At eighteen, I became an adult entertainer. Fed up with my stuffy office cubicle and hopelessly unfashionable telephone headset, I wanted something a little more liberating. I found it as a stripper. Never one to be all that shy about nudity, and while maybe not outgoing per se, I was unapologetic about my choice. I enjoyed it and it paid my bills. Enough said.
No really, enough said. I learned pretty quickly that coming right out and saying that I was a stripper was met with some odd looks and even odder comments. Stigmas, stereotypes, and judgments… oh my. But at my tender age, I didn’t much care.
As I got older though, my taste for shock began to wane. I was softer in my language. I stopped using the word stripper and opted for “dancer,” or “entertainer.” Those words came with less defensive explanations. I got tired of telling people that not all strippers were druggies with loser boyfriends and multiple baby daddies.
But stripper remained the most honest word for my profession. It is very literally, what I did. Dancing was only a very minor part of the job, and sometimes totally unnecessary. No training or choreography needed. But despite the ultimately honest and benign meaning of the word itself, I found it was easier to simply dance around the word itself. Pun very much intended.
Other descriptions just didn’t have the same nasty baggage associated with it. Eventually, I just got used to the idea that for me to be honest, I was going to have to show people as well as tell them that the things they thought they knew about my job weren’t true. So I stopped using the softer words and just went with “stripper.” I hoped that eventually the misconceptions and negative connotations would fade. And for the most part, they did.
“You’re a stripper? Good for you, you’re so brave. I wish I had that kind of confidence.”
Before I was an open non-believer, I thought the word “atheist” was synonymous with evil. Atheists worshipped the devil, obviously. They stole, lied, and tortured puppies. And some of them I heard even ate babies. Really… babies.
And then I read the actual definition. Pretty underwhelming. Definitely not scary.
When I started identifying as an atheist, I found that the reaction I got from people wasn’t quite like when I told them I was a stripper.
“You’re an atheist? Your life has no meaning, how can you have any morals? Aren’t you afraid of hell?”
Strippers at least are redeemable I guess. Atheists on the other hand… well, they drink the blood of children.
I get the stigma about strippers. While nudity is natural, using sexuality as a way to generate income does involve some nuanced ethics.
Not believing in gods is just that. Nothing more. And yet I found myself defending the simple definition of the word and dispelling the misconceptions more vigorously than that of a stripper.
But it’s an important conversation. I try not to dance around this word in conversation. Just as I have been able to dispel most of the misconceptions around strippers, having open and honest conversations with people about my non-belief has started to have an impact.
By being open and authentic about who I am, I’m able to confront the misconceptions and stereotypes that have attached themselves to what are ultimately not dirty words head-on.
While labels are helpful to figuring out who we are as people, they are just labels. When you show someone the human being behind the label, the words go back to being just what they are: just words.