Hoe, But Make It Queer Art

DoubleTap is an interview series highlighting creatives whose work explores sex, body, and identity.

 

Grindr, a modern advent that has, in many ways, picked up where the bathhouses left off, is equal parts sexy, hilarious, and demoralizing. The hookup app is what most cis gay men use to find no-strings-attached sex… and queer photographer and anthropologist-lite Andrew Harper has been watching this space for the sake of art and a nut since he was 18 years old.

If you are unfamiliar with the Grindr interface, it displays “looking” users within a 1-mile radius. The messages between interested parties are often brief and nude-laden. Think OkCupid if OkCupid were a focus group of primed and geographically compatible gays — with triple the dick pics. Since it launched back in 2009, the platform has developed a notoriety for its members’ candor (folks say the darnedest things when they’re horny!). Harper, originally from Florida, takes these exchanges and superimposes them over pictures of himself and his friends. The result of which is the popular Instagram account Gaytona Beach.

It’s a simple enough concept, but by pairing real communications with photos of actual queer bodies, a bit of our reality is laid bare on our feeds. Featuring conversations ranging from sweet affirmations to troubling displays of internalized racism, fatphobia, and femme-shaming — Gaytona is a mirror for the community.

Harper set out to explore the dynamics of gay men negotiating sex, and in the process he is uncovering the cultural and social influences that take us to bed.

 

What was the initial inspiration for Gaytona Beach?

Harper: When I was living in Daytona Beach, I felt like I was the only openly gay guy around. I had, up until this point, created an identity for myself from all of these things coming of age in coastal Florida, like sneaking margaritas in to-go cups onto the beach, dancing to New Order until we drove our downstairs neighbor into moving out, going on long drives through the swamps at night and turning our headlights off to really see the stars.

But up until 19 [years old], I had never explored the parts of my identity that related to sexuality. You can imagine that when I first downloaded Grindr it was an immediate addiction, because for most of my childhood and early teen years the majority of gay culture came from Tumblr and porn. So I felt that I had virtually nothing but sex, sin, and conflict to attribute to being gay.

I was surprised by how venomous and angry people could be [on] the app, and how easy it seemed for complete strangers to be just as abusive online as [the people who] shouted slurs at me from their pickup trucks. I started documenting the wild conversations I had, and over the course of a few years, compiled a folder of something like 3,000 screenshots (no joke). I was also in school for photography at the time, and so one day I was going through my photos and found one that reminded me of a conversation I had screenshot-ed and bam — the rest is history. I began telling these stories with these conversations and pairing them with real moments of life around me in that city, and it felt humorous and cathartic.

 

I have to ask, are any of these interactions staged? Are these really all things people have said to you on Grindr?

Believe it or not, they’re 100% real! For the first half of a year or so every message I posted was one [that was] sent to me. Like I mentioned, I had thousands of old conversations and messages to work with. Now I’d say about half of the ones that end up on the page are ones that have been submitted to me. You know how some people get those “Saw this and thought of you!” texts or DMs and it’s like a cute gif of a cat? I get those same messages, but instead it’s a screenshot of a stranger saying “Piss in my ass.” I still pull from that original folder all the time, though.

 

You’re a photographer and — correct me if I’m wrong — but the majority of the images you use for backdrops are other people’s selfies/nudes. What’s the inspiration behind this?

Yes, the majority lately has been that way, but originally this wasn’t the case — it developed over time with the growth of the project itself. Actually, when KAAST and I first met, I was predominantly still using beach landscapes and photos of spring breakers. Using other people’s selfies started when I first started taking submissions, and it happened kind of naturally because I was already using photos of other people but only ones I had taken. Because I was using images of people with anonymity to convey a story, it only made sense to start incorporating selfies and nudes because that’s the majority of photos being passed along on Grindr.

 

Would you ever consider taking your own photos to pair with the app exchanges? Or would that undercut the authenticity of what you’re going for?

I love this question because for the people who have been following the page from the beginning or know me IRL, you can actually spot a lot of photos of myself on there. For a while, I was also using a lot of my portrait work — I spent some time in Orlando before moving to New York last year, and I was working for a commercial studio. My mom also owns a studio in a small coastal town called Ormond Beach, so I had a lot of studio work to play with. I wouldn’t say it undercuts the authenticity because the focus of the page is each individual message, and the photos are just a way of bringing them to life and giving them energy or translating them visually for people.

 

Your posts really run the gambit, hinting at all sorts of queer realities. Are there specific topics you try to tackle with your work?

This changes all the time. Almost weekly, actually.

First I should say I listen carefully to input and criticism. I never expected the project to transform into something that has a sense of responsibility to it, but that’s what’s happened. The topics started as my own personal ones that I encountered — online harassment, drug use in the gay community, the internalized homophobia of others, etc. — these were all things that I was directly exposed to in Daytona Beach. And after documenting those interactions, I decided to express my own perspective.

One time I addressed the local police officers for a homophobic raid they performed (using Grindr!) and tagged them in it. Sometimes [posts are] more lighthearted and humorous, like sugar daddies and small town gossip, but the more interactions I posted for anyone to see, the more responses I got of people being able to relate. Eventually I left Daytona and along with that came a very clear shift in the types of conversations I had and topics that came up (obviously). The bigger the city, the more you see, hear, and experience, and so slowly but surely the page has gravitated towards bigger social conversations. Topics that come up now range anywhere from mental health to body image, and even to things like the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. This might be my favorite part about the page, honestly. If you look at it as a timeline, you can visually track the mindset and journey from small town to big city.

 

How has your approach changed over the years?

As soon as I opened it up to be collaborative, I assumed a sense of responsibility to focus on diversity and inclusiveness. The project used to be just me and my experience — whatever was immediately around me in Daytona Beach.  But that’s obviously changed a lot. My surroundings and my community have transformed.

 

In your professional opinion, what are some of the biggest differences between Grindr in Daytona and Grindr in Brooklyn?

Well, the most obvious difference is the density. Here, the person at the bottom of the list on Grindr is at most like 1,000-2,000 feet away. Back In Daytona, the fourth person over from you could be miles away. Forget about the bottom of the list, they’re usually in the next town over. But to really get an idea of how intensely unique that experience was, you have to take a step back and look at Daytona Beach itself: it proudly wears the locally-crowned title “World’s Most Famous Beach.” It’s the birthplace of NASCAR, a fixture of the American Spring Break phenomenon, and the location of the final showdown between Aileen Wuornos and the law. You can imagine it’s an outlandish group of people down there.

 

Have individuals whose messages you’ve featured ever gotten salty [that you’ve posted them online] after the fact?

Nope, but I never really expected them to anyways. When I first started [Gaytona Beach] that was what felt the most daring about it — I would get these messages that were sometimes so violent or hateful and [would then] posting them for anyone to see. If you were the person who sent that message, you would A) never want to out yourself for it and B) probably not want to talk to the person that you said it to again. I figured they would never reach out to me via Instagram and reveal any personal information by doing so. Besides, the focus of these posts is the dialogue itself — not the person who said it. My intent was never to create a public roast, but instead to evaluate an experience I was dealing with — which I later learned was a universal experience.

Basically, in order to get salty with me about something you said, you would have to address what it was in the first place. On the other hand, I also don’t post any content that would be harmful to someone or reveal their identity, so that would be the only other time I could see someone being salty with me.

 

Gaytona Beach definitely deals in the lead up to a hook-up. Would you ever consider exploring the aftermath of it? I could totally see your format applied to themes like ghosting, unrequited crushes, STI scares, etc.  

I think you’re on to something here….

 

Grindr probably has a more artistic connotation for you than most of us. Do you still use the app for pleasure?  

Yes! I have this account linked to my profile, but I still mostly just use the app for the same reason anyone does. Eventually I want to [unlink the project’s Instagram account] from there, but for now it generates a lot fun conversations.

 

What does the future for Gaytona look like?  

Bright! Last year I learned a lot, and I’ve made the promise to myself this year to circle back to why it all began in the first place. Growth is fun, change is fun — but its background is what made it interesting. Something else you’ll see more of is an integration between this and my day job [Andrew works in healthcare services].

