Uh Oh

So, I'm moving to NYC tomorrow, and I no longer have anyplace to stay while I apartment hunt.

I was planning to crash with a friend of mine for a few nights, but he just had a family emergency and had to take off. He was already going to be moving away at the end of the week, so he's giving up his place and I can't stay.

Therefore, if you are a New York City (especially Brooklyn) person and have a couch I can sleep on, I will be your new best friend. I know it's sketchy to be asking over the internet, but I'm in sort of dire straits as I've got a plane flight tomorrow and no idea where I'll be headed to when I leave the gate.

I'll be stalking the interwebs for the next day or so, watching my inbox feverishly, so if you can help me out (or know someone who can) please leave a comment here. We'll be BFFs. Instantly.

Canvassing vs. Stripping Part 2: Objectification

I wrote not long ago that stripping and canvassing are very similar. I stand by this; it's mostly the same skill set and similar interactions. I've been surprised to find, though, that there's one major difference. I actually feel a lot more objectified when I'm canvassing than I ever did when I was stripping.

There's the general problem, in canvassing, of standing on a city street for five and a half hours a day. This makes the street harassment I mentioned in my last post a constant issue and very much a part of the job. It's a sort of montage in the background of my daily life. You know, various cut scenes of "Hey baby, what's your name?" and "Aren't you pretty?" and "You got a boyfriend?" and "I'd put that on my tongue."

It also happens with the people I canvass, though. See, I'm ostensibly standing out there for a cause that has nothing to do with my looks or my body. It's gay marriage, it's about equal rights, it's a political thing. I'm being friendly and outgoing but not sexual. The size of my boobs and the color of my eyes have nothing to do with it.

And yet I get the once-over from customers on the street as much as I did when I was stripping. They come on to me just as often. The difference is that in a strip club that's part of the expected interaction. By being there in a thong, I've given the customers permission to oggle and be lewd at me, assuming they pay appropriately.

One of the things I always liked about stripping is that it took objectification, which happens every day no matter what I do, and put it in a place where it was controlled. It gave me the option to consent to it. It gave me bouncers to make it stop if anyone did it in a way I didn't like. When I was stripping, I had the option of saying "No" to someone's objectifying behavior and having it mean something. Yes, we needed the bouncers to enforce that, but we had them. It was enforced.

On the street, I can't say no. I do sometimes, but it's often ignored. I feel like I have no control over the way people treat me, and it's often with minimal respect. I feel uncomfortable a lot of the time. I feel placed into a box labeled "fuckable woman" and imposed upon. I feel objectified. Way, way more than I ever did when I had chosen to be naked on a stage.

Sexually Harassed

Every day I go to work in downtown San Francisco. I get dropped off outside the BART station near my house, ride a train for ten minutes, and walk approximately 100 feet outside another BART station to get to my office. It's a very short trip, especially in terms of the number of steps I take that are actually outside.

Every day, I am catcalled, propositioned, lewdly complimented, or generically hit on by a man at least once on my way to work and at least once on the way home. Often, it's more than that. I literally can't walk outside my house or out of my office without having some guy try to foist himself on me.

Of course, when I'm canvassing on the street for five and a half hours a day, this effect is multiplied tenfold. It's true that pretty much all canvassers are attractive by society's silly standards. It's part of how we make money, and I of course use that to keep my average high.

Even when I'm not trying to attract a donor, though, I garner a lot of unwanted attention. The other day, a fellow female canvasser and I were waiting for a bus and a man driving a Mercedes pulled over, asked if we were dating each other, and then told us "I'd put that on my tongue." It's gross, and it happens all the time.

I'm damn sick of this. It's driving me crazy. I have to fend off sketchy men almost constantly, and it's to a point where it's a big burden. I'd love to be able to just walk down the street without having to think of some witty rejoinder or feeling awkward and rude as I ignore a come-on. Even just having to respond to this shit takes up a decent amount of time and energy that I'd much rather spend on better things.

The thing is, I don't do anything to bring on this attention. I just happen to be at an age and in a physical condition that makes me fit the arbitrary beauty ideals that our society holds over everyone's head. I didn't choose this, it's just the fact of my person. It's a fucked up consequence of being "attractive" that I then have asshole men assuming it's okay to oggle me. I become an unwilling participant in their show of masculinity: hey, look at me! I'm attracted to a pretty woman! This proves I'm a man!

