Aniela

“There is a fire in the spirit of women.”

Name?

Aniela McGuinness.

Where did you grow up?

My mother was a free-spirited hippie, so one of the first places I remember living was in a yellow school bus in the panhandle of Florida with a well for water and an outhouse. I was about three at the time. Although we only lived there for a little under a year, I know the experience had a huge impact on who I have become. After that, I lived in Massachusetts, then finally South Florida.

Were you brought up religiously/secularly/other?

My mother wanted my brother and me to choose our own spiritual paths, but when she married my step-dad we became Catholic. I wanted to believe in something – to feel part of a group – more than anything, but as I tried to open myself up to Catholicism I found instead a dark undercurrent of judgement that made me feel ‘less than’. I was in our church’s choir and remember some kids running away from me because I was not baptised and still had ‘Original Sin’. Even though that kind of behaviour is just something kids do, it represented a truth and judgement that I also felt from the adults in the church. After that experience I almost became Mormon, and then Buddhist, and now I would say I am simply Spiritual.

Was there turbulence throughout your childhood or adolescence?

I lived in a school bus… clearly there are stories behind that but it’s what you do with your experiences that matters. I don’t want to be held prisoner by the stories from my childhood. I was loved as a child; the rest of it doesn’t really matter.

“I don’t want to be held prisoner by the stories from my childhood. I was loved as a child the rest of it doesn’t really matter.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

Were you ever embarrassed about your development/puberty? If so why?

Oh yes, I remember getting my period at 13 and my mother wanted to throw me a party welcoming me to womanhood. Thankfully I talked her out of it.

Can you remember any key moments in your formative years that shaped you?

Being abandoned by my biological father at three. It has taken me a long time to see how that played into my need to be the ‘Good Girl’ and always wanting everyone to like me.

Your sexuality?

This goes back to the ‘Daddy’ issue. I remember being very young, five years old maybe, and wanting men to want me. I didn’t understand what sex was but I would look at men and try to mimic the ‘flirty’ moves I saw on the television. I craved male attention. I wanted to be loved by men.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I always knew I was a little girl, but my mother let me be me as a kid – I was a little bit of a tomboy who loved Barbies. As I grew older and started to become ‘pretty’ I think it frightened her. I was repeatedly warned by her that beauty was a curse and not to use it or my sexuality to get ahead. That it was an unfair advantage.

When did you become aware of your own sexuality, were there any key moments?

I was about seven or eight years old and I discovered the water jets in a hot tub. I didn’t understand what the feeling was but I remember enjoying it with no sense of guilt or judgement. At nine years old I shared my secret with another female friend and she labeled what it was: masturbation. All of a sudden the personal shame rushed in, this sense that I might not be ‘GOOD’, and I have been trying to get back to that place of no judgement or shame ever since.

I am also noticing that people are projecting this image of the ‘Madonna’ on me. As if cancer has made me pure.

What, if any, are the obstacles you’ve overcome on your path to womanhood?

Learning to be honest with myself, learning to stand up for myself, learning that I have to like myself first. Learning that if everyone likes me then it’s is because I stand for nothing.

Have you ever been embarrassed, burdened or ashamed of your sexuality? If so why?

Yes! I call it the ‘Good Girl’ complex. Throughout my whole childhood and most of my adulthood I wanted to be ‘GOOD’, and as a result I placed so much judgement on my desires and cravings. I was worried that I wouldn’t be considered ‘nice’ if I asked for what I wanted.

What is the image you think you project every day?

Who the fuck knows at this point? Chemotherapy has changed the way I interact with the world. I can spend days where I don’t see the outside world or interact with another human being besides my husband. I am taking this time to make a cocoon for myself. I want to be isolated so that I can really look at my life.

How would you describe your personal experience, existing in the way you do, each day?

This interview is catching me at an extraordinary period in my life. My days do not hold the same goals, concerns, or expectations that they held four months ago. Society has also given me a free pass right now. I am taking this unique time in my life to be a monk. I am bald, being broken down, going through the fire, and I am grateful for the opportunity to burn away all of the bullshit to find out who I really am, deep inside, at my core.