I’m currently designing a system for people who take (or want to start taking) PrEP to get it them affordably, help with office visits and testing scheduling, as well as answering questions and connecting them with LGBT focused medical providers in the city. I realized there’s a lot I can learn from the diverse following of the page. For instance, if you ask your doctor about the side effects you think you’re having on PrEP, they’ll likely say something like “a small portion of people report experiencing side effects but this will go away soon.” I doubted this for a while, and I recently ran a poll of around 350 Gaytona followers that revealed half of them [have at some point] experienced side effects. Out of that group, around 10% of them experience ongoing side effects from their PrEP.

I’m not completely sure what that will look like for the page, but I’m excited about it. I’d really like to use the page to help New Yorkers connect with affordable LGBT care. Aside from that, I have a couple things I’m crossing my fingers for, but you’ll have to wait to see.

 

 

All photos provided by Andrew Harper. You can follow Gaytona Beach here.

 

Love Is A Healing Game

If I could go back in time and stop my 16-year-old self from entering a mentally abusive relationship, I wouldn’t.

Although my wounds are healing still to this day, I learned so much about myself in the process that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I know it sounds a little fucked up, but that relationship taught me self-love and resilience. Healing from the pain of a toxic relationship can take years, even an entire lifetime, and it affected me in more ways than I ever could’ve imagined.

During the relationship, I was addicted to the constant highs and lows. The intensity of the relationship made it feel so real. The highs were so high that I didn’t think twice about how low the lows were. The highs made the constant anxiety, disrespect, and manipulation worth it. With my anxious attachment style, I didn’t know better than to give my all to a relationship, no matter how unhealthy it was. And being at such a vulnerable age, I didn’t have the tools to detect the signs of emotional abuse. I thought the abuse was what real love was. My friends told me over and over again that the boy I was dating was a crazy, manipulative asshole, but I never believed them, not once. It eventually came to the point where I had to choose between my friends or him, and I chose him.

When I moved away to college, the emotional abuse became unbearable. The long distance pushed me to my breaking point. I’d cry every night underneath my sheets so that my roommate wouldn’t hear. I’d decline offers to go out just so that I wouldn’t have to carry the anxiety of a potential argument afterward. Going out with friends was a constant cause of arguments in our relationship. He’d ridicule me for hanging out with my friends and compare himself to them. He didn’t want me to be happy without him — he’d rather me live a life of sadness when we weren’t together. He wanted the distance to consume me, to eat me alive. I was so good at hiding the abuse with my friends. I’d only express the highs and hide the lows. However, it got to the point where I was unable to hide it anymore.

I began to run out of excuses as to why I didn’t want to go out with friends. Stuck inside my head for most of each day, I was depressed and unable to help myself, and it finally started to show. I decided to swallow my pride and open up to my roommate about what I was experiencing. She was in awe of my experience because she had virtually no idea the pain I was going through.

As we talked, my roommate’s insight really opened my eyes to the reality of my abusive relationship. It seems like signs of abuse should be obvious, but when you’re in the middle of it, the lines become blurred. Abuse can warp your perceptionto me, the abuse seemed like a form of love. I thought that he was saying abusive things because he loved me so much. I thought that he was controlling me because he wanted to keep me safe. I thought the nonstop communication between us was healthy, what people in relationships strive for.

When I finally was able to identify that I was in an abusive relationship, the idea of being in a worry-free, supportive relationship seemed so out of reach to me. I think it took me so long to see the abuse because I didn’t want to believe it. I’m such a hopeless romantic that I wanted things to work, no matter how toxic it was. Throughout the duration of the relationship, I pushed all of my intrusive thoughts to the side. I never wanted to speak up for myself because I feared he would view me as unattractive or I would make the situation worse. Now I know how valuable speaking your mind is in a relationship — being honest and open is powerful, and you should never have to fear speaking your truth. My roommate helped me see what’s right and wrong in a relationship. My experience in the abusive relationship has taught me to value the knowledge I’ve gained, and my current relationship, so much more. I am so grateful for all that I left behind and all that I gained along the way.

Although leaving an emotionally abusive relationship can be extremely daunting, it is imperative in order to move forward. You cannot continue to live through the unnecessary pain inflicted upon you daily. There is so much good out there waiting for you in the world. I find it helpful to look at my experience in an abusive relationship as a lesson that made me into the person I am today. Leaving was draining, but I am so much stronger because of the abuse I endured and the lessons I learned along the way.

I still feel effects of the emotional manipulation on a day-to-day basis, but I can learn from them. When I experience irrational thought patterns, I make sure to take a step back and breathe. I ask myself why I’m experiencing a particular feeling, and what I can take away from it. I’m evolving into a better person every day. I choose to recognize that my experience has allowed me to become a more sensitive, passionate, and caring person.

I plan to continue to transform my pain into motivation to better myself and deepen my love for myself.

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Noelle Lucceshi, Shannon Rudd, and Amanda Baker.

 

It’s Your Vulva Not Vagina

Raise your hand if you could correctly label a diagram of external female reproductive anatomy.

I know there are a few hopefuls thinking, “Yeah, I learned this in high school, I think I could do it,” and even fewer still who are fully confident in their abilities. But if we’re being honest here, most people’s hands should be down. This isn’t to say that none of us paid attention in health class. Rather, it’s something that many of us were taught incorrectly, and some of us weren’t taught at all. So forget everything you think you know about the vagina; this is your comprehensive guide to external female anatomy and its role in sexual pleasure.

Let’s begin with the most elusive organ: the vagina.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of you would have most likely labeled this on your diagrams as either the small slit within the folds of the labia minora (the inner lips; we’ll touch more on this later, no pun intended) or in reference to the entire external edifice. Both of these answers would be incorrect. The vagina is actually located inside the body. It’s the elastic organ that does most of the work during intercourse, either expanding or contracting to hug the inserted object (i.e. penis, fingers, sex toy, etc.). So, what is the proper name for the slit on the external diagram? Technically speaking, this is called the vaginal opening. But keep in mind that the vagina is, in fact, an internal organ.

I know, shocking.

If this is the case, then why does society most commonly refer to the entire anatomical structure as the vagina? The truth is, no one knows. There is no evidence to show where the societal shift occurred from calling the external “vagina” by its proper name, vulva. Perhaps it’s simply the phonics of the word — vagina seems to have more of a ring to it than vulva, don’t you think?

Or maybe we’ve just been conditioned to think that because the transition just happened and nobody thought to change it back? One thing is for sure: if you’re seeking anatomical correctness, you might want to start referring to what you thought were “vaginas” as vulvas. It turns out that possessing this knowledge may actually help you improve your skills in the bedroom. The more you know, right?

The vulva lies just beneath the mons pubis, or the pubic mound. This is more commonly understood as the “top of the vagina” — again, this is somewhat of a misconception. The mons pubis is essentially just layers of fatty tissue which lie on top of the pubic bone in order to protect the more sensitive area below. This is also where pubic hair grows.

Starting from the top down, the vulva is comprised of the clitoris, clitoral hood, clitoral glans, labia majora, labia minora, urethral opening, vaginal opening, perineum, and even the anus. Clearly, there’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down and make it just a bit more fun by discussing the role of these structures in arousing sexual pleasure.

Ah, the clitoris: illusory to most, remarkable to all. Like the vagina, perhaps even more so, the clitoris is commonly mistaken for an external organ. Now, this isn’t entirely false, since the clitoral hood (the flap of skin covering what most people mistake for the clitoris) and the clitoral glans (the pearl-shaped external part of the clitoris, often confused as the entire organ) are located on the outside of the body. The majority of the clitoris, however, is actually located on the inside of the vulva, and extends beneath the folds of the labia, up to around 5-7 inches in length. Note that this is also the size of the average erect penis; just like a penis, the clitoris may become engorged with blood in anticipation of intercourse. So, next time you’re looking to pleasure yourself or your partner with a vulva, remember to focus your attention not only on the portion of the clitoris that is visible, but also on the parts which you cannot see. This can be accomplished by simply stroking the area at a speed which makes you or your partner feel comfortable, activating the nearly 8,000 nerve endings within this extremely sensitive area. No matter how you go about achieving clitoral stimulation, remember that approximately 75% of people with vulvas require additional stimulation other than straight-forward intercourse in order to reach orgasm.

