The Human Library event at Moscrop was the second event of such a nature that I had the privilege to be a part of. It truly is an amazing experience, and I feel honored to be a part of it, humbled by the incredible people who also partake in it, and constantly amazed at how such a learning experience truly goes both ways.
Being able to speak to secondary students about the somewhat ridiculous circumstances of my life, the crazy things I had done with my life, it’s actually quite rewarding. I’m a storyteller by nature, as in, I never shut up. I always have a story or five to tell about any given subject. This is one of the few environments where that’s actually beneficial.
This experience was a bit different from the way the event was handled at Burnaby Central. I’m still quite uncertain as to which I prefer, honestly. At Burnaby Central, the students were in groups and moved from table to table in a set rotation, so they ended up speaking with every book. At Moscrop, it was more casual, groups would move to whichever table they were interested in, speaking with whichever books they chose.
On one hand, it did make the experience more positive overall, since you wouldn’t encounter anyone who didn’t actually want to hear your story, or anyone who was reluctant to know about the experiences you were relating. I wouldn’t say it was a major issue at Burnaby Central, most of the students were really cool and easy-going, willing and eager to participate… but there’s always a few in any cross-section of any populace, that will have prejudices and will not be open to exploring beyond those preconceived notions. They were not outwardly hostile or challenging, but you could tell from body language and the way they phrased their questions, if they asked at all. At first I thought maybe it was just me, but since my friend was at the table next in the rotation, we discussed it and came to the same conclusions about the same individuals. At times, that did make it a bit tough, being open and sharing yourself with strangers that were obviously not receptive.
I was discussing this very topic with a friend the other week, and he brought up a point that I try and remind myself of now, that not everyone may be instantly receptive, but that the experience may stick with them and when they’ve matured or come upon a life experience that opens them up to reflection on the topic, that they will remember and that it may affect them then. Not all results are immediate, and it’s really true. There are points in our lives when we may not be at our most inquisitive, when we may not question the status quo or what we’ve been told. But there may come a time when we are ready to understand something different, and I hope that such a time comes for them, and that maybe then they will think back to things I or my friend shared and look at it from a different perspective.
So, while having only interested parties attending our tables this time around made for a very thoroughly enjoyable and fun experience, with none of that awkwardness, I feel like it may be losing a bit of the potency of the purpose. The purpose is to break down those stereotypes, so perhaps those reluctant to do so should be the ones that need to listen to it the most, to ask their questions, get answers, and perhaps one day reflect upon them.
One of my favorite dialogues from today was with one of my first groups to join me. As it turns out, they had come to participate during the block in which they would usually have their Social Justice class.
It was also a Social Justice class, from Charles Best Secondary, that launched the protest against the Paramount Gentlemen’s Club. It was like we came full circle, since that incident was a catalyst that led to my involvement with the Human Library events. I wrote an article, I did an interview on a local radio station, some of us from the industry discussed among ourselves the possibility of educating high school students about these misconceptions and stereotypes that led to the protest.
The students I spoke to today, from Moscrop’s Social Justice class, were very open, kind, and considerate. I loved speaking with them, and when we came upon that topic they informed me that they had spoken with or had some contact with people in the other school’s class. The theory from outsiders so far had been that perhaps the teacher was the one who pushed an agenda onto these kids. How else did they come to these biased conclusions? Where’d those stereotypes come from? Where’d they find the outdated, heavily contested, biased “study findings” that they distributed as fact at the protest?
The teacher was not responsible, according to the students I talked to today. It seems the teacher, once it was established that the class was set on this, that this is what they wanted to do, just let them go with it and see what they would learn from the experience. Perhaps it became a humbling experience for them in the end, perhaps they had gone too far, gotten too much exposure and publicity to outright admit that they were wrong in their approach to the subject. Perhaps in the end they did realize that they should have spoken to people in the industry before passing judgement and trying to make decisions for grown adults.
The awesome students that I spoke to today, they pointed this out to me, and we discussed it, and it made sense. The whole Charles Best thing… it’s not enraging me now as much as it did before, because of our discussion today. Because they taught me.
Learning truly goes both ways, and I am so grateful to all the students that participated today for being part of it. For not just listening to me, but for sharing their thoughts, their questions, and their knowledge with me.
Even now, as I’m writing this, I have come to a realization about myself. One of the reasons why speaking to people about my experiences is somewhat easy to me is because I’m quite candid about them in my day to day life.
I find myself finding a way to blurt out something about dancing or wrestling or both simultaneously even whenever I meet new people, usually within a short time of meeting them. There’s always that sense of dread as the words come out of my mouth, and a part of me shrinks back in fear, wondering why the hell I did that. Every time. Especially if it’s done in front of a guy I’m interested in, which tends to occur even faster than the rate at which it occurs when meeting new people I have only a platonic interest in. Up until now, I figured it was to weed out those who shouldn’t be in my life in the first place. A way to sort out the assholes and find out sooner rather than later that I don’t want them around. I told myself that it was not giving a fuck.
