I spent Friday with an incredible group of sex therapists, counselors, educators, and others interested in kinky, queer, and commercial sexual expression. It was the fourth annual AltSexNYC conference, and it was amazing. I’ve followed this conference since its start, but have never made time to go because it falls right during the chaos of the end of the spring semester. But this year the theme was alternative sexuality and resilience, and Ricci Levy convinced me to submit a proposal based on Bound. I did, and it was accepted, and so I went.
I am so glad I did.
The conference is organized by Dulcinea Pitagora and Michael Aaron and its purpose is to provide continuing education that centers the experience of people who express their genders and sexualities unconventional ways. They do so by putting together a line-up that is intentionally addresses the ways that class, race, ethnicity and immigration intersect with sexuality and gender expression.
This year’s conference opened with Robin Wilson Beattie talking about disability visibility and about way in which exploring sexuality as a person with a disability represents resistance to oppression. I know Robin’s work and was so glad to see her speak in person. I followed Robin, and spoke about BDSM as a toolkit for living with chronic life-changing, body-altering illness. Ali Walensky spoke after I did, focusing on cancer treatment and sexuality. Each of the three of us brought a different mix of personal storytelling and research, and the themes we introduced wove together in an unexpectedly lovely way.
After a short break, Alex Bove talked about ways that men in poly relationships embrace masculinities that are grounded in collaboration, cooperation, and mutual care. His talk was followed by Kimia Shirifi, who focused on migration experiences and the ways that they complicate sexual identity and expression. Both were beautiful and evocatively used narrative to shine a light on complex experiences.
After a lunch break, we returned to hear Dan Copulsky talk about expanding categories for sexual orientation, and to hear Rhoda Lipscomb talk about people with a particular orientation to sex that involves expressing adult baby identities or enjoying diaper wearing. Here too, the blend of research and personal narrative created space for engagement, empathy, and understanding.
The conference’s second to last session was a collaborative talk by Kate D’Adamo and Dulcinea Pitagora about the ways that the #FOSTA law and its increased criminalization of communication around erotic labor has further jeopardized the lives of sex workers, who are, despite all that, continue to find sources of resilience in community organizing and mutual support.
The best – and that’s saying something considering how excellent everyone was – though, was saved for last. If you have never had a chance to hear Cecilia Gentili tell her story – as I had not – you must find a way. In one hour of heartbreaking and hysterical storytelling, Gentili revealed her own experiences of queerness, violence, migration, racism, drug use, abandonment, love, recovery, and transformation.
In a word, resilience.
Whether or not you are a therapist, counselor or sex educator, if you are in New York next year when AltSexNYC is on and if you are interested in sexual freedom, this is an excellent way to spend a day. I’m so glad I had a chance to be there.