That being said, the clitoris is not the only sensitive part of the vulva. The labia majora and minora, otherwise known as the outer and inner lips, are also extremely sensitive and often overlooked during sexual arousal. These folds are made of soft, thin tissue meant to protect the vagina and internal reproductive system. Due to increased blood flow to the area during arousal, the labia may also become swollen and more responsive. It is important not to leave this area behind during stimulation; engaging the entirety of the external genitalia may increase the likelihood of orgasm altogether. Make sure to ask yourself or your partner what feels good!

Another titillating area to explore is the perineum. This is the small patch of skin located beneath the vaginal opening, just above the anus. If you’re not quite ready to engage the anus, this is a good place to start. Massaging or stroking the area can be pleasurable as it is rich in nerve endings. Again, when trying new things, always remember to check with your partner first.

Let’s tackle the idea that masturbation can decrease the sensitivity of the clitoris and other female erogenous zones. This is not only completely false, but also yet another misconception that perpetuates the disparity of the orgasm gap. Experiencing orgasm, no matter how frequently, should be celebrated. It has no harmful effects on the female body, in fact it is actually proven to be beneficial for heart health and overall well-being. Vulva anatomy differs from one individual to the next, meaning that each and every person with a vulva may experience the sensation of orgasm differently, which is totally normal. Not to mention, it is physically harder for people with vulvas to reach orgasm due to the complexity of their genitalia, and a general lack of knowledge in society about how to navigate these complexities.

So now, armed with your newfound understanding of the vulva, you can go out into the world knowing not only how to correctly label an anatomical diagram — but also how to successfully pleasure yourself and a partner!

 

Illustration by Lucy Han, and photos by Nate Jerome

 

Let’s Redefine Virginity

I’d like to suggest we all do something slightly radical. Something that is super personal, but on a larger scale, could transform our understanding of sex and sexuality for the better.

Despite our inevitable variety in sexual experiences, preferences, and knowledge, one thing we all share is our initial state of inexperience. The word “virgin” is defined as someone who has never had sexual intercourse — but there’s a number of problems with this narrow interpretation.

Firstly, it prioritizes the physical act of sex, the definition of which has always been hijacked by heteronormativity; sex is assumed to be a penis entering a vagina, and this is sex in its most socially valid and accepted form. Therefore, according to the dictionary, any person who has had a penis in their vagina or vice-versa, is no longer a virgin. The emotionality, intimacy, pleasure, consent status or personal significance of this experience is overlooked in this understanding of sex. But what if we prioritized pleasure over our obsession with penetration? What if we expanded “valid” sex to include non-hetero sex by default, too? How, then, would virginity change?

In addition to this, our current idea of virginity is upheld by centuries of patriarchal dominance over sex; it is anti-womxn*, anti-queer, blind to consent, and continues to be weaponized against womxn all over the world in so many ways, often as a way to prevent our sexual expression and development. The myth of the hymen (aka the vaginal corona) ‘breaking’ is supposed to be proof of whether a womxn’s had penetrative sex or not. It is completely nonsensical, there is actually no reliable way to tell. This practice came about from paternity fears, back when it was more difficult to identify who the father of a child was other than ensuring that the mother had only had sex with one man. People wanted to know a child was theirs for sure, so that political and social power and wealth could be properly inherited.

So, the patriarchy commodified womxn’s virginity, she would only then be valuable and marry-able as a virgin. The myth that people would be able to tell from the state of her vagina if she’d had sex with someone was supposed to act as a kind of mental cock-block; an imposed deterrent for womxn to embrace their sexuality. This patriarchal form of control in turn influenced many religious doctrines and continues to dominate social views on virginity, even in the 21st century.

Womxn are told to expect sex to feel painful, we’re told we are of less value to society as sexual beings and that ‘innocence’ is a currency that once sacrificed, cannot be redeemed. Not only does this deny us our right to pleasure, it suggests that the essence of womxnhood lies in an absence of independent sexuality. No wonder our pleasure is so often disregarded in conversations around sex, in pornography, and unfortunately for us, in real life.

Social and historical fetishization of virginity is also the origin of slut-shaming; the stigma around sexually active and experienced womxn, or simply any womxn who slightly transgresses society’s desire for us to be ‘pure.’ One of the paradoxes of patriarchy is that while these forces attempt to chastise womxn’s sexual expression, they simultaneously also hyper-sexualize and objectify womxn; we are permitted to be sexualized by men, but sexuality that is not an extension of or an aid to male pleasure is forbidden.

With the current language we use, our concept of sex is tainted before we’ve even had a chance to experience it; sex is demonized, maybe even dreaded by some. According to the popular verbiage, virginity defines our worth. We say we’ve ‘lost’ our virginity, as if something precious has been permanently taken away. For womxn especially, this is a statement laden with negativity. Removing this reductive rhetoric from discussions of first sexual experiences could cause a huge shift in our feelings towards the growth of our sexual identities.

Rather than subscribing to an archaic, oppressive framework, I challenge us to redefine virginity. I suggest we revolutionize it, so that its meaning is one of fluidity and independence; a definition that each individual has autonomy over, one that isn’t fundamentally a means of controlling and commodifying womxn.

Let’s define losing virginity as gaining pleasure, obtaining new connections, as learning, as intimacy, as an experience rather than an act. Let’s define it as a brick in the building of one’s sexual identity (the construction of which begins far prior to shared intimacy). Let’s define it as plural, as able to happen multiple times in different ways. It is a beginning, rather than a singular event that has no future. A watershed moment in each individual’s sexual history. Let’s define is as not contingent on another person, as able to be experienced alone. We should view it as an exchange, extending the sentence “I lost my virginity” with a “and gained…” whatever it may be in that instance; intimacy, orgasm, pleasure, knowledge, experience, confidence, satisfaction, self-love, appreciation, passion…

By prioritizing our positive sexual experiences, negative experiences that may have felt like definitive ‘firsts’ no longer have the power to control and define us. Why force everyone’s idea of virginity into one template when we are all so different and varied in our identities? If we give ourselves the freedom to self-define virginity, perhaps we will discover the moment we ‘lost’ it, hasn’t actually happened yet, or we will be surprised by it happening again in a different context.

For me, the first and most transformative experience of losing my virginity so far — where I felt I gained something completely new — sexual power and complete intimacy, was receiving oral from someone I was emotionally invested in for the first time. After that, penetrative sex actually felt pretty un-important; that act changed me far more in society’s eyes than it affected my personal sexual identity and growth. The first time I had sex with a girl changed me again in a very different way. With this “virginity loss”, I gained a entirely new understanding of my sexuality, shared intimacy, my body and female pleasure… So, take a moment to revise your sexual history, whether you’ve shared your body intimately yet or not, and try to figure out which virginity losses have given you the most, which have felt most personally significant, which ones changed you. Perhaps they’re not just moments, but people or a period of time, an act or a feeling.

Whatever you discover, from now on, you define your own sexual history, and only you own your virginities of the past, present, and future.

 

 

*The writer uses womxn here as an alternative to ‘women’ as it is more inclusive and not a defined by a relationship to men.

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Jairo Granados, Alexa Fahlman, and Kama Snow.

 

CamWoman 101

This article originally appeared in Pull Out, a print magazine exploring the relationship between sex and technology. 

 

Camming is like stripping, but you don’t have to make eye contact. You’re still physical, but you only touch yourself. You’re aware people are watching you, but all you see is a reversed-moving-image-selfie. Senses are stimulated yet the entire experience is lacking flesh. It’s stripping — but cheating.  

When I began to consume pornography as a pre-teen, the content was based on what was easily accessible and available. First, it was a Playboy magazine, followed by a VHS tape, but then the Internet happened. Garden-variety adult sites like YouPorn and XVideos mainly featured videos of heterosexual couples, wherein an aggressive man dominates a submissive woman.

As sex digitizes in various ways, Cam Porn has offered a platform to those who seek to challenge the conditions of patriarchal pornography. Camming permits self-identifying women the autonomy and control over production, set design, casting, where content becomes available, and how they market it.  

I masturbate, I twerk, and I sit on homemade hand-frosted cakes as a paid performer. I’m an independent contractor, and I’m able to stream at any time. I operate under an ever-mutating pseudonym on one of the most well known live-streaming sites. Premium members tip webcam models with tokens. They click to initiate the heavy twinkle sound of change dropping in another dimension, highlighting the screen #FFFF00. What models do in their chat rooms is up to them. Members pay for a model’s time either in pay-per-minute private shows or by chipping in with tips during a public chat.  

