Wed Apr 11, 2012
I’m thrilled that Vamp agreed to guestblog here about her experiences at Momentum too. We did split up for most of the panels, just to see more, so it’s nice to hear about some of what I missed (although I’m jealous about some of what I missed), so in a break from just site reviews, Vamp:
Jane has asked me to do a guest blog about my experiences at Momentum, and I must admit that I’m at a slight disadvantage. The conference was extremely overwhelming for me, and I’m only now sitting down to write about it.
I am still very grateful to have had the chance to travel to DC and sit in the same room with so many brilliant and active folks. Some were fairly high profile educators like Dr. Carol Queen, and others were simply attendees that were inspired to show up and listen. I was equally honored to be in the presence of both.
I wish that I could talk about all of the folks I got a chance to visit with, but I can’t (since I didn’t ask permission to write about them). So, I’ll sort of do a walkthrough of the public events that I attended.
The first scheduled performer was Maria Falzone, a comic that is known for her show “Sex Rules”. One of my favorite things about her performance was her frank discussion of herpes, which is a topic that I wish got a lot more attention. So many people suffer in shame and silence with this very common STI, and they often believe that they are the only one dealing with it. I loved how her comedy broke the silence, and I wondered if her show dealt with the topic in more depth. I’d definitely love to see it and find out!
The keynote speech was full of food for thought. It would have been hard to walk away from a discussion featuring Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Charlie Glickman, Dr. Logan Levkoff, Audacia Ray, and Bill Taverner and feel uninspired. My own mind latched on to Bill Taverner’s discussion of the sexuality of seniors, as I often wonder how my own sexual life will change and grow as I age. I definitely heard a call for action in this area, and hope that we receive a lot of requests to review sites that are of special interest to older folks. If you know of any, please ask them to submit for review! Jane and I called Bill over to our table in a restaurant downstairs later on, and he talked a bit more about the protectionism that is often practiced in regard to older people. That reminded me of a psych class that I took many years ago, in which a specialist in geriatric psychology said that folks that work in nursing homes are often surprised (and deal rather poorly) with the sexual lives of their clients. It can become rather ridiculous, with seniors sneaking around and getting chastised for spending the night with lovers that are in the same facility. It seems to me that remembering that human beings continue to be sexual beings until the day they die is a pretty important idea, and one that could make a lot of lives better if we all just faced it with emotional maturity.
The next night I got up early and made sure to see an incredible presentation by sexual civil rights attorney Diana Adams. “Sexual Freedom and the Law” definitely concentrated on Diana’s heavy experience in non-traditional family law, but she spent time discussing the general history of the intersection of law and sex in this country as well. She went over the Comstock laws, and made sure to remind folks that it used to be illegal to discuss contraception in The United States. Heck, it used to be illegal to explain to your own daughter about menstruation (or show her a picture of the female reproductive system). She also discussed the famous case of Bowers v. Hardwick that upheld the Georgia sodomy law, and Lawrence v. Texas (in which such laws were found unconstitutional). It was a lot of fun hearing the “behind the scenes” info on the Lawrence v. Texas case, and it led to a discussion that I found particularly uplifting. She mentioned that the current political climate and scary laws happening in this country were actually offering us a wonderful opportunity, in that when someone is found guilty of breaking these laws we can actually fight this stuff in court and show them to be the ridiculous things that they are. We’ve beaten these sorts of laws before, and we can do it again. Hearing her say that made me feel more hopeful than I have in a while, as it can be easy to get lost in terror when staring down some of the new legislation.
I really wish that I could remember more of her words, as she was extremely eloquent and educational. Suffice it to say, if you have a chance to hear her speak you should definitely jump at it. I spoke to her after her presentation, and she was an extremely nice and genuine person that seems very passionate about representing the interests of folks in non-traditional families. It was exciting to talk to an attorney who was so positive about helping folks.
