Many thanks to my sponsor Spectrum Boutique for their assistance with my travel for the event, as well as to the Sex Down South team!
This conference season has been a whirlwind for me, and it’s only my first! I went from not going to any sexuality conferences to attending two within the span of a month, thanks to scholarships, sponsorships, and friends who helped me.
For the uninitiated, Sex Down South is a Black-founded, Queer and POC centered sexuality conference that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. 2018 marked their third year. I’ve wanted to go to this conference for two years now, but the stars finally aligned just so and I was able to make it. i’ve had quite a few people ask me to compare and contrast Sex Down South with the Sexual Freedom Summit (check out my reflection here), but I’ve decided I won’t do that because highlighting differences between the two may make it seem like I’m positioning one as better than the other, when in reality they serve completely different audiences and I had an amazing time at both.
There’s something to be said about a space that aims to center Southern Blackness. I’m proud to be from the south, and I don’t see myself settling down anywhere else. Regionalism plays as big a role in how we approach sex education work as any of our other identities but frequently gets left out of the conversation, or only becomes the center of conversation when people feel the need to drag the South for being backwards or out of touch.
The world operates differently in the South, that’s a fact. There’s a myriad of reasons why, directly tied to slavery and religious patriarchy, but the major movements for justice in this country have started here too. The way that folks in the north, even so-called progressives, reduce us to stereotypes of ignorance and enemies of progress, erases the organizing and educating that people have done to make the south more equitable. There’s so much power in holding a conference that is open about sexuality in one of the biggest cities in the highly-religious South and I don’t think people who aren’t from here truly understand why that’s so important.
For me, Sex Down South started with a too-early plane ride Thursday morning which meant that by the time I got to the hotel, after I caught up with all my friends I was running on fumes and had to sit out most of the day’s sessions to sleep and recharge. I ended up only making it to the keynote by Ericka Hart, about the role that pleasure takes in liberation movements.
I had trouble connecting with it, but I’m chalking that up to exhaustion and the realization that I don’t think about my work being directly connected to Black liberation. I guess it is, but I haven’t given it much thought or intention for that matter. This ties into my broader thoughts about “who am I writing for”, and “why do I write”, which requires more unpacking outside of this post.
Thursday night, I went to Magic City, the world-famous strip club. I had never been to a strip club before so i really didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t want to go off just what I’ve seen on TV and in movies. IT WAS AWESOME. I’m afraid to go to any other strip clubs now because I’m afraid they won’t live up to Magic City.
Friday, the first session I attended was “You Let Her Do What?” Examinations on Polyamory and Masculinity with Bex Caputo and Kevin Patterson. I live-tweeted it, and you can find the thread here. This workshop was one of my personal “must-sees” of the conference. While I’ve known that monogamy wasn’t ideal for me for years, my relationship hasn’t been polyamorous for very long.
I’m often at a loss for helping my partner through his feelings when trying to combat the issues that toxic masculinity presents within our polyamory, so I was excited to hear people with different relationships to masculinity talk about their experiences. The workshop evolved into a conversation about undoing the damage that toxic masculinity causes, which was cathartic and healing, but ultimately kind of disappointing to me because we never got back around to the connection with polyamory.
The great people from The Pleasure Chest hosted Lunch & Learn Mini-Workshops all weekend, and Friday afternoon I was able to make it to the session hosted by my pal Carly: Using the 5 Senses to Create an Erotic Scene, threaded here. It is abbreviated, as my UberEATS came in the middle of the session and I had to leave early.
My second full session of the day was Fuckstrology: Sex Languages According to the Stars with Gigi Robinson. I know plenty of people think astrology is hokey, but I don’t. I consider it as useful a spiritual guidance system as anything else. Learning about my chart more in-depth was beneficial because astrology can easily get overwhelming when you’re trying to learn on your own. The workshop focused on Mars and Venus placements, as Venus controls how we like to receive love and affection and Mars controls how we like to give it.
