I attended my first ever play party. Sex, nudity, kink, and all the things you’d expect from a sexual play event that someone like me would attend. Except that it wasn’t what I expected, at all. It wasn’t what I was prepared for. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I freaked out, let my guard down and was completely vulnerable- and I’m really glad.
Expectation management and personal branding are crucial parts of my job. Unlike on the internet, face to face interaction obviously isn’t controllable to anywhere near the same level. It was my first time out to a public event where I was invited personally and not professionally. I prepared myself for the high maintenance task of expectation management, and up keeping the perfect shield to protect my professional persona & reputation, in person.
It’s funny how often people assume because of my job that I’ve been to, tried, and done everything relating to sex. After people meet me, it’s not uncommon that people tell me I’m not like what they imagined. Most of the time their observations are pleasant. I’m more cute, nervous, nerdy, conservative, funny, or some other thing, more than they expected. Just as frequently however, the observations of me in public aren’t so pleasant, and are posted and shared online.
I do not consider myself a celebrity. At all. I’m just some person who uses the internet to do stuff and things. However that’s apparently not the case by some other peoples standards. As a “public figure” of sorts (who the public feel ownership and expectations of), I have to be hyper aware of what I look like, how I carry myself, who to, where and why I speak, and how I could be perceived. If I don’t, or as I’ve come to realize, even if I do keep all this in mind- I will be judged Harshly. I will be publicly shamed, harassed, mocked and bullied online for all to enjoy and partake of. Conventions, expos, panels, and academic circles are well known to be toxic, sexist, and rather hateful environments for certain groups. But even trips to the supermarket have ended up with threads appearing on forums and boards, pointing out how ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ or ‘unkempt’ I am in person, complete with unflattering candid photos taken without my consent. Endless remarks about my income, social status, my ego, my whatever imaginary thing people decide they knew about me and wished to punish me for.
Once at a convention while in civilian clothes, a man who told me he knew my work and thought my editing skills were amazing. He them told me he was sure of this because I was fat, old and utterly repulsive in person. This sort of unprovoked is what made up my day to day life, and makes me ashamed to be part of geek culture.
Working online, publicly, and in sex work, all bring specific kinds of abuse. It shouldn’t, but it does. The victims of this toxic culture are expected to suck it up, and are blamed for inviting it by simply existing. Years upon years or high-school drama-esque attacks, jokes, stalking & harassment at my expense from which I can’t escape as people began photographing and harassing me in real life, outside my home, have left me deeply scarred and paranoid. It’s fueled my depression and depersonalization to new levels I never thought possible. I was told that if I didn’t like the heat I should get out of the kitchen. Except that kitchen is my everyday life. There is no escape.
I have spent most days over the last few years living inside my house, with one other person. Often I won’t see anyone but them for weeks on end. I don’t go outside. I don’t get my own groceries, go to the post office, or go for walks (which has messed up my health rather badly). I most certainly don’t go to conventions or any places that really celebrate the things I love- games, geekery, sex, art & kink. My current partner didn’t understand why I was this way, and like many before them thought perhaps I was over-reacting. After all, I’m not really that famous. How could the abuse be so bad? After only a week of reading the emails, comments & messages directed at me- my partner understood and that line of questioning was put to rest. And then they googled me, and searched my name on some internet cesspits. Now that I’ve been hiding from the public eye for nearly 4 years it’s died down, but it’s still not pretty. I wish they hadn’t. I feel like they might not have noticed all my flaws if they didn’t read them in well written, detailed lists, complete with photos of me looking like a disgusting, fat, unkempt, freak as I tried to buy things from a local pharmacy.
Hyper vigilant self-analysis, repression and awareness is not only incredibly unhealthy and destructive, but it’s also not sustainable.
Getting to know me from my persona isn’t something a lot of people have opportunity to do. After what I’d been through, and with my mental illnesses, it certainly wasn’t something I was comfortable with. Letting people see me for me isn’t something I’m used too. Even letting ME be me isn’t something I do. I feel a lot of geeks, sex workers & other people considered social deviants, pariahs, or rejects understand how that feels. When your interests, hobbies, appearance, and self are constantly criticized, mocked or outright rejected it can be hard not to see yourself through that lens. It can be hard to embrace what you love and be who you are at all, even if you want to, no matter how hard you try. When even your own communities reject you for what you are (geek girl hate, whore-phobic feminism & bi-sexual exclusion anyone?), it makes you question a lot about who, and why you are. It can lead to painting on a face for the world- and that’s exactly what I did.
