Critical of the Norm: Anette Sidor on “Fuck You”

 

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

In terms of pure, visceral eroticism, Swedish director Anette Sidor’s prize-winning short film, “Fuck You” is off the charts. It serves as a potent reminder that the stigmas limiting our sexuality are not only in regards to how we define our orientation, but how we choose to explore it.
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Newcomer Yandeh Sallah, of the Swedish series “Eagles,” plays Alice, a young woman who finds herself drawn to wearing a strap-on phallus, much to the amusement of her peers and bewilderment of her boyfriend, Johannes (Martin Schaub). Yet Alice’s journey of sexual discovery isn’t played for mere laughs or titillation. Once the film arrives at its deeply satisfying climax, the audience is able to share in Alice’s newfound sense of fulfillment, which she has achieved by revealing a part of herself that would normally be cloaked in shame.
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Sidor recently took time to chat via e-mail about her efforts to obliterate such norms, the vitality of representation and the power that exists in us all.

 

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What provided you with the initial inspiration for this movie? Was it spawned from research or personal experience, or perhaps a combination of the two?

The idea was pretty clear to me from the start. I was thinking a lot about how me and my friends behaved during our teenage years, especially when we were both girls and boys hanging out together. Inspired from that time of my life and with the knowledge I’ve gained since then, I wrote “Fuck You.” So it’s a combination of personal experience and my interest in gender norms, what I saw around me as a teenager and what I still see around me now 20 years later.

 

How have sex toys like strap-ons provided both genders with an alternative forms of sexual expression?

Sex toys are often seen as taboo and they challenge gender norms since they encourage people to explore their sexuality, try new things and to play with power. In “Fuck You,” there is a situation where the main character gets the opportunity to challenge gender norms by questioning her boyfriend’s thoughts about girls. Instead of following the norm, he gets curious about her new side and they both get the chance to explore their sexuality and experience new things together.

 

Yandeh Sallah, who is so marvelous as Alice, exudes a sense of empowerment while wearing the strap-on. To what degree would you say she is empowered, and what sort of conversations did you and Yandeh have about it onset?

We had conversations about how we see gender norms around us, how norms can affect us and how important it is to see images that are questioning norms. Power is something within us. We all have power and control, no matter who we are – but gender norms often create situations where men gain power rather than women.

In “Fuck You,” the strap-on is a symbol of power, which Alice first tries on as a funny thing, but then she decides to keep wearing it. This ends up challenging her boyfriend and their friends, who don’t know how to respond. Later when she takes it off, she still feels the power within herself. The image of a girl with a strap-on is challenging and for some people even frightening, even though it’s just a toy made of plastic or silicone material. The lack of stories and images of women in power is something that drove me to make “Fuck You.”

 

How did you and cinematographer Marcus Dineen go about visualizing the internal experience of the characters through such techniques as keeping the camera at the eye-level of Johannes as Alice approaches him with the strap-on?

Marcus is an amazing cinematographer and our idea was to let the camera move as one’s own character. In that way we, as an audience, can observe and follow the characters in a very close way and see what they see. When Alice is in power, the camera choses to show Johannes’ perspective so that we can experience the situation with him, from his POV, as well as follow Alice without knowing what she’ll do next.

 

The final encounter between Johannes and Alice is viscerally erotic. What do you feel both characters are discovering about themselves during this sequence?

I’m happy you find the scene erotic and that image is also one of my favorites. In life, we learn that love, attraction and sex are supposed to exist in a certain way if we are a girl or a boy. We all want to fit in the norm, to belong, and most of the time, we do what people expect of us. For me, this film is about a young couple who, for the first time, ignore the norm and try something new. They both discover something they like about their own sexuality.

 

Has this film broken certain taboos in Sweden regarding frank explorations of teenage sexuality, and what sort of provocative conversations has it sparked?

Some of the strongest reactions I received came from women of different ages who said they thought the sex scene was really erotic and they realized they wanted to try and explore more of their own sexuality. There were also some men who came up to me and wanted to talk more about gender norms as well as why it’s so taboo for men to be passive and women to be active.

I’ve had discussions about why femininity and masculinity seem to belong to certain genders and I’ve heard stories from people longing for change. I have received a lot of love from people of color, especially black people saying they felt empowered by the film, people who felt that they could identify themselves with film characters for the first time.

I’ve also had many conversations about the lack of films with both women and non-white actors who gets challenging roles. A lot of people have reached out to me saying that the film inspired them to explore something they never felt before, something they didn’t even know existed within them. For me as a director, it’s an amazing journey and I’m very grateful that “Fuck You” has been, and still is, screened at some of the greatest film festivals around the world. I have gotten the pleasure to meet audiences from around the world—interesting, smart and fantastic people who have shared so many personal experiences and emotions with me. It means a lot to me and it has given me energy to keep on doing films that are critical of the norm.

 

For more information on Anette Sidor’s “Fuck You,” visit the film’s official Facebook page here

Yoga, Gender, and Consent

I am a yoga instructor and I take my job very seriously.

