I am sometimes referred to as a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) due to my recent criticisms of transgender ideology and its impact on women.
Although I am aware that “terf” is a slur and silencing tactic used against any woman who expresses discomfort with the status quo, I do find it very ironic that I am immediately assumed to be a radical feminist, when the radical feminist community does not represent a group where I have comfortably been able to find tribe or sanctuary.
In the Western world, Radical feminists have paved the way for much of women’s advocacy that is critical of gender ideology, trans-activism, and how these institutions harm women and children.
I align with a lot of radical feminist thought, and I support and will continue to uplift Radical Feminist organizations such as WoLF, who are doing critical and important work to advocate for women’s civil rights, especially since they are completely independent, working against immense backlash, and do not receive the mainstream funding & support that woke organizations do. I stand with them. And as a woman who is outspoken about the same controversial issues, and who also receives backlash, I empathize and share much of their struggle.
With that said, I am not a radical feminist. I actually do not identify as a feminist at all…
And Ironically, I have not found radical feminist communities to be particularly welcoming towards me in all of my expression—particularly my pole dancing.
Just recently, I created a post in a radical feminist facebook group, asking for help in how to preserve my female-only sensual pole dance workshops in this social and political climate, where gender identity laws prohibit us from having female-only spaces. I know that radical feminists have experience with creating, hosting and preserving female-only spaces, and I felt alone in my process, so I wanted to tap into their collective insight.
But Instead of drawing on their experience and offering support, I mostly received backlash and criticism for offering pole dance workshops to women in the first place. Radical feminism is against porn, and all facets of prostitution, including stripping, and many radical feminists are very critical of any woman who appears to “promote” these things as empowering—often quite strictly, to a fault, and to the extent of alienating such women.
But when someone snidely remarked that my pole dancing sounds “phallic and pornified”, this was a judgment that absolutely enraged me.
For me, pole dance is an authentic expression of my femininity, sexuality, and personal power. It’s an integral aspect of my Artistry, and it has played a very important role in my life’s journey as a woman.
Pole Dancing is a lot of work. For me, Pole is not “fun”. It is deeply fulfilling, magic-making, gratifyingly heart-work. It is a discipline, like meditation, piano, or ballet. I am a professional. I have extensive knowledge of exercise science, and the human muscoloskeletal system. Pole requires a great deal of understanding body mechanics to harness one’s own quality of movement, as well as rigorous athletic and artistic training. The fact that I can make it look seductive and mesmerizing is both a creative choice, and a direct function of how much training I have done, both physically and spiritually.
I have worked extremely hard to be where I am as a pole dancer, and it has nothing to do with men. I learned how to pole dance from women, in women-only spaces. In fact, the last performance I did was at my own Book Launch Event, and it was, intentionally, for a female-only audience. I have banned hundreds of men from my page who comment extensively on my pole dance videos, because I don’t care what they think, their energy often takes up too much space, and my expression is not for them. I enjoy and prefer to have a predominantly female audience.
Pole Dance as an Art form is literally the definition of FUBU.
So yes, it’s very upsetting to see women, particularly those who staunchly refer to themselves as feminists—treat me like I don’t have a brain in my head to think critically about what I am doing, its origins, or its impact on my holistic wellbeing as a woman.
In this particular sense, their mentality is no different from men who mistakenly believe that I am dancing for them.
It is all another manifestation of internalized misogyny.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for thinking critically and questioning the social norms that we adopt and blindly follow. In my case, I have done a great deal of inner-work to release myself from the shackles of modern, eurocentric beauty standards. Because of this, I feel comfortable walking through the world without shaving or wearing makeup. And, I also proudly wear my natural hair.
And while I think it can be fun to play with makeup and hairstyling as an extension of fashion, I do not agree with shackling one’s self to permanent or ritualistic alterations of the body, in an attempt to hide and obscure one’s natural, god-given appearance out of shame.
There is a difference.
My hair in particular, is a radical and powerful expression of self-love and authenticity in a world that taught me to be ashamed of my natural hair texture. But radical feminists—many of whom are white women who surround themselves in a vacuum with other white women—would not have the framework to recognize the power and liberation of proudly wearing freeform locs as a signal that I have done this inner-work. They take my very appearance before their eyes for granted, without much curiosity or respect for the journey I’ve walked.
