Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit: filling in the details

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Many of my friends are people I’ve never met. That’s weird, isn’t it? It is genuinely a very different world to the one I grew up in, where friendship meant ‘the people whose doors you’ll knock on if you want to hang out at the weekend.’ Now, though, friendship usually comes with an @ and an avatar.

It’s pretty awesome. Not only do we get to have more friends than our teenage selves could have coped with, we also get to ‘meet’ people more gradually. We build pictures of people in our minds and then fill them in the more we get to know them. First you get the outline – learning about their public, online self. Then details are added, as you swap a few jokes in private via DM or email. Eventually if you’re lucky, you might meet them in real life and learn cool things like how they laugh and what shade of purple their hair is. More details, and a better picture.

I’m ridiculously lucky – this week I went to the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, and I got to fill in a million more details on lots of people’s pictures, as well as start some new ones. The conference itself is an incredible, inspiring event with experts from so many different fields coming along to share their expertise. I have a notebook filled with ideas and quotes on everything from PrEP to Chaturbate, and I’ll be writing more about the sessions over the next couple of weeks. It’s fascinating to hear how activists in the US are tackling similar challenges to the ones we face at home such as online censorship, and learn about things I’ve not heard discussed in my circles before, like ensuring elderly LGBT people’s needs are addressed in care homes and with in-home visits.

There were inspirational stories – particularly during the ‘Bedpost Confessions’ night where Crista-Anne and Ericka Hart moved me so much, and Buck Angel and Julie Gillis had me in stitches. There were so many ideas that I want to explore more – like Charlie Glickman‘s ‘Man Box’, which is an incredibly powerful analogy for the ways in which society reinforces ‘what a real man should be.’ There were things that made me angry, like many of the stories told about poor care for elderly LGBT people, or Eric from the Free Speech Coalition about Proposition 60 (which, if it goes through, will mean that individuals in a particular state would be able to personally sue porn performers, directors, and anyone associated with a video if performers in that video don’t use a condom).

Back to the picture analogy again: a lot of the things touched on over the conference are things I had come across before – a bit. I had an outline. But over the last few days I’ve been able to fill in many more details – drawing a better picture, and giving me lots of things to think about and follow up on when I get back home.

But obviously the most incredible thing about any event like this is the people. I met so many incredible people: online friends who I was super-excited to meet in real life, as well as new people I hadn’t connected with before. When I arrived on the first day I was way more nervous than I normally am at these things (and I am normally RIDICULOUSLY nervous). But @RubyGoodnight of @DoxyNAmerica is the most incredible host – introducing me to everyone and nudging me to go and speak to people I hadn’t met yet. She also caught me up on a tonne of gossip, and gave me tips on how to tip. Also worth a special mention on the hosting front – @UUGwenica who helped me find my feet and heroically stayed up with me until 2 AM, and @ACoupleOfKinks who introduced me to the weirdest popcorn in the entire world.

Then there’s the amazing blog squad, who made me feel so welcome with gossip, stories, and LOADS of Haribo. It’s been amazing to get to put faces to online names, and filling out more detail in the picture. I now know, for example, that @SugarCunt has the most wonderfully infectious laugh, and that @yaybody is brilliant at writing poetry as well as penis toy reviews. In fact, all the poems at the SheVibe blogsquad party were incredible, and if anyone else posts theirs online (or has theirs online), I’d love to add a link here – let me know!

I really enjoyed getting to know @ninjasexology over a giant rainbow horse cock, and I got to meet the lovely @DangerousLilly and touch her famous jar of melted sex toys. I compared Doxy necklaces with @JoEllenNotte, talked money with @Epiphora, heard an INCREDIBLE idea from @Protospect about hooking up sex conferences (so if anyone’s got a spare 20 grand let me know). If you’ve been following on Twitter as well you’ll see that @MaryQconfesses and @HarryVConfesses have the most incredible taste in wine, which they kindly shared with me on the last night, as we gathered in an odd corner of the hotel somewhere to eke out the last few hours of the final night.

I got to meet @MetisBlack from Tantus, and Sandy and Thor from SheVibe – all amazing people who come to events and support bloggers and provide us with wine to help us lubricate conversation. And although he wasn’t there in person, Will from @Doxy was most definitely there in spirit – he sponsored me to get to the conference, and without Doxy I would never have been able to attend. To be honest, I carry my Doxy everywhere because when I’m stressed or frustrated often the only way to take it out is to have a massive, intense, 2-minute power-wank.

I am literally powered by Doxy, people. Literally.

But I’m getting distracted, so let’s come back to the picture analogy again – this weekend I got to fill in so many more details about people I had only ever met online. Before I hopped on a plane last week, I’d been looking at the schedule to see what I wanted to learn about, and I had a few ideas in mind of people I wanted to chat to. Now, though, it’s less about individual ideas and more about the overall atmosphere – stories, laughs and all-too-brief hellos that have filled out a lot of the detail of how things work over here. The incredible community surrounding sex blogging and sexual freedoms and everything associated with that.

In short: it’s all about the people.

Which brings me to a conclusion I hadn’t really intended: I’m in a hotel at the moment with very bad wifi. And I spent yesterday on a train with very bad wifi. So this post took hours and is still only half-finished. I wanted to flesh out more of the details – to mention more of the amazing people I met, add more links, draw you a better picture, and make you all feel like you were there with us. Thing is, over the conference, I’ve learned just how important people are, and realised that I often spend so much time recording incomplete outlines online that I often forget to treasure people properly – enjoy the sound of their laughter and listen to their stories.

So I’m in New York, with a person who’s really important, and I’m going to cut this blog post short so I can spend a bit of time with him, and relearn the stuff I’ve forgotten. I promise I will catch blog readers up on more Woodhull things when I return to the UK – and I’ll also send out some info on the UK conference Eroticon for those who want to come along (add your details to this form if you’d like some more info/support with getting sponsors to help you – I would love to introduce you to some of the UK people so you can fill out the details on them in exchange!). But for now I just want to say a huge thank you to everyone involved in Woodhull – especially the people who made me feel so welcome.

If I can get there next year, I would love to come and fill in some more details.

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