What is the image you would like to project?

A kind soul who is open, vulnerable, and exploding with brilliant light.

What do you think the image other people perceive is?

I have been stripped down to the basic human form. I feel like a two-way mirror and I am watching people see their own faults, fears or strengths reflected back at them when they look at me. I am also noticing that people are projecting this image of the ‘Madonna’ on me. As if cancer has made me pure.

“I was repeatedly warned that beauty was a curse and to not use it or my sexuality to get ahead.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What is your political stance on women’s reproductive rights?

I feel all people should have the rights to and over their own bodies.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

Pro-choice.

What are your feelings about contraceptives? Their availability, cost, stigma, usage?

Contraception should be safe, cheap, and widely available. My mother worked for a college health clinic and would give me condoms to hand out to friends on senior skip day. She would also tell me that I better not be having sex (so there were a few mixed messages), but regardless I learned so much from her openness. Instead of ‘blaming’ or ‘shaming’ unwanted pregnancy we need to help people take responsibility for their bodies BEFOREhand.

What are your feelings on casual sex?

I have never experienced it but I don’t judge others who have. My sexual experience has been isolated to just one person and I have to admit that there is something magical in that. We have only ever been with each other and in a way it feels like a closed electrical circuit where the energy just circles between us. I don’t know what I am ‘missing’ but the rest of the world doesn’t know what it is missing either. Both are valid lifestyle choices.

Are you in a relationship(s)?

Yes. I married my high school sweetheart. We have been married for seven years and together for sixteen years. My relationship with him is the thing I treasure the most in my life.

What are your feelings on marriage?

I feel that the old-school idea of marriage is slowly evolving from a role-based ‘raising children’ model towards a spiritual partnership. One that allows two human beings to grow and evolve into the brilliant beautiful souls they were meant to be. One that gives a safe space to heal the broken parts in each of us but, at the same time, doesn’t burden the partners with the responsibility of MAKING the other happy.

What are your most positive relationships with other women?

I love women. I love successful, smart, happy women. I think having been with my husband since my mid-teens means I was young enough not to fall into the competitive ‘We are going after the same man!’ trap that some women do. It allowed me to be open and loving.

What are your negative?

When I meet a woman who says she has no female friends or that ‘women don’t like her’, it is a red flag. The common denominator is her. I hate to say it, but I have learned to run in the other direction.

What does the word ‘woman’ mean to you?

I am still learning to define it myself.

What are your feelings on monogamy?

It works for me. I am grateful for it. I feel safe in it. I just had breast cancer. I had my breasts removed. I am about to get my ovaries removed. I am in chemo. There is more to a relationship than sex.

On polyamory?

Love is Love. Just like a monogamous relationship, it takes a very special type of partnership to be successful. It is not my place to judge someone else’s relationship.

Do you feel your choice to participate or not participate in consensual sex is at all affected by societal influence?

NO.

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

The concept and marketing of ‘Anti-Aging’ can kiss my ass. We have not failed as women if we don’t remain 25 years old for the rest of our lives. I feel more beautiful now that I am bald, nipple-less, and have scars.

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products’ portrayal in the media?

I think it’s funny. Those commercials usually make me chuckle.

Were you always aware of what your body could do sexually & mechanically?

Oh gosh no, and I am still not fully aware but I’m learning. Thankfully, I have a husband who is wonderfully open and non-judgemental, and his main goal is my pleasure. A couple of years ago there was an article in GQ magazine with a sex coach. My husband, knowing that we don’t know what we don’t know, hired him and what a wonderful experience it was. I learned so much about my body. I had no idea that I had a Ferrari. I was driving this body like it was a Honda.

Do you feel your sexual education was sufficient?

