I will never forget the moment my Aunt mentioned a picture my cousin had shown her of me, thinking I hadn’t “outed” myself to her yet. I was me, sitting on the lap of an extremely attractive patron dressed head to toe in rainbow feathers and doing my best to break the unspoken wall between the audience and the dancer. It was one of the many Pride themed burlesque shows I’ve done since starting my journey to queer burlesque land, and while I was certainly proud, I could see my cousin thought she would embarrass me by showing the picture to an elder. Luckily I don’t slut shame so easily!
In the wake of the shooting and consequent death of unarmed teenager Mike Brown, I’ve been paying attention to the #iftheygunnedmedown posts in response to the incident. I’m reminded while I may take pride in my love of the bump, grind and tease, the world does not. A black woman engaging in any form of sex work is at best exclusively an agent for a good time and at worst a person to be thrown away and dismissed. We are less than human and if we are mistreated, it’s assumed no fault but our own.
Occasionally, we can take advantage of what I call the gotta-pay-my-bills defense for this line of work, of course leaving out how much we actually enjoy taking ownership of our sexuality while making money. But ultimately, if I were in an altercation with an armed authority figure, something that happens all too often to black people such as myself, all it would take was that photo of me in my headdress and bustle eagerly encouraging patrons to slip tips into my garter, to tell the world I deserved whatever misfortune I incurred.
I work in different worlds, and I am extremely proud of each of them. I love being a writer, a stripper, and an academic. I have met some of the smartest and most dynamic people in the world through my careers, and the grind keeps me excited about the future. I am able to be a better advocate when I speak from lived experience as well as scholarly research. I can ask the right questions, and get the best answers. But most of all, I love my jobs, which I’m told ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at!
I just hope the media will show all my pictures if someday a police officer decides to shoot me dead. If only to lend support to the fact that sex worker, Ph.D, writer or professional, no one deserves to die because of who they are.