Woodhull; The Black Pomegranate at #sfs16

March to August

Setting expectations in life can be tricky. Either an event is underwhelming or it adds something special to your life. Well, our high expectations for Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit were far exceeded. Here’s our experience at #SFS16.

Back in March Ms.Pomegranate and I were selected to present on diversity in sex positive and BDSM community, or rather the lack thereof. Diversity in the kink world is an important issue, one that isn’t often talked about. Our objective was to articulate the problem of inclusiveness and hopefully prompt a dialogue that would lead to solutions.

From the outset, we could see that the Woodhull organization was incredibly polished. Emails were answered, deadlines were met and questions answered. We received all the feedback we needed pertaining to our presentation and the rope demos we agreed to do. Our first impression of Woodhull in the months leading up to the event were very good, indeed.

Shift to August, Ms.Pomegranate and I made our arrival in Virginia for the start of Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit. I always have a bit of nervous energy when we attend events, due to the fact that I want to make the most of the opportunity. As always, Ms.Pomegranate and her spirit is the perfect balance to my nerves, so by the time we arrived, my only expectation was to have fun and enjoy the experience.

Thursday

Arriving on Thursday afternoon, we adjusted our schedule due to the cancellation of Tristan Taormino Sex Educator Boot Camp Class. I’d heard a great deal about the class from Ms.P, who took it at the beginning of her sex educator career, so I was eager to immerse myself in the class. Unfortunately, Ms. Taormino had to cancel due to health reasons. I commend Tristan on practicing self care and putting her wellbeing first. (An example that resonates with me, being a former caregiver). Both of us look forward to boot camp when the opportunity to take the class arises in the future.

We attended Thursday afternoon’s keynote, which was entitled “The Personal is Political (and vice versa)” presented by Mandy Carter.

Ms. Carter was able to frame the frame the larger issues beautifully, interconnecting the themes of sexual freedom, human rights and social justice. If anyone wasn’t sure beforehand, listening to Ms. Carter validated the idea that the work undertaken by sex positive people is important. We aren’t just fighting for the right to wear latex, we’re also challenging some of society’s biggest issues.

Ms. Carter’s keynote wasn’t just full of gravitas, it was also remarkably uplifting as well. Listening to her reminded me of the the strong black women I’ve encountered in my life and the generational struggle which has such deep, sometimes painful roots. Ms. Carter also charged us with responsibility with one simple question.

“Justice, or just us?” Where do you stand? The perfect opening statement to preface the weekend.

At dinner, Ms. Pomegranate and I had the opportunity to catch up with our friend SexInBmore which is always cool, because you know the conversation is going to be good. Woodhull is a veritable who’s who for the sex positive blogger community, and from the outset the summit had the feel of a reunion where you could catch up with friends old and new.

Later in the evening Ms.P and I attended the Sex Geek Salon hosted by Jo Ellen Notte who is incredibly nice. Conventions can often be chaotic and overwhelming, but thankfully Jo Ellen created a space where people could ease into the event is a way that felt very welcoming and safe. We also had the opportunity to connect with the GM of Twisted Monk, which caused me to geek out for the better part of an hour, talking rope and comic books.

After the salon it was time for Bedpost Confessions. Let me just say, Buck Angel is an incredible human being. Hearing his story of love, loss and and redemption resonated with me, because frankly 2016 has been a year with some challenges. Crista Anne is the picture of resilience and hearing her speak, once couldn’t help but be moved. Ericka Hart touched me on a deeper level, speaking impeccably as a griot on the space we occupy as people of color.

Friday

One thing is constant at conventions, there are often great presentations which conflict with each other, timewise. Ms. Pomegranate and I split up but we did attend some presentations together.

The first one we attended was “Breaking Down Barriers in Safer Sex” presented by Justyn Hintze and Teal Dye.

In the session the presenters did an outstanding job of creating a safe space for people to express themselves candidly, without fear of judgement. They also expanded the idea of what barriers mean, how they affect us and more importantly, how we can transcend the limits imposed by barriers in our relationships. The concept of sharing in a safe space and taking that knowledge out into the world was very cool, indeed.

The next panel was “Navigating Social Media Practices for Adult Businesses” presented by Joellen Notte, Metis Black and Sandra Bruce. The panel addressed diversity, both metaphorically and practically.

The panel also offered practical, real world advice about the travails that sex positive entrepreneurs will inevitably face and how to survive these rough patches.

My takeaway from this panel was that mistakes are inevitable but can be rectified. A succinct message from those who have put in the time and been there.

The third presentation Ms. Pomegranate and I attended together was the keynote, “From Slacktivism to Meaningful Action: Using Tech to Fight For Freedom presented by Aida Manduley, Trina Scott and Cindy Lee Alves, representing WOCSHN. The presentation was engaging but unfortunately Ms.P and I had to leave a bit early, to eat and prepare for rope demos. (We had to prepare for demos) but we were able to catch a video stream of what we missed. Also, I had the chance to connect with the members of WOCSHN in conversation, learning we share some common roots and associations from Baltimore.

