This Is My Real Name: Hannah Macready Interviews Cid V Brunet
CID V BRUNET spent their twenties stripping in clubs across Canada. They received a degree in creative writing from Douglas College and went on to participate in the Quebec Writers Federation mentorship program, where they wrote their first book, This Is My Real Name (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021).
Hannah Macready: Hey Cid, I’m excited to get the chance to chat with you about your new memoir, This Is My Real Name. In the book, we follow the narrator and their alter-ego, Michelle, as they grow from baby stripper to righteous hustler, anarchist to Vancouverite, and everything in between. There are so many decisions that go into writing a book, including genre, perspective, structure and dialogue. What made you choose memoir as a form?
Cid V Brunet: Early in the writing process, I envisioned this project as a collection of overheard conversations and snapshots of situations, kind of like a prose poetry collection. I knew these interactions needed to be written down because they spanned the extremes from mundane to outrageous and I felt like if I called the book fiction, no one would believe that those kinds of attitudes and thoughts were real. As the book expanded into a personal-narrative-driven plot, it felt important to stick pretty close to the truth of the situations I was talking about.
It wasn’t until the book actually came out that I really considered what it would have meant to fictionalize it instead. I think that second-guessing was due to the worry about how personal the nature of the material is, as I tend to be a very introverted and private person. Once it was released I realized, wow, a lot of Michelle’s life is now very public. But I think the power of memoir comes from being able to read the pages and know that these things happened to real people, so I don’t regret it.
HM: This Is My Real Name feels like two things to me. First, a recollection or reckoning, as any great memoir is. Second, a lesson in what we assume we know. Throughout the book, we’re reminded time and time again there is no singular story that unites sex workers, no one way to categorize or understand the profession. Did you have concerns about how the book would be perceived, either by other dancers or by civilians?
CB: I do have concerns about how it will be perceived. Under capitalism, many types of jobs have some pretty terrible working conditions, and oftentimes those conditions are structurally built-in. But because sex work is a hyper-feminized job about performing sexual labour under patriarchy, it also receives an extra moralistic shame from society at large. Sex work is very stigmatized and in some instances, workers also face criminalization and intersectional oppression at their place of work.
I was worried about letting civilians, and ‘radical feminists’ who call for the abolition of sex work, see some of the more difficult moments Michelle witnessed or experienced because I was worried that they would use that as ‘proof’ that sex work is inherently exploitative. That is why, as you’ve picked up on, Michelle is constantly reminding readers that the book can only speak to her experience. She is not representative of the industry as a whole. The book also seeks to continually point back to the much larger system at play, like patriarchy and capitalism, that continue to systemically compromise health, autonomy, and freedom for sex workers.
HM: As much as TIMRN is about stripping, it’s also about politics, mental health, drugs, patriarchy, Montreal, Vancouver, love. Was there one unifying truth you set out to unveil in this book, or did it unfold in ways you didn’t expect?
CVB: If I had to boil it down to one thing, it would be: sex work is work. It is a very nuanced and complex work experience with both highs and lows. At first, I wanted the entire book to take place exclusively in strip clubs but was encouraged by my mentor, Merrily Weisbord, to bring in more of Michelle’s life outside work. I didn’t expect the finished novel to include so much of Michelle’s romantic relationships and friendships but I think in the end, showing more of the narrator’s personal life strengthened the book in ways that I did not expect, and it showed that, as all-encompassing as stripping can feel, it is also just a job, and life happens inside and outside the club.
HM: The narrator is incredibly self-aware throughout the story. They often mix their political views into the prose, and they understand each of their actions as having a catalyst and a consequence. I found this fascinating because it gives the reader both a first- and third-person perspective; like we’re in the past and future at the same time. Did you ever feel, during revisions and edits, like you were seeing old memories more clearly, or in new ways? Did living through the events make it easier or harder to revise?
CVB: I’ve always felt like it was more accessible to write about worlds that I remember than ones that I envision. The editing and revising process meant sorting through and writing about old memories, reading my journals and asking friends if they remembered our shared experiences in a similar way to how I did. Having lived through the events in some ways made it easier to conceptualize the narrative arc because it already happened, so I just had to polish it and make it clear.
It did sometimes feel like I was living with ghosts. Going back over events through a series of edits was hard because some memories were light and fun, but others were difficult to continually revisit. It wasn’t like re-living the events, but it did bring the past more into my present, and those layers were sometimes a bit unsettling to deal with.
HM: One of the ongoing conflicts in the book is the poor treatment of dancers at clubs, mostly by male managers and bouncers but also infighting between dancers themselves. I wonder: If you could create your ideal strip club, where you make the rules, set the mood, and hire the talent, what would it look like?
CVB: I always draw a blank when I personally try to imagine what an ideal strip club would be. Writing the memoir I was focused on what is and don’t feel qualified to imagine how it could be. In terms of creating a better strip club, I just think there are other more visionary people who are better at articulating what would make them better for sex workers. That’s why I always point people to the organizations and resources listed in the acknowledgments section of the book, including organizations like Maggie’s Toronto.
Across Canada, there are a number of local organizations run by and for sex workers. Those organizations have done the work to investigate a much broader base of concerns and to produce ideas and solutions than I did in this individual story I’ve written. I think those folks who run programs, coordinate resources, and do research about the existing laws are the visionaries that we should be asking how to improve working conditions for sex workers.
HM: This is your first published book, which is amazing. I think as emerging writers we all dream about this day, and yet I’m sure nothing prepares you for it. How have you felt leading up to your pub date? Were there any unexpected hurdles or surprising wins?
CVB: The lead-up to the publication date was quite stressful because I hadn’t let many people read my work. The only people who’d seen it were the people from whom I’d gotten consent to write about our experiences. So publishing the book was a process of ‘coming out’ publicly and interpersonally, all at once.
I was worried about how many parts of it would be received. As I said, I am a very private person, so providing vulnerable and public access to my history was uncomfortable. However, since the launch, I’ve been feeling so much gratitude for how warmly people have welcomed my book into the world and how supportive everyone has been. Which is really sweet because I don’t think I realized until later how affected I would have felt if people had hated my story.
HM: Thanks so much for taking the time, Cid. It must feel great to have your book in your hands, and pandemic be damned, you did it. Congrats. If you could leave our readers with one final message, whether that’s about work or writing or just making it through, what would it be?
CVB: Don’t be afraid to write about your own experiences. When I first started working with memoir I was inspired by Shashi Bhat’s personal narrative class at Douglas College, but I struggled because I worried my life wasn’t interesting enough to write about. I think lots of people struggle with that. I encourage everyone to dig into their own experiences, even if it’s just to access feelings, situations, or themes because everyone has really interesting lives and stories. Other people’s lives are inherently interesting to me, and I know as a writer and avid reader of memoirs that I’m so invested in hearing more of those stories.
Hannah Macready lives in Vancouver, BC.