I’ve been working on a memoir-type project lately (I’ll give you the big news when it’s finally been contractually agreed upon), and it’s been… well… It’s been painful, everybody.
In order to write effectively about things that happened well over a half decade ago, I’ve been forced to go back through some of my old writing. This old writing includes DVD reviews I did for adult magazines in 2007, early columns I wrote about the experience for McSweeneys, and various retellings of these experiences for other publications and possible book-length projects.
I suppose it’s the experience of every creative person to look back on the work they’ve done and be ashamed of it, having years of experience and added skill in their medium to sharpen their vision as they review. And especially with matters as complex and taboo and honestly difficult as issues of sex work, pornography production and consumption, and feminism, it’s impossible not to look back to the past and cringe at my own ignorance and stupidity when I started out.
But. Wow. I was such an asshole, you guys.
Reading some of the terminology I used in those early days–the nonspecific use of incredibly volatile words and phrases, the lumping together of ideas that should not have been confused, the cavalier ways in which I tossed my thoughts into the world as if I knew what I was doing. Oh, my goodness. I thought at the time that I was being progressive and thoughtful, asking important questions and exposing issues that needed discussion. And I actually was. I am proud to say that at the time I started writing about these things, I was one of very few who was publicly talking about these issues to a wide audience outside of either academia or the sex industry. That’s a feather in my cap. But. Oh my.
Hindsight is painfully 20/20. As someone who called herself a feminist and as someone who now publicly acknowledges herself a proud queer and a sex-positive writer and activist, it’s almost painful to read the published, public evidence of where I started from. I’m terrified that in writing and probably publishing what I’m working on now and hearkening back to whence I came, others will find and read the things I wrote. And I’m afraid they will disown me. I’m afraid they will see the mistakes I made in my youth and label me a bad feminist. Try to strip me of my awards and honors. Tear me down, as I’ve seen others being torn down for mistakes and miscalculations they’ve made. It’s a shame to see this happen–a politically active community must police itself, but it must also support itself by being a safe place for people to make mistakes and grow from them.
So I’m just saying it right now, while I’m thinking about it and being forced to confront the ugliness of the mess I was when I started writing about these things. I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, but I talked anyway, and my foot has landed squarely in my mouth for some of it. More of it I’ve been able to quietly sweep under the rug. But I’m here to say it now: I wrote some things that I cannot endorse now. I said things I no longer agree with. I’ve come a long way, I’ve learned a lot, and I feel like an ass for some of the things I’ve done.
I am far from perfect now, and I know that even with how far I’ve come in the past eight years, I still have very far to go. I know I’ll never achieve perfection in my worldview, my ability to articulate my thoughts, my activism. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? In talking openly and honestly about tough issues like sex, sex work, feminism, and more, we all start somewhere. That somewhere is usually from a place locked firmly inside the sex-negative patriarchy that most of the world exists in–the world in which we’ve all been raised. Some of us are fortunate to have been educated by those who see outside this dark and destructive box, to have some insight to what could exist out there. But most of us have to start groping out way toward the light in our own personal way from whatever dark corner we start out in. It’s painful to watch. It’s exasperating to those who have already walked that path, to watch us stumble and grasp and fall and fail. But it’s a journey we each take. We all started somewhere and got somewhere else. I’m proud of where I am now, but I’m not finished yet. And I’m certainly not proud of where I started.
So, please. Have mercy.