The very first time I heard Madonna’s “Human Nature”, it was love at first listen. At the age of twenty, it resonated with me in a way that I didn’t even fully understand. Back then I was still trying to find myself; exploring different ways of expressing myself and my sexuality – ways that weren’t necessarily coming from a place of confidence, strength and self-assuredness. There were many missteps because I still had no real concept of who I was as a woman, let alone as a female sexual being. Yet still, I felt the song’s truth. It would just take me a few years to fully realize its power and significance.
Don’t Repress Yourself”.
A week and a half ago, I got buck on stage in front of a crowd of mostly strangers, and shook what my momma gave me to this very song. From the minute I decided I was going to do Rent Cheque (a monthly amateur strip night held at the Astoria), there was no doubt in my mind what my strip song would be. And so, when my name was called, I took command of the stage, doffed off all my clothes and flaunted my bod with confidence. “Express Yourself, Don’t Repress Yourself.” It’s one of my mantras and I firmly believe that everyone should not only be allowed to express him- or herself without shame, but that they should be encouraged and celebrated when they do – which, incidentally, is what Rent Cheque is all about.
Now, I will also say, in addition to being unapologetic in my open, and at times in-your-face, sexuality, I am also a feminist to my core. Straight up. A (seeming) duality which I’ve found to be challenging at times, because, as a woman, it often feels like an ever-present uphill battle to be able to move through the world authentically as a sexual being, without being shamed for it, or being objectified along the way because of it. I’m steadfast in trying to be a part of a paradigm shift in our culture when it comes to this. In striving to be authentic, the mixed messages and double standards of our society can make ‘owning your shit’ (and wearing it proudly) a challenge. It can take a lot of proverbial balls, confidence and mental fortitude to say, “fuck it” to the judgers and the haters and just be true to yourself – whatever that means to you and in whatever form it takes.
After I did Rent Cheque, a girl I know approached me and asked if I would tell her a bit more about it, because a feminist group had been seriously considering protesting the event; they felt that the girls who participate must be in a bad situation and are lured by the potential to win the cash prize, and that Rent Cheque must therefore be exploitive. I found this both surprising and frustrating, because regardless of the fact that this couldn’t be farther from reality (simply put, Rent Cheque is about having fun, getting naked if you wanna and being completely supported by everyone there. Its whole agenda [besides F.U.N.] is inclusivity), I find it disturbing that something like stripping must therefore preclude a woman from identifying as feminist. This line that seems to have been drawn in the sand, between being a feminist, and being able to harness, express and celebrate your sexuality really needs to change, because why is self-expression constantly being judged, and if relating to sex or sexuality, why is it so damning?
Our society, while sex-obsessed, is still repressed in many ways. We’ve become accustomed to having what’s considered “sexy” (and beautiful/masculine/feminine etc) spoon-fed to us by the media through depictions of fashion, product marketing, ad campaigns, and the like, and not something that we explore or define for ourselves. Who should be deciding what these terms mean for us, and how we should express and represent them? Well, we should, of course – you and me. We should all be making our own choices and defining ourselves from a place of strength, confidence and empowerment, but sadly, there are still so many who move through the world with hesitation and shame, discomfort and a fucked up image of themselves.
As I watched the Rent Cheque participants before me, these questions of “what’s sexy” and “who decides what’s sexy” were very much on my mind. Those girls (AND GUYS) who got up and performed did so with confidence and ballsiness and they owned that stage. And they were met with nothing but appreciation and support because let’s face it – it takes guts to take off all your clothes in front of one person, let alone hundreds. It was a beautiful thing. And I’ll tell you – despite being confident and comfortable with my body, I was super nervous beforehand, wondering why I ever agreed to do this, but all that passed once I started doing my thing. And you know what? – I felt empowered, liberated, strong and sexy as hell (didn’t hurt to have my fella right up front, cheering madly!)
Deciding to do Rent Cheque, and watching the other performers that night only further solidified what I already knew to be true: confidence, authentic self-expression, being secure in your own skin and fearless about putting it out there are the sexiest things around. Hands fucking down.