Letting Go of the Legacy of Shame

I am a mother and grandmother, and in a few short hours, I will have a memoir hit the streets that details my journey through the worlds of stripping, sex work, and erotic wrestling. So very soon, those personal moments I have carried with me will become public. I’m not sure what will happen when my various identities will converge. In the landscape of my life there are so many people I value; of all of them who might be impacted by this memoir, one rises to the top: my toddler granddaughter.

The possibility exists that someday she’ll be walking through a bookstore or searching online for a something to read, and she’ll recognize her grandmother’s name. What will go through her?

I see her now: she’s in the bookstore, she’s fourteen, she’s curious about her own body, her own passions, her own physical identity, and her brown eyes will search the titles, and there, she’ll see it: Fetish Girl: A Memoir of Sex, Domination, and Motherhood.

With my name.

I’d like to tell her, “Someday, I want you to be able to read this, when you’re old enough and you can understand. I want you to know that life impacts us and the way we’re raised impacts us.” And maybe this book, and the trail is it trying to blaze, might make it so shame doesn’t need to be a part of her narrative. There might be moments when it washes over her, as is does everyone, but I’m hoping she will only have twinges of shame rather than have it embed itself in her like it did me.

You see, shame has been a consistent thread of my story. But it didn’t start with sex work. It started much earlier when I couldn’t be the impossible: my mother’s perfect daughter. And since no one is perfect, I began early to resist this role, even though my mother’s need to have me reflect back on her in a certain way remains a constant in both of our lives.

Coming out of the 50s, my mother was offered a narrow, conscripted role that she tried to pass on to me, and I bucked against this expectation early on. When the 80s fad was cut-off jeans, this didn’t fit into my mother’s expectations. When she saw them on me, disdain crossed her elegant face—and when I was out of the house, she threw them away. Later that day, I fished them out of the garbage and wore them with both pride and shame. This early trend toward finding my own path—by testing my edge and then testing again—has remained. And a facet of my mother lives with me, as well.

Along with the shame. But writing this memoir and putting it out into the world is my effort to help shift the narrative around shame, to help others understand that mistakes are how we figure out who we are. Without them, we live dull, empty lives, moving along lock-step with those narrow roles that hollow us rather than enliven us.

In the end, being a dominatrix wasn’t the identity I wanted to inhabit—I have moved on to being a holistic sex coach, writer and workshop facilitator. My aim is to create a safe, non-judgmental environment in which we can each cast off shame, unwind cultural conditioning, and get in touch with our truest desires. In essence, I’m trying to help everyone release shame and embrace wonder and pleasure as their birthright.

But the road to publication hasn’t been easy—I’ve had several people step away from the project or decline it because they didn’t want to be aligned with its message. I can understand this—but it was the tone of these rejections that were the hardest. Each of them said, in their way—throw those cut-offs away and put on some more decent clothes.

I want my granddaughter to live into the quotation by T. S. Eliot that compelled me to move beyond shame, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” I want her to know that telling my story has helped me understand that shame doesn’t make us better people. It makes us afraid.

My experiences—all of them—shaped me and put me on a trajectory. And this path ultimately led me to beauty. Admittedly, the way here was pretty fucking tough. It had long nights, elements of despair, and interactions that challenged me to my core. Before it was graced, it was gritty.

Now, I can say I was a sex worker with my head held high. Now, I understand it’s the most difficult and darkest experiences that are our greatest sources of inspiration, wisdom, and transformation. Now, I sit across from my clients and say there’s no shame in your desires.

And I’m saying that to my young self and I’m saying that to you, my beautiful, curious granddaughter who is part of my legacy—look at us, look at who we can be.
Keep it sexy. Make it sacred.

Love,

 

www.BellaLaVey.com

Bella LaVey

Fetish Girl: A memoir of Sex, Domination and Motherhood

Fetish Girl Merchandise 

 

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