“That” Question

standing woman wearing extravagant clothes with handcuffs“So, what did you say you do for a living?”

That question, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, always makes my heart skip a beat. It is not a simple question to answer and only opens up a torrent of other questions inside my head, which causes me to pause. And the pause rarely goes unnoticed. Who doesn’t know how to explain what they do for a living?

My answer depends a lot on those other internal questions: How long have I known this person? What is the context in which they know me? Do they appear open minded? Is an honest answer going to change the way they interact with me? Is this going to out-right freak them out?

My experience of sharing honestly has varied considerably. I have certainly had positive experiences, but I have frequently been surprised by those that I thought would take it in stride but instead become offended, even disgusted. All too often I have felt sad at how the declaration of my career choice has derailed a conversation or friendship that otherwise began very well.

My having moved much more into the education realm has admittedly made my response more palatable to others. Hearing “sexuality educator” is very different than “professional dominatrix.” The individual might not really know what I mean by either phrase, but the former is certainly less intimidating than the latter. Regardless, deciding how to respond to this innocuous – but oh so bothersome! – question remains a difficult decision for me every time.

Frankly, either way I answer feels like I’m going to get screwed (and not in the fun way). If I lie, then I’m not being true to myself; I am not presenting the proud professional pervert that I actually am. I am proud of my life, my accomplishments, and the incredibly intimate and amazing experiences I’ve shared with so many in the kink community. But, on the other hand, if I tell the truth, then I have to see that “look.” The same look that everyone gets, whether they accept/approve of what I do or not. The look that says: “What the F*ck?! Really? YOU?!” The look that illustrates the shocking incongruity: this nice “normal” person does, um, illicit things for a living.

I have lied, many times actually. My usual answer is that I do “website and new media development,” which is both sufficiently vague yet accurate. If they probe deeper, then I say that I own my own business; that I have a tech person that handles the actual building of the sites, and I serve as the PR person and general manager of the business. Um, yeah.

Every time I say that half-truth, my heart hurts for a moment. But sometimes an honest response is just not appropriate given the time constraints (if I’m on an airplane and don’t want to spend the flight giving a kink 101 class). Other times I know that I’m going to be interacting with the person out in the “real” world, and it’s just not worth disturbing their image of me. But when the opportunity presents itself, and I sense that the person who asked the question – the inquiry that has become “THAT” question in my life – might be open to the real answer; then I take the plunge. I say it. And though my heart skips yet another beat, and I can’t help but (still) be a bit anxious about their response, I feel proud that I have stood up and spoken my truth.

Originally posted on FearlessPress.com October 13, 2010

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