Sex 2.0 2009, feminisms, and the wonders of diverse and intersecting communities

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Sex 2.0 2009 is one week away, and I'm very excited about it. Here is the list of sessions and as soon as I see an actual schedule I'll post that. I hope you'll join us if you can, if not in person at the event, then online by following any of the twitterers or livebloggers who will be sending out real time updates during the day. There's still time to register. Click here for the registration page.

Last year, in Atlanta, under the guidance of Amber Rhea, a brand new grassroots conference was born. Its goal was to bring together smart people interested in sex, technology and social media in a space where we could talk to each other as equals, no hierarchy, and with the agenda being driven by the community. It was a very successful event. 

This year, in Washington DC, under the guidance of Match, the conference will again bring together a group of people from a wide range of backgrounds to discuss sexuality, society and technology. It is going to be a great mix of sessions. I'm co-leading a session with Ren of Renegade Evolution about how to build trust and alliances between sex worker communities, researchers, client communities, and others. I'm especially looking forward to sessions on community building (MayMay), dismantling the internet "red light district" (Melissa Gira Grant and Joanne McNeil), advocacy for sexual freedom (Ricci Levy and David Phillips), community-academic alliances for research (CARAS), polyamory (Anita Wagner) and on sex work (Audacia Ray, Kimberlee Cline, Furry Girl, Sabrina Morgan, and Ellie Lumpesse. Really the whole lineup is pretty impressive and I wish I could see everything!

Click here to read more on Sex 2.0, feminism, and intersecting communities.

The subtitle of the conference is: Intersection of social media, feminism, and sexuality. There has been some discussion this year about whether feminism is taking a back seat to sexuality and social media. Certainly the word "feminism" appears less often than it did last year. (Just for example, Ren and I did not use it in our session title this year though we each did last year.) The organizer is a man who does not himself identify as feminist, and several presenters also don't take on "feminist" as part of their identities.

Feminist identity was not a litmus test for admission to Sex 2.0 last year nor is it this year. Feminism is a complicated thing. For several years now it has felt odd to me to write "feminism" in the singular form. Really there are many feminisms, and some are not at all friendly to the kinds of sexualities this conference takes seriously. In particular proponents of various feminisms have been downright cruel to sex workers, people who find value in pornography, butch/femme gender expression, BDSM, or those who reject monogamy.

What impressed me from the start about Sex 2.0 is that it could be organized using feminist principles and could be very anti-sexist, anti-heterosexist, and yet not fall into the trap of "my feminism is the One True Feminism" into which other feminist organizations have sometimes stumbled.

That said, here are the things that I think make Sex 2.0 feminist in practice:

-It is organized in a way that rejects hierarchy of expertise or knowledge. It recognizes many sources of knowledge and gives them all equal standing on the program. It is up to participants, through engaging with ideas and with each other, to decide what information is most valuable to them. 

-It is organized around an openness to the potential value of all consensual sexual expression and does not exclude or marginalize people based on the kinds of sexual expression they want to talk about.

-It does not force a segregation between "serious conversations about sex" (e.g., academic or intellectual ones) and "frivolous or prurient conversations about sex" (e.g., those that focus on pleasure for the sake of pleasure). Indeed the first Sex 2.0 was hosted in a dungeon space where people returned afterwards for a play party, and during the conference itself it was not unusual to hear people discussing their own sexual experiences and desires in ways that demonstrated the permeability of the intellectual/prurient boundary. Pleasure for pleasure's sake is not understood to be negative.

-Collaboration and transparency are guiding principles in the organizing of the conference. I have not been in on the organizing of the conference in any meaningful way this year, but there was, as last year, a Google Group where decisions were discussed and where the community could guide the shaping of the event by volunteering to participate in the planning process.

I have said repeatedly that last year's Sex 2.0 was the best conference experience I have had (and I've been to lots of conferences). It was the openness, the rejection of hierarchy, the blending of experiential and research-derived knowledge, the mix of sexualities explored, and the community-driven organization that made it so profoundly positive an experience for me. A grassroots community-driven meeting is going to be different each time it happens. The variations will be a product of the differences in lead organizers, location and size, and the mix of people who take an active role in planning the event. The truth of the matter is that the feminist-minded (if not feminist-identified) sex-positive community is not one unified community. It is a network of intersecting and overlapping communities that differ in interesting and sometimes problematic ways. By coming together like this we have the chance to learn from each other things we cannot learn from our own communities.

So long as we share the principle that freedom of sexual expression is a basic human right, and that with all rights we need to be careful to exercise it responsibly, our differences need not prevent us from working together two create a culture that truly values sexuality in its myriad forms of identity and expression instead of treating everything but heterosexual monogamy with fear and shame. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what this year's Sex 2.0 brings and I promise to report back on what I learned!  

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