April 6, 2009

Healing My Broken Feminist Heart

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.

8 Comments on “Healing My Broken Feminist Heart”

1:10 pm

hey Audacia–thank you so much for expressing your feelings of alienation from feminism. I hear this from women of color as well as women who are against abortion, or stay-at-home moms, or for other reasons feel that feminism is only judging them, not helping them.

And my reply to women who feel that feminism’s tent is exclusionary is “Push your way in.” Which is what I just got from your post. That’s how the world works, and that’s how power works. YOU decide if you want in, and you push your way in with your insistence, your story, your perspective, your needs, with whatever is at the top of your agenda. Nobody gets a gold invite to be in feminism’s tent. You, and anyone who wants to, must push your way in and claim feminism as yours, and when other feminists quibble about your right to membership, you speak out.

That said, I do find myself spending time listening to women who feel like you do–abused by feminism. I really want to hear these stories and mend those bridges, if possible, and heal those wounds, if possible. It’s not gonna happen with one conversation, I think, but at least I’m finding that people are talking and listening is starting to happen.

Feminism doesn’t belong to any one group, imo. We’re all in women’s movement together.

9:44 pm

I feel the same way about feminism. I get so *annoyed* with them–it aggravates me and I’m a feminist.

But I’m also a pragmatist. And feminism doesn’t often seem to be pragmatic.

I was at a conference workshop where white feminists were wringing their hands about their privilege. I finally said, for the love of god, it’s not going away. learn to use it well–not abuse it.

I was on a board of a local non-profit and I knew darn well why I was there. I was access to the university, to the cheap media equipment, to the equipment. My privilege was *useful* to them and I knew it and encouraged it.

I keep thinking of the Black women’s club’s adage in the early turn of the century: Lifting as we Climb.

damnit, I want to lift and climb at the same time. Not worry about the fact that I have access to a ladder and others might not. My access can give others access.

8:20 pm

I appreciated your post and feel I can relate a bit. I’ve always taken for granted that I *was* a feminist, since early adolescence…but my relationships with feminists have unfortunately been almost as marred as my relationships with the bigots they supposedly oppose.

My first run-in was when I came out as bisexual back in the day, and was accused of everything from trying to be trendy, to being a fence-sitter, to “teasing” lesbians.

Then came the flak I took for being polyamorous. I think some of the feminists, straight and gay, that I hung around had internalized an identification with monogamy as a way to legitimatize themselves.

The deepest shit I ever waded into with feminists was standing in support of kink and of consensual D/s experiences, especially with men. Lordy. The only people who’d ever been as hostile to me about one of my sexual preferences, were white redneck males. Seriously, once someone who identifies as a “feminist” starts sounding as sexually judgmental of another woman as a cracker bigot, something key has fallen by the wayside.

The latest thing I’ve been having trouble with–though admittedly I haven’t talked to many people about it yet–is a dawning phase of being very deeply fascinated by men, in a respectful and erotic sort of way. It seems that cynicism and a kind of bitterness sort of pervades a lot of women’s writing about men right now, feminist-identified or otherwise. Once again, I feel sort of out of step with feminism and afraid to talk about my experience for fear of being crapped on and called a sell-out.

But I agree with the above poster. What else can you do but claim feminism as your own, and assert that YOU are as much at the “center” of what it means to be a feminist, as anyone else! You earned your citizenship by rights of being a strong woman who is true to herself. Waiting on someone else to ratify your “feminism credentials” and give you passage into the club, is giving your power away, and allowing some sick women to turn feminism into a female patriarchy.

In summary: f**k the club. Build the big tent yourself, to include your experience and all those you find valid. Many will agree with YOU.


[…] a really lovely, moving, thoughtful piece by Audacia Ray on her Waking Vixen blog about her fraught relationship with feminism as a sex trade […]

6:32 pm

You and your feminism are more inspirational to me than any of those ‘feminists’ that reject you.

2:37 am

I can’t tell you how much this post moved me. For different reasons I went form being a feminist, to refusing to be called a feminist, and back again. I’ve said it before: I have a problem with labels. Language is fluid and one person’s feminism is another’s (insert here).

Just like the question of whether or not I’m a sex worker, I’ve decided that it’s up to ME how I choose to identify.
I guess that makes me… a feminist, sex positive sex worker, and sex blogger with masochistic and exhibitionist tendencies.

Maybe I should put that as my bio on twitter ::grin::

Thank you for sharing so much. You are an inspiration.


[…] to put feminist down & be, just another woman with lots of other interests. I’ve seen it happen enough so that I should not be so surprised if it happens to me, too. But then maybe I’ll take some […]


[…] are morally obligated to either repress their sadistic desires or kill themselves. For example.) In her post “Healing My Broken Feminist Heart”, Audacia Ray talks about how much it hurts to identify as a feminist and yet be told, often, that […]

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