In the school system, no, but at home, yes. My mother was extremely open with me. At a young age she told me I needed to take a mirror and explore my vagina. There were pamphlets left on my bed about sex, STDs, contraception, and so on. I remember one time riding in the car with my brother and mother (that was her favorite place to have these talks because we couldn’t escape) while she told us that masturbation was normal and natural. I was mortified then but now I look back and am in awe of how loving and open she was about all of it. At 18, I asked my dad what he wanted for Christmas and he told me he wanted me to get on the contraceptive pill. Sex was talked about at the dinner table.

It was always uncomfortable but because of my family’s openness, I was the kid everyone came to for information. We can’t expect the school system to be solely responsible for our sex education; parents need to take responsibility for teaching their children too. My mother died of ovarian cancer in 2013 but I know she would be proud of this interview, this photoshoot, and how, through this project, we are teaching women about sexuality.

Where do you feel unsafe as a woman?

Everywhere! I’m an optimist and I believe people are good and loving but, at the same time, whenever I go anywhere alone I am fearful being attacked.

“I think I am a little afraid of the POWER that is deep with in me.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

Where is somewhere you can exist without fear?

Oh gosh, I hate saying this but I only ever really feel safe when my husband is with me.

Do women treat you differently than men?

Not really. I think being partnered with my husband since age fifteen has meant that men and women all became the same to me. Men, knowing that I will not sleep with them, treat me like a sister. Women, knowing that I will not sleep with their men, also treat me like a sister.

In what ways does being a woman make you vulnerable or exposed?

I am very petite and I am always aware of my lack of strength and size. I am easily overpowered.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

No. I don’t focus solely on female injustice and I can see where some men are taken advantage of. We need to be kind and love each other. Respect each other. I have a brother who is very sensitive and empathetic and also socially awkward, and I have witnessed how hard this has been for him. It opened my eyes to a different perspective. My goal is equality for women and men.

How do you define feminism?

A person who is fighting for the rights of women. Unfortunately, I think the word has been stigmatized to mean a woman who hates men, and I do believe that some women have hidden behind the title to attack men rather than focusing their energies on lifting up women.

What do you think are positive ways the world views women?

The world likes to put people into easy compartments. So most women are viewed either as the ‘Madonna’ or the ‘Whore’. We become two-dimensional caricatures, only able to be one or the other. The world doesn’t realize that we live in the middle.

“I just had breast cancer. I had my breasts removed. I am about to get my ovaries removed. I am in chemo. There is more to a relationship than sex.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What are negative?

The slut-shaming, name-calling, accusatory, internet-trolling thing that is going on now.

Do you think the world’s perception of women limits or benefits them?

It depends on the woman and what she decides to do with the world’s perceptions. Be the change you want to see.

What is your relationship to sex?

Always evolving. My breasts were removed in October. I am having to incorporate this new version of myself into what I thought was sexy and now, with chemo, I am doing it again. My body doesn’t look or work the way it did before. I don’t lubricate the same, it doesn’t feel the same. Emotionally, I don’t feel sexual. Physically, I am not really up for sex. Plus, I am going to go into menopause this year when I get my ovaries removed. I am 31.

How do you define sex?

Connection and exploration.

What does a sexual relationship mean to you?

An opportunity to emotionally and spiritually connect with someone I love.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

Not always, but that is not because of him, it is because I hold myself back. I judge myself.

Have you found a balance of fulfillment with your partners?

Yes.

Do you feel that YOUR desires are marginalized in the bedroom or are less important, if so why do you think that is?

Yes, but again, not because of him. I do that to myself. I put his needs first. I want to make sure he is satisfied. Thankfully, his goal is to satisfy me. So it ends up being fairly balanced.

Are you fearful of being openly sexual for fear of judgement?

Yes. I fight with myself and my own issues of being a ‘Good Girl’.

Have you ever been in a position where your sexuality was used against you?

No, thankfully.

Have you ever been physically or verbally threatened because of your appearance?

Yes. I created a tongue-in-cheek how-to webseries on YouTube called ‘How to DO it’, which is overtly sexual while still showing you how to actually do things. I created it because it made me laugh, but I am shocked by how many men and women leave horribly cruel and crass comments, like that I’m ‘an attention seeking slut’, or ‘suck my dick bitch’.

