Some nights, I lose sleep worrying about my mother. She’s spent 23 years guiding, shaping and molding my existence with her own experience and intuition.
I think she did a pretty top-notch job (insert additional props to my father here).
In the waning moments of my college career, she has some bragging rights. She has a Fulbright Scholar for a daughter, an award-winning designer, a bilingual exchange student, a (potential) Philly Weekly columnist, a teacher, a writer, a home owner, etc.
If she were to have said list tattooed across the atmosphere in skywriting, people would probably be moderately, if not reasonably, impressed … until they read the fine print. There’s always fine print, and it always gets you right where it hurts.
**Sex columnist.** Jaws drop. Eyes bulge. Gasps ensue. Shrieks, even. My resume fades back into the clouds, but, somehow, this column remains burned into people’s retinas. How? How could this have happened? She seemed like such a nice girl.
It is my darkest, most daunting skeleton, consuming any and all achievements with the veracity of a grammar schooler downing Cocoa Puffs during Saturday morning cartoons.
Even in this very seat. When I walked into The Temple News office four years ago, I had a portfolio of design clips. I took a design editor position. I still have a design editor position. (In 20 minutes, I will have laid out my own words on this very page).
At one point, I was managing editor. At another, I was assistant advertising manager (not my forte). But, to everyone who passed the threshold into the chaos that is this newsroom, I was “that sex girl.”
Sigh. Yes, I’m that, too. At least that shows me you’re reading, but it’s not a particularly good way to start a job interview.
I suppose I should revel in being revered as a bedroom guru. There are far worse associations. Perhaps not for my parents. That’s still an uncomfortable situation. Worse still for them was this summer’s Philadelphia Inquirer coverage of Pa. sex columnists with my face plastered across the top quarter of the page.
The cat was out of the bag. I got e-mails from everyone from sex toy promoters to book authors to my high school journalism teacher to kids I haven’t seen since Sunday School class. I guess they’re not really kids anymore. Neither am I.
Nor am I naive to people’s motives. I’ve done several interviews with major papers because of this position. I learned the hard way that a loose tongue is a sharp dagger in this business.
I usually sit on the other side of the table, so I should have known. I can be certain that my raunchiest, most self-deprecating comment is the one that will make print. Forget my concern for rape prevention, feminism, emotional sanity, relationship stability, the importance of contraception, etc., because “this one time … at band camp …”
I like it juicy as much as the next person. You bet your butt my face is in US Weekly with the rest of the dirt-crazed pop junkies, so I have to take it with a grain of salt when other people’s integrity is lacking when it comes to me. The shame of it all is that this is something I take very seriously. It no longer makes me uncomfortable as it once did. It takes a long time to adjust to people associating your personal life – all of it – with what you write. Discussing one-night stands doesn’t make that my escapade of choice any more than writing about date rape prevention makes me a rape victim.
I’m also accepting of circumstance. Talking about sex makes us giggle as children and squirm as adults. We like things as black and white as possible so we know where we stand in relation to others. You’re gay or you’re not. You’re promiscuous or you’re an angel. You’re hung like Ron or you (had better be) emotionally available. You’re machismo or you’re a mama’s boy.
I don’t have time for that – all this categorizing. In four years, I’ve had my religious values questioned, been accused of promoting teenage pregnancy, been ridiculed by professors and lashed out at by co-workers.
I’ve been called underqualified, unnecessarily overzealous, an angry lesbian, an oversexed whore and a frigid feminist (etc.). But, for each insult, there have been contradicting voices in support – the strongest of whose was my own.
I have, on occasion, been sorely misrepresented. When I start an interview -and the interviewer is irrelevant – without fail, the first question will be, “So, what’d you have to do to get this column?” Journalistic lust drips from their mouth in the form of frothy drool.
Straight-faced, I answer, “Well, I started off at The Temple News by sleeping with my editor and then afterward he decided it might be nice if I shared my talents with as many other people on campus as possible – the whole campus, even.”
Blank stare. It’s a fun game.
For the record, I got this column because, at the point at which it was offered to me, we didn’t have one. There were three women on the editorial staff, I had the biggest filterless mouth and no one else wanted to deal with the repercussions.
You can call me brave.
You can call me reckless.
I called it a great opportunity to give people yet another source in an arena that can never get enough coverage on a college campus.
This is an age group that faces serious, serious problems. Getting them in the open and discussing them does a lot for solving them. If parents don’t want their children to smoke, they’re advised to talk to them about not smoking. The same goes for doing drugs.
What happened to dialogue about sex? It’s not hard to wave a finger and say, “don’t light up, you’ll get cancer.” It is, however, hard for us to start a conversation about sex because – duh – we have to discuss something we might be uncomfortable with ourselves. But, if we don’t face it in our own lives honestly and openly, what then will be the source? The Internet?
So, that’s what I’ve tried to do. What other people put on the page about me always seems to omit that part.
I see this space as a vehicle for dialogue about sex. I only have three columns left. Last chance if you want anything covered, kids. This wasn’t meant to be a stepping stone for my career, even though it’s looking like it might be. Icing.
I didn’t do it to piss off my parents, to rebel, or to get anyone’s attention, even though it always seems to.
I didn’t do it for me, even though it’s helped me on a personal level infinitely more than it has helped you, I’m sure.
I can’t hide from it. It’s in print. It’s archived. It will be with me for the rest of my life. I’m glad I can say I’m OK with that. A lot of people aren’t. But, when you point a finger at someone, you’ve got three pointing back at you. Looking at your own dirt is a very cleansing learning process.
I’m grateful today to have my hands folded.
Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at email@example.com.