MrMary Responds || The Erasure of Maya Angelou’s Sex Work History and Respectability Politics

downloadDr. Maya Angelou, American Poet Laureate, most famous for authoring I Know Why The Caged Bird Singspassed away at age 86 on May 28th, 2014. Her literary agent Helen Brann confirmed the news to press, and thus began a worldwide outpouring of grief. The top trending tag on Twitter was “RIP Maya Angelou” and, at the time of this writing, it is one of four Maya Angelou-related trending hashtags. She is hailed as a national best selling author, a genius, a spiritual God-, Grand-, and mother. She is lauded as everything Black women should aspire to emulate in life. So why is it very few of us know she was a sex worker in her youth? Why is it, even in her death, as in her life, it’s such a guarded secret? Why was this secret kept by seemingly everyone except Dr. Angelou herself?

excerpt taken from here

One thing I admired about Dr Angelou was her free spirit. Rather than spout ideology, she spoke from the heart. When I think of a feminist, Dr Angelou comes to mind. She spoke from the depth of a very human experience and didn’t rely on generalizations and sensationalist ideology to promulgate her message. Recently PolicyMic ran this article: What Maya Angelou’s Past Can Teach the Feminists of the Future. In the article they assert that Dr Angelou while she spoke for the black experience, she spoke for all women, about that aspect of the human condition that binds all women together. To quote Dr Angelou: “I speak to the black experience,” she said, “but I am always talking about the human condition — about what we can endure, dream, fail at and survive.” The author conclused by saying that “when feminism fixates on what other women should and should not be doing — from sex work to marriage, career paths and lifestyle choices — it loses its core mission of equality, diversity and acceptance. It fails its women, and it fails its leaders, such as Maya Angelou. As Angelou said, “The sadness of the women’s movement is that they don’t allow the necessity of love … I don’t personally trust any revolution where love is not allowed.”

I do not see why the media feels so recalcitrant to mention this aspect of her life when she was so free to talk about it. Dr. Angelou was never ashamed. Here is an excerpt from her Interview with Linda Wolf. If you have any thoughts about this or the role fo sex workers and changing attitudes towards their profession please feel free, comment


Maya (1)Linda: You’ve done a lot of things in your life that most people would judge as wrong. You’ve smoked pot, taken drugs, you were a madam for lesbian prostitutes, a teenage mom, a table dancer – you didn’t follow the straight and narrow. All these experiences gave you a rich life?

Dr. Angelou: Yes, but I wouldn’t suggest it for anybody. I mean, if you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself. If you’re in the very gutter, see where you are and admit it. As soon as you admit it, you can be like the prodigal son, the prodigal daughter. Get up and go home – wherever home is. Get up and go to a safe place, someplace where your spirit is not kicked and brutalized and your body not misused and abused. Get up. But you can’t get up unless you see where you are and admit it. I wrote about my experiences because I thought too many people tell young folks, “I never did anything wrong. Who, Moi? – never I. I have no skeletons in my closet. In fact, I have no closet.” They lie like that and then young people find themselves in situations and they think, “Damn I must be a pretty bad guy. My mom or dad never did anything wrong.” They can’t forgive themselves and go on with their lives. So I wrote the book Gather Together in My Name. Meaning that all those grown people, all those adults, all those parents and grandparents and teachers and preachers and rabbis and priests who lie to the children can gather together in my name and I will tell them the truth. Wherever you are, you have got to admit it and set about to make a change. That’s why I wrote that book. It’s the most painful book I’ve ever written.

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