When going through the exhausting experience of job hunting that ultimately resulted in my current place of work, I made a very specific choice on my resume. I very purposefully chose to have the “B” word right there for everyone to see. No, not that one… I’m talking about “Burlesque”.
In searching for a new place to spend a majority of my hours each week, it was important to me that I not need to keep my “other life” hidden. I only wanted to work somewhere that was accepting of my life choices and one way to ensure that was to include that “taboo” word in the very document that summed up who I was in one page.
It is possible that, of the many organizations I applied to, I was never given the opportunity to interview because of that choice. Some would argue that I limited my choices. To that I say: Yep, I did and it helped me to narrow down my search to only the organizations where I would never have to worry about being “found out”. I have watched many friends and acquaintances within the burlesque community who have actively worked to keep their performance lives a secret, who have been shunned by co-workers who discovered their secret and, in some severe cases, people who have lost their jobs over it. I refused to live with that kind of fear. I found a job that accepted me as a whole package. A job that has become that thing that up until now had eluded me: a career.
Everyone has to make their own choices. I don’t judge those who live their burlesque lives in secret. It just isn’t for me. It truly never crossed my mind to try. That is, until last week…
As most of you who bother to read this blog already know, I have decided to take on even more in my already overly busy life and pursue a masters degree in higher education administration. I am two classes in (with a 4.0 thus far, if you’ll excuse the boast) and loving this journey. I have discovered that I enjoy scholarly writing as much as I enjoy spouting my opinions in blog form.
Side note: I truly wish I could share some of my writing with all of you. I think I have come up with some pretty decent scholarly writing that would be of interest to my readers. But the new-to-me concept of “self-plagiarism” holds me back.
In my most recent course the instructor asked us to talk about our career goals and why we are pursuing our degrees. My answer was simple: I see a serious lack of gender diversity in academic leadership (or leadership in general, really) and I saw an opportunity to “become the change I want to see in the world”. (Nope, not gonna APA cite that quote.) By becoming a leader myself I can not only add to the ranks of “gender oppressed”* representation in leadership, I would also be in a position of power to pull up other women, transgender and non-binary humans as well. I have strong opinions about why I’m in school, clearly. However, I stumbled a little when I was then asked to pinpoint a specific title I was looking to attain. What specific job title was lofty enough of a goal, but leaned on my strengths? I finally settled on Chief-of-Staff. (Because President requires a PhD and I’m not sure I’m up for that kind of commitment to schoolwork.)
While thinking about this level of leadership and influence an errant thought came looming into my head like a black cloud and broke with a rainstorm of questions: Can I hold a position of that much power and influence while still performing on the burlesque stage? Would I become the next scandal in higher education if I did? Were my career goals going to force me to decide between moving up the ladder and moving on the stage? Can I be a leader in academia when I am also tassle twirling while doing the charleston?
My first answer is an obstinate “I do what I want!” My second answer is “Who am I kidding? Of course, I can’t!” My third answer is “That all depends on who you are working for. Look at where you are now.”
I currently hold a director-level position at a small university. I also continue to perform. While I don’t advertise my performer side at work, it isn’t a secret. In fact, many at the university know all about my “other life” and some have even come to a show or two. It wasn’t taboo when I started and it isn’t taboo now.
I know it is unlikely I will spend my entire career in higher education at the same university, so I will have to make choices in the future. I can’t change my past on the burlesque stage, but I may decide an opportunity is worth changing my future there. My current plan is to keep working my through this career journey and choosing to cross bridges when they come.
I don’t know what the future will hold, but for now, I will keep using the “B” word. I will use it without shame and without apology.
*Note on the term “Gender Oppressed”: This is a term I recently learned from Dean Spade in a talk they made to the community of Barnard College. I appreciate this inclusive and simple term and have chosen to adopt it into my vocabulary.