Thursday, May 28, 2009

What Happens At The Sex Conference Doesn't STAY At The Sex Conference

It’s been a few weeks since I came back from the “Sex Conference” I went to and wanted to share some of my experiences. I’ve broken it into pieces so this is easier to read. I’ll start with the flight, hotel, and SAR in this piece. The next pieces will be the conference experience and third introspective analysis.

The Flight

I have a crush on Lenny the flight attendant. He’s probably 50 or older, he’s about 6’2, has a goatee, salt and pepper hair, nice frame, silver wire glasses, light brown skin, a NYC accent, and a wedding band. I want to be his luva. I’ll rub a few out for masturbation month to him. If only he knew! I need to make a series of cards called “cat daddy” cards that I’ll hand out to attractive older men. Kind of like a membership badge or something. Maybe Erika Lopez will be into this idea and help out! Lenny is what Erika would call a “meat dog” which she defines as “guys who reek of sex and just broadcast their "meat dogness.” It’s a compliment. They never apologize for their testosterone.” I also had a crush on the security broad who took my luggage to check. She opened it and was greeted by my bra, panties and silky draws. She then told me my tattoo was “interesting” we were scoping one another out. The airport is always a hard sell for me when flirting cause, I mean it’s hit or miss.

I didn’t have anybody sitting next to me on the plane, but then some buster got on the plane at the last minute and took the seat next to me. It was this famous broad Rev. Debra Haffner. She runs the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Healing, and Justice. She doesn’t know who I am but I know who she is as I first saw/met her in Cuba at the World Association of Sexual Health (formerly World Association of Sexology) conference (where I presented in Spanish I might add). Her hair was curly and I instantly liked her more as when I’ve seen her she straightens her hair. She was on the Cuba flight too and I remember her telling my homeboy Brad and I to “go to the AASECT conference because it’s 10x better than WAS.” I’ll share my comparison to that when I’m done sharing my experience. She left when Lenny suggested she move to another seat so that, as Lenny said “we all have more elbow room” which I think is code for the fact that I’m fat. Yet it was true because my elbow would have stabbed her in her left ear over and over for 5 hours straight. That would not have made me comfortable, not cause she’s a reverend, fellow sexologist, or older than me; but because not everybody’s curls are the same and I honor the “don’t touch my hair” stance.

Hot & Arid-Zona

My homegirl Elena picked me up from the airport and we went to Target and ate at a spot whose name I can’t remember but I know it’s not on the East Coast. I had to purchase some toiletries since the security in NYC made me toss stuff, plus I got some grub so I wouldn’t have to spend too much money during the conference. We headed to the hotel and Elena dropped me off. It was Tuesday and I wouldn’t see her again until after work on Friday. After I checked in the first thing I did was take my clothes off. It was HOT in AZ, I’m talking 100 degrees hot even with air conditioning. I called a high school friend to see when we could meet up, as I haven’t seen her since 1996! I then cooled off and went straight to the pool. It was all good for 2 hours until some frat boys came to do cannon balls in the shallow part of the pool. I slept well that night and the wine I drank with my high school homegirl sure helped!

Day 1 & 2: SAR

To get certification you are expected to attend a SAR, which stands for Sexual Attitudes Reassessment. It’s usually a 10-hour session with a group of people where you explore and discuss various topics on sexuality and sexual health. I couldn’t find anyone who was offering this in NYC and decided to do it in AZ. They are not cheap at $450, so I had to decide to use some emergency funds/health care money/birthday money to pay to attend this event. When I went to the registration desk, I was the first person to register and folks were excited I got the ball rolling. In order to get my packet they had to find my name on a list of folks who paid and they did, but they did not find a packet had been made for me. This frustrated me because I paid $650 total just for the SAR and conference not including hotel, travel and food. It’s a lot of money, shoot that’s rent! I had to come back to get a packet. Unfortunately, when I came back they still didn’t have one ready for me. They told me that I would have it before the SAR began that evening.

I can’t express how imperative it is that folks who spend so much money are treated with dignity and respect. The two White women who were attempting to help me could not have been more opposite. One was extremely helpful the other extremely dismissive.

I have to admit; this registration experience left me feeling invisible.

The first evening of the SAR there were about 50 people in the room not including the facilitator, Dr. Eli Coleman. I got there a bit late since the registration desk staff did not give me adequate directions to find the room. I took a seat in the back. There was a film playing of people dancing. I read the bodies of those dancing as racially White. I looked around the room and counted 5 other women of Color. This made me feel relief. There were no men of Color, and less than 10 men in total in the group. It was difficult to assess the age of members in the group, but I came to the understanding that I was part of the “younger” crowd of 30-somethings.

I don’t want to tease out the entire SAR, but I do want to mention a few things that stood out for me. First, this space allowed for a lot of group work and one-on-one work as well. You get to know almost everyone in the group over the 10 hours fairly quickly. Here’s what I experienced:

1. When I shared my age with two women over 50 in an activity, I was told: “you have a baby face” when I said part of the reason I eroticize getting older is because I believe I can find acceptance as a sexologist among my older peers.

