Behind the Veil

 Posted by on July 21, 2011
Jul 212011


I am having an identity crisis….there I’ve said it. Recently, there’s been a lot going on in my life; there’s my academic obligations, some growing kink commitments, and now a foray into the world of sex work. For a person that’s always had a pretty firm grasp on who she thinks she is, balancing out these three parts of my life is far trickier than it seems it should be. Sometimes my worlds overlap, at others they seem completely disjointed. Each comes with its own set of expectations and norms, some of which I embody well and others that I fail to live up to. Regardless, each arena demands some level of adaptation on my part.

WEB DuBois spoke of the “double veil,” the manner in which one must “hide” aspects of one’s identity to be accepted and welcomed within some groups. The veil obscures the qualities the wearer wishes to disguise, but also hinders him/her from viewing the world around them as clearly as they could should they choose to remove it. The best one can hope for is to minimize or downplay particular aspects of oneself, to hide behind the veil and hope no one looks too closely. Yet, in doing so, one loses a bit of his/her own autonomy.

As I navigate the borderlands between one community and the next, I find myself reaching for different “veils,” minimizing focus on the portions of myself that I believe may be distracting to the task at hand. The realistic in me realizes that the particular traits that may make you stand out as exceptional in one arena, may become your downfall in another so I play along and adapt accordingly. It is here is where I find myself in my own identity conundrum.

According to DuBois, choosing to take up the veil is accompanied by some disconnect, perhaps even a sense shame. And yet, I view it as an adaptation, a tool to keep life running smoothly. I feel no shame in my choice, no despair or anguish that I am failing to be my true self. In fact, it seems to me that each veil offers me the opportunity to highlight a feature, a trait, a skill that may otherwise go unnoticed. I feel no less whole for having certain portions of my being out of the limelight.

But the nagging voices in the back of my mind ask me, “If you were a “real” academic, would you not rail against this mindless acceptance of societal norms? As a kinkster, why downplay your joy of the unconventional? And how dare you fail to speak out at every possibility on the importance and pleasure of sex as a sex worker!”

The critical voices ask me where is my shame, tell me I’m not being true to myself, and wait with indignation for me to agree that I am failing at embodying all that I should. And, at moments, I believe them. I begin to question if I truly am all the things that I have labelled myself. Academic, kinkster, sex worker – is this really me? Or am I playing at things I will never legitimately be a part of? Do my identities stand up to scrutiny? Or am I simply hiding behind my veils hoping no one will call my bluff?

The more I think about it, my crisis is rooted in not having a crisis. Perhaps my veils are less like DuBois’ and more akin to Salome’s. They are not meant to hide my shame, simply to draw attention to my various attributes until I decide they are no longer needed. Then, like Salome, perhaps I will choose to remove them in a whirling, sensual dance of revelation.

  One Response to “Behind the Veil”

  1. What an interesting way to look at it…. I am slowly beginning to understand that there are certain aspects of me that I must hide in the different worlds that I inhabit, and it’s difficult to accept after the initial liberation of coming out of the closet. I am still struggling with this requirement and wondering if it is necessary, or if by being completely honest and transparent, even at risk of offending some, we might actually expand the culture towards becoming more accepting…. Or if we’d do the opposite and force otherwise open-minded people to clam-shell and turn off. But you are right in that often we have to choose what we hide and what we uncover in order to bring attention to certain issues, one at a time — or each in its right place.