Today I attended a few sessions of the Woodhull Institute’s 2013 Sexual Freedom Summit. As I was commiserating with Tim this morning, we’ve only ever been to internet marketing, Christian and libertarian conferences. This is my first-ever sex-related public event.
Met some awesome people, holla Nina Hartley, Taylor, Stephanie and Stacey!
Yes, I met Nina Hartley. It didn’t occur to me when I was Tweeting and Facebooking about it, but, full-disclosure, I’m not that familiar with her video work. I’m actually a huge fan of her writing, politics and public stances.
My first session was Breaking Ground: Understanding Criminalization of Sex Work as Violence.
It was an incredible discussion. It was all women, save for one man. Someone commented about the summit on Facebook, “I bet it’s a sausage fest.” Silly. The problem for most men isn’t sexual freedom, it’s quality and access.
The speaker and at least one participant in the discussion were actual former sex workers. We had one social worker as well who works directly with sex workers.
In discussions of sex work it can be hard to find people whose opinions are backed up by experience. I loved hearing, “The Sexual Freedom Summit is about the freedom to express my sexuality. Sex work to me is about being able to freely express my broke-ness.” Or, “I started doing sex work because I couldn’t afford day care and I wanted to spend time with my children.” Okay, you have credibility, now give me your opinion.
Our speaker started a great thread when she said she doesn’t believe in rights. Needless to say, as a libertarian, I felt right at home in this discussion. Then we worked to define violence, which reminded me very much over my latest dustup over my attempt to (re)define coercion. We then attempted to define criminalization, which prompted me to say, “My good friend Matthew Feeney says, ‘Rights are like fairies.” Big laugh, and then the only man retorted, “I know a lot of those too.”
I went on, “Defining violence first and then criminalization led me to a kind of epiphany. I think what we find so offensive about criminalization of things like sex work is that it inserts violence into a non-violent situation.” Which the speaker loved enough to quote later in the talk(!) Like I posted to Facebook: #winningatsex(geekery).
Then at lunch I met the ah-mazing Nina Hartley. She told me she’s been in the porn business for 30 years! She’s tiny in real life, and beautiful, intelligent, kind, warm, funny and whip-smart. Also, amazing backside. I was so flattered that she took ten minutes to talk to me about porn, patriarchy and paternalism. Fangirling.
Next I hit up End Demand and How the Anti-Trafficking Movement is Hurting Sex Workers, LGBTQ Individuals, and the Sex-positive Community.
Nina Hartley attended, and when our speaker asked for burning questions to start off, she got to the point: “Who do we shank?” Speaker, “Second-wave feminists.” See why I love her?
We talked about the stereotypes around human trafficking. How they’re informed by our stereotypes around men, women, immigrants, other cultures, sex. “There’s a cultural story of sex work that we carry with us.”
Of course force, fraud and coercion happen in the sex trade. But we must stop distinguishing between sex trafficking and human trafficking, and we must start distinguishing from work we find distasteful and slavery.
The Global Alliance of Trafficking and Women was called out for amazing work.
We talked about how End Demand laws are supposedly a strategy to address trafficking. But they only create or increase penalties for buyers of sexual services, and not for those who perpetrate force, fraud or coercion on domestic labor or factory workers. This helps reveal that the true aim is actually to end the sex trade.
When the speaker brought up the Swedish Model someone in the audience growled loudly. Not sure if everyone in the crowd knew this, but as I’d read and she explained, five years after implementing End Demand laws in Sweden the only result was an increase in what are now called “third-party managers,” or pimps for us simple folk.
I’d describe the mostly white, roughly 25-45, educated-seeming, middle-class crowd at the conference as sex geeks. There were some knee-high boots and pleather. There were many, many nose rings. I probably saw more haircolor that doesn’t occur in nature today than I have in two years of riding the Orange line.
I met one woman who had, among many tattoos, a multicolored lizard crawling up her calf. She described herself as a startup junkie and knew her shit when it came to tech. At lunch I sat next to a gay libertarian policy analyst from my home state of Alabama. I met a girl whose podcast, Sex for Smart, debuts Oct 1.
My last session was Get Noticed Now! Media Literacy Bootcamp, presented by Funky Brown Chick. I love the name of the session and the fact that it was led by a woman who’s cultivated memorable, consistent personal branding.
First Hines went through Ann Friedman’s disapproval matrix. Critics, who don’t know you and are rational, make your work better. She warned us that as soon as we got attention, we’d get haters. Could have used this information week before last, but hey, she’s right!
Hines recommended we be able to answer, succinctly: Why you and not someone else? What value do you have to offer this person?
Then we got an in-class assignment to think of a person who typifies who we want to be. I picked S.E. Cupp.
Then she told us to list ten ways we are different from that person.
Not right or left wing
No journalism experience
No big column
Don’t wear glasses
Then she asked us to share a few differences. I shared my first three. So she said, “What I hear you saying is:
I have a dedicated, committed audience.
I am not locked in the left/right paradigm.
I have alternative and real-life experience I can take to journalism.”
Thought that was super neat.
I only attended a small slice of everything on offer. A quandary over whether to do a non-monogamy discussion or BDSM roundtable ultimately had me running home to rest up and recover from Friday’s house party. Despite, I’d highly recommend the Woodhall Institute’s 2013 Sexual Freedom Summit and definitely intend to see more sessions next year.