As a feminist, I was very drawn to a point that she made about traditional marriage. I wish that I could remember it word for word, but the gist is that the government has often treated marriage as the institution that will “take care of” women, and thus expected a lot of things to be solved with it. She said that women shouldn’t have to rely on marriage for financial stability. If a single woman has to marry for health care or financial reasons, then the government is not much better than a pimp. I couldn’t agree more.
I bounced from this discussion into the next room, with Audacia Ray. She was giving a talk with the provocative title of, “Why the Sex Positive Movement is Bad for Sex Workers’ Rights.” I’m an old-school Audacia fan, so I was super stoked to see her talk. I also didn’t understand the title of the talk at all, and wanted to automatically disagree with her completely. I consider myself very sex positive, and very pro sex worker. The idea that I was actively harming sex worker rights sort of pissed me off, but I decided to suspend judgment and listen. I really do want to be helpful, and if I was actually doing harm I’d want to know why.
Well, the talk didn’t go at all like I thought it would. It wasn’t really about the sex positive movement actively harming sex workers’ rights, but more about how framing these rights as a human rights issue (instead of a labor issue) may not be the most helpful strategy. She discussed how many groups had positive gains down in South American countries when they viewed things through a labor lense, and organized with other labor groups.
I found this a fascinating and very helpful observation, and it has never really occured to me before. Jane had certainly tried to organize sex workers in the past, but I’ve always been more of a human rights person myself. When I returned home, I had a long talk with a labor organizer about this issue. He was absolutely certain that Audacia had some great ideas, and that he’d pushed similar issues for farm workers many years ago.
I still consider myself sex positive, but I do think that changing perspectives on this issue may be necessary for real change to occur in this country. I was so glad that I showed up and listened!
After this talk, I saw Jane sit in on a panel discussion on BDSM and abuse. She has already written about it, and I just want to say that I am extremely proud that she found her voice and sat on that panel. I know that it had to be hard for everyone that spoke up, and I applaud their guts. I love BDSM, but I think it is incorrect to paint a utopian view of kinky relationships. They can be just as terrifying and abusive (or beautiful and nurturing) as “vanilla” relationships, and until we start dealing with that out in the open it is a perfect place for predators to set up permanent homes. As someone who was raped by a member of the local BDSM community, and who was thanked for keeping it quiet…I think I know how deep the hurt can go when you are not only victimized once, but twice. Silencing survivors is an act of emotional violence, and it has to stop.
As you can imagine, that was a heavy panel discussion to walk out of and I was glad that there was a break for lunch!
When I returned, I got to sit in on a wonderful talk “The Dirty Business of Sex Toys”. This panel was a sheer joy! Metis Black (Tantus), Greg DeLong (Njoy), Rachel Venning (Babeland), JD Yoder (Nobessence), and Dr. Carol Queen (Good Vibrations) told their personal stories about getting into the business. I was particularly struck by how many of them had originally designed products to suit their own needs, and I loved that! One of my passions is shopping local and supporting small business owners, but for some reason I hadn’t really thought about supporting small sex toy businesses. (Well, that isn’t entirely true. I’ve always loved small toy businesses, and I tend to recommend original and creative toymakers. Once again, if you know someone who is putting together high quality and original products… please send them in our direction!) Still, this panel discussion really drove home the value of shopping with these smaller manufacturers that really care about their products, and who are doing innovative things in an industry where they know inferior copies may be created by competitors in a matter of months. After the panel discussion, I walked up to Rachel Venning and thanked her for putting together such a great store. It was the very first place that I went into and purchased my own toys, and I am happy that I was able to have such a positive first experience. I talked to Jane about how much fun it might be to write up profiles of small business owners in the adult toy industry, and I hope that we get to do that in the future.
