This essay originally appeared in the Privacy & Perception Issue of Vice Magazine, created in collaboration with Broadly. You can read more stories from the issue here.
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.
I didn’t realize at the time, however, that my new name would both protect and endanger me, and that my little thought experiment would help form the foundation for the person I would become.
Within a year of moving to California, I had stopped scraping by on multiple retail jobs and started making enough money as a sex worker to afford to go to school and even put some away. I considered doing sex work under another assumed name, but quickly settled into being Kitty Stryker there as well. “Miss Stryker” was just too good a dominatrix name not to use.
A couple more years down the line, I began blogging publicly about my experiences as a dominatrix, in addition to writing about politics, queer identity, and sex education. My small blog soon blew up for its brutally honest sex toy and porn reviews. I had media outlets reaching out to me to comment on current events related to sex work. And just like that, Kitty Stryker became not just a name I used casually among friends and clients, but the name I lived, published, and fucked under. Even my lovers didn’t know my government name, and it never occurred to me to tell them.
This was the mid 2000s, and social media as we know it now was beginning to pick up, so of course I snagged “Kitty Stryker” on every platform. I didn’t realize then that this would be an important part of the soon-to-be pervasive practice of “branding” oneself online. But my brand, the feminist killjoy sex worker activist, ended up being unique enough to give me a solid niche for many years. I had fully transitioned into the person I envisioned.
I often joke about having an alter ego, but like Superman, it is my secret legal name that allows me to blend into the crowd. Also, like Superman, I keep my two names as separate as possible—primarily for safety reasons.
As my activism grew online, so did harassment against me. The two times I was doxed and some private information of mine was published online, I was relieved that some of my most sensitive information could only be tracked by my government name. I’ve also been wary of the possibility of government officials seeking me to act as a snitch against my fellow comrades or detaining me at the airport because of my journalism or sex work. Keeping my work under my chosen name allows me some flexibility I might not have otherwise.
But I do feel that being Kitty Stryker has led people, myself included, to see me more as an entity than a person. And I’m working on pulling away from my activism work in order to figure out who I am when I’m not trying to be a superhero. It sometimes feels like a weight around my neck to be this creation instead of the vulnerable person I actually am. Armor works to keep you safe, but it also keeps people out, after all.
Now that I’m Kitty Stryker, though, there’s no going back. The internet will make sure of that. There was a time when I was desperate to get out of the adult industry and considered pursuing journalism or something else under my government name. With all my writing, media appearances, and activism being under Kitty Stryker, however, my résumé under my legal alter ego looks fairly blank. So, I was faced with a dilemma: be a sex worker with a lot of success under my belt or an average Jane with little experience.
In the end, I felt I had worked too hard and for too long to completely deny everything I had done as Kitty Stryker. The name certainly binds me to a shadow economy that limits my access to mainstream recognition, but to hide it away would be to refuse to acknowledge the challenges that forged who I am today. That would feel like betraying a fundamental part of myself. It’s not worth it.
Now I’m 34, I’ve published a book under Kitty Stryker, and I’m likely to be Kitty Stryker for the rest of my life. I still get denied work for being public about my sex work, but I refuse to pretend that my birth name is more of a reflection of “me” than the construct turned flesh that Kitty Stryker is. Who’s to say that a coincidence of birth is more accurately “me” than the person I decided to become?
I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and who I am now. My birth name is just a little secret between the government and me.