I actually really look forward to getting older and being less "ideally" attractive. I know for a fact that anyone at all can be really sexy. It's all about confidence and feeling sexy and projecting that attitude onto other people. Anyone can do that, no matter how they look, and it's something you get to choose.

When I'm older, I won't have to be perceived as sexy all the time just because of how I look. I'll get to be sexy when I feel like it and towards the people that I pick. It'll have so much more to do with who I really am and what's actually sexual about me than this annoyingly arbitrary body I've got and the gender role that goes with it. I'll get to actually have some choice about it, some control over the mode in which I'm interacting with people.

I suppose I don't know for certain that this is true, and it's certainly true that one can never control anyone else's actions or reactions. Gender roles will still suck and I'm sure it'll be annoying when I'm feeling sexy and other people don't pick up on it. I know there are two sides to this beauty ideal coin and that they both rather suck. I'm just really fed up with being sexually harassed on the street every day, and I'll be glad when it stops or even just happens less often.

Gay Bar

I went, tonight, to a gay club in the Castro. San Francisco's pretty fun in that its queer culture is exactly what you'd expect it to be. This club was all techno, mostly gay people, more men than women, and a good amount of drinking. It was packed. The bodies writhed together. It might as well have been a scene from Queer as Folk. (Although I know that was set in another city.)

I went to gay bars and clubs a lot throughout my college career. There was a period of time where I'd go to a gay bar at least three nights a week, to socialize and sometimes dance and sometimes drink.

I didn't like going to straight dance clubs because men would inevitably feel me up or at least hit on me in a very sketchy fashion. At gay bars, there isn't this problem. The men are only interested in each other and the women know better than to be totally disrespectful.

Since I've graduated, though, I've spent less time with queer folks. My job is to canvass for a queer issue, but there are still more straight people at work than gay ones. I'd sort of forgotten how much more comfortable I am within the queer community than I am in the straight one.

I have my own gripes with the gay community, mostly involving their sometimes exclusion of bisexual people. I still feel better, though, with teh gays than with teh straights. There's so much more gender flexibility, such an understanding that gender roles don't have to define everything. It cuts down a lot on the blatant sexism.

I'd forgotten, before tonight, how much more comfortable I feel around gay people than around straight ones. I'm considering taking a little break from dating men, just because I've gotten into such an unfortunate head space about them. Even if I don't skip out on all the less-sexist men who I do like, I'd like to spend more time with gay people. I think it's time to start pursuing women again.

Self Discipline in Writing, and My Evening

I think it is now time to start forcing myself to post every day. I have been very, very terrible about blogging for the last several months, to state the obvious. This isn't because I've had nothing to talk about; my brain continues to churn regardless of what weird emotional/stress state I'm in. I've had plenty of things percolating.

I just haven't really been writing. Not here, and not for school anymore, and not in my journal, and not anything fictional. Nothing. This, for me, is not a good thing.

Writing keeps me a little more sane, forces me to analyze my life, helps me to understand my feelings and experiences by articulating them. I really need to be doing it more, because I've been letting some good ol' life patterns (like the whole man issue I wrote about in my last post) build up without really dealing with them.

I spent tonight at a bar and then a dance club with a group of people from work, and although I enjoy the company of many of my coworkers, I was left feeling uncomfortable and almost grossed out after this evening. It really had nothing to do with my companions and everything to do with my feelings about men and being surrounded by them.

I was being lightly hit on by one male coworker, Y, who shared that he hasn't had sex in months and is desperate (his word!). He was also pursuing, and talking about pursuing, another coworker who is new to the office. C, the third woman in the group, picked up an Italian guy early on and got him to buy her drinks and make out with her.

I was being more subtly but also more persistently hit on by N, another male coworker who has a girlfriend but who admits that he make-out cheats on her when he's drunk. He kept saying he wanted to drink more so that he could make poor life choices and touching my knees. A random guy outside the club who I talked to for about a minute took the time to make sure that N would be escorting me home as it's not safe out there for a beautiful lady like myself.

I can't really say what it was that bugged me so much about the whole night, I just felt vaguely dirty, as though I was a part of something I didn't like. I wish there was some way to just check out of traditional gender roles entirely, to not be confronted with them all the time. I wish men didn't objectify me constantly based on my confidence and openness around sexuality. I don't want to be someone's wet dream.

