By Allyee Whaley
I’m not really sure when my personal Instagram account turned into a place where my body (plus a hell of a lot of humor) began challenging and exploring the socio-cultural norms around sex — but, once it did, I knew that I had to keep it up. In spite of all of the stigma that came along with my newfound erotic internet persona, I had discovered something that was influencing the world around me; and other people were noticing, too. My persona quickly evolved into my erotic paysite, Bandit, where people pay to see “more.” You can’t really tiptoe into being naked on the internet, so I dove head first into the madness. All of a sudden I found myself standing in a spotlight I never imagined possible, and quite frankly, didn’t expect.
It all started innocently enough. I needed some side cash to supplement my income, like every other 20-something living in New York City. For three years I had been working on the nation’s only 24/7 suicide prevention lifeline for queer youth. Needless to say, following my dreams of making the world a slightly less terrible place didn’t pay too well and while our CEO was one of the highest paid in our field, my request for a raise was met with: “Have you thought about bartending on the side?” Still, I genuinely thought my job was going to reinforce and satisfy my passion for mental health. I would go to grad school, open a private practice, and ta-da — I’d live happily ever after! However, something altered my course, and it wasn’t mental health. It was shame: the shame too many of us feel around sex, sexuality, gender, love, relationships, and the way that it infects every part of our lives.
For years, I was a lockbox filled with people’s deepest secrets, experiences and thoughts. I heard countless stories where shame thrived on silence, but recognized that when someone was brave enough to bring their shame into the light it suddenly wasn’t so scary anymore. By sitting in the darkness with strangers, empowering them to remove their personal shame and judgement, I watched life after life being saved. It is the closest thing to magic I have ever seen.
Over and over on the phone lines, the people I spoke to didn’t know or couldn’t see anyone like them who could help illuminate those isolating spaces. It’s clear that we need to diversify media across the board to show people everywhere that someone like them exists. We need to end the silence and share stories of relatable folks who have shed their shame to become happy and fulfilled. We need to remind those who are still weighed down by stigma that they deserve love and respect, just like the next person; and the truth is, we all have a story to share — so, I decided to take on the “shameful” subject I loved and knew most: sex.
First step: What’s the best way for a millennial to change the world? You guessed it! Social media. I started small: selfies of my bum peeking out from behind the shadows; a very dark, sad, nude photo of me on the beach; silly sex memes making fun of my failed dating life. People were digging what I was giving, so I gave more. Each day, I’d push the boundaries a bit further. My actions started to spark important conversations about the male gaze and censorship, queerness and the body, and the marijuana tattoo on my butt.
I hope the meaning and purpose of what I’m doing never stops evolving. Right now, the driving force behind what I’m doing is my desire to highlight the complexities of what it means to be human in the modern world. Each of us carry so many different pieces, passions, histories, cultures, secrets, skills, interests, privileges, struggles. Despite that, we are constantly told that only some of those parts are acceptable, and that certain ones have higher value than others. To that, I say: Why can’t every part of us be acceptable? Hell, why not take it further…let’s celebrate them! It’s our complexities that make us unique. We’re in an era of intersectionality, and we simply can’t investigate one part of ourselves without recognizing how our other parts play into our whole self.
In fact, this is a key reason I keep my erotic persona tied to my “real” name. I want to show the world that you can be an openly explicit sexual human being and also throw on a suit and tie to clock in 50 hours at the corporate queer headquarters. Yes, it would be safer to use a pseudonym like “Adler Skyee” and it sure as hell would be easier to avoid explaining to my mother, who is a pastor, why the stigma around sex work is a social construct.
But so many women in the erotic industry brand themselves as exclusively sexual — which isn’t wrong in the slightest — and I’d like to see more narratives of women being whole, sexual people. More often than not, women are shamed, stigmatized and trolled on the internet if they ever show their sexual side. This binary forces a piece of ourselves to live in secrecy, right next door to shame, and I’m tired of it. When we lock that part of ourselves away, or when others try to confine it for us, mis-education about sex starts to breed (so to speak).
So what happens when I bring this part of myself into the light?
I make a whole lot of people really uncomfortable.
People tell me all the time that they don’t like all of my work. Some people lean towards the more conservative work, as it comes off as gentle and beautiful. Some people lean towards the more controversial work, involving anything from period blood to kink. Some of my most popular posts have been about sex jokes, not my big ol’ naked booty. Not surprisingly, most people like the photos created for the male gaze (because something’s gotta pay the bills). People not liking all of my work means I’m doing it right. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable, at least sometimes. That’s how we challenge ourselves to grow and think critically.
Let’s talk about why it makes you uncomfortable. Let’s talk about why it turns you on. What do you feel when you’re looking at me? What are you thinking? What judgments jump into your brain? Are you turned on? Disgusted? Do you want to see more? What questions do you want to ask me? With every photo I share, you may answer these questions very differently.
The conversations inspired by work like mine are important as fuck, and I am willing to have them as myself: a sex worker in the public eye. I am able to explore and try on all kinds of different sexual hats, and people actually listen! They are engaged, they are inspired, they are thinking, they are loving, and they are orgasming (“better than ever!”).
So let’s talk about sex, baby. Because once we start talking, once we start thinking, that’s when things start to change. Talk about me. Think about me. Think about YOU! Think about society. Question everything. Most importantly, build a world where you can be authentically and fully YOURSELF. Where EVERY part of you shines. No part of you has to live in secret. Lose the shame and bring on the warm light of acceptance and joy.
Once we can do that, my work will be done.
Images: Courtesy of the author; used with permission.