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Introduction

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There are some things we're just not supposed to talk about. Sometimes, that's for the best; we can probably all agree that it's unadvisable to delve into religion at the Thanksgiving dinner table or politics at a job interview, for instance. But when the thing we're not supposed to talk about has shaped all our everyday interactions, when it has changed the way we move through the world, when it is an integral part of our ongoing personal story, then keeping it a secret can be a heavy burden. And sometimes all we need to be free of that burden is an invitation.


That invitation is most powerful when it comes in the form of someone else sharing their story with us. Once we witness someone else being vulnerable, we feel that we, too, can be vulnerable. Once we see the catharsis another person experiences when they are finally able to speak out about their life experiences, we realize that we, too, want that catharsis. We feel compelled not only to hear them and understand their point of view, but also to meet them in that new, open space they've created. And we can only meet them there by sharing our own story. That's one thing I've learned over the past two years since starting The UnSlut Project: personal story sharing is contagious.


I started The UnSlut Project in April, 2013 by simply posting my middle school diary entries on Wattpad. I added commentary to provide context and I changed all names, including my own, but otherwise the diary entries are exactly what I wrote down over the course of the years 1997-2000. The fact that I still have my diaries from middle school is rare, but what I wrote about in those diaries is, unfortunately, quite common: I was labeled the school "slut" at age eleven and the reputation stuck with me throughout middle school.


Back when I made the decision to post my diary entries on Wattpad, I already believed in the power of personal story sharing. I knew that by sharing what I wrote in my diary, I could reach girls who were currently being sexual bullied to let them know that they weren't alone and that they could survive this time in their lives, just as I had. What I didn't know then was just how powerful that decision to share a personal story could be. Almost immediately, girls and women from all over the world started sending me their experiences with sexual bullying and what is often called "slut" shaming. Without even meaning to, I had invited them to speak out just by speaking out myself. Now, The UnSlut Project has grown into a wonderful, supportive online community where women can find healing in sharing their stories and where girls who need to know they're not alone can find solidarity in the experiences of others.

But even as all this was unfolding over the past two years, I was living with a secret. In fact, I was living a secret life.


You see, when I created The UnSlut Project, I was about two-thirds of the way through my PhD program at UC Santa Barbara. I was living with my boyfriend (who is now my husband) in a small apartment by the beach, talking on the phone with my parents back in New England a few times a week, and traveling whenever I could to visit good friends from high school and college, now spread out around the country. And no one knew about The UnSlut Project or my identity as Emily Lindin.


I'm excited to write about the experience of opening up about my secret, especially since The Secret Lives of Americans, which commissioned this story, shares my belief in the power of personal story sharing. The series follows everyday Americans as they share whatever secret has been burdening them with the most important people in their lives. What I'm most looking forward to is seeing how the subjects film much of the material themselves, rather than having their personal truths filtered through a producer's prerogative or shoehorned into a preexisting narrative. When you tune in this summer on Pivot TV (Fridays at 10:30p.m. ET/PT starting June 12), I hope the subjects' bravery and honesty in sharing their personal stories invites you to do the same.


Keeping my secret life a secret over the past two years has been exhausting, confusing, and sometimes a little fun, but I always knew it couldn't go on that way forever. So now, for the first time, I'm going to expose all that went into creating and maintaining my secret life - and what it felt like to finally share my secret. I'm going to share with you the story behind The UnSlut Project.



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