I like it when people are attracted to me, sure, but not so much when it's because they think I'll be the perfect lay. Or the perfect anything, for that matter. It's so much nicer when they perceive me as a human, flaws and all.

It's been an off night, and I'll do a better sort later through what was up. I'd like to find some kind of conclusion, a reaction to this discomfort with men, that will help me function better in their presence. It is, after all, a little hard to avoid them altogether.

Stripping and "Hating" and Dating Men

When I first started stripping, I heard from lots of my coworkers and a few of my friends in the industry that the job would make me hate men. They said that when you do sex work, you see the worst in men and so it is inevitable that you start to dislike them at least a little. I didn't write this off entirely, as of course they had experience at that point and I didn't, but I hoped that it would be different for me.

I was, I rationalized, doing sex work for different reasons than most of them. I didn't need the money, I just kind of wanted to see what it was like to dance naked and get paid for it. I figured this privilege would protect me from making some of the compromises they might have had to, would protect me from a changing opinion of men. I knew the industry would definitely alter me, as everything in life does, but I figured my compassion could hold up to it in that regard.

Well, my compassion is certainly still there. I feel sorry for men much more than I hate them. But things have definitely changed in my feelings towards them.

I've been thinking about my recent heterosexual trend, wondering why my attention has been so much more on men than on women. It hasn't been for lack of physical attraction to women; it's just that when I meet a nicer (and attractive) man, my focus zooms in on him immediately. He stands out to me. This hasn't been happening much with women.

It occurred to me that I've got a little reaction formation going on when it comes to men. (Wikipedia: In psychoanalytic theory, reaction formation is a defensive process in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are mastered by exaggeration of the directly opposing tendency.) In this case, I'm very uncomfortable with and somewhat dislike men, so I've been dating them.

So I certainly don't hate men, but I do hate a lot of the things a lot of them do. I don't much like being objectified without my permission. (Accepting money for it is giving permission.) I don't like it when they assume I'm sexually available or feelingless based on my orientation or relationship style or job. I feel almost paranoid about being imposed upon by them, pushed into ways of being or thinking of myself that I don't like, and it affects me from day to day.

So I'm very defended against them. In order to protect myself, I have to be paying attention to the men around me at all times. I'm expending an enormous amount of energy and attention on making sure I don't interact with men in ways that will hurt me. I'm super up front about my job, orientation, and relationship style so that I can immediately avoid the men who objectify them. Putting up barriers like that takes a good amount of effort and so I'm always very aware of men.

What this means is that when I do find a guy who's nice to me, who doesn't do those things I hate, I've already been paying oodles of attention to him in order to find that out. It seems notable, remarkable, that he's not going to be sexist towards me. I appreciate him a lot. I date him, if he's available. There you go. I'm not as afraid of women, and so this happens less often.

(As a side note: I don't claim this is a rational reaction to anything. These are feelings and my attempt to understand them.)

Now, back to stripping. Stripping didn't force me somehow to have these feelings towards men. It's not even that men act much differently at a strip club than they do in general. In fact it's just the opposite, and that's the problem. Stripping commodifies the sexist interactions that exist every day, everywhere. It puts a monetary value on them and so it makes them very, very obvious.

As a stripper, I have to trade somewhat in misogyny, to play off it and manipulate it so that I can get lap dances and tips and avoid groping and slurs. It's something I simultaneously like and hate about the job. I've learned oodles about gender roles, particularly about what's dysfunctional in masculinity. I like learning. However, this knowledge makes it hard to move comfortably in a world that's so full of sexism. I'm just so aware all the time. I can't really sit back and accept it, learn to ignore it, bite the harness and move on like women have been doing for centuries. I'm psychologically fighting it out most of the time.

I'd like to try to shift my focus a little. It's probably unnecessary and certainly draining to be so defended all the time. I'd like to learn, in my day to day activities if not my scholarship and activism, to brush off sexist men. I don't want to let them inside my head, let them affect me, which is something I do have control over even when I can't change their behavior. It'd be nice, even, to spend more time with women and live more in a sisterhood community where I can feel safe. Focus on safety, on whom I am comfortable with rather than on whom I'm not.

I suppose it's a lesson for me as an activist. I want to keep working to change the things in the world that strike me as unfair and wrong, the things that make me angry and hurt me. I need also, though, to focus on healing from that anger and hurt. It's just as important.
On living, loving, learning, and fucking with the materials I've got at hand.

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