The Fragmentation of Sarah

8:30 AM: I wake up and feel more me than I ever have. I kiss the freckles on my partner’s shoulders, watch them slowly saunter to the bathroom before leaving for work, pull the covers tighter around my bare shoulders. Still in a sleepy daze, I reach across to the nightstand for my phone, eager to check in with my community.

My community. I chew on those words for a while, feel their weight, their importance, their centrality in my life. I am Sarah Brynn Holliday. I am happy here.

9:00 AM: I roll out of bed, sleepy but fulfilled: I exchanged some salty, snarky messages with one of my best friends. A budding sex toy boutique wants to bring me on as a consultant. My Twitter feed is filled with new blog posts and projects from creators in my community.

I sit down at my home office desk and type “good morning” to coworkers at my full-time job. Suddenly, jarringly, I am not Sarah Brynn Holliday anymore.

Or I am. But not here. Here, for the next eight hours, I am someone else. I am a progressive political activist at a job that has little to do with sexuality or sex education. I am [redacted]. I am happy here, but I am not Sarah Brynn Holliday.

•••

I decided against blogging under my legal name for my own safety. As if hostility towards mentally ill queer femmes writing about sex, masturbation, and trauma on the internet wasn’t enough, I was also working full-time in a field that faced a lot of dangerous, violent opposition. By the time I decided to choose a name for my sex blogging and education work, I had already dealt with death and rape threats and attended conferences that couldn’t be publicized for fear of infiltration or violence. An organization I worked for had to hide our physical address and very carefully monitor who we invited into our space. Some of my job trainings included how to check for bombs that may have been placed under the body of my car and what to do if an active shooter was in our building.

Compared to colleagues in my field, I had it easy. Still, I knew that if any of those violent, threatening people found out about my blog, it would not end well. Sarah Brynn Holliday was born.

That was about a year and a half ago. Now, I have a different job. I’m not subject to threats and harassment the way I once was, but my name stuck around. I would be incomplete without it.

•••

I don’t have a “secret life.”

I do not have two bodies, two lives. I do not exist in two worlds completely separate from one another. My worlds touch and commingle, boundaries and borders overlapping, relationships and experiences dancing in the gray area. But I am more full, more realized, more whole when I can be all of me, when I can center my sexuality world in my life.

•••

A new friend recently described her personal Instagram as where she is simply alive and her not-always-safe-for-work, semi-private Instagram as where she is truly living. I feel that deeply.

The Twitter account I was so attached to in college hasn’t been updated in over a year. I’m marginally more active on my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, scrolling through each at lightning speed a few times a day, never spending more than a few minutes crafting my own content, growing more private with each passing day.

While my personal social media feeds grow dormant, my sex blogging accounts flourish. Here, I thrive. Surrounded by loving friends, a supportive community, and a network of colleagues and companies I respect, I can create whatever I want. I can talk about orgasms and trauma-informed sex education, dual-density dildos and destroying gendered marketing, abortion rights and misbehaving sex toy companies. I can dream of a world without stigma and shame because I have a place in a community that fights those things. I don’t have to just survive.

•••

The first time I attended a sexuality conference as Sarah Brynn Holliday, I gave my legal name when I reached the registration table. Embarrassed, I corrected myself and proceeded to excitedly shout my full name at the rest of the people I met that weekend.

These days, I have no idea how to introduce myself. I have two good options—“Hi, I’m Sarah and I’m a sex blogger!” or “Hi, I’m [redacted] and I work at [redacted]!”—but the gray area connecting the parts of myself is vast. In some situations, it’s clear. At sexual freedom conferences, trauma-informed workshops, and sex education volunteer trainings, I’m Sarah Brynn Holliday. When I meet other people working in politics, I’m [redacted]. But what about people who would be interested in all the parts of me? What if my coworkers want to talk about sex education? What if people I meet in the sex toy industry want to talk about Trump? How do I talk about work with my hairdresser, my therapist, the people who will one day review my graduate school applications? What if people ask my partner what I do? Who do I tell and what do I tell them? How much do I want them to know?

“Hello, my name is [redacted] and I work at this place, but I also do this other thing under a different name, so feel free to read my blog or come to my workshops but please don’t tag my personal Facebook if you post about it…” doesn’t make for an excellent opening line—but it’s one I’ve clumsily used more times than I’d like to admit.

It feels painful to fragment myself.

•••

11:30 PM: I close down my computer for the night, feeling invigorated after writing a new blog post and drafting a workshop pitch for an upcoming conference. I climb into bed after my partner, nuzzle my nose against their cheek, curl my legs close to my stomach. As I close my eyes, I think about how nice it is to feel like I’ve found my place, my community, my home base.

I am happy here. I am whole. I am Sarah Brynn Holliday.

  • I have pretty much, happily, dropped friendships and relationships with people who don’t know me as Lilly. Their politics have sucked so far, so there’s that, too. My legal name FB is kept only to keep up with a couple of family members but I can’t really post anything there. Every time I try to I am reminded why I chose my family, instead.

    There used to be more of a distinction between the Lilly that people read about on my blog and social media and that other me, [redacted], but now it’s merely a difference by name. I’m wholly authentically me, damn the torpedos, or something like that.

    I can still remember the first time I had to introduce myself as Lilly, out loud. It was about 4 or so months into blogging at a relatively small party attended by other sex bloggers and community members. I screwed up a few times and forgot to answer to Lilly, but by the time I started going to conferences it was old hat. I find myself accidentally giving Lilly now when I’m at the conference, during the few times (check in, payment for meals) when I need to use my legal name.

    But it’s still strange sometimes to be flipping back and forth between Lilly and [redacted] dozens of times a day, sometimes. Hundreds if I count the flipping between work Slack and blog Slack.

  • Mx Nillin

    I blog under the name I use in my everyday life, which definitely has had its ups and downs.

    On one hand: I feel like Mx Nillin is a part of my life during every waking moment of it, and that feels pretty great! I also feel like I’ve reclaimed and redefined myself on my own terms this way. By putting all of myself out there under the name I use in my everyday life I feel brave, if that makes sense? I feel strong, and badass, and confident, and like for the first time ever in my life I am living and writing without fear. I feel like I am actively undoing and unpacking decades of shame by acknowledging it fully, publicly, and as my authentic self. And that feels wonderful and powerful and beautiful.

    On the other hand: it’s a LOT easier for my homophobic/transphobic, abusive family to find me and try to harm me. It’s also a lot easier for random internet bullies to track down my Facebook and private email, even my address and phone number. This once lead to my employment being threatened at my last job, when a local mom found my blog and made a complaint to my boss about how I shouldn’t be allowed in the office because there was a daycare upstairs and that as a trans person with a sex blog I somehow posed a threat to those kids. Luckily my boss had my back and didn’t fire me, much to the ire of this local mom, but it was a rude wake-up call about the effect that being TOO visible has. I’m also fairly certain that part of the reason I’m struggling getting a day job is because a google search of my name leads directly to that sex blog.

    So part of me kind of wonders if I should have fragmented myself… though, as you mention in the post, that can be very painful as well.

    Thank you for writing this! It has given me a lot to think about