The Erasure of Maya Angelou’s Sex Work History

by Peechington Marie on May 29, 2014 · 196 comments

in News, Prostitution

A  young, beautiful Maya Angelou with Langston Hughes, not long after her career as a sex worker—guess she didn't think his joke was that funny? (Photo via mayaangelou.com)

A young, beautiful Maya Angelou with Langston Hughes, not long after her career as a sex worker—guess she didn’t think his joke was that funny? (Photo via mayaangelou.com)

Dr. Maya Angelou, American Poet Laureate, most famous for authoring I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, passed 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?

We can, once again, boil it down to respectability politics and stigma. I am angry about it. I find myself ruminating, considering, wondering: If her work had been talked about as much as her dancing with James Baldwin or even her considerable, commanding and lovely height of six feet, what would the sex work community look like today? If we had talked about her wonderful compassion for sex workers, how she never looked down on them, and her refusal to be intimidated by invasive and obnoxious questioning about her sex working past, what would sex workers around the world be saying today in memory of her life?

Instead, we read post after post, obituary after tribute, calling her a “pimp” and saying she had “an unsuccessful stint as a prostitute.” The most detailed accounts currently online are making sure to emphasize that she spent a “brief stint,” a “short time” in the sex industry, so as to, without explicit words, solidify the shame they believe she should have felt, the shame we should feel as well. The media uses inflammatory terms to get clicks and to emphasize the terrible and shameful secret that was, in actuality, never a secret at all.

Dr. Angelou herself says she was never ashamed.

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 [about her past as a sex worker]. [source]

In interviews, Dr. Angelou used the term “prostitute” to refer to her previous employment without rancor or shame. She spoke candidly to her family about it. She told her mother, brother, and son she would redact the information from the book, but only if they were uncomfortable with it. She had no issue whatsoever with speaking her truth. So why do we not know about it, save for hushed whispers and the occasional salacious reference in reports about and interviews of her? What’s so wrong with our beloved and lovely Maya Angelou having been a sex worker and brothel manager?

Go read this book now if you haven't already!

Go read this book now if you haven’t already!

Respectability politics no doubt play a role in the erasure of her history as a sex worker. With a wide brush, details on it have been painted over by those who won’t acknowledge such a thing, brushing past it to talk about her awards and accolades. But she had no problem stating plainly: “There are many ways to prostitute one’s self.”

It comes to this: there is no way, in the minds of most people, to have worked as a prostitute and not be ashamed of it. Most people believe there is no way to have held this job (and it is a job), move onto other things, and not consider it a “seamy life” or “shameful secret.” To most people, there is no way a woman of Maya Angelou’s caliber could ever have performed as a sex worker. The idea just won’t gel for them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. Maya Angelou: Poet Laureate, Pulitzer nominee, Tony Award winner, best selling author, poetess, winner of more than 50 honorary degrees, mother, sister, daughter, wife, National Medal of Arts winner, Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, consummate and powerful woman, artist, and former sex worker. Yes, the woman you love, the woman we all love, the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou was a sex worker and she proved, in her life and her stories, that there’s nothing wrong with it.

To quote her:

Now you understand
just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
the need for my care.
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
(Phenomenal Woman)

Indeed, we are proud of you, Dr. Angelou. Thank you for everything you’ve so shamelessly shared with us, for your truth needs no shame and deserves acknowledgment, acceptance, and a warm, loving embrace. Words can never express my gratitude to you and my grief at your death. Thank you.

{ 159 comments… read them below or add one }

VIPElle May 29, 2014 at 10:31 am

Angelou also wrote candidly about her use of marijuana in “Gather Together,” the second installment of her autobiography after “Caged Bird.” http://tokinwoman.blogspot.com/2014/01/my-oh-maya.html. Another sanitization. Her poem “I Rise” has been quoted in many obituaries without the stanza:

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

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HMM MAYBE May 29, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Because it’s an obituary?! OF AN OLD WOMAN. o__o

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Right, because old women must NEVER be connected to sex work, b/c it’s so inherently shameful, and sex work must NEVER be mentioned in obituaries, for the same reason. Even though Maya Angelou herself was so unashamed of her sex working past, she mentioned it herself (in an age appropriate manner) in a venue for teens (see the source quoted in Angelou’s long quotation in the post.)

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Crystalshine Marie May 29, 2014 at 2:57 pm

It was her first profession, so it might, or might not be included. That is neither here nor there. It is about white the world has tried to whitewash it out of life, even as she proudly claimed it. It is about the fact that the only way they could allow themselves to adore the beauty, insight, and intelligence that she continued to add to the world was to pretend it wasn’t true, that it hadn’t happened, because she could not be respectable if they saw her for who she was. Yet, it was one largest reasons she deserved respect. She didn’t hide, or allow herself to be shamed, she shouldn’t have had to. Fuck you and misplaced morals. To deny the aspects of her life that most forged the woman she was to become, it to deny her.

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Edward J. Cunningham May 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Caty, you could omit the word “work” in your last paragraph, and it would still be accurate.

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Jim mc May 29, 2014 at 8:51 pm

I think his problem was with an “old woman” talking about being alive. Idiots such as him will never listen to – much less understand – the words of the elderly.

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Rachel May 29, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Hmm Maybe — I hope you’re sitting down for this, but… Old women have sex, too. And enjoy it. Imagine that. #ShockingIKnow

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Shadow Priest May 30, 2014 at 9:10 am

You do realize that she wasn’t actually born old, right? ;) She had a long and full life, fully worthy of celebration.

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demosthenes May 30, 2014 at 9:58 am

Old woman cannot equal sexy, respected author cannot equal proud sex worker or drug user.

Okay, I get it.

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YoBimbo May 30, 2014 at 12:32 pm

You completely missed the point, didn’t you?

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Ginger May 30, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Older women are not sexless creatures…

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Ali May 30, 2014 at 6:15 pm

You forget about the 84 year old prostitute that is still actively taking clients.

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MusicNewsPolitics May 31, 2014 at 5:00 pm

She had no shame about her past. Why should we?

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Karen Knowles May 31, 2014 at 5:41 pm

“Old women” are not sexless beings that must be spoken of as angels. Old women are WOMEN and all that includes. It is society that wants to pretend old women are impotent and invisible. The truth is we, “old women” become more powerful, honest and courageous with every year we walk on this earth.

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Versia S. McKinney June 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Sadly, a lot of the folks who read this and “blushed” hadn’t looked in the mirror for a long, long time. Who is to say what prostitution is? The workers of the evening, the models who sell lingerie, who sing and sell highly titalatimg songs.

I dare some of the readers to really acknowledge thier real personas. Who are you anyhoo?

I proclaim my love for this wonderful woman who walked, talked, wrote, danced and made millions a little more easy about themselves……..She was the kind of woman who could make you smile or cry in the space of an hour.

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Robin D Robin D June 2, 2014 at 10:56 pm

I am not sure if you are asking current and former sex workers to out themselves or if you are asking non-sex worker readers to examine the ways in which they “prostitute” themselves as well.

Susan Caba May 30, 2014 at 12:35 pm

That is my FAVORITE stanza! It’s so vivid and so true! I wrote about this poem “Still I’ll Rise,” on my blog ResaleEvangelista (http://resaleevangelista.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/still-ill-rise/) and quoted this very stanza.

