the ethical violations inherent in being a stripper while also training to become a therapist, they are outraged at how being a stripper contributes to further injustice in the world.

Apparently, stripping supports The Patriarchy, contributes to the objectification and violence against women, and supports trafficking of girls.

Holy $h!t.

Like I discussed earlier about patriarchy and stripping, I think this world is full of “both/and,” and far less of “either/or.” I will not disagree that by participating in stripping I am supporting the “male gaze.” I also think there is more to my story of stripping.

What matters, to me, is the personal intention, awareness, and small-scale action that takes place within oppressive structures.

What about my classmates who work at Target, an anti-LGBTQ company? Or classmates who are all about the bling (one, in fact, owns more than 500 pairs of shoes) and thus pay more attention to their material acquisitions than the fact that their consumerism and materialism contributes to the oppression of the poor? What about classmates who smoke and contribute to second-hand and third-hand smoke? Or, heaven forbid, what about my classmates who go to strip clubs as patrons?

This is about sex and it’s about sex work.

Like another student said to me yesterday: It’s pretty terrible how many times faculty in our program force others to sacrifice personal justice in the name of “social justice.”

Who gets to decide how an individual contributes to social justice or injustice? Especially over something so gray as the work that one does to support oneself?

The professor I met with said: It’s not about the exotic dancing.

But it is. There’s no way around that one.

Support Your Local Beautiful Losers

I bought this shirt a couple of weeks ago, and it finally arrived yesterday:


A bartender at my club was wearing it, and I instantly fell in love with the design, the sentence structure, the many meanings. It feels provocative and powerful to me, disrupting ideas of patriarchy and slut-shaming in subtle and shifty ways. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Does it refer to the service industry? The young and underemployed? Strippers? Who are the losers?

How do I feel identifying as a “beautiful loser”?

How would this shirt be different without the word “beautiful”: Support your local losers ? Why does being beautiful matter in also being a loser? I have some ideas… Do you?

If you want one, search for Bandit Brand on Etsy and email the owner. She made one for me when I messaged her saying I desperately wanted one!! :)

Competition Among Women

J passed along this article on NYT a few days ago: A Cold War Fought By Women

It is an interesting article about competition among women, and a great example of self-policing among women to enforce purity and virginity standards.

I think it makes some great points, but when I reached these quotes from Dr. Vaillancourt, one of the study researchers, I felt a little anxious:

“The research also shows that suppression of female sexuality is by women, not necessarily by men…Sex is coveted by men… Accordingly, women limit access as a way of maintaining advantage in the negotiation of this resource. Women who make sex too readily available compromise the power-holding position of the group, which is why many women are particularly intolerant of women who are, or seem to be, promiscuous.”

While the researchers and others quoted in the article assert that this self-policing seems to be an evolutionary characteristic and reflects attitudes within society, and not something that has been impacted or influenced by media images of the ideal women, I don’t totally buy it.

The system of patriarchy has been present among so many human cultures for so long, that it seems extraordinarily difficult to know for sure if it is patriarchy or evolution that has helped form this competition among women and preference among women for women who present as non-threatening and non-promiscuous.


Sexuality Critical Genogram

A major tool used in my counseling program is the genogram, which is basically a family tree. It is typically used during the first few sessions to diagram a client’s family (which could be an individual, couple, or family) back at least three generations. The point is to help clients see intergenerational patterns. They’re pretty cool.

In class this week, we talked about the critical genogram, which is a genogram that also depicts a client’s particular social location (related to gender, sexual orientation, class, race, ability, age, religion, etc.) and how larger systems (like patriarchy, racism, etc.),  have influenced the client’s experience of their social location and presenting problems.

So I decided to draw one depicting my perception of how larger systems of patriarchy, monogamy, and religion have influenced my experience of my relational orientation, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The main messages I have received from those larger systems include “Women are possessions, property, need to be owned, controlled, and contained,” “Sexuality is sinful, immoral, unhealthy, wrong, bad,” and “Female sexuality is especially sinful, immoral, unhealthy, wrong, bad.” While I have largely cut myself off from those larger systems, I am still influenced by them because of my relationships with my family, larger community, and the messages I receive from media. I experience relatively integrated relationships with my relational and sexual orientations (I feel really comfortable identifying as queer and having an open/poly relationship), but my relationship with my gender identity (woman) feels more complicated. Because I can’t completely separate stripping from patriarchy, my identity as a woman and my enjoyment and participation in the strip club culture feels complicated and richly complex.

I am excited thinking about constructing genograms with my future clients, especially sexuality genograms, which involves questions about sexual history, familial messages about sex and love, and experiences in current romantic relationships. I’m also really excited thinking about creating a way to construct and use a genogram for poly folks and families.

Here is my sexuality critical genogram :) I’m the pink circle.

Screen shot 2013-11-21 at 9.22.47 PM

Patriarchy & Stripping

We had a pretty thought-provoking panel this week in my equity class: all three guest were white, straight men talking about their experiences with patriarchy. It was really interesting because they have all taken a path to counter patriarchy in their lives, and they discussed how this has affected their relationships with their families of origin, how they view the world, etc. 

One little comment at the end was evident to me that the men took different feminist views than me:

One man made some disparaging remark about “ugh strip clubs” and “yeah, isn’t it crazy Portland has like the highest number per capita?” [Subtext: isn't that awful??]

I caught my professor’s eye and she sort of apologetically/nervously smiled at me. I felt pretty calm; I expect to encounter that kind of attitude sometimes. I know it’s a pretty dominant discourse (strippers are oppressed women who have internalized patriarchy; there is no other explanation that tells us why women engage in sex work. Or, women are forced to strip or engage in sex work to make money. The power flows from the dominant group-men-to women in the form of exchanging money for sexual energy.)

The thing is: I can’t really argue that strip clubs don’t support patriarchy. I also can’t say that I’m not stripping outside the patriarchal system. I know I have been socialized to desire attention and to dress and present myself in ways that are pleasing to those gazing upon me (namely, men). 

But the explanation that patriarchy has oppressed me and forced me to strip is too simplistic for me. There are so many other factors at play (which I have discussed at length in various posts).

It’s fascinating to me, and I try as best I can to simply remain curious about, the variety of views within the folks who identify as a feminist. This particular guy, who so clearly and evidently opposed men powering over women and supported women as equals, inadvertently took agency and power away from the women who engage in sex work. Simply by making a negative comment, and assuming he knows the motivations and stories of all sex workers, he once again assumed the dominant role: “I know what’s best for women: not stripping.”

[Of course: people can have different views, and I think that first-wave feminism language is powerful and persuasive. But again: for me, it takes away power from individual women and is too simplistic. This picture assumes that one cohesive “feminism” has the answers to dismantling a thousands-year system of privilege and oppression, when in reality, there are so many diverse beliefs under that umbrella and so many ways of subverting power.)

The truth is, for me, is that all of these factors (including the system of patriarchy) have influenced me. Which means I embrace the “both, and” approach to life, not the “either/or.” I can be a stripper and a feminist and queer and straight-looking and a lover of consent and someone who has non-consent fantasies. I hold many complex, seemingly opposing desires and beliefs and identities, inside me, as do (I believe) most people.