Merging the Academic with the Personal

I explored something kind of uncomfortable, but necessary, in counseling this week:

When and how will (or if) I decide to disclose 1) that I am in an open relationship, and 2) that I am a stripper now that I am back in school (which, yes, is fabulous so far!)

I told my counselor that being in an open relationship is not shameful for me and that I am proud of it. I feel like that part of me is an easy share. I have already shared that in my personal statement for my school applications. During the interview process, I shared that my main goal is to work with folks in plural relationship structures. So I am not that concerned about disclosing my personal experience with open relationships.

But, stripping feels like another matter. I feel like as much as nonmonogamy is misunderstood and stigmatized, sex work is even more misunderstood and stigmatized. Interestingly, I feel like if I used to strip, but didn’t any more, I wouldn’t feel as weird sharing my experience. But because I am still actively stripping, and plan to continue stripping, my experience moves into the present, rendering me still sexually deviant. There is an element of shame to my stripping experience, as much as I don’t like or want to admit it. And it’s related, I think, to my realization that stripping feeds several things for me, and I don’t want to contribute to a misunderstanding that strippers engage in the work they do because they have “daddy issues” or are “attention whores.” I have articulated for myself that stripping was, in the beginning of my journey, about exploring my sexuality and sense of exhibitionism, reclaiming my sexual power in a very loud way, and about the empowerment and feminist stance of using my body however damn way I chose (related to struggles I had with my mom growing up). In the middle, and up until a couple months ago, it was about feeding my deep desire of being seen and heard. Most recently, it has mainly been about performance, about exercise, about perfecting my sense of presence and gratitude to move my body sensually and artistically. 

Some organizations classify stripping as a form of sex work, in that a stripper exchanges sexual energy for money. And yet, I more readily identify as a “dancer” and less so as a “stripper” or “sex worker.” Could I proudly raise my hand in class and say “I am a dancer”? “I am a stripper”? “I am a sex worker”? I don’t know.

And honestly, I am concerned about the implications of disclosing this personal experience on my future job, work, volunteer, etc opportunities. Again, I really don’t know if I could proudly raise my hand without knowing what kind of ripples this might have for my future self.

And, in what context would sharing this be appropriate? Just tonight, in my first class, a fellow classmate said to me: “Do you not work? What do you do with all your free time??” To which I shrugged off and deflected. It didn’t feel like the right time and place for some reason to say: I do in fact work. I am a dancer.

I imagine the context in which I might want to share would be one in which we are discussing working with vulnerable populations, including those working in marginalized occupations (including sex workers). I really dislike and feel aggravated by “othering” conversations (oh “those” people, “they” blah blah blah). I would feel compelled, and like it would be the right thing to do, to disclose my status and experience to bring some humanity to the conversation.

I also recognize that disclosing both of these things about myself feeds a “look at me” desire. The attention whore at work. I want to be seen, noticed, heard. And being “different” and then telling people about that feeds that circuit loop.

I’ll figure this all out, in time, and as it happens. But it’s been a little stressful and weighing on me. I think I would feel best to me if I could just tell everyone about my experiences without worrying about judgements and prejudices- but I can’t control other people’s reactions or thoughts or behaviors toward me.

My counselor reminded me that even if I decide to keep something private, it doesn’t mean I am ashamed of it. So now I am trying to really figure out: am I ashamed of dancing? Or am I ashamed of the discomfort I may cause people (ie, taking on the feelings and needs of others again)? Or am I ashamed of why dancing is so fun and satisfying for me?
 
It’s still a rub: how to manage the private, the personal, the academic, the professional.

Thoughts, feedback, love? 🙂

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