I had no idea about Ms Angelou’s experience as a sex worker until someone sent me this post. It’s great, thank you.

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mundens June 3, 2014 at 6:55 am

I wonder if that’s where Ben Harper originally got his song title “Diamonds on The Inside” from ?

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Jay Schiavone May 29, 2014 at 11:12 am

“…guess she didn’t think his joke was that funny?”
Actually she was bowling him over with her famous voice-throwing trick. “Hey folks! I’m a troll that lives under the coffee table.”

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Worth May 29, 2014 at 11:21 am

My memory of the picture is Maya dancing with Amiri on the floor tiles under which Baldwin’s ashes were interred.

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Catherine Catherine May 29, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Nicely done.

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VJ May 29, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Beautifully written!

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Annie May 29, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Great piece. Thank you.

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Meg May 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm

I agree, Maya Angelou wasn’t ashamed to share her past with prostitution. I disagree you’re asking it to be trumpeted along with her other accomplishments. In the paragraph you quote her saying she wanted to share this with other people to point she does have skeletons in her closet, that she has done something “wrong”.
I don’t think sex work is wrong, but I don’t think she viewed it as an accomplishment.

Note: I’m also not a normal reader on your blog so maybe this is a very outside view.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 4:56 pm

In her other references to her past work, she was matter of fact and unashamed about it. I think in the quote above she’s very clearly talking about something PERCEIVED as wrong, because she’s talking about how young people are conditioned to view things like that.

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Ashley May 30, 2014 at 12:35 am

Maya Angelou does say this directly before that quote though:

“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.”

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Ray May 30, 2014 at 8:08 am

Thank you for attempting to honor exactly what she said rather than trying to make a point with her memory as the original author is.

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YBBG May 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Thank you Ashley.

Caty, it seems as though you have tried to usurp Dr. Angelou’s past to push your present agenda. Seeing something as wrong, does not mean you have to carry the shame of it. You acknowledge it and move forward.

What you have seemingly tried to do is take Dr. Angelou’s life, and her opinions of her own life, out of context. The “Prodigal son” reference as it relates to her life in sex work is about admitting that you have not lived a perfect life, but being welcomed back into your living purpose after you have strayed.

She deemed sex work as straying. The only thing is, she did not live a life of condemnation because she had faltered. More people know about her sex work than you realize. The thing is…they don’t focus on her sex work because that was not the totality of who she was…she didn’t even see it as the totality of who she was…but a prodigal moment in her journey through life.

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Why does everyone thing Caty is the author of this piece? She is not. And if you read the piece more carefully you might find that Peech doesn’t say anywhere that she was overly proud of it or considered it on par with her writing. But she was not ashamed, and she knew it was just a job. “She wouldn’t suggest it for anybody” – as Peech says below, well, in the world we live in, a lot of us wouldn’t. That’s irrelevant.

Ashley May 30, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Thanks, Ray and YBBG! I don’t normally comment on things like this, but I didn’t like that her words and beliefs were being misrepresented, especially posthumously.

I’m sure many people share Peech’s view of sex work, but Maya Angelou clearly didn’t. Peech says at the end of her post that Dr. Angelou shows there’s nothing “wrong” with being a sex worker, but that’s actually the opposite of what Maya Angelou said. She says in the quote Peech references above that it is wrong but, in the quote I referenced, she says that you should forgive yourself. Meaning, it is wrong, but you shouldn’t be condemned for it. Maya Angelou champions the importance of being real and authentic and not trying to present a “photoshopped” version of yourself that is going to give others an unrealistic expectation about what it means to be a person. Which, I think, is pretty beautiful.

She then went on to say that sex workers should definitely leave the lifestyle (or “the gutter” as she refers to it), but no one should ever shame you.

Ashley May 30, 2014 at 6:26 pm

One other thing: Maya Angelou does also say, “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.” This shows she believed that someone would have to even REALIZE they were in the gutter before they could do anything. Realizing you are in the gutter to her was the first step. Then, once you realize this fact, that’s when you can pull yourself out of the gutter and go home.

Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 6:55 pm

No, she didn’t say it was wrong. She said she wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. That also doesn’t mean she thought everyone currently working in the sex industry needed to leave. I’m sure she realized how ridiculous and impractical that would be.

elvie May 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Agreed! Great point.

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Malorie May 29, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I just wanted to say thank you. Your piece made me tear up and I think it is one of the most genuine remembrances that I have read in the media frenzy surrounding her death. I am so glad Boing Boing posted a link to this blog. I didn’t know that it existed until seeing this article, and now I am so glad to be informed! :)

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 12:11 am

Thank you for reading Malorie! Be well. <3

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Darrell May 29, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Wonderfully done, thank you very much

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Mason May 29, 2014 at 4:52 pm

There’s a vast difference between events that are “erased,” and those that are “outshined.”

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Obituaries for other famous accomplished people manage to mention how they started out without baselessly accusing them of exploitation (from brothel manager to “pimp”, really?) or implying that they should feel ashamed of their previous jobs. Angelou herself obviously felt it was worth talking about, given how she documented it at length without angst and shame in her memoir, and how she was always out about it.

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marissa May 29, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Mason’s right in a way. It certainly wasn’t her primary accomplishment and there’s no need to OVER emphasize it, but it’s most definitely been under-emphasized. If you think of Malcolm X, even he isn’t super well known for going to prison for thief and self-educating/reforming in prison, as well as completely giving up all toxic substances when he converted to Islam. Angelou owned her past and that’s an accomplishment in itself; sadly, the popular culture likes to gloss over and reframe that part of her life in a different way than she presented it. I am definitely rereading her autobiographies! The whole collection is just $16 on Kindle.

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ShaRall May 31, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Marissa, contrary to your statement Malcolm X was most certainly known for turning his life around from hustler criminal to Minister for the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. It is what the Nation of Islam was most known for in the African American community in which Malcolm X served. The bulk of his speeches to his community was about putting away those poisonous behaviors and coming into the oneness of God. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is most certainly about his transformation.

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Susan Caba May 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Mason, that’s a very good point! Not that I have as long a list of accomplishments as Maya Angelou, at some point, you drop parts of the past that have become irrelevant. (Again, Maya Angelou’s past–all of it–isn’t as irrelevant as yours or mine might be!)

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 5:28 pm

If people would like more information on Angelou’s sex work experiences, they can read her second memoir, _Gather Together In My Name_, the follow up to _I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings_.
In it, so far, I’ve reread her relating just how she set up her second brothel (she talks about how she ran the first one in _Caged Bird), in no way making it out to be anything she regretted. She had some whorephobic (and homophobic) prejudices at first, but she seemed to soon get over them when she herself starting working in as well as managing the brothel.

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Josie May 30, 2014 at 1:05 am

Thank you for this info. I read the book caged bird but don’t ember much about it. I will re read and read the second one as well.

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marissa May 29, 2014 at 6:39 pm

Not long before she fell ill, I tweeted about “why do people not know this about her, but a sex work past follows others around relentlessly?” I read Gather Together in My Name at about 18 and loved it; I vividly remember learning and using the term “turning tricks” cause I learned it from that book. It’s wonderful she had the decency to run it past her close ones before publishing and that it ended up published. Glad this site dedicated a post to the topic! What a remarkable woman.

