My Origin Story
At a time of life when other people are climbing the career ladder, getting married, going back to school, or having kids, I was getting a Master’s in Me.
I grew up with severe, undiagnosed depression that turned suicidal in my mid-teens. Back then, it was a lot less common to talk about mental illness and I didn’t even know anyone who was in therapy. Hell, I didn’t even know there was something wrong with me until I moved in with my then-roommate, now-partner at the age of 20 and he gently asked me how long I’d been having these long, helpless crying fits that seemingly came out of nowhere. “Always,” I replied, confused—wasn’t this just who I was? The “sensitive child”, the “hormonal teenager”, the “drama queen”? Didn’t everyone struggle to want to be alive?
I didn’t want to go to college after high school. I followed my dream, moving to Manhattan at my first opportunity and going to acting school in Greenwich Village, where I studied things like fencing and Shakespeare and poetry and sight singing in addition to acting. I was a triple threat—singer, dancer, actress. I had always wanted to be some kind of performer, and since about age 13, all I wanted was to be a Broadway and/or Hollywood actress.
And I failed.
Utterly and miserably.
I’m glad that I did.
If I had achieved the level of success I craved back then, I would probably be dead by now.
Still, living through those years in my 20’s was brutal. I was poor, sometimes terrifyingly so. I was struggling to find my way in an industry I didn’t understand from a business perspective, and therefore making choices that harmed more than helped my prospects. I was creating my own work and burning myself out doing it. I was fighting every day to stay alive, and sometimes that meant sitting immobilized on my bed in a dark room. And I was discovering who I was, layer after layer emerging as I came out as a witch, as queer, as polyamorous, as kinky. I had no access to health care at all, let alone mental health care.
I did what I had to do to keep going just one more day and one more day. I was determined to understand myself and my illness and what it meant to be this way-outside-the-mainstream type of person and to grasp ANY tool that seemed like it could help me through.
I was 28 and recently relocated just outside DC when I made a bargain with the Universe where one outcome was following through on my suicide plan. And when I got what I took to be an unequivocal message back that I was supposed to stay alive (a story for another day), something clicked and I knew that I wanted to live.
The road from there was still hard.
It would be many more years before I had access to therapy. I’ve been broke, I’ve been desperate, I’ve worked jobs that killed my soul and that I thought I’d never escape, I’ve fought for every bit of self-worth and confidence and sense of purpose I possess.
But amazing, wonderful things happened, too.
I became a professional writer. I found burlesque and thrived as a popular local performer. I got a loving, healthy polycule. I found community among the queerdos of DC and, through social media, nationwide. I started writing and producing my own theatrical work again. I even went back to the stage after a 10 year hiatus, and rediscovered everything I’d loved about acting. I found my witchy peers and did a lot of ritual and teaching work that I hope helped a lot of people. I started teaching, speaking, being visible, being an outspoken body-positive activist and feminist and leftist. And finally, I left behind the 9-to-5 grind to become full-time self-employed as a writer, producer, sex edutainer, and performer.
Learning—slowly, stumbling the whole way—how to live a life that I chose for myself rather than the one that my world had tried to force me into didn’t just save my life.
It gave me a life worth saving.
Over time, I discovered that the more fully and authentically “me” that I was, the more people were drawn to me. They saw things in my life that called to them too. I wanted to share it with them—the sparkle, the fun, the glamour, the adventurousness, but also the realness and the anger and the fight. I realized that all of us are told what kind of lives we “should” have because they’re acceptable to others, and most of the time, it’s a poor fit. We all end up feeling trapped in these “safe” (hah), limited, dishwater-gray existences where we’re supposed to settle for what’s good enough and shut up about it.
I’ve never been good at shutting up when I’m told.
So that brings us here. I’m here because living my best life means very little if I’m not trying to help others do the same (whatever that means for them). You’re here, I presume, because something in my story plucks a string inside you, one whose lingering hum you’ve heard before and whose song you want to follow now.
There are no borders on the Diva Nations (though there ARE some strictly-enforced boundaries). Stay as long as you like; make a home in my glittery queerdo commune if your song is in the DJ’s set here. I may be the Instigator in Chief of this femmepire, but everything here is for you.
Portrait of Diva Darling by DuHon Photography
Image of Diva Darling outside at the Cherry Blossom Burlesque Festival by Leslie Mansour
“If U were looking for a sign” photo from Playa del Fuego 2012 by Rebecca Rose Vassy
“Touch yourself” photo from Playa del Fuego 2012 by Rebecca Rose Vassy