Each sign has different ways they like to give and receive affection, which when taken with your chart as a whole, can explain parts of your personality. For example, my Venus is in Pisces. On its own, that means that I’m very sensitive and want constant affection from my partners. But when taken with my materialistic Taurus sun, it manifests as a desire for gifts or food when a partner wants to show me they care, the more luxurious the better. If you’re interested in doing your (or a partner’s) birth chart, you can find the one I use here.
The last session I attended on Friday was my favorite of the whole conference: Race and Desire Roundtable with Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Aida Manduley, M’kali-Hashiki, and Kevin Patterson, moderated by Tristan Taormino. I live tweeted it here, but as a disclaimer my tweets are mostly paraphrases of what the speakers were saying.
As a Black woman in a relationship with a white man, I’m constantly thinking about race, white supremacy, and the roles they play in how my partner and I interact and express our love. I spent the first few years of my relationship feeling like I needed to apologize for or otherwise justify dating him, because it was implied and sometimes outright said to me that I can’t really be about Black liberation if i’m dating a white person. This made me insecure in my relationship and hurt us in a lot of ways. I didn’t feel like I could look to my partner to make me feel better, because, to me, he was the cause of this conflict. I would sometimes take my insecurity out on him which he didn’t deserve. We’re in a much better place now, mostly because my feelings about what it takes to do “the work” now go beyond judgments based on identity politics.
The session took so many different routes and left me with a lot to think about in my own relationship as well as how I think and talk about sexuality. It requires more than just seeing and naming explicit instances of white supremacy in the sexuality/sex ed community. It necessitates understanding the insidiousness of whiteness and how white supremacy’s main goal is to protect itself. This can manifest in actionable goals like being honest about how some of us have different labor demands placed on us for less pay and interrogating how we support white supremacy in our sexual lives. Sure, you may not have an explicit “whites only” policy for your genitals, but do you only have partners of certain classes, formal education levels, or other social markers that perpetuate white supremacist ideals of “the perfect partner”?
For people of color, it requires undoing the messaging that leads us to police the behavior of ourselves and others. When we engage in the woke olympics, we’re ultimately left exhausted from the inter-community conflict, which leaves us no more mental or emotional capacity to process and undo the damage white supremacy has caused. Even when we’re not explicitly desiring whiteness, we still have to grapple with how its benefits are dangled in front of our communities as a goal to aspire to.
Saturday brought my most introspective workshop of the conference, Uses of the Erotic in Times of Resistance by M’kali-Hashiki. I’m familiar with Audre Lorde’s essay, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, but this workshop allowed me the opportunity to take it out of the theoretical academic context in which I knew it and make it tangible, practical, and livable. I’ve been feeling very disconnected from myself for a while now, and I had so much going on right before the conference that I almost didn’t go.
Holding space with the other workshop attendees and connecting back with myself helped me remember why I started writing in the first place, as a form of release in a world I felt didn’t hear me otherwise. We went through different breath work techniques, and it was grounding to feel and release some of the energy blockages in my body. I’m still struggling to maintain that balance now that I’m back at home but the workshop was a reprieve.
Saturday night culminated in the Big Bang, a huge party with performers and giveaways. My favorite moment of the night, hands down, was when the contestants of a lap dance competition had to dance to “Stomp” by Kirk Franklin. This is what I was getting at earlier when I talked about the intersections of Southerness and Blackness and why that’s so important to see in a sexuality conference. Watching people twerk to a gospel song I grew up hearing was so beautiful I almost cried.
I just felt seen and recognized in that moment, in a way I don’t feel often. And that’s what this conference was for me. An opportunity to share space with people who weren’t asking anything of me other than for me to show up. I didn’t feel invisible, I didn’t feel exoticized, but I felt validated. I didn’t even get to all the personal connections I made, but suffice it to say that I found my people. Sex Down South 2019 is already on my calendar for next year, but I’ll remember to take Vitamin C ahead of time (con flu sucks).