When you imagine sex, what is the visual/feeling you associate with it?

Holding back. I think I am a little afraid of the POWER that is deep within me.

Is sex empowering for you?

I hope it will be but I am still working on it.

Is sex embarrassing for you to discuss?

Not at all.

Is there anyone in your world you undermine your principles for?

I do it all the time for so many people. I have spent years not standing up for myself. I was a union stagehand for years before I became an actress. I worked predominately with men who were deep-down loving and kind, but at the same time would say horribly offensive sexual things to me. I would laugh it off because I wanted to be liked. I am slowly gaining the inner strength to stand up and tell people when I feel uncomfortable.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind/stand up for yourself?

I never really feel SAFE but I am slowly learning to face the fear and do it anyway.

“My beauty and strength that radiates from within me.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What do you seek through sex?

A feeling of spiritual connection.

Are you satisfied with the women you see depicted in film, television & advertising?

If we want to see something different then we need to create it. That is what Herself.com is doing. That is what I am doing in my one-woman show ‘My Breast Choice’, which is based on my breast cancer experience. I see the depictions of women changing and I am proud of the direction we are starting to go in.

How do you think the world at large views women?

As a threat that needs to be kept under control. I think the world is scared of us. There’s a fire in the spirit of women and the moment it gets oxygen it’s going to ignite into an inferno that cannot be stopped.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

By continuously checking back in. By taking the time to listen to my heart, my soul. I know that I am constantly evolving.

What is something you deeply love about yourself?

My beauty and strength that radiates from within me.

Who are/what are your biggest motivators?

My spirit. I listen to what it wants.

Do you have people you look up to?

Yes, everyone. There is a part of every person I talk to that is inspiring. We need to celebrate the little things in all of us because, when you add it all up, it is greater than the individual person.

Do you ever feel overlooked in the workplace because of your gender?

No. I worked for years in a male-dominated workplace when I was a union stagehand. I stood out because I was smart and I worked hard; they didn’t care that I was a woman. Now that I am an actress I am hired because I fit a role.

Because of your appearance?

I know what I look like. I got lucky in the genetic lottery. I did nothing for it but I benefit greatly because of it.

Have you ever experienced sexism or sexual harassment within a workplace?

As a stagehand, definitely and all the time. I had a coworker show me his dick at work once. I just laughed at him and walked away. I never reported it.

How have you dealt with conflict?

I hate conflict or confrontation. I try to avoid it at all costs, and my best defense has always been humor. I usually make a joke or hide. This is not something I am proud of and I am really trying to face my fear so that I can genuinely stand up for myself, my feelings, and my beliefs.

Have you ever been verbally abused or threatened because of your gender?

Yes. Being a women means it happens walking down the street, but my defense has been to make eye contact first, smile, say ‘thank you’ and keep moving. If I am about to walk past a group of men, I find if I catch them before they open their mouths with a ‘Good afternoon, gentlemen’, they usually rise to the occasion and are extremely respectful and kind in return.

If so, how did those in your life respond when you told them about it?

They are concerned and care but I am grateful that the people in my life know this is something I need to handle myself, and even though they may want to defend me they soon learn I truly have to do it!

“The fires we go through in life are really the best part of the journey. Enjoy the burn.” -Aniela
Photo by Samantha Dietz

What are your feelings on motherhood?

I think it is the hardest job in the world and I have never wanted to apply for it, but I am grateful others do.

What are your biggest fears?

Not living up to my fullest potential, and living up to my fullest potential. Not succeeding and succeeding are equally scary to me.

Your biggest regrets?

Giving up my personal values to be ‘liked’. Each of those little moments where I gave up a piece of myself – they all add up.

Your greatest accomplishments?

Every moment in which I stand up for myself and follow my heart.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The fires we go through in life are really the best part of the journey. Enjoy the burn.