Rather, it seems that my issue is giving too many fucks. Otherwise that fear would not be there, the fretting afterwards and asking myself why I do this every time. It’s more of a defense mechanism, a way to try and avoid the hurt that accompanies negative reactions to these revelations. If someone I have any emotional attachment to judges me harshly due to things that I actually take pride in, it hurts deeply. In being so open right away, it’s a way to try and avoid that hurt. It still leaves me worried, wondering if somewhere in the back of their minds, they’re jumping to conclusions about me based on the damaging stereotypes that are so prevalent.
I came away learning not only about others, but also about myself. It’s been a lot to process.
As this was my second time doing this, I felt a little more prepared. I knew what the most common questions would be, I braced myself for it. I embraced it, even. Though, even this time around, there was one question that came up every time that I just could not answer fully that many times in one day. “Were your parents supportive?” or “what did your parents think?” is a common question, especially in regards to exotic dance. I’m sure everyone and anyone who would speak in such a candid manner, in such an open dialogue event, who ever worked in the sex industry would get asked this a fair amount.
The answer involves telling them about my mom’s death. Because that’s when I was fully and completely honest with her, when she only had a short while to live, when it came to that point where you just don’t want any bad blood, any lies, any regrets between you. You want to leave on open, honest, loving terms. You want to leave with lightness of the spirit, not the heaviness of unsaid words pressing down upon you, never to be resolved.
Even then, it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Losing your loved ones is never easy, even if you say all the things you needed to, even if they do the same. No matter how things are between you, they are still lost to you. My mom will never get to see the woman I grew up to be, I will never be able to share these stories I’ve been telling the students with her. I will never know so many experiences, growing up without her.
So, needless to say, talking about her passing away, some of the final words we shared, some of those words being her acceptance of my choice to dance, it’s not easy. Even if I may at times talk about it candidly, flippantly, even, it weighs upon me. It threatens to drag me down, so I respond to the event with levity. Even in the funeral parlor, when I was still in shock, not knowing how to even react to the fact that she was gone, I made jokes. Really sarcastic jokes. I think the only two people in the room who understood were my amazing friend Sarah and the funeral director. Everyone else, the women my mom worked with, one of her good friends, they just looked mortified. Well, fuck them. They didn’t lose their mom, I did, I can react however I want to.
So, here we are again. What did my mom say? When I was finally honest with her, she took her time. It was the longest feeling minute or two in the world. It felt like years. I was so scared.
“Ala… kiddo,” she starts, softly, slowly,
“tell me… is it good money?”
“Yeah, mum, it’s pretty decent.”
My mom, hailing from the old country, raised Roman Catholic, unlike me, Roman Catholic until the end. She definitely had her absolutely amazing moments.
In the end, after having to tell this story a dozen times over the span of a couple hours, I just started to dread that question. And I knew it would come time and again. I learned. Once I could feel that I just didn’t have the heart to tell it over again, I summarized. “In the end, once I was honest with her, she accepted it.”
Lesson learned. Though, when I told the story one of the first times, one of the teachers was there in the group and she asked me if I thought maybe my mom knew all along, especially since I discussed the issue with her before I went ahead and did it. Meaning, my mom railed into me for over half an hour, forbidding me from doing it or even thinking about it… and I did it anyway. And for over a year, I had to lie to her about it. Knowing her, she probably had an idea. She knew how stubborn I am, I kinda got it from her in the first place. But perhaps once she realized, once she had some time to think about it, maybe she did see past her initial reaction, past the stereotypes and the fears, and thought of the same things I wanted to tell her.
This is your daughter, your daughter who you raised to stand up for herself. Even when you didn’t want her to. Your daughter, who you brought up right, without needless sex shaming or body shaming, who still held on to virginity even through an older more experienced boyfriend who constantly tried to pressure her into it… who was then dumped without ever getting it. Your daughter, who remained a virgin until she was almost 19, holding out until she was in a loving relationship, a stable relationship with a guy who never pressured, and was just as inexperienced, and just as scared as she was. Your daughter, who will not succumb to any sort of pressure, anyone trying to bully her into doing something she doesn’t want to do. Your daughter, who you trust to not let herself be taken advantage of. Your daughter who knows her value, knows how special she is because you taught her that.
These, and so many other things came up today, it’s just so much to take in, that I’m getting all rambly all over again. Perhaps the fact that I am not at all a morning person and over caffeinated myself also has something to do with it. I don’t even know if I’m tired or wired right now. Both. Simultaneously.
That sounds about right.
I can only hope that the students I talked with today got as much enjoyment out of the event as we Books did. I’m sure some of them did, since again, I had a group that went renegade and stayed for two cycles rather than moving on to another table, and at one point, it was standing room only at my table. That’s really the best compliment they could give, without using words, as affirmation that we’re doing something right here. We are engaging them, talking with them earnestly, openly, and encouraging discussion and thought. That’s what I truly miss about my high school days and my favorite teachers, those who were involved in such a way and really encouraged us to think for ourselves, to share our ideas and to evaluate them as well. This approach will always be a critical part of education, I think, and I’m beyond ecstatic to be a small part of it.