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Lindsay Berlin May 29, 2014 at 6:41 pm

Er, should we be identifying someone as a sex worker who never identified that way herself? Especially post-mortem without her consent?

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Well, I’d rather not have had Peech call her a “whore,” the way she identifies in _Gather Together In My Name_, or a “prostitute,” the way she identified herself in interviews (referring to her former work.) I do think the use of these identifications allows us to pretty easily put her under the sex worker tent.

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Lindsay Berlin May 29, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Sex work does not equal prostitution and there are quite a few academic sources that talk about labeling someone a sex worker who doesn’t identify that way as a form of white imperialism, particularly in light of the way that black women are labeled whores regardless. See Economies of Desire by Amalia Cabezas.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Peech is a Black former sex worker. I’ll leave her to reply to this as it is her piece.

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Ms. Pris May 30, 2014 at 8:11 pm

I think you’re confused. Prostitution is sex work. Labeling a sex worker a prostitute is problematic, because not all sex workers are prostitutes, but labeling a prostitute a sex worker is not.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 12:15 am

Dr. Angelou herself referenced her work many times in many less flattering terms than “sex worker” and I simply chose to use a colloquialism that is common in my circles and (hopefully more and more) the world around us. In the early 50′s when she was working blue, the term “sex worker” hadn’t been coined yet. It was customary to simply say “prostitute” or “streetwalker” or “whore” which are words we’ve come to know are inflammatory and should only be used to refer to one’s self (for example: reclamation of words. If I want to call myself a whore, I can, but I should never call someone else that, even if we do the same job).

She identified as a prostitute and whore. She worked sex. It is not untoward to say Dr. Angelou was, in her past, a sex worker.

As for the race discussion, I’m not here for that. I simply wrote this to say goodbye to a wonderful lady who will forever give me strength to keep on keepin’ on.

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torix May 29, 2014 at 6:58 pm

Though I can appreciate the discussion of stigma attached to sex working people, as a sex worker myself, I can’t help but feel terribly sad about the fact that a very small and minimally discussed portion of Dr Maya Angelou’s past is now being twisted and sensationalized all over the media and she is being NON-CONSENSUALLY slapped on as a poster hero for sex work. This shit, no matter what kind of light it is shone under, is never cool. It is never cool for anyone to openly discuss and publish personal info to do with sex work about an individual. It is never cool or safe to use someone’s personal story for any reason.

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Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 7:01 pm
FeministWhore May 29, 2014 at 8:17 pm

And not only was she open about her sex work and wrote about it herself, she explicitly said that she feels it is damaging to *not* discuss these sorts of histories.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 12:20 am

No one is using her story and I wasn’t the first one to talk about it. Actually BBC said, and let me find the quote verbatim, “Before long she had embarked on an extraordinary career that included stints as a dancer, waitress, prostitute and pimp.”

Not respectful, not tactful, and hardly appropriate to say she was a “pimp” or “prostitute”. That’s what’s not cool, bud.

And Dr. Angelou was open about her life and history and decisions. This isn’t a secret under a rock someone dug up, she literally wrote about it in more than one book. She spoke about it at length in interviews and was never ashamed.

And, what touched my heart the most, she was kind to sex workers. She didn’t use the words sex worker, she said “street walker” in the interview I’m thinking of now, but it was with no malice, no shame. Simple love.

She was a lovely lady. I do her no disrespect or injustice to say goodbye to her and to share again what she has already, so very generously, shared with us.

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Liz June 4, 2014 at 6:43 am

“Not respectful, not tactful, and hardly appropriate to say she was a “pimp” or “prostitute”. That’s what’s not cool, bud.”

Your position is very confusing.

Angelou used the term “prostitute” in reference to herself. The BBC references her time in sex work. You lambast BBC for using the same language Dr. Angelou did. You write a post about “erasure” and now you complain that one of the largest and most read/watched english language media groups talks about her sex work wrong (even though they use her term). Angelou herself was unashamed, yes, but neither did she focus her years of work for race, gender and economic equality lobbying on behalf of sex workers specifically. She made that choice. It was not done to her.

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DonM June 1, 2014 at 3:23 pm

She is beyond any damage that speaking about her past vocation can do. She had courage to speak and write about it when she was alive, despite any damage that could be done. If one could never speak about people’s past, then the library shelves for biography would be empty, to the great diminishment of the record of human experience.

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lucky May 29, 2014 at 7:16 pm

guess I made too good of a point LOL. why make a blog post if you aren’t open to differing opinions

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm

No, lol, it’s not because you “made too good of a point,” it’s because this a space by sex workers for sex workers, and we don’t need to make space for whorephobic bullshit from outsiders.

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anna saini May 29, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Caty et al

It is absolutely shameful that you would reiterate this contention that Dr. Maya Angelou was a sex worker.

In the name of journalistic integrity and respect to Dr. Angelou as well as the many individuals and communities impacted by her life and death I demand that you show evidence that she identified as a sex worker and, in the absence of that evidence, you retract these statements.

The label “sex worker” is NOT synonymous with having engaged in prostitution. And, in response to the question posed in the article about why the brevity of her prostitution work is emphasized, this may be because her stint as a prostitute WAS legitinately brief objectively speaking and especially in the context of her long life of achievements that go well beyond her having turned tricks for survival. I urge you to consider the racist, classist and whorephobic implications of posthumously identifying our great ancestor Dr. Angelou without consent or any clear indication that she identified that way.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm

I’m going to wait for Peech to reply to this one, b/c I feel that as a white person it’s not my place to intrude into a conversation in which a woman of color calls a Black woman’s work racist.

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borntomotivate May 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Please kick rocks! SMH! You and your kind are not flawless……….you come from a people who stole lands from the Indigenous people, raped and pilfered those people THEN kidnapped Africans and worked them for free for over 400 years, raped, humiliated and broke the spirit of many, later “freed” those “slaves” into NOTHINGNESS. Would it have been better if Maya Angelou was a housemaid? I say again Maya evolved on the stage of the world. Again, she rose despite all the odds that were against her, this article is not gonna work that way the blogger planned. I pray you can survive the onslaught unscathed but……I truly doubt it. You riding off someone’s back as a “Come Up”……….I have to laugh at you! No Originals live here!

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 7:12 pm

To “work” the way “intended”? It is really baffling that you think that this piece was intended to shame Maya Angelou – who was not ashamed of her past work, which also included being a waitress and working in an auto shop – rather than to honor and memorialize one of Peech’s personal heroes. Peech is not white (she is Black obviously, which you’d know if you’d read her previous piece for this site which is linked in this one), nor does she disrespect Maya Angelou by honoring her as someone who helped her love and honor herself. Caty is white and has privilege as a result but wasn’t born in the U.S. nor were her ancestors (or even Western Europe), though that’s really way beside the point, because she didn’t write this.

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Tom June 1, 2014 at 6:59 am

@anna saini wrote:
> I demand that you show evidence that she identified as a sex worker and,
> you retract these statements.

Wow, somebody likes to throw their weight around.

What a bully.

Props to you @Caty Simon and @peechington marie for not letting the angry proponents of Political Correctness push you around.

