Culture

“Jen” didn’t plan to get naked. She just did.

After a long day of protesting in Portland, Oregon—where federal officers have been dispatched to crack down on Black Lives Matter demonstrations—the sex-worker stripped down and positioned herself on the pavement facing a line of police.

An Oregonian staff photographer snapped a shot of the performative activist, who quickly went viral on Twitter as the “Naked Athena,” after the goddess of war.

Speaking out for the first time on the podcast Unrefined Sophisticates, “Jen,” as she wants to be known, said she acted on impulse—and anger—in a heated moment.

“There was a very deep feminine place in myself that felt provoked,” she said. “I’m notoriously naked. I just have been that way for several years now and there’s not anywhere that you can’t find me naked… I’m a sex worker and my nakedness is political. It’s my expression.”

It was just before 2 a.m. and Jen had been demonstrating all day. She was “getting gassed and chased around all night,” as she recalled on Unrefined Sophisticates, before coming face-to-face with the wall of police. The officers stood in what she described as a “warrior stance,” with their feet planted, chests puffed out, heads high, and arms at their sides.

“It’s a co-opted stance and it’s not earned,” she said. “This fury arose in me… I said, ‘I want to be naked. I want to confront them.'”

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Jen ducked into a doorway and took off all her clothes, except for a mask and hat. Then she walked back to the street and stood in front of the officers, her unclothed body a stark contrast to the camouflage-clad cops. One Portland policeman shot her in the foot with rubber balls, she said, so she sat down and lifted her leg in the air to show him the blood. Then she got up and lifted her leg again. Her message, she says, was: “I can still stand tall.”

“[I was] calm and terrified at the same time,” she says. “Like being in the eye of a storm.”

Jen sat back back down on the pavement and spread her legs wide, resting her hands on her shins. She was not, as several news outlets reported, doing yoga. “It was more like ‘Shoot this, look at this!'” she says.

The entire thing—federal agents closing in, the rubber bullet, blood dripping down her legs—all felt like an hours-long ordeal to Jen. In reality, only 15 minutes had gone by.

Her naked confrontation has been heralded as heroic and criticized as a distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement. Novelist Mitchell S. Jackson wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “no matter her intentions, for a moment at least, she might’ve upstaged the movement, and not in a way I could discern as connected to its stated objectives.”

“Their concerns,” Jen said on Unrefined Sophisticates, “are absolutely valid, 100 percent.”

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