When I Made a Sex Work Pseudonym, I Didn't Know I'd Be Her Forever

I didn’t realize at the time, that my new name would both protect and endanger me—and that my youthful attempt to rewrite my story would actually help form the person I would become.

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Jun 20 2018, 10:17pm

This story appears in VICE magazine and Broadly's 2018 Privacy and Perception Photo Issue. Click HERE to subscribe to VICE magazine.

It’s been a little more than 14 years since I became Kitty Stryker. I’m often asked if it’s my “real” name, and of course it’s as real as my dyed hair and my tattooed skin—rooted in truth, just accentuated a bit. But just as my antifascist tattoos and bright, manic pixie cut are part of what defines me, this name has become part of my everyday existence. At this point, it’s like breathing.

The name came about on a flight from Massachusetts to California. I was freshly 19, making a list of the traits that defined who I had been in my small suburban town, and planning who I would become when I arrived in San Francisco. Always a performer, I knew I was tired of playing the role I grew into—a goth girl who was perpetually insecure, excessively nerdy, and had few friends. I decided to use the six-hour flight to re-create myself into a new character, one that would give me a fresh lease on life.

I think I also believed that having a new name would protect me from myself, allow me to discard my past and the expectations of failure that I had come to associate with my birth name. I knew that I wanted to write, be an activist, and engage more with the sex-positive community—all things that could be risky under my government name. I grew up under the shadow of the 2001 “Paddleboro” scandal, during which consenting adults were arrested and charged with assault in Attleboro, Massachusetts, for engaging in kink at a house party, so I knew that the life I wanted to lead could be dangerous for my future. Having a new name felt like armor against not only my own teenage experience, but also a society that rejected my queerness, kinkiness, and leftist politics.

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