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katnip May 29, 2014 at 8:54 pm

I want to support/echo what Berlin, Torix and anna saini have said <3 it's not ok to non-consensually label/determine/define Dr Maya Angelou's experiences or anyone else for that matter, esp. folks who've passed away.

I am frustrated with Caty's responses too because they are super dismissive and especially condescending in response to anna's comment.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 29, 2014 at 9:18 pm

I’m sorry, I was in no way intending to be condescending or dismissive, and I’m sorry if I did something wrong in order for me to come off that way. I really sincerely feel it isn’t my place, especially now that the topic is whether or not Peech’s work is racist. I’m sorry if I was overly presumptuous before by responding to similar posts. People have told me I came off as if I was speaking for Dr Angelou, and that is totally wrong and if it came off that way then I definitely fucked up.

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Kate May 29, 2014 at 10:25 pm

Katy you have NOTHING to apologize for, you have been polite, mature, and well spoken throughout. I don’t understand why all those demanding proof don’t try, oh I don’t know, researching it themselves before they go running off at the mouth. Just #ucking google it people! Or go to a library and try reading one of the books cited OR better yet click on one of the several links provided in the original post. Several people commenting on here are exactly the types of people they refer to in the post, the people that shamed her for her past and tried to bury it. They’d prefer not to know the truth, so they demand it be taken down and recanted. Shame on her? No shame on those of you that would rather it be buried.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 12:26 am

Again, no one here is “posthumously” or “non consensually” labeling Dr. Angelou anything.

Everything I said here can be found in her books and interviews regarding her life and youth. It’s simple fact. She worked sex. That’s it.

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Mormo May 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Wonderful article! I had no idea.

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Smoknblueyes May 29, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Maybe because she was so much more than that and she didn’t want it to define her. She was very intelligent and in this day and age if the media would have gotten ahold of that information it’s all any journalist would have asked her about in interviews. I do not believe she was ashamed of being a sex worker, and rightfully so, however, she was smart enough to know what audience to play to.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 12:23 am

That’s sort of the point. She shouldn’t have had to know what audience to play to, as you say. It was just a job she held. That’s it.

It doesn’t define us, either. We are “more than that” and it doesn’t “define us” either. It’s a job. And the incomparable Dr. Maya Angelou held that job too.

That’s the point.

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borntomotivate May 29, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Yes….Maya Angelou took the lemons in her beginnings and made Ginger Lemonde TEA…….hmmm..I know there are many who sink into the quicksand after their beginnings of childhood includes rape as a child. Some and many watched Maya Angelou evolve in front of the curtain not behind it. Count yourselves fortunate in a world where people go under the knife to hide their true faces. I imagine Maya is somewhere next to the merciful forgiver, laughing at how the hateful and envious will try to TROD her name down with THEIR bitter TWISTED lies! Yet like dust, Maya Angelou will RISE, RISE, RISE! Eat your own hearts out HATERS!

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salenakeaton May 30, 2014 at 12:14 am

Love her may she rest in peace you know her words where always encouraging to me’ Maya Angelou is a wonderful woman she was a very great poet!

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borntomotivate May 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Yes she was and that’s all that matters.

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Jo May 30, 2014 at 12:22 am

The information was not “erased”–merely not included. One’s curiosity can be satiated by merely cracking open a book. People leave things off of their resume everyday…I seriously doubt Rahm Emmanuel still has references on his resume dating back to his stint at Arby’s. Maya’s accomplishments are varied and excellent at every phase of her growth, with 86 years of life behind her she deserves the respect that evolution rewards.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 1:22 am

But she didn’t leave it out. That’s the point. Others chose to leave it out and there’s a reason why they did, and it’s not because “It was a summer job at Arby’s”.

Honestly.

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Caelia F. May 30, 2014 at 12:33 am

Though I quite enjoyed the article, I might have to argue with the idea that Angelou was proud of her history in prostitution. In the video you linked to, it appears that she categorizes her experience as one of the “wrong” things that a mom or dad might do. She also seems to suggest that her history is something she pulled herself up from–one of the “many defeats” she mentions at around 2:10.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie May 30, 2014 at 1:19 am

She never categorized sex work as a job as wrong. And, to be honest, she never said she felt as though she had done anything wrong by working sex. She never said those words. She talked often about accepting one’s decisions and choices, and never keeping secrets from children. She often would say, “Parents say “I have no skeletons in my closet! In fact, I have no closet!” lying to children and making them, later in life, unable to deal with the repercussions of her own decisions.

I think the most out and bald faced she said anything about sex work as a job was that she wouldn’t recommend it to anybody – but in the world we live in, where it is so very dangerous, and we can’t approach anyone to ensure our safety, and we have to fight tooth and nail to even be seen as human, can any of us say we would?

I don’t think her tacit refusal to recommend it as a profession amounts to disapproval or sex work or sex workers. We don’t know her reasoning for that and even I can’t speak to it. She spoke of defeat as an entity. It wasn’t “sex work was my defeat” “sex work was the worst thing I’ve ever done” etc. etc.

I think people need her to say that. I think, in this whorephobic culture we live in, people need to find a way to have Dr. Angelou have decried her previous job, and that just simply isn’t there. That disavowal just isn’t there.

You can read between a million lines and pick up whatever message you want to, but it doesn’t change her words. It doesn’t change her shameless smile and hearty laugh at having served up some snark to a ridiculous reporter. It doesn’t change the love in her voice when she talks about seeing those black fingernails on a young sex worker. It doesn’t change the kindness she showed and that, truth be told, I would /literally dare/ anyone to find a single word Dr. Angelou ever said or wrote that ripped on sex workers or even her time as a prostitute and madame.

You can’t. Because she didn’t. Because she didn’t feel the guilt or shame so many of us associate with “women who have a past” or having a past ourselves. She didn’t feel the need to hide or lie. She had a job. She left a job. She went on to other things. Just like the rest of us can and will when it’s our time.

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torix May 30, 2014 at 9:29 am

This is just our point though, peech. She didn’t see it as a profession in her own experience. She didn’t identify as a sex worker. This identity has now been labeled on her, post death.

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Ecowhore Tara May 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm

She absolutely saw it as a profession. Did you even read the whole book she wrote about that time?

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Peechington Marie peech May 31, 2014 at 8:31 pm

I can almost promise most or all of the people arguing the “label” point haven’t read anything other than Phenomenal Woman and/or And Still I Rise.

Promise.

I’m not going to continue to belabor the point. The simple fact is she worked sex. It wasn’t a “short stint” in the culture and context of sex work. She left the business and went back later. She wasn’t a “pimp”.

She was the incomparable Maya Angelou.

Da5id May 30, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Identity is much more than what you decide it is. You are still a steelworker if you work steel. You are still a sex worker if you work sex.

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 7:41 pm

“Not a job I would recommend” and “not a job” are not the same thing. Do you think she would recommend peeling paint off cars with her hands in an auto shop? That’s also something she did. Most people don’t actually enjoy their jobs. The fact that anyone tries to attach some kind of “yay so much fun!” to sex work is an outsider thing and a dabbler thing, and also engaged in by some poor misguided souls who think doing so will make people accept us. It is not a very common point of view on this website, and not all of us still work in the sex industry either, Peech included.

