I am an atheist. I have been since about the 6th grade. When I started tweeting about atheism in regards to the recent failed rapture, I noticed that my feed was full of people proclaiming loudly that “loudmouthed atheists are just as bad as loudmouth Christians” which was a bit of a surprise to me. Really? I’m just as bad for speaking out about the fact that American constitution calls for a separation of church and state, for fighting back against legislation of all stripes and sizes that is rooted from someone’s interpretation of magic stories in utter defiance of science and objective, proven facts? I’m just as bad for articulating my beliefs? When I’m being a loudmouth about sexual freedom, reproductive rights, the freedom of speech, etc people are willing to pull up a chair but once I state out loud that I do not believe in an author to the universe, everyone wants me to shut the fuck up and “stop being so arrogant.”
At this point in time, I’m fairly accustomed to people telling me to shut the fuck up. I’ve been told on porn sets that I shouldn’t “sound too smart” or no one will want to watch me get fucked. I’ve been advised not to write about academic or theoretical ideas on my blog because it won’t “help me sell myself as a porn star.” I’ve been told I shouldn’t be talking about sex worker rights in feminist spaces and that I should “shut the fuck up.” I’ve been told that I shouldn’t even be talking about sex at all and that I should just “shut up.”
I’m not good at shutting up but the only trophy at the end of that race is losing your rights. I don’t want to win the blue ribbon for silent stoicism in the face of bullshit.
I’ve always been very open about the fact that I am an atheist but I never actually engaged in formal free thought activism before because I always saw my understanding of the origin of the universe as being irrelevant to the activism I was engaged with for real and tangible social justice in the world. I never wrote about my beliefs here on my blog under the advice of many people that it would be a bad idea but recently I had an epiphany: it was my atheism, skepticism, and anti-authority free thinking attitude that compelled me to become an activist in the first place.
When I talk about my atheism, I’m not angry or pissed off that some people believe in unprovable things so much as I am enraged by the fact that these beliefs are held as normal, natural, and right for our country. Facts have become largely irrelevant to the governance of my country and this concerns me greatly, especially as someone involved in porn. We’ve had two major (and expensive) presidentially commissioned studies and reports on the effects of pornography and both came to the same conclusion that porn is not evil and does not have quantifiable negative effects on society. Despite these reports that originated from a sex-negative and anti-porn bias they have been ignored. My country is in a panic about sex addiction which is loosely defined as any amount of porn viewing that concerns anyone who knows about it. People are trotting faulty studies about sex trafficking before the UN, Congress, and the House demanding laws to prevent this thing that they feel very emotional about. We can’t make up laws around feelings and every time we do I start to develop some strongly negative ones myself.
When I talk about my atheism, I am talking about the fact the 1st Amendment is not a fucking loophole. I am not “getting away” with making pornography by “taking advantage” of the US Constitution. I have the right to my speech and my (lack of religious) beliefs. “Pissing people off” is not my motivation for making and producing pornography nor is it my impetus for labeling myself with the word atheist. The fact that other people don’t like these choices is a painful side effect, not a cause.
I decided that I needed to jump into formal atheist/free thought activism because of how intersectional and relevant it is to my life. The “rapture” predicted for this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to jump in not because I wanted to make a million jokes about people who genuinely believe that God created this earth for the express purposes of destroying it all but because I saw train wreck of human confusion and suffering. From my vantage point, the capacity to celebrate and laud total worldly destruction indicates fear and desperation. The economy is not doing well, people are out of work, and their homes are being taken from them by the banks, and we are at war without any clear end. I could not, for the life of me, understand how people who interpret a magic book differently than David Camping would take the opportunity to run to any media outlet to clearly define why this magic belief is not the “true” magic belief rather than reaching out to people who can see no other answer than an end to all life on earth as we know it. I was genuinely shocked by the fact that most Christians opted for the public relations angle rather than with the compassion that they preach.
There were a lot of awesome parties scheduled for “rapture” weekend but what I wanted to spend my time doing was untangling this mess of faith and public policy by removing the veil of religion that encompasses my country. I decided to attend the American Atheists Rapture RAM in Oakland because it was local and because it was an atheist/skeptic/free thought conference that I could actually afford.
I have never felt so welcome as a sex worker at a non-sexual event as I did at the Rapture RAM. Yes, there is still a problem with diversity in the atheist movement and I will definitely discuss this at length but I received nothing but positive and supportive reactions from every single individual I disclosed my career to over the weekend. When I engage in activism outside of an explicitly sex-positive context, most people would prefer that I shut the hell up about the fact that I have no shame about what I do for a living. More often than not, I am actively discouraged from being open about who I am as a porn performer. No one wants a pervert representing their cause to the media but everyone I encountered made it a point to welcome me not in spite of who I am but because of who I am.
