The event was called Sex X 3.0. It was modeled after the popular TED Talks, which are short, informational lectures by individuals from a multitude of backgrounds who wish to share their ideas. Of course, this particular event’s overarching theme was sex. After walking into the community building adorned with a large rainbow flag at its entrance, I was greeted by two smiling women handing out tickets. Luckily, I found a few empty seats in the back of an immense crowd that had gathered. The room had over 100 people.
There were twelve speakers altogether. Topics included the intersection of food and sex, pornography, leather culture, sexualizing cancer, sexual guilt, sexual shame, and sexual freedom...to name a few. I will not go into detail on the topics themselves, but I will say that I was impressed by the energy and passion each presenter possessed. Some were quirky, many were humorous, and all captivated the crowd with the knowledge they had to bring.
What stuck with me most from the event wasn’t necessarily the information that was shared by the presenters, but bearing witness to the dynamic between presenter and crowd member. It wasn’t a single-sided plea on the part of the presenter. They weren’t trying to persuade the audience of the viability of their argument but to inform, entertain, and share. They shared their views with others just like them. I could feel the enthusiasm in the crowd, the electric pulses of agreement from members to members that were often accompanied by hoots, hollers, snaps, cheers, and eruptive applause. The event was not a sermon, but a conversation. It consisted of numerous interactions, lighted approvals. This wasn’t a crowd of random people brought together by the event. It was an event brought together by them. They formed a collective, a safe space, a community. The event ended with one of the energetic hosts egging on the crowd to join her in a chant:
Host: What do we want?
Crowd: Sexual Freedom!
Host: When do we want it?
This was a group of people who talked openly about sex, who introduced themselves as queer or lesbian or gay and were unafraid to do so. These are people who acknowledge that American ideology about sex serves to oppress, guilt, and shame people. In all, attending the event brought me closer to a community that strives to debunk sexual negativity embedded in this society. It consists of people comfortable with being themselves, every part of themselves, and that includes embracing their sexuality. My greatest takeaway? A feeling of empowerment.
So what does all of this have to do with my original question? What am I supposed to think when I walk into a sex shop?
Was your gut instinct to check my surroundings? To turn and make sure no one sees me enter? Was I supposed to feel guilty for acknowledging my sexuality? Shame for seeking pleasure?
The greater lesson I hoped you would see from my experience at the William Way LGBT Community Center event was that I was no fraud to enter and attend it. Everyone has sexuality and unique identity.
So the greater lesson comes from the so-called “normative” culture that tells me what I speculated earlier about someone’s gut instinct about a sex shop. The “normative” culture that forces me to oppress my overly sexualized body, to limit my pleasure to guilt and shame, to make me question what I am doing in a sex shop, to begin with.
The LGBT community serves to critique the “normative” one, so that we, as individuals, as a society, can rethink these odd questions that pop into our heads.