So, when I see feminists policing women like me, on style of clothing, the choice to wear makeup or not, or returning to how we dance—policing those who enjoy a more feminine or openly sensual aesthetic or expression—it always leaves me wondering,
What exactly does authentic sexual liberation for women look like, according to these people?
What does a woman in her full sexual power, actually look and feel like? When I envision this “anti-patriarchal woman” that seems to be idealized by radical feminists, I see a woman who wears shapeless, drab clothing, flat shoes, no makeup or extensive hairstyling. A woman who self-consciously endeavors not to show too much cleavage, dance in the “wrong” ways, or do anything that could potentially entice men. Someone who has placed herself in yet another reactionary cage to the male gaze and patriarchy. I see a mindless, conformist drone who is simply following another herd in the name of feminism.
I do not apologize for enjoying my body, my femininity, or my sensual expression. These are all natural aspects of my being that were once co-opted and exploited by men from a young age. But those parts were not created by men—they are mine. And over time, I’ve learned how to reclaim and refine those parts of myself and maintain them as sacred. Pole Dancing has been one of many tools I have used along my journey.
I believe that Context and intention is everything. So I want to say this:
I am a former sex worker, and I do not support the sex industry. I think prostitution is inherently exploitative of the female body, and it’s one of the oldest, most oppressive patriarchal institutions there is. Sex is sacred, and deep, and consequential, especially for women. I do not believe that sex is casual, and I am not “sex-positive” in the way that liberal feminism prescribes.
I understand that Pole Dance derives from Strip Clubs, and my own rendition of it is also inspired by the dancing that strippers performed in clubs. However, modern Pole Dance Artists have taken a legitimate art form that strippers created, and placed it into a completely different context which allows women to choose what they want to do with it.
Pole dancing is a female art form. Strippers are women. Women created this Art which combines feminine, sensual movement with acrobatics. The fact that Strippers created it, and used it to entice men, does not make it any less of an Art.
When we pole dance in the studio or in our homes, when we learn from other women, with women, for learning’s sake—we release the environmental context of oppression. Without the burden of having to use this beautiful art form as a means to an end, to satisfy men, we can choose the circumstances under which we perform and who it is for, or it can be a totally private activity just for ourselves and no one else. We can also choose how we want to dance and present ourselves. Pole dancing doesn’t have to be sexy, but it can be if we so choose.
It’s noteworthy to say, that Pole is not empowering in and of itself. After years of being in pole dance communities, I can vouch that it is not a feminist utopia. Some women still have internalized misogyny, and use Pole in a way that perpetuates the idea that their value and sexuality exists solely for men. Some pole studios blindly support and champion sex work in fear of angering the liberal feminist mob, without looking critically at the gruesome impact it has on women. Some Pole Dance Artists are or have worked as Strippers, and regardless of how critical they might feel towards their profession, or whether they might also use pole dancing as a form of personal expression…Sensual dance is, in fact, used for their survival. Other women may just be very serious artists and athletes who are too damn hard on themselves, and that self-flaggelation comes out in how they overwork their bodies and psyches to a pulp.
We do not exist in a vacuum. Our contexts, intentions, and levels of awareness are all different.
Pole Dancing is a medium. It’s a tool, that has been reclaimed by women, and can now be used for a variety of purposes and expressions. It is not inherently empowering, but women have created spaces to use it as a tool to empower our holistic selves. This is how I have used it.
So, I reject the idea that my pole dancing a simply a regurgitation of patriarchal values. I find this to be deeply disrespectful to my heart, soul and intellect-to all the deep devotion that I’ve placed in this intimate journey of becoming a dancer. I knowingly took up an Art form that was stigmatized, and I honor the journey I’ve walked to carry this form of expression on my back through thick and thin all these years, transmuting it into power, and consistently using it as a mirror to witness my gifts.
I am grateful that I can humanize the enigmatic miracle that is expressed in my dancing, through writing. I hope that this piece, my memoir, and other future writings, can help bridge the gap in understanding the power that radiates from a woman who steps into her authentic sexuality, with the tools she is given.