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js June 1, 2014 at 12:05 am

i get a lot of strength and encouragement from Angelou’s words in moving on from where you don’t want to be and not letting the past define you once you’ve moved on, or worse prevent you from moving. so while i don’t think she was ashamed, i don’t i don’t hear her framing it as positive?

for me, the strength of her words made the message universal, it didn’t matter if you were a “sex worker” or something genuinely bad like an investment banker. :) i see it that element of her past worth mentioning, but i have a hard time perceiving it as defining or speaking to that specific experience myself.

i mean, i think you identified correctly people having a hard time speaking clearly about the subject and i’m glad you stepped up, but i think maybe they just didn’t have the right words to do so. dunno.

the tone of the bbc piece read to me as glib and typically british, which personally, i found to be reasonable. it seemed to me they didn’t overly stigmatize it, it was kind of a casual, throwaway gag.

i understand your points too, i think and they are well stated. from my perspective you perhaps didn’t need to preface it as a reaction to specific media events, as i found that somewhat detracted from the main point (and why give voice to the negative?), although Angelou’s video clip was great. i read the post as a whole as an insightful and heartfelt eulogy, that spoke more to some positives that you had received from Angelou.

thanks for posting. :)

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LDS May 30, 2014 at 1:40 am

We like to elevate our heroes to god / goddess level and forget about the fact that they are just as human as the rest of us…

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Goddess May 30, 2014 at 4:04 am

Wonderful woman. Wonderful words. I am considered a “Sex Worker” and like Dr. Angelou have no stigma or shame attached to it. “Light Worker” is a term I personally use for my work and part of my mission is to educate. But labels are labels. Words are simply insufficient.

LDS… we ARE made of stars! We are souls/Gods/Goddesses having a human experience, not mere human. Explore, Experience, Evolve.

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udi May 30, 2014 at 5:21 am

Trying to force shame on sex workers makes me angry too. Thanks for the article.

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Gary Harryman May 30, 2014 at 8:25 am

For me Maya Angelou had many voices, many faces, many levels, many facets; all of them always true to her Self. She was unique and she expressed her uniqueness singularly with style. She opened minds and opened eyes to possibilities. She was scary and loving, bold and gentle, and always fresh. She understood we humans are here to do two things: to fuck and to express our individuality. Everything else is probably a waste of time or false. She is one of the few celebrities in my lifetime that I will miss.

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CthulhuLemon May 30, 2014 at 8:52 am

Because of the attention this wonderful article by Peech has received, obviously T&S is getting some comments from non-regular readers and sadly some of these are not conducive to the kind of space T&S and excellent essays like this one create. This is a beautiful, touching tribute to a wonderful woman and the message that someone’s sex work should not be ‘scrubbed’ from their biography is a really essential one. Clearly, Dr. Angelou thought so, too. My sincere thanks to Peech for a great essay.

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Paul May 30, 2014 at 9:09 am

This is quite confusing. You talk about how her “sex worker” past has been “erased from history” yet in the very same post you write about “post after post, obituary after tribute” that does indeed reference her time in the sex industry. Perhaps they don’t write about it in exactly the way you would like them to, but if they are writing about it it’s hardly been erased from history.

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Eamon Doyle May 30, 2014 at 9:32 am

*The idea just won’t jell

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Michael May 30, 2014 at 10:54 am

The caption says ” a young, beautiful Maya Angelou…” . As far as I am concerned Maya Angelou was always beautiful, not just when she was young. Beautiful does not mean young.

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Caty Simon Caty Simon May 30, 2014 at 11:50 am

If we’d posted a pic of her when she was older, I would have used the adjective “beautiful” there as well.

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Deborah C. G. May 30, 2014 at 11:03 am

If you were an avid reader of Dr. Angelou’s works, as am I, you would know that she talks of this and other incidences of her youth, read people, read.

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CC May 30, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Oh, my. So………they’re jerks for not mentioning it. Except they did, but they’re jerks for referring to it as a “short stint” and a “brief time.” Women haters, afraid to go into minute detail about her sex work days after passing on.
Please. How many of these details should an obituary go into? If there is anything worth knowing about her past other than the fact that it happened, you wouldn’t know it from reading this article, which seems to care less about Angelou than it does about making everything (even a complete strangers death!) about the authors personal issues.

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Ty McLemore May 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm

To Caty Simon’s point:

Indeed. In years past once a woman reached an age where she was considered “old” she was supposed to become asexual and more grandmotherly or literary.

I would now say that women like Barbara Eden, who at 82 years of age, recently donned her famous Genie costume for a benefit. Amazingly, she still had the face and body of a hot 30 year-old woman.

As Eden helps to break stereotypes about age and sexuality, I believe those same barriers will eventually come down regarding anyone who has ever worked in the sex industry.

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Cece May 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Who cares really. Everyone will remember the part of Maya that inspired them the most. Whether it was her poetry, her heart, her motherly nature, her career, or her sex work. Whatever works for you, remember her by. Just as you write this aspect of her should not be overlooked, neither should it be forced to be at the forefront of our memory of her. For me this aspect of her shows her as an overcomer of the odds that she faced after she was raped (which incidentally you neglected to mention). Its often not where you begin, but more so your journey/story and where you end up that inspires others the most.

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Ms. Pris May 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Why do you think it’s important that Peech didn’t mention that Angelou was raped? Do you think rape is somehow relevant to her work in the sex industry?

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Anne May 30, 2014 at 1:56 pm

@anna saini
How is “sex work” not synonymous with prostitution? If you have sex for pay, is that not prostitution? Is it because “sex work” can include stripping, dancing, erotic massage?

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Tess May 30, 2014 at 2:24 pm

She was very candid about everything she did. Nothing is being kept a secret. It is merely out of respect that the news papers and television and internet reporters list all of her accomplishments. When someone passes it is customary to remember and commemorate all the good about a person, not their mistakes. Although I do not view anything Maya did as a mistake. Everything she did or experienced in her life was an opportunity to learn and grow as individual. She made many choices in her years, not all considered to be good choices but she stated that she would not change a thing. They made her the person she was, and she was very loved by many.

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BP May 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Really important post, thank-you.

One strategy of Gay Liberation was to reclaim figures of the past who had had same-sex relationships/encounters. Now, obviously historical figures like Oscar Wilde, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Socrates, Virginia Wolf, Leonardo Da Vinci, etc, would never have used the modern terms “queer” or “LGBT,” but they were not heterosexual, and the strategy of bringing this to light was an effective one – for both gay individuals who wanted role models and to feel less isolated, and for the general public to see that so many famous cultural contributors were not straight, that “non-normative” sexuality was not merely a 60s trend, but had been around forever.

I am thrilled that the Sex Worker’s Rights Movement may be thinking along these lines. I would love more of this type of thing. We should make a list of others who have performed various types of SW. The specific terms they used for their identities are less important (because language is flexible and constructed). I think of Victoria Woodhull, although am not sure if the rumors have been proven true. Others?

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Julie Quiroz May 30, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Great piece, creating a powerful chorus of voices, including Aya de Leon in “Rest in Power Maya Angelou: Writer, Survivor, former Sex Worker & Icon of Black Female Determination” http://letstalkmovementbuilding.org/rest-power-maya-angelou-writer-survivor-former-sex-worker-icon-black-female-determination/

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Sissy Stevens May 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm

This is hardly a secret. She has been very forthcoming all of her life about her difficult childhood, she has been an open book. If there has been some attempt “to cover it up” or “erase it” this is the first I have heard about it. It has always been broad public knowledge.

