Standing up for Your Voice (An Interview with Betsy Blankenbaker)
Having a voice and actually using it are two different arenas. It is probably something that a given, but some people do not realize that their voice has been stifled due to outside pressures. There have been readers who have reached out to put a voice back into their readers, but with Betsy Blankenbaker’s Autobiography of an Orgasm she has opened a door to women and men to reconnect to their once boisterous voice. During her five years of orgasmic research she not only reconnected with her body, but with the voice that had been stifled by outside influences as well as her own. Betsy never intended to write a book in the first place, but noticed throughout her journey of healing through orgasm that this was a story that needed to be told. “I absolutely believe that our voice and our throat chakra is connected to our sensual energy…I don’t think you can be fully in your sensual energy if you are not speaking your truth.”
She calls her book on self-realization and a spiritual book. Also she labels it a book she wished existed when she was at each peak of her life. “This is the book I needed to read when I was 18 and making the choice to lose my virginity. It was the book I needed to read when I was 27 and getting married and not understanding why I was with a partner I loved, but not feeling good in my body and not understanding why. It was a book I needed to read when I was 35 when I lost a baby. When I was 40 and divorced.”
Which is understandable and definitely hits home with women and men across the spectrum of age and gender. She has received praise and acknowledgement in her bold attempt to get down to the bottom of women’s sexuality and how it is connected to not just the body, but also the voice. In a world mostly catered to men, she is trying to carve out a piece of the world for herself and women like her. “I have had the experience that has happened to me so many times on planes and so many times outside of planes. And it made me realize as women we are not allowed to take up space in the world.” Her story continues on about how she was between two men on a plane, but instead of making room for her, they decided to crowd her until she could not take it anymore and spoke up; first to the men and then to the attendant. Instead of moving the men or correcting them, the attendant moved Betsy instead to another seat.
The stifling of her voice was not just a one-time occurrence, but a long history of pressure to stay silent since the age of six when she was traumatized sexually by a neighbor and forced not to mention it to her parents. Even when she did speak up like when she did on the plane, other persons did not back her up. This is probably due to a long history of women being silenced and even harassed into being silent by members of the opposite sex and the same sex. She wants to change this culture by giving women a voice by telling their story via memoir and speaking their truth.
Despite the fact that she speaks up and gives talks, she is an introvert. “The reason I do it is because I know it is important,” when it comes to talking about her sensual journey and makes her more uncomfortable not to speak up. She encourages the women who take part in her workshops to read their stories out loud in order for them to connect with the pain and exercise the voice in order to speak out in the future. In order to take care of herself and her introverted tendencies, she has some alone time and goes on walks in nature.
She was surprised at the reaction to her book and was more concerned with how people close to her would perceive it, especially since a woman talking about sex, relationships, and abortion is such a taboo thing. She had made peace with the fact that she would receive some side glances from different communities, but the reaction was more “me too.” Some of the women, or so Betsy hoped, had made some realizations about themselves and the choices that they had made in the past when it came to their sexuality and self-care. “I became part of a club that I did not know existed and you don’t want to be a part of. But it kind of a relief to hear that you are not the only one.” After the release of her autobiography she started cultivating stories from other women from across the world that want to tell their story about their own orgasms or lack of orgasm.
Betsy’s book is not intended for women in her age group either. It has spoken to women from 16 to 84. Each generation lending their insight into what they gathered from the book. When explaining about the 16 year-old who wrote to her, “’I found your book in my mom’s purse and when she went to bed I spent the night reading it….Thank you very much, I realized that I was abused when I was younger and I have been having sex since I was 14. And I have been giving myself away and now I realize it was all for the wrong reason. Now I will stand for my body.’ This young woman is now 19. It is great to get letters like that. My mother’s book club is now in their 80s and reading my book. They read a chapter every week, so when they meet at the house [leaving the books at Betsy’s mom’s house]. Every couple of weeks I will receive a text from my mom ‘So and so wants to know what happened to this guy’.” This is why the book appeals to me as a reader and as a woman trying to express herself. The book is not stuck on presenting information only for one type of woman, but all types of women. Betsy’s warmth and humanity speak volumes through out the book and how she presents herself on social media and in person (at least so I have been told by my cousin who met her at a workshop).
She has self-published three volumes from individuals who identify as women, men, or do not identify at all and will continue to publish them as long as these individuals continue to submit their stories for public consumption. Though she had included two men’s stories in the first anthology, she kept the next two a women’s only series. “Now more than ever [we] need women to speak their stories.” She also gives retreats with Jo Carnegie, for women in chateau in the French countryside on how to write a story whether from a fiction or non-fiction viewpoint. Though this year was three weeks, next year will be a 10-day writing intensive course. Her next step is to start a collective for women to have their works published via Betsy’s platform. With 10% of all sales going back into the collective to help with publishing via digital and paperback means. It is such an interesting way to present a woman’s voice to the public and not having to deal with the lengthy timelines that some publishing companies impose due to possibly outdated rules. She advises all the writers who are part of her workshop and who ask her for advice to write about what you know, how they have changed, and put a little fun in their writing.
The third anthology in the series, Autobiography of Our Orgasms vol. 3: A Collection of Your Stories was released on the Great American Eclipse and features stories from several women to include my cousin Tara, who’s own story is very interesting to read. “What keeps [it] going is people keep sharing their stories. I want them to have a place for their voices. It becomes less about writing their story and more stepping into an empowered and holy place of being a woman and not be ashamed. I see it as a way to make a space for women’s voices and make that space.” She will be accepting submissions for the next anthology on November 1, 2017 and will hope to publish the book around Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.
Betsy’s follow-up to her 2014 memoir, Beyond O will be released in September 2017 via Amazon Kindle and paperback, which will have a surprise twist for the readers to enjoy. Unfortunately she would not give any hints, but I know I will be very excited to get my hands on it. Though you cannot pre-order the book, make sure to follow Betsy on all her social media channels for more updates. She also has plans on working on a novel, possibly about her time living without a physical home or belongings.
Listen below to the whole interview; currently only on Soundcloud.