My cam set is my studio is my bedroom. The equipment I need to work has been collected over the years: webcam and studio lights sent to me anonymously from my Amazon Wishlist, a 27-inch iMac from my father, many folding mattresses that are both a bed and a stage for clients like ollie_2113. The money I make camming buys me high-speed internet service, the cake mix from Pioneer Supermarket, and also inflatable Donkey Hoppers from the bodega on Broadway in Bushwick for my signature Donkey Twerks (basically I hump rubber toys). Additionally, my camming money buys the watercolors I use to paint portraits of the men I C2C (communicate cam to cam) with, the fabric I use to print screenshots of women on, and the rent for the apartment that I stream from. Both the job and the capital, make the artwork.  

Offering off-site content like Snapchat videos, picture sets, and Skype are crucial to maximize income and build a consistent fan base. The work of a CamWoman is dominated by filtering out spam in an attempt to connect with like-minded people. I view the regulars who frequent my chatroom as patrons, individuals who are purchasing availability and friendship. Camming is all about building a community, which takes constant emotional, mental, and physical effort. I’ve thought about quitting if I could find another job that feeds my art career the way camming does, but that would mean abandoning a community that I’ve spent years building: members have become sugar daddies, and also  — friends. 

A man on a Tinder date once told me, “A woman with her own sexual agenda is intimidating.” Both my date’s discomfort with my sexual empowerment and the broader stigma attached to pornography come from the confused sexual shame our “moralistic” society places on women. I don’t subscribe to that shame. A woman making decisions that have to do with her sexuality shouldn’t be seen as anything but smart. 

Women are told that porn isn’t made for us. We are presumed perverse for watching it, being in it or exhibiting our sexuality. Our society’s stance on sex is harmful because it’s uneducated, catering to archaic patriarchal values which gender sex and porn as something for ‘boys only.’ As a pornographer, I can confirm that women willingly participate in porn.

We appreciate it, and we capitalize on it. If we are performing, if we are the “stars,” how is porn not also ours? 

 

 

All photos provided by Lindsay Dye, who you can follow on Instagram here

Is Weed Dick Real?

“Whiskey Dick,” as many of us like to call it, is the inability to get erect after a night of heavy drinking. We’ve all talked about this before, but what about weed dick — does marijuana play a role in our performance during intercourse?

To find out, I interviewed a long list of KAAST readers about their experiences mixing sex and weed. The first thing I wanted to know was whether or not being under the influence made intercourse better or worse. Of course, the answers varied.

“For me personally, I think that weed helps me to settle down before having sex. Sometimes I feel like I can get too into my head and weed helps to to relax and enjoy the experience,” says an anonymous interviewee. They also admitted to  “being more tired, overcoming cotton mouth, and sometimes getting distracted,” but other than these few minor factors, they claim that marijuana has not impacted their sex life very much and that “Weed Dick” does not necessarily pertain to them.

Cotton mouth is the excessive dryness in your mouth that commonly accompanies smoking, which can also cause making-out to be an issue. One female reader says, “Yes, I get cotton mouth all the time and it’s not exactly a treat to make out with. He and I have been together a long time so there’s no shame in being like I need a glass of water. I also will get  ‘cotton mouth’ in my vagina. It can really dry me out sometimes which is no fun but the re-lubrication process is easy — so no harm, no foul.”

I was fortunate enough to have one reader email me with two perspectives: one from them, and the other from their significant other.

In regards to the first question about whether or not smoking has a positive or negative influence on their sex life, I got two answers. The first was, “I would say it makes my performance better with the one caveat that sometimes I lose track of what I’m doing. But I usually recover pretty quickly I think.” Meanwhile their partner added, “Weed dick is real y’all. Unlike whiskey dick, with weed dick I feel more sensations than sober, get harder, and last longer (well, that last part is the same as whiskey dick, but not as sloppy and again — with more feeling). The only potential negative for me is, if I’m too high, I think about weird ass shit constantly.”

Everyone’s body reacts to weed differently. Some may be able to handle it well and others may drift off, which can, of course, have consequences during sex. Although, while Whiskey Dick can lead to struggles getting and maintaining an erection, it doesn’t seem like Weed Dick has the same association.

Being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol could impact each person differently. One reader said of their partner, “He could only get hard when he was high. I guess it relaxed him to a point where he wasn’t so much in his head… So for the two months we had a thing, we could only have penetrative sex while he was high.” In this subject’s sexual relationship with their hook-up, weed was crucial to intercourse. In other words, it was the complete opposite of Whiskey Dick for their partner.

Another trend in the discussion of Weed Dick is how calm most people feel when getting into intercourse while high. “Before intercourse, I feel happy when I’m stoned. There have been times, though, where we get too stoned and end up falling asleep instead of having sex. My body is more relaxed and I feel like I’m able to open up more when I’m stoned,” confessed one interviewee.

Along the same lines of calmness, people spoke of an increased sense of intimacy that comes with mixing weed and sex together. One person said, “It definitely takes me longer to finish when I’m high. It’s a weird mix of stuff — everything feels so good I want to hold on to the feeling longer, sometimes my mind goes off to a weird place…”

Another man in a M/F relationship said, “My best guess would be that smoking makes me finish faster. There is just so much more raw emotion, and since I’m under the influence, I don’t think about holding off for a longer session; I just want us both to keep that good feeling forever.” He also added, “We have significantly less sex when I’m smoking and the sex is more wholesome (more intimacy and smiling and giggling) and I feel quite a bit more connected to my partner because we take our time while high.”

This idea of intimacy and closeness during intercourse may be because of the increased sensitivity that one’s body often feels when high (as mentioned by many contributors to the article), which makes each partner want to feel touched and groomed during intercourse. One of my favorite quotes from the flood of Weed Dick emails I received was, “I literally can’t think of any dick related problems related to weed. If anything, I could imagine someone becoming dependent on weed for sex. It’s the millennial’s viagra,” one reader wrote. According to this relationship, weed is the holy grail of their sex life.  

So, to sum up my investigation, it seems that Weed Dick does not equal Whiskey Dick. In fact, they are on two different ends of the spectrum. Whiskey Dick makes intercourse nearly impossible when trying to get erect, but from the plethora of feedback received from our readers, weed seems to have quite the opposite effect. However, something I also concluded from the information I received was that marijuana can make it more difficult for a person with a vagina to cross the finish line during intercourse while high. Many women told me that they drift off and cannot stay focused on the foreplay/sex while stoned. 

According to what I’ve experienced and have been told, weed can be a wonderful addition to one’s sex life, with the exception of a few people stating that weed puts themselves or their sexual partner in a strange mood/head space that alters the way they act during intercourse (moody, angry, distant). As always, remember that each person reacts to drugs differently. Before going into intercourse with someone under the influence of any drink or substance (and just in general), ask for consent!

You want to make sure each partner is ready, consenting, and comfortable with their current mental state — whatever that may be. 

 

First two photos are by Kama Snow, and the final photo is by Noelle Lucchesi

 

Behind The Comment

The internet has 4.2 billion users, and 3.03 billion of them are on social media. On average, each individual has around 5 social media accounts, which could be made up of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr or YouTube. The average time spent per day on social media is nearly two hours. So… why is social media so popular exactly?

Is it how it connects people from around the world? The memes? To watch cute animal videos? An escape from reality? Is it the idea that people can create and design their own persona and only show what they think others want to see? Or is it just simply fun? 

I was 10 years old when I first joined Facebook, I was 11 when I joined Instagram, and 13 when I joined Snapchat. For as long as I can remember, a large portion of my life has been shared and spent on different platforms. I have grown up with social media, I have seen the different ways that people use it, and I have changed the way that I use it over the years.

In the beginning, I found it to be innocent and fun, having group chats with twenty other classmates and creating One Direction memes and fan pages. However, throughout the course of my teens, all that has changed. Today, instead of a friend list consisting of six family members, my Facebook friend list comes in over one thousand, some of them I don’t even properly know: possibly people I have met in nightclub bathrooms or a party or split an Uber home with.