These conversations took on different flavors, of course. The overwhelming majority of people responded to my disclosure about making porn enthusiastically because it indicated that was dedicated to the freedom of speech by putting my ass on the line (literally) for it. I also ran into a few people who had subtle differences in their tone that indicated to me that I was welcome because atheism “needs more hot chicks.” At times it could feel confusing to navigate because my business is centered around inspiring lust and I think that lust and sexuality are awesome. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be relegated to the post of being a sexy parrot reiterating the “great ideas of atheist men.” The development of my atheist ideology did not come from Hitchens or Dawkins or any other source outside of the bible that I was being instructed to read in Catholic school. It wasn’t until much, much later in life that I ever picked up any explicitly atheist literature to help me hone and frame the conclusions I was already making on my own.
This wasn’t just an issue that I ran into; one of the awesome speakers at the conference, Jen McCreight of BlagHag, had to contend with people who were still tingling in their naughty bits about the popular Boobquake event that she created. When another speaker made a regrettable off-hand comment about a female atheist video blogger during his talk, Jen spoke up to counter it. Although the speaker fumbled the apology at the podium he did make it a point to go to her blog and formally apologize and it’s evident that he figured out what happened. Conference drama is inevitable. I’ve seen and been a part of arguments at conferences before where people walked away without ever speaking to one another again. If anything, it is encouraging to watch a screw-up and to see some form of clarity come from it. I’m going to have my own fuck-ups; I watch the mistakes of others knowing that at some point I’m going to be the one who made a mistake in front of an audience and I hope that someone will empathize with me through my embarrassment.
Perspective and experience is a funny thing. Over time, I have become increasingly skilled with defusing situations in which I have been sexualized without my consent because it is something I contend with all the time because of what I do for a living. When I’m in the middle of a conversation about evolution, for example, I’ll respond to an out of place comment about my tits by immediately making a comment about their sexual anatomy and I will be just as explicit if not more than they were about my body and in most cases this tactic works extraordinarily well. That said, no one should have to stop their train of thought to take on the role of an aggressive phone sex operator in the middle of a conversation to fend off an inappropriate and irrelevant comment about their body.
Moreover, I’m not exactly thrilled about the fact that I have had to develop this skill at all and it is not a one-size-fits-all strategy that I endorse for everyone. When someone diminishes everything that I have just contributed to an intellectual conversation by interjecting with a comment about my sexual anatomy and I fire back with something twice as lewd about their body and go immediately back to what I was just saying I am using the best tool that I have for my own context in my own defense. Most people are not coming from a context like mine and my reaction to these challenges is not “the right way to handle the situation,” because the situation should never have occurred in the first place and there is an endless list of reasons why this could be destructive to someone else.
This is also a case of “better is not best.” I felt very much at ease with the occasional rude comment thrown my way because it was such a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of what I am accustomed to experiencing in other circles. At no point did someone look me up and down and say, “So Maggie, when are you and I going to hook up?” solely because they know that I’m publicly kinky and a member of the same kinky organization as they are. That doesn’t make the fact that towards the end of the conference I missed major portions of speaker talks because people kept asking me to pose for pictures after noticing that someone else had taken my picture because I did porn any less frustrating or annoying. I’m grateful for the fact I had brought my audio recorder to the conference with me and left it on throughout the duration of the entire conference because I paid money to hear those people speak.
I do want to repeat that I had a blast at the conference as a whole. I was able to chat with Greta Christina who is totally rad and I got to have the pleasure or engaging in a silly “de-baptism” ritual where the holy waters were blow dried away. As you can see from the photos, special attention was paid to my boots. (Photos taken by Justin Stolle.) Mr. Diety was hilarious. Rebecca Watson of Skepchick slam dunked a talk on reproductive rights. There were some amazing activists from the Secular Student Alliance. There were a lot of great talks and I am grateful to have my recordings from all of the talks and the Q&A periods.
I left the conference exhausted but positive. (9AM start times on the Sunday after a failed rapture? The coffee table was like a peer-review breakout session on hangovers.) I met so many amazing people and I will be talking a lot more about skepticism and secularism around these here parts so brace yourself. I suppose it didn’t hurt that I won a limerick contest at the close of the conference and won some jewelry depicting one of Feynman’s famous diagrams. I had lots of great conversations and I did make some new friends. There’s no such thing as a community that is 100% perfect; as soon as there are more than a few people in the picture there are going to be issues of one sort or another. I really liked converging with other non-believers for the same reasons that believers like to converge with other believers. It’s nice to talk with people who share a similar world view. It was nicer still that not one person told me to shut up.