So it seems I’m leaving Chicago soon — very soon! — and going to Africa.
When I try to tell the story of the sex-positive activism I’ve done here in Chicago, it’s kinda difficult. A lot of it snuck up on me. A lot of it was rather a surprise.
I’ve been on a career track towards going to Africa to do AIDS education for the last two years. I was never sure when I was going to be sent away, though — in fact, my departure was delayed twice. In the meantime, I was solidifying my BDSM identity; I came into that four years ago, and the learning process has only accelerated recently. I was also running lots of events for fun; I didn’t think of it this way at the time, but in retrospect, that was an incredibly helpful learning experience. And I’ve always been extremely interested in sex and culture.
Last year, I briefly dated a documentary filmmaker. Dating him both got me more interested in documentaries — I had previously been far more interested in fiction — and gave me a small window into what the film festival process is like. When I heard that “Passion and Power” (a history of vibrators and female sexuality) was screening in Chicago, I dragged my favorite gender studies friend Lisa to come see it with me.
After “Passion and Power”, the conversation went something like this:
Me: That was great! You and I should have a regular sexuality film night.
Lisa: You know, I bet people besides us would come to see that ….
Lisa works as Education Coordinator at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and she has way more experience running events than I do. Our ideas about the film series grew and grew! What started as nothing more than “let’s see fascinating movies and have interesting discussions!” became a Huge Awesome Activist Project. Lisa pointed out that it could bring a bunch of different sexuality communities together. I realized that it would be the best platform ever, not just for adult sex education, but alternative sexuality activism of all kinds — including my personal favorite, BDSM outreach.
So we created the Sex+++ film series and convinced the Hull-House Museum to host it. I took what I’d learned from dating the filmmaker / running events / spending years thinking about sex and culture — and I spent hours upon hours researching appropriate documentaries, tracking down filmmakers and distributors, begging for sponsors, calling everyone in the city who might be interested in sex events, generally driving myself insane …
… but it’s all been worth it, because the series really took off. Really, I was stunned by how much everything — not just the series, but my life — took off.
And then, of course, after the film series exploded and my BDSM outreach exploded and I started doing things like lecturing at the Museum of Sex, or fielding calls from reporters and talk shows, or inspiring others to create their own incredible sex-positive projects … that was when the African AIDS education program called me. Oh yeah, remember them?
I had a moment where I considered staying here in Chicago. Actually I had more than one moment like that, and I worry that I’m being an idiot by leaving. Not just because leaving halfway through the Sex+++ film series is like planning an incredible all-night party, then leaving at 11PM ….
I’ve been lecturing and leading workshops around the city — around the country! I’ve had multiple opportunities to write professionally about these issues! It seems likely that if I came out (scary as the concept is) and took the time to promote myself, I could develop into a badass sex-positive activist / lecturer / writer. Am I being an idiot by departing now? Maybe. Maybe I am. Maybe I’ll be kicking myself for the rest of my life.
But I have wanted to go abroad for a long, long time. I believe that doing AIDS education in Africa is an unmatched opportunity to do work that needs to be done, to learn many things about sexuality and sex education — not to mention, to learn about being human … stretching myself to the max … existing in ways I never thought of. I know it’s going to be difficult and depressing, and I’m going to be lonely and miserable for large swaths of the experience, and I’m scared that I — the Internet geek, American culture-analyzin’, alt sex-lovin’ girl — totally do not belong in darkest Africa. But hey, I heard somewhere that I’m a masochist. Plus, if I’m going to be thinking about my career, this program will lend me a lot of professional legitimacy — more legitimacy that I can put in service of the sex-positive agenda. (What, you thought I didn’t have an agenda? Damn straight I have an agenda. Fear me!)
So I’m still going. In fact, I’m going next week. If all works out as planned (I never assume that it will), I won’t be back for years. My access to the Internet will probably be irregular; indeed, for the first few months, I most likely won’t have Internet access at all. I will post if I can, and I’ll send back whatever interesting sexuality information I come across. I’m sure I’ll still think about BDSM all the time, even though I’m also sure I won’t have as many opportunities to practice it; I hope I’ll have time to post some of those thoughts as well.
The film series will continue in my absence; I’ve put in many hours — and I’ll put in many more hours for the rest of this week — creating an infrastructure so that the Show Does Go On. (I also intend to post a Sex+++ FAQ this week, so as to make it easier for others to steal my idea and do the film series elsewhere.) Pleasure Salon will continue, hosted by the same great people who have been hosting it all along. I hope it’s still going when I get back!
Worst comes to worst, this opportunity doesn’t pan out and I come running home with my tail between my legs. Yeah, it could happen. But I’ve got to try.
It’s been a great ride. And I’ll be back.