Social media is truly amazing, but I do believe there is a harmful and malicious side to it. Today, most young people and teenagers have either a Facebook page or Instagram. If you’re getting bullied at school, home isn’t necessarily a place you can be left alone anymore; apps with private messenger like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat allow people to be tormented wherever they are. There are even websites and apps in which people can send completely anonymous messages.

Ask.fm was very popular when I was around 14: you had a profile and people could send you questions either anonymously or not. Some questions were light-hearted, “Who do you want to know better?” but then questions like “Prettiest girls in your year?” and “Who are your closest friends?” would appear. Imagine going on to your best friend’s profile and seeing that you were not listed as one of the prettiest girls on your year? I distinctly remember receiving a question asking who I thought were the prettiest girls in the grade above me, I listed five girls who I barely knew, but who I idolized and wanted to like me.

After I had answered, I got another question which said “Don’t be stupid, ____ and ____’s group don’t even know you exist.”

Most of the negative comments that I saw on other people’s accounts were about their physique, weight and appearance, I can’t even imagine how these types of comments could affect some people. According to the Canadian Association of Mental Health, students in grades 7-12 who spent over two hours per day on social media reported higher depression and anxiety levels and in the last year, 43% of teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying. Nearly 20% of victims said that they had been targeted from a fake account. This is why I believe that websites that allow people to send messages anonymously are the most detrimental form of social media.

Would these statistics be similar if these activities were not online? Perhaps people feel more bold when they aren’t face to face: if you said something offensive IRL, there are likely to be harsher consequences than if you are sitting at home behind a computer screen.

Adolescence is often marked by insecurity that comes from trying to figure out who you, and I believe that social media can unnaturally persuade the user into trying to be like someone else. These tendencies are only heightened by the advent of online interactions. In some ways, I am an amalgamation of every girl I have ever thought was cool. I had a whole folder of photos on my phone of people I wanted to look like, or bodies that I wished I had — I feel the pressure at nearly 20-years-old,  I can’t imagine the amplified effect for even younger individuals.

Nowadays, many people share almost everything they do on social media, thanks to the story feature that most apps possess. According to best-selling author Steven Furtick, “We struggle with insecurity because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” I have been in situations where I am sitting at home mindlessly scrolling through people’s stories and I see all my friends doing something without me. This will cause major insecurity, I think, am I not fun to hang out with? Have I done something? If they actually liked me, they would’ve invited me.

In my experience, social media has created much unnecessary stress and anxiety. Likes and followers are a social currency, just like money, that we use to assign value to something. We are the product, but in the same vein, we are the ones letting other people assign value to us. While I’ve learned to develop a thick skin, 12-year-olds are using these apps; sensitive and impressionable young people are being exposed to these types of behaviors — good and bad. What is this going to teach them?

Time will tell.

Although, it’s not social media’s fault that these issues are prevalent. Of course the technology enables it, but you wouldn’t blame a Sony television for a bad television show. It is the people who use these platforms who could use education and coping strategies. It starts with admitting that social media can hurt as much as it can help.

 

Photos by Kate Phillips

 

Of Men And Meat

If you’re wondering if we gender food, just google “man eating.” You’ll find dudes shoving burgers down their throats. Now google “woman eating.” Salads abound. From these stock images, one would think that women pretty much eat only cubes of fruit and iceberg lettuce while laughing into their forks.

On one level, these search results might seem more indicative of female diet culture than of men’s diets; we’re more likely to view a diet of solely salad as a trendy fad than we would a diet of largely meat. That’s because we already assume that eating massive quantities of meat is the norm. I mean, the average American ate 198 pounds of meat in the year 2014 compared to the world average of about 91 pounds. We are a meat-centric society and, despite the growing number of very vocal plant-based folk, meat consumption is soaring (annual meat consumption per person in the U.S. was predicted to be to 222 pounds for the year of 2018). America is increasingly meat-obsessed, so why aren’t both women and men on Google Images chowing down steaks? Why is meat so connected to men?

We could, of course, approach it from a naïve “first humans” perspective: men are hunters, women are gatherers. But even if that perspective is anthropologically accurate, it’s strange that the association has lived on, considering the only spears most men wield now are the sticks inside their corn dogs. According to a study done by the Vegan Society, 63%  of vegans identify as female, while 37% identify as male. This divide is slightly more even but still apparent in vegetarians, with 41% of vegetarians in the U.S. identifying as male. Men aren’t hunting animals as a means to survive anymore, but there still seems to be an inextricable link between meat consumption and masculinity.

We seem to think that meat upholds this idealized conception of manhood, but in today’s capitalist world, this sentiment has only allowed men to become prey for meat corporations. Take Burger King’s “I Am Man” commercial from 2007: men taking to the streets and refusing to “settle for chick food.” The commercial ends with the statement “Eat like a man, man.” The message is that maleness is predicated on consuming meat manufactured by a corporation (Burger King). In the same way that beauty narratives tell women they need x product to be truly beautiful, our society has posed meat consumption as something integral to manhood. It also sets up yet another way to pit women against one another, as some women use misogynist food narratives to their favor by asserting they’re not like a “typical woman.” The girl who gets a burger on the first date is a cool, one-of-the-guys kind of girl, while the girl who eats a salad is overly concerned with her figure or too girly. If there’s anything more American than meat, it’s misogyny!

I wanted to see what masculine people had to say about meat. Did they notice the emphasis on meat eating in America, or was I driving myself crazy over nothing? To George, who I knew in high school and struggle to call a man rather than a boy, “meat means protein and gains. That’s about all that comes to mind.” From what I gathered during our brief conversation, George seems to work out a lot now, which was why he described himself as “particularly masculine.” He and his frat brothers apparently all eat a lot of meat and work out together; to them, the protein they get from meat translates directly into masculine “gains” and enormous pulsing man muscles. Meat means gains, gains mean masculinity, so by transitive property of frattiness, meat means … masculinity, I guess.

Although George’s brief, no-nonsense answers were helpful, I was able to pull a lot more out of my friend Joe. He pointed out that “when male-identifying people grow up, we learn that eating meat makes you strong and tough.” Joe also noticed a lot of coded meat messages growing up, like the “associations you see on TV and commercials with meat and ‘manliness’ and being a ‘big tough man’” or how “eating my first Big Mac definitely felt like a weird male rite of passage.”

Joe and another former high school classmate of mine, Patrick*, also noticed the ways in which meat-related slang is tied to masculinity. There are a lot of typically masculine meat-related idioms: two people in a fight have “beef.” If you “beat your meat” you’re masturbating a penis; if you get wild you’re “going ham”; the list goes on and on. Joe and Patrick recalled a few more good ones, like “sausage fest” and “beef up.” Joe got on a roll once he started, sending me multiple messages:

1:39 PM: “Choke the chicken” as a euphemism for masturbation/
3:22 PM: I’ve also heard a woman’s butt referred to as “booty meat.”
9:35 PM: I just remembered the term “meathead,” I hear that a lot to refer to a muscular male who is unintelligent.

So yeah, there’s a lot of slang, although Patrick told me, “I’ve always thought that meat as a euphemism for dick was kind of unsettling, because meat is something that gets bitten off chewed and digested and I want exactly none of that associated with my dick.” I was unsettled by something else: when we associate meat with the penis and muscle, where does that leave vegetarian and vegan men? Are they stripped of “manhood” because of their dietary choices? Can you be manly without meat?

There’s increasing evidence that you can. Notable “manly” vegans include famed quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, “Jackass” stuntman Steve-O, and NFL star Tony Gonzalez. If male athletes are beefing up without beef, then how are they asserting their masculinity outside of our consumer emphasis that meat is male? I asked professional vegan fitness trainer Korin Sutton. Korin isn’t just fit; he’s built. A recent photo he posted on Instagram claims he has only 5% body fat, and that’s not hard to believe. He thinks that men eat more meat than women only because they’re raised to believe that men eat more meat, thus creating a cycle where men eat meat to uphold a norm. Since going vegan, Sutton says he’s “glad that my mindset has changed and realized that food has no gender roles.” You don’t have to be a typical “man” to fall prey to our society’s fixation on meat. Whether you’re a little masculine or a lot masculine, you’re still subject to masculinity standards.