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L.hagberg May 30, 2014 at 5:25 pm

word

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 7:28 pm

SHE didn’t hush it up (this is stated really clearly in the piece), but some of her admirers do, sort of like, as someone pointed out above, Langston Hughes’ homosexuality.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie June 1, 2014 at 12:56 am

I would recommend you take a walk on Twitter alone, where literally thousands of people continue to tweet nearly the exact same words: “I didn’t know she was a sex worker!”

It’s NOT broad knowledge, especially with people my age and younger. It’s been sanitized and erased and she doesn’t deserve to have us, caring more for our delicate sensibilities than for the truth, to erase a part of her history. She doesn’t deserve to have us erase a part of her history that can inspire, just as her poetry and writings did and do.

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pamelahaley May 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Can we please get sex workers out of the shadows and into a realm where they are protected by labor laws or, do lawmakers so much enjoy murdering faceless, nameless prostitutes knowing nobody will care?

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Wyatt Morrison May 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm

We are all made up of our experiences, both good and bad, right and wrong, happy or sad, proud moments as well as embarrassing moments. Her life as a prostitute has never diminished in my eyes the quality of woman she was, her accomplishments or my reverence for her and her work. I have lived by the motto, “Wolves loose no sleep, over the opinion of sheep.” I know her passing has left a hole in my heart, for her words have touched and enlightened my soul. Those who embark on trying to discredit her do not realize that their claims do not diminish her, so much as their claims diminish themselves in the eyes of the world. It is sad that such a great woman would be heckled by those who can not see the light in others and more saddening they can not see the light in themselves. Maya may you ride the gentle breezes home…

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Peech was not discrediting her, but honoring and memorializing her in love and as someone who helped her love and accept herself. As she has said many times.

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L.hagberg May 30, 2014 at 5:25 pm

I don’t think this was covered up or erased.When Angelou was concerned about what her readers would think when she disclosed that she had been a prostitute, her husband Paul Du Feu encouraged her to be honest and “tell the truth as a writer”.[wikipedia. She said she was unanchored and lonely through this period of her life .It wasn’t erased or dismissed or used to make some point

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Bill May 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Isn’t the author missing where Dr. Angelou herself infers the error in her behavior? It’s not that there isn’t anything she herself may have have found fault with in her experience, it’s that she quite clearly saw we all have faults, make errors, and behave in untoward ways. She simply never felt the need to run from it.

That is quite a different posture and determination than the spin the author puts on her experience, her transparency, and legacy.

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 7:24 pm

The author already responded to this criticism of the piece, and really well, up above. You are reading things into it that are not there.

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MagicoNintendo May 30, 2014 at 6:05 pm

oh please

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Shaina May 30, 2014 at 7:47 pm

I can’t get past the first paragraph of this blog post. GO DO SOME LEGITIMATE RESEARCH then voice your opinions based on factual knowledge of a thing. I haven’t read all of Dr. Angelou’s works and I KNOW of her past. It was never hidden. It was out there for everyone to see–in her books. Its called transparency and integrity. Try it some time, like when you are writing about someone who has been very open about who they are. But for now your writing reputation, unlike Dr. Angelou’s, is built on conjecture and heresay… not a good look for credible writing. Good luck in your next endevour.

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Robin D Robin D May 30, 2014 at 8:24 pm

When you can’t get past the first paragraph of a post it might be wise to skip commenting on it, since you might, like now, wind up repeating things said explicitly, in the post, by the author.

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Kweinaqila May 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

There is no need to mention sex work. Like I do not know the names of the men she married. Or the women she loved. Or how many orgasms she had on any given night. Sex is private. Personal. And only the persons involved have the “right” to discuss their participation in it. I never knew of her “sex work” (obviously, the word prostitution was too strong for somebody) However, after having learned of such, I love her not an atoms weight less. As she said, there are many ways to Prostitute ones self. So, we all shall recognize our own ‘prostitution”, wheather in marriage, in love, in business, in life. Move on, and continue to live the best life we can. Love is liberaing!!!

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Jeff May 30, 2014 at 8:31 pm

Is it because she was a woman that her sexwork needs to be mentioned? If she was a male of the same stature – ie a President, or a President of a College, or a local Mayor who visited or used hookers, would this be thought necessary to mention in their life’s postscript. Or is it because she was black and a well regarded woman that some have to throw a slur on her reputation?

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Nine May 31, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Do you think being a sex worker and being a client are equivalent things?
Do you think it is a slur to acknowledge that she was a sex worker?

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Laurel Janssen Byrne May 31, 2014 at 1:12 am

The definition of a person is deep and complex. Maya would be the first to agree. In her many years, she was defined by so much, each playing a small part in the great whole. And her life was a great whole. Prostitution was a small part, one which she was honest about. The truth set her free. She did not have to be bound by it. In that freedom, she soared to heights so high, we all soared with her. Don’t be angry by other’s words about that time in her early life. Be empowered by the larger part of her whole, the poet, the inspiration, the triumph.

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sambly May 31, 2014 at 2:35 am

@Peechington Marie thank you for a wonderful article. There are always people who can’t/don’t read or get the idea. Being critical sometimes makes people feel cleverer/more in control, less challenged. I see no contradiction between “not recommending” and accepting without judgement. A really respectful an enlightening read. I have no personal experience in the sex industry, but know women who have and I have worked supporting survivors of domestic abuse.

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Hannah May 31, 2014 at 2:59 am

She said that young people needed to be shown how to forgive themselves and move on, that adults needed to stop lying about not having shameful things in their past… that doesn’t mean she didn’t think what she did was wrong. Just the opposite, the fact that she is indicating that she is exposing her skeletons, and her story, so that others can learn to forgive themselves, implies she thought it was wrong. (You don’t have to forgive yourself for doing something right.) What it does mean, though, is that she had the strength and courage to get over it, and help others get over theirs. It doesn’t take a high-caliber woman to justify her own actions, blame society for not liking something, and refusing to take responsibility. Any woman can do that, easily enough, if she wants to. But to forgive herself? To be open and unashamed about what she finds to be her skeletons, in order to help others walk in freedom, unshackled by theirs? That is a woman worthy of respect.

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WomanWithAPast May 31, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Hannah, I completely agree. It appears from her writings that she was neither proud more ashamed of her work in the sex industry. I am neither proud nor ashamed that I was sexually abused as a child, that I was raped as an adult, that I was born into a prosperous white family or that I have had a large number sex partners – some I barely knew. These are all part of who I am but, not how I define myself. I don’t think any of these things need be mentioned upon my passing. Those that know me, that take the time to learn more about me, know these things. They are not guarded secrets.
My only real question after reading all of the post and comments is, how did Dr Angelou personally feel about the morality of sex work. She makes no apologies yet, she does seem to acknowledge that many would perceive it as a negative, a skeleton, if you will.