I pretended that my persona was simply for work. I convinced myself for a while at least, that my separation of self, and me making myself into what people wanted was about was for my job. The denial ran pretty deep, and then it ran out. I realized I’d been living for nearly a decade with self-loathing and distrust so deep that I’d forgotten who I was. The mask I showed the world was so polished it has become who I was. There was no “real me”, whatever that means. I didn’t have interests, hobbies, opinions & preferences. My life was a performance, partly out of economic and mental health necessity. Mostly, I realized it was because I’d internalized the horrible things, and discarded myself.
I reached out to those I loved and asked them for help. I asked what they’d noticed about me when my guard was down. What sort of things did I seem to like doing? What sort of disposition did I appear to have? They pointed out those questions weren’t going to help me. If I wanted to discover what I enjoyed, what I had repressed, and what I wanted, I’d have to ask myself. And so, my quest began.
I’ve discovered many things since I started looking into me. Apparently I really like the color magenta, and have ever since I was allowed to choose what color walls I wanted in my bedroom as a kid. My mother thought it was odd her tiny gothling child chose intense flamingo pink over all other colors, but she accepted it. I think she was hoping it would get me out of my interest with gothic style. Over a decade later and no luck on that front yet. I discovered that I like gardening despite being allergic to all-the-things. I enjoy novelty erasers, single player RPGs, aggressive cheese flavors and binge watching fantasy television series like no one I’ve ever met. When it came to sex though, I couldn’t work out what I liked.
The second situations changed to have sexual tones, a part of my brain switched off. That part was replaced with various things: Performance, anxiety, shame, or often an empty, dissociative state. As someone who has spent their entire adult life fighting for sexual rights, talking about sexual expression, personal pleasure & freedoms, healthy relationships, and kinky sexy funtimes, I felt like a fraud.
Just as I’m not a real nurse but I do play one in a porno, I’m not a confident, sexually fulfilled person, but I do play one for the public.
I wondered if my own disconnect and troubles undermined the validity of what I’d worked for and what I believed when it came to sex & sexuality. I know now that it doesn’t, but knowing and feeling are very different things. As a queer virgin can still know who they are attracted too, even without having had sex, I too know that my personality and my values aren’t discounted by my personal experiences.
There is nothing I can do to escape peoples mocking, stalking, abuse and hate. There is only so much you can (or should) control for people’s perceptions & attitudes towards you. I wanted to (and still currently want) to explore myself, my sexuality, my kinks & quirks. I decided it was time to give up the endless, unwinnable uphill battle of self protection and try something new. I wanted my experiences to be about, and for me. Not for work, society, fans, friends or anyone else. For the first time in a long time I wanted to be purely selfish.
I wasn’t really sure where to start looking. What experiences did I want and with whom? Who would be interested? How could I find someone to chat with about these things, and my personal issues? Who would understand the complexities of sex, sexuality & self for someone in my position? I wasn’t sure who would understand my brand of sex positivity (in that sex isn’t always positive, pleasant or awesome. Sometimes it’s crappy, sometimes its meh- and that’s ok and needs to be accepted & discussed). I don’t have many personal friends, and I didn’t want to burden those I knew & loved with unpaid emotional labour.
I’m however, am lucky. One perk of living and breathing nothing but work for years means I have lots of sex worker friends. I have lots of sex positive friends. When I say lots, I don’t mean in numbers just numbers. I mean quality of character. Friends who care, friends who ‘get it’. Queers, kinksters, hippies, porn people and lovers are my community. I’d read, supported, advertised and been so proud over the years or the work they do. I figured my own network would be a good place to start. I looked through my facebook feed and asked my community.
And then I found the aptly named Discovery. My expectations changed. My facade went terribly. I let people in and decided to actually enjoy myself. It shouldn’t be in any way radical, considering my work and life. But it was.
Sorry this post is a bit rambly. It’s a pretty intense personal topic for me. The above post is my unedited first draft. I wanted to share it, but I don’t have the willpower to go back and edit it to be more succinct right now. Expect an updated version in the future!
I will be writing about my experience of Discovery, both the workshop and play party very soon.