Bubbles, Burlesque (and Rope)

Friday night brought an evening of entertainment, burlesque performers and demo stations. Ms. Pomegranate and ran the rope demo station, which turned out to be a blast. We were joined by our friend A (who prefers to remain low key on social media) a remarkable young woman and rigger. Armed with some of our personal hemp rope, A became a kinetic blur, tying in a darkened corner to the rhythms of the music. Yet another point of diversity, a woman of color rigging, a delightful sight we don’t see often enough.

I was fortunate to get my own rope time in during demos. First, I had the pleasure of tying Ms.Pomegranate, who never fails to be beautiful in rope. Whether it’s a full scene or brief demo, I always appreciate the opportunity to connect with my partner. ( I focus so intently on my partner, that once again I failed to get pictures of our rope time).

The cool thing about doing rope is having the chance to give people a good experience, whether it’s their first time in rope or if they’re familiar with bondage. And oddly, bondage is a great icebreaker and way to meet new friends.

In total, I rigged for two hours while Ms.Pomegranate assisted and answered questions, offering many people their first experience with rope bondage. As kink educators, part of our job is to be ambassadors of kink. So when someone comes away from being tied up laughing and smiling, then it means we’ve been good stewards of our craft.

The demos were unique for me in another way. Twisted Monk reached out to us over the summer and gave us a rope kit to test out. Demos were the perfect time to do just that and I was extremely pleased with Monk’s rope over the course of the evening. (A full and proper review is coming soon). The modular system of Monk’s rope worked for the variety of bodies and genders I tied that night, working like the contents of an old, trusted toolbox.

Saturday brought a lot of chances for networking and meeting all of the bloggers whose feeds and writings have become so familiar to us. Hallway conversations were plentiful, with chances to talk about everything from marketing to culture, politics to consent. At Woodhull, it’s astonishing the amount of information that is available. But what makes Woodhull special is the how approachable everyone is, willing to share what it is they have to offer.

Saturday

On Saturday afternoon, in was finally our turn to share our presentation, “Different Shades of Kink; Questions of Diversity in Sex Positive Lifestyles”. Ms.Pomegranate and I decided early on we weren’t going to lecture. Rather we invited attendees along as we framed the issues pertinent to diversifying kink and sex positive communities. In turn the attendees met us with their knowledge, heartfelt accounts and thoughtful ideas to foster inclusion, tolerance and safer communities overall. The focus of the presentation grew to address larger cultural and societal issues of diversity. Personally I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of the presentation.

After a quick dash to freshen up we attended the VIP reception, a chance to unwind and enjoy the company of Woodhull’s board members. I had a personal full circle moment, speaking with Nina Hartley. I can remember ten years ago reading about kink in Taboo magazine when I was a caregiver and having actual kink in my life seemed almost impossible. Cue to actually meeting Ms. Hartley and thanking her in person for the early kink inspiration she contributed to my life. Full circle indeed.

Then it was on to the Vicki Awards Gala, with even more revelry as we joined with everyone to honor the recipients. I took in a moment to just enjoy the gala, absorbing the moment and ambiance of it all.

Sunday

Sunday was a day of transition, packing up, saying goodbyes and heading home. There is a saying that resonates in my heart, one that I heard years ago that says “Don’t cheat the moment”. What it means essentially is to recognize what’s in front of you, whether it’s a blessing or opportunity and make the most of it. As we left Woodhull, I knew we hadn’t cheated anything.

My Takeaway from Woodhull.

I would be remiss in not thanking my partner, Ms.Pomegranate for everything she does. Her grace and intellect makes our collective work as The Black Pomegranate possible and I’m grateful to have her as an accomplice on this journey. (If you attended our presentation, you know just how important an accomplice can be).

I have to thank the Woodhull organization, for letting us participate in the summit and for executing a world class event. What we mentioned in this post doesn’t begin to describe all of the wonderful people we met over the course of the weekend. Woodhull felt like a place where for a weekend, sex positive discourse flourished. Even as we headed home, Ms.P and I began to make plans for next year. This post was actually a brief synopsis of how good our Woodhull experience was.

As I stated earlier, Ms Carter charged us all with responsibility.” What are you standing for?” What does your work mean? Are you an advocate for justice? Answering these questions and meeting these responsibilities affirms everything we do as sex educators and bloggers. Let’s get to work.

Remember, it takes freedom to keep it kinky.

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MrBLK

Author: MrBLK

MrBLK is a blogger, writer, bondage rigger, dominant and certified geek. I've been an event promoter, dungeon monitor and founded the B'more Munch, one of the longest running meetups in the Baltimore area. I draw on disparate experiences as a caregiver, martial artist and fitness trainer to craft scenes that are innovative and fun. When not crafting diabolical plans, I relax by reading comics or swinging kettlebells.

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