The next panel discussion was “How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers”. I think that this was one of the most impressive and passionate panels of the entire event, and I found myself very emotionally involved. Patricia West, Jenna Cohn, Pele Woods, and Shannon Williams put together a great presentation. I was so happy to see sex workers and SWOP (Sex Workers Outreach Program) members talking on this subject, rather than someone else talking about them. (note* I linked to the Bay area chapter of SWOP because that is where the above panelists seem to be most connected) Some of the information they shared was terrifying, such as how many sex workers are murdered each year. They spoke of the memorial that they do every year, and how it would really help if allies showed up to deal with the names at the events (as they are often so emotionally overwhelmed that it is a difficult part of the ceremony for them to attempt to do themselves). They talked about messed up laws that can use three or more condoms as evidence in prostitution arrests, and how the same cities have their health departments handing the condoms out to sex workers. They talked about mistreatment from law enforcement, including direct sexual assault. They painted an image of a group of folks under siege, who weren’t as concerned about minor points of esoteric argument as they were survival. At one point, a well-known audience member (and hero of mine) stood up and chastised them a bit for presenting in a way that didn’t build enough bridges with mainstream culture or the porn world. I can’t tell you how much I love the work of the person who said that, or how scared I was to stand up and say how meaningful it was for me to hear these women tell their truth.
After this panel, I took a big break.
When I came back, I joined the panel discussion “Ironies of the Anti-trafficking Movement: How Radical Feminism and End-demand Messaging Dis-empowers Women and Fosters Sexual Compulsion“. Honestly, the folks on this panel group didn’t get enough time to make most of their points. Megan Morgenson and Serpent Libertine certainly crammed a bunch of history and education into a really short time frame, however. The take away message was essentially that sex workers don’t like trafficking either, and they want it to stop. This is best accomplished by a system that allows them (and their clients) to report trafficking without putting themselves in jeopardy. There was also the message that suppression of sexuality and a culture of sexual shame create compulsive behavior and mental health consequences. I wanted to talk to Serpent Libertine and thank her for all of the really cool videos and such that she has put together for Red Light Chicago, but I found that I got a sudden case of the nerves and couldn’t get up the courage to do it. It is my one regret of the conference, as I think she does really important work.
After that I slid into a talk that I feel Jane and I actually should have been on, “Feminist Porn as Cultural Critique.” Dr. Lynn Comella, Dr. Carol Queen, Sinnamon Love, and Tina Horn quickly cured me of my sour grapes. They were fabulous! I especially enjoyed Sinnamon talking about her experiences with different film producers, and her own desire for more BDSM films featuring black men in the dominant roles. I got a chance to talk to Dr. Carol Queen after the panel, and I told her that I often feel that I have a very unique and powerful position as a feminist. I look at porn, and I judge it. I get to say how I feel about it, and my opinion hits porn producers right in the money. I feel like I’ve had more of a positive impact here than I ever would have simply walking the streets with protest signs, or trying to get involved in letter writing campaigns. I’ve seen some companies with racist and degrading websites change their tune after they realize that we’ll call them on their stuff, and they won’t make as much money. They hear that. I am very proud of my work.
The last presentation of the day was, “Sex and Cybercrime: I Know It When I See It.” Twanna Hines was absolutely charming, and led a very intimate discussion with the audience about cybercrime. She talked about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously defining pornography by saying, “I know it when I see it.” She went over the bizarre landscape of cybercrime. What was an example of some of the strange intersections of old rules and new technology? A teenager girl that sends her teenage boyfriend a picture of her breasts might be charged with child pornography. Absolute insanity! By the end of the discussion, we brainstormed about how to create change in the world. We talked about how important it is for tech savvy folks to run for office, school boards, and get involved in community discussions on the local level.
With that in mind, I found myself at the closing remarks of the conference. Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Esther Perel, and Lara Riscol were all very riveting. What was the most important message that I took to heart? Keep fighting for more education, especially for children. Ignorance is dangerous, and you can’t sit back and just hope that someone else will make it go away. As Dr. Elders said, “When you’re dancing with a bear, you have to make sure you don’t get tired and sit down. You’ve got to wait till the bear is tired before you get a rest.”
Here is to all of us dancing with the bear!