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Robin D Robin D May 31, 2014 at 2:26 pm

You people are really hung up on being able to judge her as having been wrong. Seems to go against the whole spirit of owning her story (and I’m not sure that you understand that this means people put their own interpretation and meaning on their lives, as she did, and that “taking responsibility” doesn’t always mean just blindly accepting all of society’s hangups and judgments). And it sounds like you haven’t read her story.

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Kenny Likis May 31, 2014 at 3:44 am

Maya Angelou’s NYT obituary talked about her stints as a madam and sex worker. That hardly seems to qualify as ignoring that part of her life story.

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mysticdancer May 31, 2014 at 10:27 am

I have done a very short stint as a prostitute, where I discovered- as in most jobs- that my bipolar disorder was an obstacle to continuing. If I had been able to continue working in the field, I believe I would have found my calling there. I’m not saying it is glamorous or unglamorous, not making any judgement at all really, other than that I admire and respect the people who provide affection to the disaffected, often at great risk to themselves. To know that a woman I have idolized since I read ‘The Color Purple” at age 7- to know that one of my chosen role models was also a sex worker? This only raises her I n my estimation; it only strengthens my conviction that here is a woman worthy of my respect, and of any honor I can do her memory by being the best that I can be.

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Robin D Robin D May 31, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Ok that was Alice Walker, not Maya Angelou.

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Evie May 31, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple.

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BlackNobleDrewAli May 31, 2014 at 12:13 pm

This is some #whitepeopleshit

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Peechington Marie peechington marie June 1, 2014 at 12:57 am

You might want to click through some of those links, my ankhtified soul brother, before you get so heavy with those hashtags.

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Shaliala May 31, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Maya Angelou said that sex work is wrong, and that she forgave herself for it.

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A. Nuran May 31, 2014 at 2:31 pm

The NPR obituary segment mentioned it matter of factly

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Shanti May 31, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Maya Angelou lived an extraordinary life… with unusual courage, giftedness and vitality.
Consider her beginnings, how hard it all was… from early rape to young motherhood. And consider her extraordinary courage and wisdom, and the amazing support of a number of her friends and relatives as well (she is very much a “community” person). Consider how racist society was when she was young.
So she was an exotic dancer, functioned and survived also in the shadow world of young women using their bodies to maybe finally make it on their own.
She did not live a protected, sheltered life. It is amazing what she managed to do, and who she became. She had nothing to be ashamed of, and no need for “closets”. She never claimed that all her choices were the wisest, but she lived squarely, bravely, creatively, and resourcefully with reality as it presented itself. She faced all of it and grew from all of it. Nothing kept her down.
Her life makes her kin to all those who are going through hard times: her strength helps us all rise.

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Robin D Robin D June 1, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Way to repeat exactly what was in the article you are commenting on as though it is some kind of new contribution!

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The 5th! May 31, 2014 at 4:16 pm

Why?

The same reason an author decides to write this after the woman had died.
The same reason the author used the term “sex worker” instead of prostitue, a term Maya was fine using but it might too upfront for the delicate.

It does not seem like the author is celebrating Maya’s honesty about her profession or making a case to expose sex/slut shaming. It’s more like the author is using the two to hide the fact that she wants to expose something dirty about someone who is celebrated.

I look forward to scathing essays about Christmas or any other holiday celebrated by more than 5 people.

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Robin D Robin D May 31, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Maybe check out Peech’s other work before you make that judgment. She was clearly frustrated by all the sanitizing memorials, and wrote this from the heart, to a personal hero with shared experiences whose works she has actually read, unlike most of the people doing the sanitizing. Using a common colloquialism does not equal some kind of shady agenda.

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Eden Prairie Eden Prairie May 31, 2014 at 8:55 pm

nice to see T & S get some well-deserved publicity for coverage of Angelou!

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Less Than Spam May 31, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Any obit that I read mentioned that she was a “sex worker” at one point in her life, and indeed that she consciously decided to “own” that part of her biography (or, resume, as it were). But that can be viewed through the lens of her role as “artist”, a position that should entail risk, if not solely for the sake of transcendent creativity then in acknowledgement of the artist’s tenuous position in relation to economics and society. Some people indeed have more to lose when it comes to admitting certain abject moments of their life, and if they decide to hide or obscure what might be detrimental to their chosen career, then they should not be made to feel doubly shamed.

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Robin D Robin D June 1, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Tits and Sass is all about outing current and former sex workers guys! Oh wait…

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Susan May 31, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I suspect Dr. Angelou would be saddened by the rancor, nitpicking and temper expressed in reaction to an essay in which the author acknowledged the value she drew from Dr. Angelou’s work. After all, she was a master wordsmith–would she really want to be the subject of semantic quarrels?

From what I’ve read and heard about her in the past few days, Dr. Angelou was loving, warm, accepting and joyful to her core. Phenomenal Woman courageously–brazenly–celebrates what makes women powerful and proud, regardless of background, experience, employment or wealth.

It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

I love those words–reach, span, stride. They are the words of a woman secure in her being, intellectually, emotionally and yes, physically. She doesn’t sit meekly at the table, legs crossed and arms folded. She owns who she is. She invites us–men and women–to do the same.

So often, in so many venues and on so many topics–even the accidental death of a child–comment strings morph from condolence and memorials into bickering and nasty comments. It’s like a family Thanksgiving that deteriorates into name-calling. As someone who is outside “the niche readership” of this blog, that’s what appears to have happened here. I read Peech’s essay, which informed me of something I didn’t know about Dr. Angelou, as a tribute to her influence on the author. I appreciate both her point of view and the introduction to this website.

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jomo June 1, 2014 at 7:36 am

is someone genuine?
do they speak with integrity?

do you worship the politician who loved war so much that millions of dead children was a price worth paying?

always we reflect ourselves in criticism.
i accept people through their r words and deeds good or bad because i dont know them personally.

so….stop pretending people.

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Petunia Wigglebottom June 1, 2014 at 9:38 am

So what? She was beautiful, and you do what you gotta do. I LOVE her poetry, too. Not quite in league with Byron, Shelley and Longfellow, but still damn good! She was a great lady!

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Susan June 1, 2014 at 10:56 am

I never knew! Sexuality is a topic I speak more and more about and as I bring my own memoir into the public eye, From Sex Appeal to Self Appeal, I will devour this new book I’ve learned about here and continue to grow courage as it part of my arsenal against those who are small minded and closed hearted. I have used her poem, Phenomenal Woman in my work helping women for years, and will miss her lovely guidance in life.

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White middle aged male hetero observer June 1, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Where do I start? OK, lets get past the fact that this woman was an inspiration. We hopefully can all agree on that. Reading these comments is really a lesson in human perception. Being who I am, I came away from the article as an overall positive and equally respectful piece. Now the really scary thing is that there are so many people who will analyse things until they reach their own custom tailored negative and derogatory perception. Get over yourselves and stop nit picking and hair splitting. It is no damn wonder that we the people can never unite! Stop creating conflict where there really is none to be found. Anal retentive is so 80′s. over and out.

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Suzannah June 1, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Maya Angelou was never a United States Poet Laureate; I don’t know where the misinformation came from.

I question using the honorary title of “Doctor,” but I guess that’s a matter of preference.

