Real Roles: David Wraith

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1. What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you?  

David Wraith, South St. Louis, 38

2. Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in North St. Louis. My childhood was uneventful. My parents divorced when I was 5. From age 10 to 16, I spent my weekends and summers working for my father’s contracting company. I went St. Louis Cathedral grade school. I formally renounced Catholicism in sixth grade and started performing mass for myself in my bedroom on Sundays. I was kind of a weird kid.

3. How would you describe your current family and close support community?

My parents are dead and I’m not currently in any real contact with most of my family, outside of my two youngest sisters. I have a large social network, but few close friends. I spend most of my time alone or with my girlfriend.

Because of my work with Sex Positive St. Louis, I have people in alternative sexual communities coming to me for information and advice, either in person or over the Internet. It’s very flattering, though sometimes I feel unqualified to help these people and it feels a bit overwhelming.

I’ve recently gone back into therapy. 

4. What are some of the things you do on an average day?

Aside from work, the gym, and spending too much time on the Internet, my days tend not to be average. Depending on what project I’m working on, my day may include photo shoots where I’m in front of or behind the camera, video shoots, video and photo editing, attending meetings, writing blogs, writing short stories, attending meetings, promoting events, nude modeling for artists groups, attending more meetings. I often joke that being a sexual guru is 20% sex and 80% meetings. 

My social life consists of clothing optional parties, BDSM parties, my polyamory support group. Whatever the day brings, it probably involves answering a lot of emails.

5. What do you do to pay the bills?

I work in corporate travel. A good portion of my day is spent helping business people book travel reservations. It’s as boring as it sounds. 

6. Does your life look like what you imagined it would when you were young?  

Honestly, aside from not being rich and famous, yes. Just in the past few years, I’ve directed music videos, short films, and a feature length documentary that have been screened in theaters and on television. I’ve had my photography exhibited in shows. I’ve found an audience for my writing. Through Sex Positive St. Louis, I’ve become a recognized leader in the sex positive movement. I’d say I’m living the “I’m-broke-and-still-have-a-day-job” version of my dream.

7. What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?

My life has been pretty easy. I’d say my greatest challenge was finishing college. My dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was an undergrad and I made a vow to myself that I would finish my degree before he died. I was kicked out of school in my senior year for not paying my tuition on time, so I started working double shifts everyday in order to get the money I needed. I was doing coke in order to keep myself going and that got really ugly, really fast. Then, my ex-girlfriend died over Christmas break and that was devastating to me. My last semester, I fell behind on my tuition again and decided to go home and take an overdose of prescription pills. Instead, I went to the financial aid office determined not to leave until they found a way to keep me in school, which they did. Then I went into therapy for grief and depression. A week before graduation, one of my oldest friends committed suicide. When I marched across the stage to get my degree, it was like crossing the finish line in an emotional decathlon. I was just happy to have survived.

8. Have you made any decisions or choices that have surprised those around you?

I think people have long since stopped being surprised by the crazy things I do. The only thing that surprises people is when I do something “normal.” In 2005, I re-discovered religion and joined a Catholic prayer group. I spent the next three years attending and ultimately leading it. My friends would ask, “Where’s David?” and my roommate would say, “He’s at a prayer group meeting.” And they’d laugh hysterically and say, “OK, seriously, where is he?”

9. Who have you looked to for inspiration while creating your life? What have they taught you?

I look to independent artists, especially those who combine their art with some form of activism. People like Henry Rollins or Amanda Palmer or slam poet, Big Poppa E. People like Joan Lipkin of That Uppity Theatre Company or Ron Himes of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company. Jay Swoboda of What’s Up Magazine. I guess what they’ve taught me is: If there’s something you want to do, do it. If there’s something you have to say, say it. If something is missing in your life or in the world, create it. Don’t wait for some mainstream endorsement or acceptance, just put yourself out there. That’s what’s so great about Sex Positive St. Louis. We just started this thing with nothing. It’s a total grass roots movement and we are only accountable to our community. Recently, someone with the best of intentions suggested we soften our message in order to attract corporate sponsors. I thought, right now we have total autonomy, we can say and do whatever we want. We can say what needs to be said. Our organization is less than two years old. I’m not ready to trade that in so we can chase money.

10. What TV shows, movies, music, or books have been particularly formative or important in your life?

Prince was huge to me growing up. He was ahead of his time, not just musically, but lyrically. He was singing about topics in the ’70s and ’80s that are still controversial today.

I read the book Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill when I was a sophomore in high school. She was a big influence on me. She’s a former sex worker who’s also a hugely respected literary fiction writer. She writes about sex work and BDSM as an afterthought. It’s not the focus of her writing; it’s just something that her characters do.

This is going to sound nuts, but The Jerry Springer Show was a very important influence on me when I was young. Everyone remembers it as the ridiculous spectacle it became, but before Jerry sold out and found his niche in trash TV, he was trying to be an edgier Donahue or Oprah, and his show was really good. The first time I ever saw transgender women it was on an episode of Jerry Springer and it wasn’t some sensational freak show, it was a very intelligent and thoughtful discussion. Having that seed planted in my mind at a young age was probably very significant to how I interacted with transgender individuals as an adult.

11. Are there any stories not told in media that you’d like to see represented?

I’d like to see people outside of heteronormative society portrayed as complex, three-dimensional, even heroic characters. I want to see stories of polyamorous school teachers and kinky doctors. I know these people exist because they’re my friends. I want transgender superheroes. I want a bisexual James Bond who seduces male and female double agents: “Rupert Everett is… Agent 0069. Codename: Rock Lobster!”

12. How often do you think about gender roles and whether your life matches what others might expect from your gender?

In my world, I think about gender a lot. I’m amazed by the people who think that traditional gender roles are natural and yet spend so much time trying to codify and enforce them. If they’re natural, why do they need to be enforced?

As an African American, as a heterosexual and as a male, there’s all these boxes that people want to put me in. As feminist and a gay rights activist, I couldn’t care less all about those boxes. I’m going to do whatever the hell I want to do and not be limited by the demographics of my birth. For better or for worse, I’m surrounded by a community that doesn’t subscribe to most of those stereotypes, so it’s kind of a non-issue.

13. What wisdom have you gained in life that you think other people would benefit from knowing?

It breaks my heart to see people not doing something they want to do because they’re afraid of what people will think. Because they’re too young, too old, too fat, too skinny. Because of their race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. So many things that were once unheard of are now commonplace because someone had the courage to do it and not care what anyone thought about it.  

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