2. When I shared that I received more messages about my body not because I was fat, but because I was brown, two of the three White women in my group said: “that’s fascinating.” Really? It’s called racism. It’s not that fascinating.

3. When talking about kink in a group of five people, all White, with one man who is active in the community, I mentioned how race play is rarely ever discussed within the community and that challenges the ideas that kink communities are so inclusive, they have their isms too. The man in the group started to look around the room and exhale loudly as I began to speak (not after, WHILE I was speaking).

4. When my group of 5 all White members agreed that I would be the “lead” on a condom demonstration, one of the White women completely ignored what I was saying by leaving the group, checking her telephone, and when she returned she was loudly saying what was wrong with her condoms over others who were speaking. When I mentioned the expired condoms she had in her box (over 1 year old) may not be nice to the touch if opened, she said: “Really, is that right?” and proceeded to open the package. Ten minutes later she had to go wash her hands cause they were so skuzzy.

5. I ate lunch alone.

It was a less than exceptional yet expensive experience. There was an attempt to include communities of Color in the images and media presented, but they were so few and far between (and very Black/White). There was absolutely no Asian, Southeast Asians, Native American Indians. There were a handful of people (read no more than 2) with disabilities, who were fat and who were Latinos. There was an abundance of parents, White people, White children, and specific videos/images of transgender people, LGBTQI people, older White adults, and men in wheelchairs. I wrote this as something to improve the SAR. I also suggesting updating the data provided, as there were citations from almost 20 years ago! I wonder if once you become someone who is so “popular” and well known in the movement if things like quoting old data is a pass you get. Perhaps it’s age, as I’ve heard many older White sexologists say their age allows them a pass to act like a fooligan and they use that pass all.the.time.

As someone who is working-class, an activist, a person of Color, a woman, a person with a disability, a fat person, someone committed to media and social justice, this experience was very “tip of the iceberg.” Think of cultural competence training but with a focus on sexuality. All of the discussions on “culture” were focused outside the US as if we don’t have enough culture to discuss here. Images of people in Thailand, Mexico, and from the Pacific Islands were presented. It was very “othering” of communities of Color by older White men or more specifically from a White gaze. Perhaps if I experienced this 10 years ago when I was just starting out in the field would this have had more of an impact, then again I had a tons of consciousness-raising experiences growing up and at home.

What I did appreciate about this space was that I had folks to say “hi” to during the conference the next day. They also fed us breakfast, lunch and snacks, which cut down on my expenses. I also realized that a SAR especially for people of Color and sexologists of Color is imperative. I also realized SARs do not have to be so expensive. There can be ways to make the SAR a collective and affordable experience. However, making connections with folks was difficult as many people already knew others there or had come with a group. I was among my peers but I was still alone. I ate dinner alone and went to my room and began to write.

My next post will focus on my experience at the actual conference. Boy did things take a 360 turn for the better!


  1. La Bianca, I wish you had introduced yourself on the plane. I moved because I was in the middle seat and he (how did you get his name?) offered me an aisle with no one next to me...I hope you'll share your SAR comments with ELI, he'd learn a lot from glad you liked the curls. I stopped blow drying two year ago. Rev. Debra

  2. just wrote comment...doesn't look like it went through. Wish you had introduced yourself. I moved because I was in the middle seat and he offered me an aisle with no one next to him. Send Eli your comments; he'd learn a lot. And glad you liked the curls. Glad to not be blow drying anymore...Rev. Debra

  3. Hi Rev. Debra! Thank you for visiting and taking the time to send in your comment, twice! I didn't know it was you until I heard you speak but you were on the telephone and then speaking with Lenny. Plus, I get shy (I wrote a post about being in the company of the "Crafty Chica" in AZ, and I got that same way when I realized it was you) and add to that feeling rushed, a bit displaced w/security hold ups, and having a slight fear of flying, my mouth didn't open. Upon realizing you were mid-conversation about moving to another seat (Lenny's idea not yours I know!) I didn't want to interrupt.

    Yes, I did share my thoughts with Dr. Coleman (I'm not one to sulk and complain without offering suggestions and my perspective when appropriate) and wrote suggestions on the evaluation form which has my contact information. Although my experience to and in AZ began in ways that made me (intellectually, physically, spiritually) uncomfortable, I have learned (and am learning) from that discomfort and know it is important to understand why that was one of my experiences and what I can do to change it for myself. Ultimately, this time to reflect has helped me realize several things, one is that I am committed to the field and as a result am excited to join AASECT and meet more of my peers.

    I LOVE you curls! I really do. It's rare for me to see someone who has gone back to the curls from straightening as it's usually the other way around! It made me smile and still does.

    Paz y luz,