But where does this association become fuel for toxic masculinity and male aggression? Considering that few people kill the food they eat, men are more likely hunting for Tyson coupons than hunting for wooly mammoths. But all it takes is a glance at the news to confirm that male aggression is alive and well. To be clear, I’m not blaming meat for this; male violence has been excused and upheld by our society for hundreds of years, and it’s not as if plant-based men are removed from that structure. Male aggression isn’t based on meat, but dominance; the same dominance that meat consumption relies on.

Is the problem meat itself, or how we eat it? If we changed the way we consume meat, then maybe some of those man/beast dichotomies would start to fall apart. If we ignore the way food informs our decisions and attitudes, we’re also ignoring how it perpetuates toxic ideals in our culture.

For a country so obsessed with eating, we don’t seem to actually think about food much. We’re constantly inundated with food advertisements and Tasty videos and pictures on Instagram, but we fail to seriously acknowledge issues like the obesity epidemic or cardiac arrest-related deaths or eating disorders. We cling to labels like “free-range” or “cage-free” without learning what that really means, or fixate on “clean” or “cruelty-free” eating. The ethical food movement may urge us to stop eating so much meat, but it is still wrapped up in the stereotypes that characterize the way we masculinize meat. Labeling some foods as “clean” implies others are “dirty”, which is classist, shame-y, and dangerous.

Once we use our food as a way to inform and fill out our identities, it becomes a fixed element in our lifestyle. Treating foods as central to our identity makes sense when it comes to cultural foods and ethnic culinary traditions, but using meat-eating to boost our identity in terms of fitness or gender or sexuality by over-emphasizing it as a necessary staple is not sustainable. Not only have we made it normal to eat way too much meat and emasculating for men who refuse to do so, we’ve tossed out the habit of an incredibly varied and ever-changing diet that our bodies need to thrive.

We’ve twisted one of the most basic parts of being human into a way we abuse ourselves and others. If we can’t examine what sustains us physically, how the hell are we supposed to examine what sustains us mentally, emotionally, or spiritually? Taking a closer look at not just what we eat, but how we eat and why we eat it, is crucial to living that Socratic examined life.

So how do we convince people to pay attention to what they eat without conflating certain foods with certain characteristics in a way that upholds the same toxic standards that pit people against each other and the planet?

I don’t know, but it’s certainly something to chew on.

 

Photos by Alexa Fahlman.

 

Deja Foxx Is The Future

RoleModel is an interview series highlighting badass individuals. 

 

While most high school students are busy trying to pass their classes and have fun, Deja Foxx was taking on Republican senators.

The activist and organizer was only 16 years old when Trump signed legislation to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and similar health service providers in 2017. Foxx, a longtime proponent of women’s reproductive rights, made headlines when she confronted her state senator at a town hall meeting.

“I’m a young woman; you’re a middle-aged man. I’m a person of color, and you’re white. I come from a background of poverty,” she began, addressing Arizona senator Jeff Flake, “I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why is it your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood and to choose no co-pay birth control, to access that?”

It was badass.

Today, the 18-year-old student is more determined than ever. Currently studying at Columbia University in New York City, Foxx utilizes every spare moment organizing for a variety of social causes. I had the opportunity to talk with her about sexual health, politics, and her bright, bright future.

The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.

 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your upbringing and where you’re from?

Foxx: I was raised by a single mother in Tucson, Arizona. Me and my mom, all throughout my life, really struggled to make ends meet. By the time I was eleven, domestic abuse entered our household. Things had gotten so bad that I moved out — I bounced around, stayed with friends, and ultimately ended up sort of landing with my boyfriend at the time and his family. And they are a really amazing family. Monolingual Spanish speakers and Mexican immigrants, and that experience — moving out of my house, across town, living with a family that’s completely different than the one that I kind of grew up with — really helped me see the world in a different way and understand community.

So I ended up living with them, for about three years, and then my senior year I applied to college, got into Columbia University, and I’m now the first person in my family to attend college.

 

That’s phenomenal. Congratulations, really.

Thank you.

 

How old were you when you said you moved in with your boyfriend’s family?

I was about 15.

 

So this was all going down in like middle — or I guess early high school?

Sophomore year [of high school], yeah.

 

Obviously you did amazing in school, you’re going to one of the best universities in the country. But did you ever feel like your home life was affecting your ability to perform in school?

Oh, absolutely. Now that I’m at Columbia, I have a dorm and a meal plan, and the past semester I got two A minuses and three As, which ended up at a 3.8 [GPA] — those are the best grades I’ve ever gotten. I mean, usually when people get to college in their first semester, they kinda get shocked with like a Oh, I used to be perfect in high school and now what’s happening? But for me, it was the other way around.

Now that I have this stability that I’ve never been afforded, my grades were better than ever. And I can say that in sophomore year [of high school] my grades were the worst that they ever were. But more than that, I think that where I really began to struggle in sophomore year was socially.

I was struggling so much at home, and because the type of school I went tended to be wealthier, middle class white students: two parents at home kinda thing, and I felt like no one knew what I was going through. And none of my teachers were people of color — not a single one throughout high school. So I looked around and felt like no one knew what I was going through and no one understood. And that just reflected poorly onto my social life, and that was really tough.

I was in student council my freshman year, and my sophomore year I didn’t get re-elected. It was because I was tired of pretending like I was white, like I was rich. I’d just moved out of my moms house and it was just getting to be too much. So because I couldn’t pretend and couldn’t fit in anymore, I didn’t win that election. I felt so unappreciated, but after kinda not making it back into student council, I was forced to reevaluate what leadership could mean to me, and that’s when I got involved with Planned Parenthood and sex ed. So it ended up working out just fine.

 

What was your inspiration for getting involved with sex ed?

For me, it was really that moment where I was sitting in a health class, and my white male professor was breezing through this PowerPoint on contraception, because “You guys go to [name of school], so you already know this stuff.” And what he meant was that, because our school was selective and [made up of] primarily wealthier, white students with parents at home, that everyone in this class should already know these things. Their parents should have already taken the time to teach it to them, and if they haven’t — they will.

I sat there thinking like, That’s not me and no one knows it, no one’s gonna go out of their way to help me. I realized in that moment that, because sex education in Arizona lacked regulation — it varied literally from district to district, school to school, classroom to classroom — that students like me were the ones falling through the cracks. It was students that didn’t have parents at home, students who were first generation Americans whose parents didn’t have the knowledge, who were too busy working to teach them.

I took that moment and instead of just getting angry about it, I got active. I started organizing my peers. We went to school board meetings every Tuesday, and we’d get up during community call and tell our stories, about how sex ed was disadvantaging us in our school district. And after six months, we won that campaign. So for the next two years, I sat on a board, helping write new curriculum for my school district that was not as awful as the one we had before. Yeah, so that was kind of where I got my start.

 

I think that’s really brave of you. It’s so obvious that our healthcare system, especially sexual health care, is broken and disproportionately puts low income, people of color at a disadvantage. What are some steps you think our country needs to make change the system?

For me the future of sex education is peer education. Back home [during] my senior year, I helped start a group called the El Rio Reproductive Health Access Project (RHAP). What is amazing about this group is that it hires young people ages 14-20 that represent the people we serve. So these are teen moms, these are people of color, first generation Americans, homeless people like me, and we train them to be peer sex educators, and we train them to be community organizers. And every week in my hometown, they still host free teen clinics at our community health centers.

At these free teen clinics, young people come in — we even send them Ubers and Lyfts to make sure they can get there — we feed them and once they are there, they can access any method of birth control and STI testing [at no cost to them].

So this past year, the El Rio Reproductive health access project helped around 1600 young people in my community, who otherwise wouldn’t have relieved reproductive health care. I think it’s over 250 of those young people received long acting reversible methods, so will be good for the next few years. And on top of that we’ve trained, I think it’s around 15 young people, we’ve provided these leadership opportunities to young people who are traditionally excluded from leadership, who are excluded from these positions where there entrusted with the responsibility of being a leader, because people think that they can’t be. So we’ve been able to train, hire and pay, create these leadership avenues for 15 young people who otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to that.

 

I think that’s amazing. That’s the way you fix the system, start with the foundation! 

