Saturday, February 03, 2007

Slumming It: Family and the Pink Ghetto

I’ve been reading, and loving, Sexerati’s series on The Pink Ghetto. Lux Nightmare and Melissa Gira have expressed remarkably well the ways in which work around sex is made illegitimate and treated, often even by those doing the work, as a phase (for example, we use pseudonyms and keep two resumes in case we ever want to go “legit”). The series is already creating some dialogue in the sex positive community, and although in a lot of ways it’s depressing to think about, it’s an important conversation to have. Because I, for one, am pissed about the Pink Ghetto. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I want my bragging rights.

The thing about sex is that you’re not supposed to talk about it. I don’t know when I figured that out, exactly, but by the time I was sex educating in college I knew that my extracurricular activities were off limits for the family Christmas party. As sexuality education (and the history of sex, and the art of good sex, and sexual politics) began to take up more and more of my free time, my family probably began to think I was incredibly dull – I could talk politics, and gossip, and chat about my history classes, but I dreaded hearing “so what have you been doing with your free time?” What could I tell them? “Well, I teach women how to female ejaculate, and host events where students stand up and read erotica. Oh, and last weekend I dressed up as a fairy and handed out condoms and dental dams at parties! Yeah, that was fun.” Somehow, I just don’t think that would fly.

I’m occasionally reminded of how little my family knows about my interests and career goals. “I was talking to George the other day,” my aunt Marie said over tea last week, referring to her employer, “and I told him you had just graduated from Smith. He sounded very impressed.” I smiled and felt a little self-conscious. I’m a first generation college student and I always feel some strange balance between admiration and animosity from my family, like they’re proud of me and skeptical at the same time.

“He asked what you were going to do now that you’d graduated, and I told him that, you know, you weren’t really sure yet” she continued, and I bristled. I know exactly what I want to do. In order: work in health outreach, get a degree in public health, design sex education programs, own a sex toy store, live on a working goat farm and write a book. But because of the nature of the work I want to do (well, except for the goat farm), my aunt has only the vaguest notions of what my plans are. I protested mildly, trying to explain that I do have an idea of what I want to do, but I knew there was no way to explain.

This is where the pink ghetto has hit me the hardest. I love my family, and respect them; they’re interesting, and I love to talk to them. Unfortunately, they have no reason to think I’m interesting. I was an opinionated and passionate little girl, and I’m still that way, but few in my family get to see it because it just seems inappropriate to launch into a discussion of the way in which the media is treating the Genarlow Wilson case over tea. So instead, they think I’ve gone from strong-willed adolescent to strangely reserved goat-enthusiast and not much else.

Just as I could not boast to my family that I had been made coordinator of my peer sex ed organization, or that I had been hired to consult on the toy store’s web site, I will relinquish bragging rights about my health outreach position because I will not be able to go into any detail about what it entails. When I publish work on sex education, my excitement will be tempered by my inability to share it with my extended family. And lord, if I ever decide to write erotic fiction, I had better use a pseudonym or risk giving uncle Joe a heart attack.


Anonymous said...

You mean you're not a strangely-reserved goat-enthusiast? I've been horribly misled!

Also, your stress about not being able to talk is an unfortunately normal happening. I, too, was unable to tell my relatives what I was doing, especially with regards to work. My aunts and uncles would try to kill me if they knew the nice straight boy who got the good SAT scores was selling sex toys, especially to unmarried (and ::gasp:: gay!) folks.

In a few years you'll be able to be more open about your work. I, for one, can think of more than a few of your relatives who would be more likely to ask for pointers than feel faint over your generally well-written and researched work.

Kate said...

I know exactly how you feel. I was trying to talk to my parents about PSE, my Planned Parenthood internship, and the things I plan to write, and my dad said, "Kate, it's great that you know all this. But I don't want to know that you know all this." It's the one part of my life I can't talk to my parents about, so I completely sympathize.

I'll be reading it, so I hope your erotica has a very sexy pseudonym ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Amanda --
You can brag to me and Michael any time! Just call or email, we'll be glad to hear it.
You know, for many years I felt that I couldn't be open with my parents about my true goals and passions -- I thought they wouldn't understand, or they would judge me, etc. So I felt "pastel" around my parents, in much the same way you are describing. It took me until this summer (age 38) to "come out" to them on all levels -- why I left academia, what I am really doing with my life. To their credit, they "got it" and embraced the real me. And it's such a pleasure to be able to be real with them now.
love and hugs, Sarah