The weekend of September 20th found me and several San Franciscans headed to Washington D.C. to attend the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. Sex, sexuality and gender are topics that have made history this year; DOMA was abolished, and gay people can now marry in 13 states while enjoying more rights than ever before. In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing children in public schools to decide which bathrooms they use and whether they choose to participate in girls or boys sports. In the wake of all these changes, the Woodhull Summit and conferences like it are designed to discuss all of these changes and hopefully cause more.
Since I couldn’t see every panel, I relied on the attendees to let me know which panels were the standouts. Sabrina Morgan, a well-known Bay Area sex educator and activist, had a sex work round table, Friday night. Cheyenne Picardo, an attendee, said: “The sex work round table was a very smart diverse discussion led by Sabrina Morgan that may have been the first time I ever felt that all sex workers could be on the same page, maybe even allies, in the struggle for respect, safety, and recognition.”
Buck Angel, an icon in popular culture who is also the first Female-to-Male (FTM) transsexual to appear in the adult world, premiered his film “Mr. Angel” at Woodhull, and his pal Reid Mihalko, a sex educator based in Oakland, led the Q&A with Angel afterward.
After Cathy Vartuli saw the premier, she said: “The film did a great job of showing the ordinary moments and the struggle Buck went through finding his sexual identity and expression. It showed the confusion he felt, the challenges his family went through, and the love they all have for each other that brought them through the journey. I loved how the flash backs to him as a young girl growing up helped people connect to his transformation, and his courage. And when his dad broke down, it was so touching. I think this film takes a journey that is normally steeped in fear and mystery and makes it gentle and easily accessible to everyone. It showed the courage it takes to step out of your old life, and builds compassion and understanding for anyone going through this process.”
Shanna Katz, an attendee and speaker said: “As a sexologist and sex educator, as well as a member of a few sexually marginalized communities myself. I think it is incredibly important to have ongoing conversations about sexual rights. Many people assume that this means reproductive rights/justice, and leave it at that, but even many people already somewhat “in the know” were shocked to find out about the condoms as evidence law in New York, or that nursing home patients can get kicked out of housing in some areas for being (consensually) sexually active. Sexual freedom is multifaceted, and I was excited not only to be able to share my take on it (specifically around privilege, LGBTQ and disability identities), but also to engage with others in the field about the different issues that are so prevalent in the field.”
Kate Guilfoyle Cassidy, the VP of Customer Relations of Masque and one of the proud sponsors of this event, said: “We were very honored to be asked to sponsor Woodhull Summit this year and were excited for the “friend-raising” opportunity that our attendance allowed. The Alliance’s work on human rights and sexuality education are very compelling. We’re always excited to introduce our product to forward-thinking attendees at sex positive events. Events like this are an excellent opportunity for thoughtful discourse on education and safe sex.” If you’re wondering why Masque sounds familiar, it’s because they’ve sponsored almost every sex positive and adult event in the last two years. It seems this oral sex strip company has a heart of gold and a desire to be philanthropic.
Woodhull did many things right at this conference, from unisex bathrooms to a list of rules on behavior and conduct. They offered a cigar bar and a party on Saturday night for everyone to unwind at.
But what they mainly offered beyond panels and speakers was a place where people who live with issues of being queer, polyamorous, kinky, a sex worker, transgender, disabled or part of many other marginalized communities, a chance to connect with like-minded people going through the same struggles, while trying to find solutions that can really make change, and not just apply a band-aid like so much of society wants to do. It is one thing to read about these topics on the news and it is quite another to live it. And that’s what Woodhull does: it brings home the realities of these situations through people and panels. In the words of Havelock Ellis, “Sex lies at the root of life, and we can never learn to revere life until we know how to understand sex.”