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Peechington Marie peechington marie June 2, 2014 at 11:42 am

“Her appointment to U.S. poet laureate made her the first American to wear that title in 30 years, and the first African American female poet laureate in U.S. history.” (http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/172806/Maya-Angelou)

“A poet laureate (plural: poets laureate) is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, who is often expected to compose poems for special events and occasions.”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poet_laureate)

” On a chilly Washington, D.C. morning in January 1993, Maya Angelou’s five-minute poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration turned the already accomplished author and poet into a national icon.” (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/05/28/maya-angelous-deep-ties-with-bill-clinton-politics/)

‘Reviewer Elsie B. Washington, most likely due to President Clinton’s choice of Angelou to recite her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at his 1993 inauguration, has called Angelou “the black woman’s poet laureate”‘ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Angelou)

In short, no, she was never officially awarded the title Poet Laureate by the United States Government, but she /was/ chosen by a United States President to perform a poem at his inauguration. So to use “poet laureate” to describe her isn’t untoward or incorrect. The only differences between what she did and being appointed PL are: the actual title and that a traditional Poet Laureate would have performed a few more times maybe.

It seems as if you’re wanting to do the semantics thing and it’s just not necessary here. It’s not the right place for it.

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Rellethurht June 1, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Well, she wasnt a doctor, so there’s that, too.

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PacRim Jim June 1, 2014 at 5:33 pm

Wikipedia mentions her prostitution.

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Liz June 3, 2014 at 9:49 am

Oops. I missed an entire section of Ms. Angelou’s statement. Dear Moderator, please post this, not my previous comment. This one is corrected.

I suppose including the fact that she wrote openly about her less than one year as a prostitute/sex worker in the book Gather Together in my Arms would weaken the argument. If obits did not trumpet her as a sexworker first, this is hardly a conspiracy given her other significant works, but posing that this aspect of her life has been “erased” is nonsense when it has been accounted in her own words, published and broadly distributed.

Also the author selects a section of her interview answer regarding her work in the sex trade. In its entirety it reads:

“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.”

Angelou hardly tows the line that sex work no different from other service work and is only dangerous because mean feminists insist on placing it in context of neoliberal consumerism and patriarchal capitalism. No she was not ashamed of doing that work and neither should she or any other sex-worker be, but to infer that somehow she’s been censored and that she did not have her own reservations about the personal costs of sex work is dishonest.

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Robin D Robin D June 3, 2014 at 10:55 am

Again, you people are being repetitive and irritating and dumb…did you even read the article, or any comments, especially the ones by the author, who has addressed all of that many times over? Pretty sure you didn’t read the book she discusses since you can’t even get the name right. But reading comprehension doesn’t seem like your strong point.

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Liz June 4, 2014 at 7:04 am

“you people are being repetitive and irritating and dumb”??? Robin D, that was my first comment here. You have posted so many snarky responses to other posters I’ve lost count. Perhaps the point that there is no “erasure” and Dr. Angelou herself did not tow the sex-work line that this blogger is pretending she did bears repeating. Her openness about working as a prostitute and in a brothel does not equal her edification of that work. You caught my typo, thanks a bunch, but to leap to personal insults rather than to engage honestly in a critical conversation about the position that this blog post takes is little more than troll BS.

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Robin D Robin D June 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm

If you read the comments (you claim to have read mine), you would know that the author clarified this point about “edification” (lolwut) basically dozens of times. If you read the post itself and understood it you would realize that this is NOT its position. Not by a LONG shot. And you can check out Peech’s other work as well. If this is your first time on this blog and/or you’ve never worked sex then you need to take a step back. If the editors here thought my comments were trolling they would not have published them – seriously. You on the other hand, have repeated the same thing many other commenters have pointed out as though it were new and as though you’d read neither Peech’s post nor Angelou’s works.

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Denise Bose June 3, 2014 at 11:01 am

Bravo!!

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Denise Bose June 3, 2014 at 10:23 am

Oh for goodness sake….She was a woman who lived her lived her life out loud, sharing so others would not feel alone in their plight…whatever It is. She lived and learned and when all was said and done….It was well with her soul. She Did what She had to do in order to survive and owned it…yet took caution not to let it define her. She simply moved on from phase to phase building a beautiful well lived full life. In the end…..She was not perfect…but complete. Who amongst us can boast that?? As I read the comments I can’t help but see her smile….wishing she could engage us in this conversation…but knowing and hungry for the next part of her journey…simply shakes her head…turns, deep breath and skips to the starting line. We’re on our own now and we should all live so boldly.

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Liz June 4, 2014 at 7:56 am

I would like to hear from Peech and Caty what, in their opinion Maya Angelou meant when she said “I wouldn’t suggest it for anybody.” and also what they believe she meant by ” gutter” in this statement: “If you’re in the very gutter, see where you are and admit it.”; and what she was recommending when she said “Get up and go home – wherever home is.”

This is an honest question.

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Ecowhore Tara June 7, 2014 at 5:35 am

“The needs of a society determine its ethics, and in the Black American ghettos the hero is that man who is offered only the crumbs from his country’s table but by ingenuity and courage is able to take for himself a Lucullan feast” – Caged Bird

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Peechington Marie peechington marie June 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I literally already addressed this half a page up. (http://titsandsass.com/the-erasure-of-maya-angelou/#comment-74463) People are passing around only a small part of her answer and not at all talking about the question she was asked.

People are creating a half truth that I said Dr. Angelou was a “happy hooker”. I never said that. I simply said she was never ashamed of having worked sex. You can be sex critical/sex work critical and still have been a sex worker who carries no shame about the job.

I was a sex worker for over a decade and I have /never in my life/ recommended the job to anyone. I’m also still not ashamed of having worked it for a job. The two don’t exclude each other. They simply don’t.

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shannon June 5, 2014 at 7:03 am

I too was a prostitute. In many ways I can identify with Dr Angelou. I also rose above this, to become a director of my own small healthcare company. I am not ashamed of my past. I am the incredible woman I am today, because of it! I firmly believe that being a prostitute gave me an advantage in some strange way….

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cjm June 5, 2014 at 11:24 am

This pointed article prompted me to read the book. I think it’s misleading to say that in Angelou’s case, “nothing was wrong” with sex work. She was manipulated into doing it. Had she been wiser, she would have seen through her so-called lover. I agree that she was not ashamed and that people should be honest about their lives and their lessons. But everything was wrong with her stint as a sex worker and I’m glad there’s a story to warn young women.

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Nichelle June 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm

No one has erased her history as a sex worker. It was a part of of her identity but certainly not her entire identity. I think oftentimes people want top pin point an identity that find in common with her.

she was black
female
southern
sex worker
first female cab driver in San Fran
poet
very spritiual
survive of rape
probably a feminist
interracially married
teen mom
etc. etc. etc.

Sex workers have many identities. As such they complex person contray to the popular belief that “whores” are not dynamic. To be unshamed of one’s past doesn’t mean that one is happy with the choices made rather, it means that one has accepted and come to terms with the past. Mainly it cannot be changed.

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John Punter June 21, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I’ve never seen a picture of her when she was young before. It goes beyond saying her stature as a writer earns her the “right” to have her time as a sex worker never mentioned. Somehow it’s inappropriate to mention that a female writer of stature had pinup-girl good looks when she was young. I guess a big part of it is the old male fear of a powerful intellect in combination with female sexual power.

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