Now with dog pics
Let The Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993 by Sarah Schulman
A groundbreaking history of organizing strategies and tactics as comprehensive as it is readable. I learn something new every chapter. I will probably reference it for years to come. Moving without being sentimental. Schulman deftly lays out an otherwise overwhelming abundance of interviews with ACT UP members to exalt no one voice or perspective, but to demonstrate the beauty, brilliance, and effectiveness of many.
Naming yourself is a powerful spell. When you cast a spell like that, one that tries to reshape and reinvent who you are, it tends to lead to a confrontation with your own desires. Rather, it leads to a confrontation with desire itself, with the way we never know completely what it is we want until we have it, and even then, we usually learn more about what we don’t want ever again. We confront the negative space of all we don’t know, don’t want, and cannot master.
I feel so small, but perhaps the negative space is more truly who I am. Perhaps I am vast and endless, a master of infinite unknowns, and therefore a master of nothing at all. But what about my career?
I’m not sure I’ve ever been all that great at sex. I feel like I created a veneer of sexual power and expertise because I felt immense pressure to brand myself, and my shamelessness around sex and sex work felt like my most valuable asset. I was a non-committal drag performer with a budding porn career when I adopted the moniker “probottom.” I thought it sounded cool and like a good compromise between different identities and interests that I was navigating at the time. It wasn’t lost on me that I was advertising something, but much of my approach to sex work was informed by trans and female sex workers who took their personal branding very seriously. It never occurred to me that I might have more success if I postured as more modest or naive.
In retrospect I think I branded myself as an exceptional bottom in order to create value that I was not certain my own body and looks already possessed. I felt constantly like I had to fight to convince studios that I am appealing enough for them and their subscribers (none have ever offered me to sign me on an exclusive contract, the industry standard for stardom and job security.) Whether I was naturally attractive felt debatable, especially when I could not fit easily into generic porn categories because of my skin’s tone, tattoos, and very distinguishing scarring. But I knew I was a skilled model, that I could get fucked for hours in zany positions without complaining or slowing down the work day. I am a professional bottom, a consummate professional. At least one studio appreciated this, and fortunately, it was the studio with the best pay rates. But they still never signed me.
You have to understand: Being a sex worker doesn’t mean more people would fuck me than people who aren’t sex workers. It means I can quantify how many would. It means I have to quantify how many would. For every starfucker, there are two more people terrified of being naked with a pro— and they’re usually hotter and nicer than the starfucker. Don’t roll your eyes at me.
I won’t sit here and deny the privileges that grant me a rich and exciting sex life. These are the same privileges that have facilitated my success as a sex worker. But I spend each day fucking green with envy toward undiscovered hotties, beautiful people with careers and social media totally independent of their sexuality, and whose experience of sex is unhampered by a whole industry of projections. I feel something resembling shame toward all I’ve crudely exposed and flaunted and given up to the public just to win their support for what I do, compared to people who are so much more desirable because they haven’t given up anything at all. These people are rarely the starfuckers. It feels generous when they are.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been all that great at sex. Maybe I misunderstood what is sexy about confidence, that it’s not a matter of knowing and asserting what you want but of an adventurous disposition toward the unknown, namely your body and what it can do with mine. I tell men what I want, sometimes beforehand, sometimes during. It backfires all the time, confirms men’s anxiety that I have some impossibly high expectation of them and what their dicks can do. I feel like I have committed some kind of crime for asking men to fuck me the way they said they would. Sometimes I think the act of communicating my desires is precisely what precludes their satisfaction. Sometimes I wish I knew how to shut the fuck up.
I’m aware that I’ve cast a powerful spell with the names I’ve given myself. It seems silly to make such a big to-do about an Instagram handle, I know, but I became much more anchored by my efforts at branding myself than I ever expected or intended to be. I am grateful for my career and all the glamorous things that have come out of it. I only wonder what comes next, after baring everything and mastering nothing at all.