And what I think is really interesting is there’s no one size fits all solution, because I think that, with sex education, it really matters the community you’re in. Like community driven solutions, I think are the most effective. I feel like if we could just involve community members in finding solutions [to issues regarding sexual health care], everyone would be doing a whole lot better.

 

I agree with that. Because, for example, if you’re in a specific religious community, that’s going to come with very specific barriers for talking about sex ed or getting the right information.

Yeah, my community is a heavily, heavily immigrant community, and so it’s really important for us to respect and make culturally relevant curriculum. Also when we’re looking at barriers to access; understanding that some of those barriers do come from family, and addressing that in a way that’s authentic.

 

I remember the first time when we met, you told me that you were attending Columbia, and then we started talking about higher education and [how it can be] very elitist and inaccessible. What do you think are some steps we can take to combat that and to make it a more even playing field?

When I look back at the work I’ve done around reproductive justice, so much of it is actually tied to my own journey, trying to make it to higher education. Whether it be sex education — same with disadvantaging me and someone who doesn’t have parents at home — or whether it be birth control access [as] someone that had to live with her boyfriend at the time, all of that tied into my larger goal of wanting to attend a university.

So I think in terms of reproductive justice, it’s inextricably tied to social mobility and educational opportunity. Whether through sex education or birth control access, both of those are components to how we make sure that [someone with] the most diverse set of experiences has the opportunity to realize their potential. So much potential is lost through poverty and it’s so incredibly unfair. I’ve realized through coming to the Ivy league’s, that rich people are not just inherently smarter or more creative or more talented, it’s just that they’ve had the tools to realize that.

 

What’s your dream job?

My dream job is president. It’s taken a lot for me to be able to say that, to get to place where I’m not nervous. So yeah, long term I want to be President of the United States, I want to be someone who shakes things up, who is representative of an experience that’s never held office. I want to bring communities and pieces of experiences along with me that have just never had space there.

 

I mean, you have my vote. I always think about, when I’m thinking about politics [and] today’s lack of privacy with the internet — just everything you put out there is accessible.

Oh girl, I think about that every day.

 

 

I’m wondering if you have any tips for younger people who haven’t even thought about [privacy online]?

Yeah. I think about this literally everyday. And it’s actually really scary because… so after graduation, I plan to go back home and run for office, back to the community that invested in me. But, because I plan to run so young — and on top of that, our generation is the first generation to have their entire life documented —I’ll be one of the very first people to have to deal with the repercussions of [social media] in a political sense. And ya know, [people] watch the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez video where she was dancing — it was very benign — and people wanted to attack her for it. That’s just one example of the beginnings of this phenomena that we’re going to experience in the next ten to twenty years. Where our politicians will be held to a different standard of accountability because they will be accountable for the things they have done their entire lives.

So I got really lucky. When I was 15 and I was fighting for comprehensive sex education, someone wrote a really nasty article about me, and it was titled “Deja Foxx is a Planned Parenthood Nazi.” I was really young, and I read the article and linked were photos from my Twitter. These were older photos, photos of me and a friend out at a party, you know, red solo cup in hand — nothing crazy. But the article was like, What do you think Deja Foxx is doing here? She thinks she’s a community leader, but look what she does on the weekends. 

And in that moment I realized I was held to a different standard of accountability as someone who wanted to be a leader in my community. So I went through and fixed everything, which was then beautiful because when I went viral, I already had this clean slate, acting online accordingly.

 

Do you feel like you have to be very careful about what you’re putting out on your Instagram? 

Yeah, I walk a thin line, between trying not to cave into respectability politics and being like, Fuck that. I can actually be a well-rounded college student and also be a gorgeous young woman, all while still being smart, all while still being representative of my community and a leader and someone who is passionate about issues and involved.

But also [with that], trying to remember that because I am a woman of color, I can’t get away with the things that white men get away with. It just is not the reality right now. Logistically, if I want to be in office in 5 years or 6 years from now, I do have to behave in a certain way. But it’s a fine line to walk ’cause like fuck your respectability politics, but also like… I really do want to get elected one day.

 

You recently started working at a nearby homeless shelter, while you’re a full time student. How do you find the time with studying and do you have any advice for other students looking to get involved in their communities while they’re in school?

Getting involved in your community while you’re in school is really kind of hard, because as someone who was really invested in their community back home, having to leave that community really hurt. It forced me to redefine what community meant to me, and I think that a lot of college students have to do that. They’re moving into a space that’s usually going to be different from the demographic or socioeconomic makeup of the place where they’re from.

My best advice is to think about community in a broader sense — who are your people? Who has the same experience as you?

For me, my people are first Gen., low income students. So I started organizing around that on campus. We have one of these things called special interest communities at Columbia — a LGBTQIA+ special interest community or Latinx special interest community — and they have a physical space on campus, in addition to funding, and the recognition of being a special interest community. First generation low income students have never had that recognition on Columbia’s campus. So me and my friends first semester organized around it, got the recognition and the physical space for next year. That’s just one example of what redefining what community means to you. It’s the same with the work I do at the homeless shelter, where I had to redefine who shared my experience, and when I thought about my own experiences with homelessness and wanting to give back to that experience, stay tied to it, and stay grounded in it — it just seemed like a natural next step. My school has something called the Housing Equity Project, so they were able to link me [with] this homeless shelter. And now I’m able to spend Thursday nights there. I go there at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays and I spend the night. Then I get up at 5 a.m., head out by 6 and then I get back to school for my 8:40 a.m. on Fridays.

 

What’s your role at the homeless shelter?

According to New York Law, to keep the shelter open, they have to have someone there at all times who is not receiving services. So I’m that person.

I spend the night and a men’s shelter, so it’s just me and the guys. They are so self-sufficient. It’s in a synagogue, so these Jewish women cook awesome dinners for all of us and then they leave and I stay. And the guys do the dishes, they clean up, they do everything because they’re self-sufficient and they’re regular people and they’re responsible for that living space because it’s theirs. I just kind of sit there and talk to them, hang out with them. It’s really pretty easy. New York law requires someone to be there, and I have the time because I’m a college student, so why not give them the opportunity to just have that space be their own?

 

I think that’s amazing — [you’re following] your mission in every aspect of your life.

Absolutely. I believe activism isn’t something you do 9-5, it just who you are. And you have to make it a part of your character. My activism is a piece of who I am. My organizing is my mindset.

 

Is there a certain piece of advice you’ve been given that’s really stuck with you?

You’re not defined by your productivity, and just because you’re not turning out tons of interviews or maybe you didn’t get that paper done on time — if you are a person, you’re still valuable.

 

We like to round KAAST interviews out some more personal, like dating-ish questions. Any advice for dating with a busy schedule?

Oh girl, I’m the worst about this. Me and my boyfriend lived together for like 3 years, so I was practically married. I came to college and we ended up breaking up, but I came here and was like, oh my god, how do I act? Like I literally don’t know how to act around men. I have begun to explore that phase of my life, and I’ve actually found that so many men disrespect my fucking time, and I don’t play that. And I let them know.

So dating with a busy schedule, I would say requires really good communication on both ends. Be honest and upfront with yourself, be honest and upfront with other people, especially around how much time you can give and how much energy you can give.

 

Do you have any advice for someone going through a breakup?

Uh, yeah. My breakup was tough. I’ve actually been through a lot of breakups in my life, a lot of long term relationship breakups. I’m a big believer that everything in this world is happening the way it is supposed to. Breaking up with someone, even though it feels like it, is actually not the end of the world. And everything that seems like a challenge can be turned into an opportunity for growth. It’s just about the way you look at it.

and breakups are a beautiful opportunity to [ask yourself] what did I learn in that relationship, how is it shaping me as an individual and how can I be my best individual self now? Breakups will teach you that the only person that’s gonna be around forever — or has to be around forever — is you. So your relationship with someone else can never be more important than your relationship with yourself.

 

You can keep up to date with Deja Foxx’s latest projects and activism on Instagram and Twitter

Photo of Foxx by Salwan Georges, following (in order of appearance) by Adyana Covelli and Kate Phillips.

 

Interview With A Doula

Humans have been giving birth at home for thousands of years. Despite all the advances in modern medicine, there are still scores of women today who opt for delivering their babies in private settings rather than at a hospital. 

