Slut shaming (also hyphenated, as slut-shaming) is a concept in human sexuality. It is a neologism used to describe the act of making a person, especially a woman, feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors, circumstances or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law. Some examples of circumstances where women are “slut-shamed” include: violating accepted dress codes by dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, having premarital or casual sex, or being raped or sexually assaulted.
A couple of weeks ago, the professor of a Women and Gender Studies class at Vanderbilt University asked Sister Ann to come and speak to the class about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The invitation came via Twitter, and it was all very exciting.
I went from work to join the class, so I didn’t have time to manifest (put on my makeup and such). There were around fifteen undergraduate students in the room, and they had just finished watching the movie Paris Is Burning. Cool class, huh?
I spoke to the class for an hour and a half as I answered specific questions about how the Sisters work, primarily in the LGBT community, to inspire joy and banish guilt. I also shared quite a bit about my person journey to become a Sister, and I got to a point where I pulled out my phone to show the students pictures of Sister Ann.
I chose two photos: me dressed up in my interpretation of our official “high-nun” habit, complete with coronet, wimple, bib, sincture, and prayer beads, and another picture that I called my “slutty nun” look, shown above. When I used the words “slutty nun” to describe the picture, the professor said, “I’m not comfortable with that word, “slutty.'”
I paused, and in a moment of connection and clarity I realized she was creating an opportunity, a teachable moment. I had just spent an hour talking about the Sisterly work of banishing guilt and shame, and yet a I had used a word that often induces those feelings in people.
The definition of slut shaming I quote from Wikipedia talks about how the term mostly has been applied to women. Unfortunately, slut shaming is also applied to gay men. It’s thrown at us from the society when folks who don’t understand what it means to be gay think we’re just a bunch of horny men who ain’t control themselves. It became a huge topic in the years following the onset of HIV/AIDS, when many people, out of fear, chose to explain the disease as a consequence of immoral and shameful behavior.
Perhaps most disappointing is the way gay men often slut-shame each another. Men who choose to express their sexuality authentically, perhaps as they date multiple partners, agree to open relationships, or in any way vary from the heterosexual norm as defined by the majority, are often labeled as sluts by other gay men who think what they perceive as normal is the only acceptable way to be sexual beings.
This inside-gay-shaming has increased recently with the release of PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis). PrEP is a pill that, if taken once a day, can greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection in at-risk populations, some say even moreso than condoms, because many men are so inconsistent in using them. Many who survived the horror of early years of AIDS, and who have preached and somewhat adhered to condoms as a way of life, now are suddenly faced with an new form of prevention that, from their perspective, is a little too permission-giving. The name of the pill is Truvada, and Truvada Whore has become a descriptive term for men who choose to take it. This is slut shaming, pure and simple.
I am grateful that I felt at ease in that classroom. Instead of feeling defensive, in that moment of clarity I confessed my error and said to the professor, “You’re absolutely right! I’ve been talking about the Sisters’ job of banishing guilt and ending shame and I’m throwing around this word that is heavily burdened with those very things.” I looked at the professor and asked, “What would you call that particular look?”
Instead of answering, she turned to the students. What a great teacher! We talked about it for awhile and someone finally threw out the word, “dominatrix.” Spot on, clearer, baggage and shameless, Sister Ann Wenita Morelove had a new descriptor: Dom Nun.
Everybody in the room loved it. I said to the professor, “That was well-done.” She smiled, and a girl sitting across from me slapped her hands on the table and said, “Boom! That’s why she’s the teacher!”