Rarely do people fit into a single category. Whether it be our gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religious beliefs, occupation, language, or even the clothes we wear, often conflict arises between two or more of our identities. We know this to be especially true in adolescence, when we are uncovering our “true selves,” our values, beliefs, and behaviors. However, even after going through this process, we may assume new identities, or the identities we held 10 years ago might not be true today.

After taking up pole dancing in 2015, I kept it a secret from all but my closest friends. It didn’t mesh with the rest of my persona – a white, middle-upper class college honors student and classically trained musician who was also quiet, an avid reader, and in a committed relationship. Up to that point, I felt I had a robust compilation of identities, but there was no conflict between them. No one was ever shocked when I said I liked baking and theatre. Though I acted differently with my friends versus with my professors versus with my parents, I largely felt like they all knew the real me. It was only when I chose to pursue a “conflicting” hobby – pole dancing – that I found myself keeping track of who knew what, who I could trust to tell, and what I should say to cover up my new hobby.

My friends were uniformly shocked when I confided in them, though they were supportive. Over time, I started sharing my remarkably positive experiences within the pole community with friends and acquaintances, even supporting them as they started their own pole journeys. Through the support I received from my peers, I learned that I don’t have to be a classical musician OR a pole dancer; I could be both. There are still people I haven’t shared with – my coworkers and my parents, for example – but I live a freer life knowing I don’t have to hide one of my passions from the people I love.

Unfortunately, not everyone receives the same support I did from their social circles, which is why it’s crucial to support our sisters at Aerial Dance and brothers and sisters throughout the international pole community in their journeys. My confidence to share with my peers wouldn’t have existed without the reassurance of my instructors and fellow students. I am so grateful for that support. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to embrace all of my identities as a human being.