I've been to quite a few conferences, most of them during my time in college. They were mostly based on my activism or leadership work, and each time I would go to one I'd leave feeling reenergized and confident in my abilities to keep pushing forward in my work. The Woodhull Freedom Foundation's Sexual Freedom Summit (mostly shortened to "Woodhull" or #SFS) gave me that feeling on steroids. this was my first conference as "Sexology Bae", and I had the opportunity to meet so many bloggers and educators I knew through the internet, who I will avoid naming here lest I forget a name and hurt someone's feelings.
I was terrified to go. I actually didn't even consider going initially because I didn't think I was enough of an expert or professional to fit in. I didn't know about it last year, and it came across very stuffy to my uninitiated eyes this time around. My friends at The Sex-Positive Blog encouraged me to apply for one of the brand new (as of this year) blogger's scholarships. I almost didn't do that either, because I hate rejection and again, felt I was too new and/or my blog was too shitty to qualify.
Thankfully, I didn't listen to my first brain. I applied and got it! The scholarship offset most of the costs for travel and accommodations, and I was able to crowdfund some additional cash so I basically broke even on expenses.
While you might read other Woodhull reflections that focus more on the conference itself, I feel inclined to talk about why going to Woodhull this year is the reason I'm going to continue blogging for the foreseeable future. The opportunity of the blogger's scholarship itself speaks to just how far the sexuality world has to go in terms of accessibility. I have a good paying job and still wouldn't have been able to go without significant financial strain had I not gotten the scholarship.
The conference is expensive, the hotel is expensive, and travel is (potentially) expensive based on where you live. Couple this with the uphill battle of securing sponsorships when you're not very well connected, and even getting to a space like Woodhull in the first place seems practically impossible. Now, I know that everyone has bills to pay and needs to keep their lights on, so for an organization like Woodhull to make financial accessibility a priority for bloggers meant a lot to me.
As a new blogger, it's hard to break into the world where it seems like everyone has known each other forever. The first few years are the hardest while you're struggling to get your footing, but it's worse if you don't have any support. Even if you make connections online, it's easy to feel like your voice is lost because there are fewer eyes on you, especially when you hold marginalized identities.
Kind of like restaurants, the first 2 years for bloggers are where the most people drop off. I haven't even been blogging consistently for a year yet and I've already noticed people who started around the same time as me fall off. Meeting people in person and connecting with industry professionals is, for me, the thing that has given me the momentum to continue blogging. I wasn't necessarily close to giving up on it, but I really struggled to see my voice as valuable in an insular community that felt full to capacity.
Woodhull also helped break me out of my "talented tenth" mindset. The sex blogging world is very white and very female, and the biggest names are mostly people who do toy reviews. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but it made me feel like I was in competition with other bloggers of color to be the exceptional one, to stand out and gain acceptance. I wanted to be the Black sex blogger.
That's an incredibly toxic mentality, and my time at Woodhull helped get me out of that scarcity-based thinking and made me realize that we can all eat. Supporting other bloggers, not being in competition with them, is the way up. This was a lesson I didn't talk about much during my time at the conference for fear it'd make me out to be a bad person, and I really want people to like me. But as I've had time to process, I've come to realize that I'm not the only person who felt (or feels) this way and talking about it, not around it, is the best way to overcome these kinds of feelings.
As for Woodhull itself, I won't do a complete rundown of every session I went to (which unfortunately wasn't many because I hit my social interaction wall on Saturday and spent most of the day in bed). The toxic toys session presented by Dangerous Lilly and Kenton of FunkIt Toys was recorded here, and I'll be doing a summary post later and a flame test of my own on Instagram one of these days.
The biggest learnings for me happened in the Bloggers' Lounge, a too-cold conference room filled with comfy chairs and the place we all went to introvert together when the activity of the sessions got to be too much. It was here that the personas I'd come to know via Twitter over the last few months were demystified, where I got to meet people behind the avatars and actually build relationships (one of my favorite pasttimes).
Big names, people I look up to in the industry are human to me now, and it's because I got the chance to sit in a room and shoot the shit with them for a few days. The sex blogging world becomes a lot less scary once you put names to faces and realize that we're all just people trying to make the world slightly less shitty. Of course, you had to be able to get a foot in the door in the first place, which ties back to my earlier point about accessibility.
It was here where I learned about practical things like building brand relationships and pitching to sponsors. The people I met and the knowledge they shared helped me feel at peace in the space, and in my role as a member of this community.
Most importantly, I got to express myself in a way that I don't get to in my every day life. It made me so happy to be among people to whom I didn't need to explain why I liked what I did. They just understood (or if they didn't they were polite about it). More brown faces would've been nice but a girl can dream and push for more bloggers of color next year.
We had an impromptu impact play scene on Saturday night, which consisted of me bottoming for over 90 minutes and being hit with at least 5 different implements. I felt so connected with myself during that time, that the pain on my plane ride home the next day was completely worth it. That was my first time being part of a scene in public, and it was so chill! It was like any other day, except someone is getting flogged on the floor.
I'm not done using my #WoodhullLessons. If anything, I'm just getting started. I'm excited to take this energy + momentum and use it to carry me into my next year of blogging and beyond!
Fortunately, I've been offered the opportunity to attend Sex Down South 2018 in Atlanta, another sexuality-focused conference in September. I'm hoping that the Southern setting and emphasis on Blackness at this conference will help me step even more fully into my role as Sexology Bae. At the least, I'm hoping to get my ass beat again.