Editor’s Note: Dr. Maya Angelou joined the world of the ancestors on May 28th, 2014. In celebration of her life and work and in keeping with our mission, I thought it would be useful to ask several sex radical women, Akynos Shekera, Amanda Love and Dr. Loraine Hutchins, to share their thoughts about Dr. Angelou, who had among her many professional experiences worked as a Calypso singer, shake dancer, madame, and sex worker, highlighting this work and making connections to their own experience and work. The results were these wonderful articles.
By Amanda Love
I didn’t know much about this phenomenal woman—as phenomenal as she defined all Black women. Maybe I should say I didn’t know as much as I felt I should know when I was asked to write about her. So I began this journey. It actually started a little bit earlier. I was in a store eyeing a pretty colored book about her complicated relationship with her mother. A little bit later, I saw her episode of Life Class on the OWN Network where she talked about her life lessons. In another moment, I casually picked up a DVD with multiple movies on it. Ironically, they were written or directed by her. These incidences occurred just before my brother asked me to write this piece on her. I thought, time to get to researching. It wasn’t as much about researching as pondering and allowing Spirit to reveal the lessons and connections I need to know about Mother Angelou and me for this moment in my life. How do she and I meet/connect/relate?
SINGER, WRITER, SEX WORKER
People don’t want to really talk about Maya being a sex worker. I understand because the work that we do is thought to be lowly. And if it didn’t appear to be lowly and exciting, it wouldn’t be something attractive to the mainstream, to individuals in society that are fed by and live off of mainstream media. The problem is that this perception makes us, sex workers, invisible because of the discomfort it causes the mainstream when we are not staying in our place, in a closed box in the corner of the room. People don’t know who we really are as individuals. Instead, we are an undifferentiated class or body without individual and unique stories and experiences.
The fantasy overshadows the regular, mundane things about us. For business, that can be ok because it maintains the excitement most people need to find fulfillment. But it is not always ok because we live in a culture that doesn’t demand respect for all people. Garbage men should be viewed just as important as professors. Cooks should be viewed just as important as lawyers. Sex workers get demonized, hushed and put in a closet.
The cool thing is Maya always talked about the things that made folks uncomfortable and made people feel welcomed and of value while doing it. She never hid her life as a sex worker. She wrote and spoke of it. Maybe she should be the patron saint of sex workers now. Her spirit would make sure that we knew our worth and continued to heal people with touch, love, affection and all the other tools sex workers use to uplift others whether they are conscience of it or not.
DANCER, DIRECTOR, ACTOR, COMMUNITY MOTHER
I became a community mother early. I feel like I was given that title, spoken and unspoken, at least ten years before I thought I should have received it. Mother Maya was given an international mother title. How did that feel? What did that responsibility feel like? How heavy was it? Did she even pay it any mind and just go on with doing her work?
That’s an African American woman for you. We tend to keep moving and doing and nurturing without even realizing we are carrying a community. Then we get tapped on the shoulder by someone or Spirit, look back and say, “Ooooh. Ok, now.” We can’t ogle the beauty of our work too long because we got children to tend to, we got our people to tend to. It seems Mother Maya was tending to hers till the day she died. I think it filled her up. I never heard of her looking or feeling drained despite so many people needing her. She had Oprah Winfrey even, saying, “Mama, Mama, Mama!” Well, when that’s who you truly are then it does fill you up—with joy.
REVOLUTIONARY, LGBT ACTIVIST, ADVISOR, SELF-DEFINER
Maya Angelou defined herself. She did what she wanted to do and defined who she was from her name to how she told her own story to how she presented her work. It was always on her terms. That’s challenging now. As crazy as it seems, in 2014 so many people don’t think outside the box and feel that if they do there will be repercussions.
Well, actually that’s true. Let’s look at the workforce. You must adhere to not only specific ways to perform a task (e.g., always throw the leftover food away if you work at a fast food restaurant. Never give it away or take it home) but also how you present yourself (e.g., as part of this insurance company you must use this specific script when talking to potential clients). If you veer away from any of the guidelines you have a good chance of losing your income to live (i.e., home, food, clothing, transportation, etc.). Don’t be an individual. And for, god sake, don’t think for yourself.
I can’t really imagine how challenging that must have been in the past. The 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were times when you had to fit in. If you chose not to, then you were shunned and persecuted for your simple existence—being queer, of color, gender other than male, etc. If you walked in the sunlight as yourself, not pretending to be someone or something else, you were sending an invitation for persecution. Defining herself without compromise at that time was so very revolutionary.
I work to define myself. It has gotten a great deal easier as I have gotten older. And, I have so many aspects of my self-definition to sharpen. As long as I stay on that path of self-discovery to self-definition, I will live the life of a whole human being. I’m sure there are many other ways that this amazing woman and I intersect. I hope you find ways you both intersect and then are able to use her life and guide posts when you need them. I know I will. And I give thanks to her spirit for making the choices to live a phenomenal life.
Thank you, Mother.
Amanda Love is a writer, performance artist, astrologer, spiritualist, birth worker, and sex worker. She loves music, film and exploring new places. She hopes you keep exploring the places outside and inside yourself.