Jalisha Hanshaw, 23, is a certified doula living in upstate New York. She goes to school for Health Service Administration and Women Studies at CUNY Lehman College. I had the chance to talk to Jalisha about what it means to be a doula. Below is an edited transcript of our discussion.

 

Can you start by explaining what a doula is?

Hanshaw: A doula is basically a birth worker. We help women through pregnancy, birth, and even postpartum. We don’t deliver [the baby]; we’re usually there for emotional and mental support. So whenever they need any help like with anxiety or getting through the whole birthing process, we’re there to help them get through it mentally and emotionally.

 

Can you differentiate between a midwife and a doula?

A midwife actually has the certification to perform the birthing process. It’s basically an assistant to the doctor. Basically we’re there aside the midwife, but we don’t even have to be with a midwife, we can be there just assisting the mother [in] get through the birthing process. The difference between the two is that they’re certified and we’re not certified to perform birth, so we’re there just for the support. A lot of women don’t know the difference.

 

Can you talk about how your interest in this began?

My dad is actually a RN [registered nurse] at a hospital in New York City. One day my mom and I were going to pick up my dad and we were standing outside, and this lady and her husband pulled up in a minivan and she’s like, about to give birth. She didn’t really speak any English, and my mom speaks a little Spanish, she’s bilingual, so she was helping talking to her about the situation and trying to calm her down. I was rubbing her back and I felt so bad for her, she didn’t have any support. In that moment I was like, You know what? I really like doulas. I like helping woman through birth and their pregnancy and postpartum.

Also, I go to school for health service administration so I have a little bit of a background in human resources and why it’s important to always help people.

 

What was your training like?

I actually found the doula certification training through Instagram. Her name is Latham Thomas and she has her own organization called Mama Glow. I signed up for that and it was located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s a three day training and there are so many women who come to this event from all over the United States, from different countries. We’re usually there sitting in a circle. She’s a certified doula, she has a lot of connections to other people like acupuncturists and physicians.

The first day she’s actually teaching us about the anatomy of the woman’s body and what the body actually looks like before, during, and after pregnancy. So we’re learning about the science behind pregnancy and birth. The second day it’s more of like a holistic outlook. The third day is more about why it’s important to have a doula, so it’s more informative.

 

What’s the environment like where you work? Are you doing a lot of home births?

It’s really up to the mother. I live in upstate New York so a lot of woman do not know what a doula is, so they already have a birth plan. There aren’t a lot of places where I live where there are water births, home births, and access to midwives. A lot of women do just go to the hospital. I’m into virtual — a lot of women like their private births, so most of the time I’m on FaceTime with them. I haven’t actually been to the hospital with a mother yet just because they’re still unsure of the whole point of having a doula.

 

How do you think living here in New York affects what you do and the type of women you work with?

What I notice is there’s a big social disparity between different types of women. I feel like I have more access to white women than I do with people of color just because a lot of Caucasian women already have a lot of support from their families, their friends, versus someone who is Black — they don’t have as much support. So they experience more anxiety, more cesarean sections, and stuff like that.

I really try to target those populations — not saying I don’t target Caucasian women — you should never just target one population because everyone is different. But I notice that I do actually have to focus on those populations that don’t get those services. Today, I came from my orientation for maternal depression where we’re going to different boroughs of New York City that suffer from those social disparities. I’m looking forward to that because then I can actually get to know different types of women, understand their struggles, and why they don’t have a lot of support.

 

I know that the maternal mortality rate for women of color is higher [than that of white women]. Do you think that having access to doulas and people supporting them would help change that?

It starts with healthcare providers; they are the frontline to the patients. Having a lot of support is important, but having the knowledge and information about those resources comes from the healthcare provider. So I feel like doctors and midwives and social workers, everyone involved in the healthcare system needs to understand that they have to do their work, as well. I need to target those populations that struggle with maternal mortality, which is highest among African Americans.

The lady who gave me my certification is going around the country talking to residents [doctors and physicians], about how they need to interact with those communities. I think it’s important hearing it from the doula and midwife because for centuries, even before doctors and OB-GYNs existed, these people have been helping [others] give birth for thousands of years and have the most knowledge. That’s why we as people, as healthcare providers need to learn from them. They have so much knowledge about giving birth and pregnancy and postpartum.

 

Can you talk a little about your responsibilities with the women you work with?

The woman I work with right now suffers from severe anxiety. She’s almost due, so I’m trying to figure out the best ways to bring down her anxiety [with] different essentials oils, prenatal yoga.

Anxiety comes from stress. This is her first child, [so this anxiety] is very common. People who have children their first time are very scared and they don’t know what to expect. She has a lot of support from her husband, and we’re starting to do sleeping hypnosis on her, which relaxes the mind before she goes to bed. Affirmations are something good, too, like a poem or something to read to her while she’s giving birth. Also breathing techniques. Acupuncture induction is good, too, because Pitocin [a drug that helps the uterus contract during labor] is kind of dangerous because when that happens, they’re not able to feel themselves pushing out the child and that can cause blood clots. Doing holistic and natural remedies is the best way to go, especially for someone who’s high risk.

 

That was something that I found so interesting. I heard about hypnosis and how that can totally change how a woman thinks. They can go into their pregnancy and the birthing process with a completely different mindset, and that can actually relieve the pain. These holistic practices are something you learn during training?

Yeah, between those three days she actually had some acupuncturists come in and teach us how to induct the mother if she’s like 40, 41 weeks. A lady named Kimberly — she’s in charge of birth consulting — she came and introduced her book to us. I’m actually taking a birth consulting class in May, so I’m going to be learning more about that. That’s a separate certification so I’m trying to get that as well so I can learn more about how to help mothers, because the most important thing is that she comes back to [a healthy] mindset after. A lot of women go into postpartum depression because of a lack of support and not understanding how their body is now versus before [birth].

 

Do you ever talk to mothers, either while their pregnant or postpartum about sex?

Yeah, that’s really important. Having sex during your birth is actually encouraged because the more you’re open and aroused the faster the process is.

 

Wait, during the actual birth?!

They suggest it. Not actual intercourse, but being aroused is another way of opening up. Another reason why some people have C-sections is because they’re so tense. It’s hard for the baby to come out of the vagina because she’s so tense. So that’s why it’s so important to have, like I said before, a lot of support, especially from the partner or the husband, whoever is there who’s been supporting her since the beginning [of the labor process] is very important. And that’s why it’s important to have a doula because some people just don’t have that support.

 

What’s something you wish everyone could know about being a doula or pregnancy and childbirth, in general?

I wish people were more open to holistic things. Ever since the start of the 19th century when OB-GYNs and medicine were introduced, [there’s] been a change, especially for women.

I feel like we should really focus on how to use natural things instead of medicine, because medicine is not always the answer. Half of the time you don’t even have to use medicine. If you have a headache, for example, or you have menstrual cramps. You can simply take a walk. These [are] things people don’t know, and I think it’s important that they do. Especially communities, like I said before, that aren’t informed about alternative solutions.

 

What’s a personal goal you have in this field?

I want to see everyone go through a natural birth. I don’t want anyone to say, “I had to have a C-section. I had to take…” Even my mother, she practically almost died giving birth to my brother because of the simplest complications that could’ve been solved. It’s terrible to hear those things and I feel like a lot of those things could be resolved if people were given the right information and people were given the support.

 

So you haven’t witnessed an actual birth?

Not yet, I just got my certification in October, so between that time and now I was searching for women who were 5-6 months pregnant. I have a few clients right now, I have one that’s going to be delivering on February 24th, and then one who’s due June 4th. Right now I’m working with them. I’m really excited for February 24, because she wants me to physically be there — which is very different because a lot of women, once I tell them that I have to be there to witness the birth, it’s like, “Oh, never mind. I want it to be personal.” Which is fine, everyone is different, but knowing someone wants me to be there and wants that support is very exciting.

 

That’s so cool. Are there any resources you would recommend to people who are interested in becoming a doula, or who are interested in the services you provide?

People can email me or DM me on Instagram if they have any questions about fertility, having a doula, postpartum. I’ll be more certified in that section in the Spring [of 2019]. If they’re interested, they can email me at mynamesjalisha@gmail.com.

 

 

For more information on the services a doula provides, click here. You can follow Jalisha on Instagram here
Photos of Jalisha taken her brother, Jamont Hanshaw