An instructor may just seem like a fitness-oriented job, but it’s a lot more intimate. It’s my job to make every single person in the room feel safe and comfortable, while also challenging students with different affirmative goals and themes they can hopefully learn to practice off the mat. While that description may sound dangerously similar to any other exercise franchise, like SoulCycle — there is an added layer of closeness in yoga.

We don’t have machines to run our practice: instead we guide students into getting to know their bodies and breath in a way that is, for many people, almost a spiritual experience. This is no small feat, especially considering everyone’s different physical abilities, experience, and even different levels of trust. Further, things like tailoring tone of voice, wording of queues, and especially physical adjustments to fit the demographic of each student is essential in building that trust. 

In creating a safe space, gender becomes a component that often dictates the dynamics in the room. Just by looking around when I teach or even in class as a student, it’s plain to see that the majority of practitioners are female. After watching the Netflix documentary about Bikram Choudhury — founder and leader of the cult-like Bikram Yoga franchise — and his twisted empire resting on sexual harassment and a heinous abuse of power, I couldn’t help but wonder: how do male yoga instructors navigate gendered boundaries and build trust with female students? 

Unfortunately, this disgusting and predatory behavior of Bikram Choudhury, though extreme, is not unlike the decades of disregarded patterns of unwanted touch and attention in the yoga community.

According to a New York Times article by Katherine Rosman titled “Yoga Is Finally Facing Consent and Unwanted Touch”, while in many professional fields where jobs involve touching people are usually regulated by the government, “yoga teachers are not, and there are no industry trade groups that police these issues.” In other words, when you walk into a yoga studio yoga instructors can “touch you as they see fit” without any governing bodies checking in to make sure it’s kosher. In this way, the issue of consent becomes less and less of a necessity.

Further, Rosman notes how the yoga community has a history of turning a blind eye to these issues. Similar to how Bikram was able to manipulate his loyal followers into ignoring his web of abuse and mistreatment, teachers in the community are reluctant to discredit those they see as “gurus.” Thus fueling the power dynamics between teacher and student, and “many teachers have built their businesses and personal brands in part from associating with these figures.” In a yoga class, without respect, trust, and consent, there is simply a person in a powerful position telling — in some cases, forcefully — someone else what to do with their body. 

Nonetheless, as a female instructor my role as leader and physical adjuster is not read as nearly as sexualized or forceful as a male instructor’s.

Yes, I am still respectful, nurturing, supportive, and non-judgmental in order to create the safest and most comfortable yoga environment possible. However as a woman, I am seemingly non threatening and, even as the leader of the class, the power dynamics between teacher and student tend to be more equalized.

I talked to a male Vinyasa yoga instructor, Adam, about how his gender has shaped his teaching style and affected how he may customize his teaching voice. “If you’re watching this as an outsider who has no idea what yoga is, it looks like a pretty strange situation. For instance, it may be one male instructor and maybe twenty women in a room,” he told me. “They’re all moving their bodies and doing the physical positions that he’s calling out. That power dynamic needs to be constantly kept in consideration.”

Adam also noted the importance of not only keeping himself in check when it comes to these power dynamics, but also building trust so that students have space to do the same. According to him, while his gender doesn’t fundamentally change the way he would structure a class, he says, “I want to be cognizant of the different experiences that people have. As a man, as a white guy, as a straight guy, these are experiences that are mine and people in the room may have different ones.”

Adam’s unique identity as a teacher is then separate from his identity as a cis-gender, white male, as he “tries to incorporate an understanding of different perspectives” in class while still being himself. Additionally, he noted how even smaller aspects of his presence as a male instructor have to be tailored to make students more comfortable. Things like wearing certain clothing to teach versus to practice as a student require that extra thought, as Adam said he’ll sometimes wear leggings but will try to avoid “revealing clothing” or  “those skin-tight leggings” when teaching. Adam said, “I need to create a safe and nurturing atmosphere. To make sure everyone is comfortable and can practice without worrying, it’s best to play it safe.”

Playing it safe, it seems, is the best way to approach finding the balance between being a male, being a leader, and respecting boundaries. 

Wording and tone can also be read differently because of gender, which is something that Adam tries to be actively thinking about when he teaches. Even the way he may queue something needs to be considered when taking into account his role as a male instructor. Adam noted, for example, how a “strong willed, long-standing female instructor” may have more legroom to queue than a male instructor of the same reputation. A female instructor who has years of experience and a loyal following may be able to queue things bluntly with commands like “Do [insert pose]” or “Get into this position right now.”

On the other hand Adam, no matter how much experience he has or how many regulars come back to his classes, says he generally avoids “very strong commands” in his teaching unless he’s sure it’s appropriate. His classes are still physically challenging, but only because of the poses and exercises his queues, not because of how he queues it or because he’s forcing anyone to do it. Instead of commands, Adam chooses to consciously “offer a range of suggestions” and frame his classes in a way that he is merely a “guide” for students. 

Physical adjustments are a whole other story when it comes to navigating people’s levels of trust and physical limits. Even as a female instructor who is often adjusting female students, I still am getting comfortable with the idea of touching strangers or students I don’t know outside the studio. Many times corrections involve rotating someone’s hips or tilting their pelvis, manually rolling open their shoulder or chest, or supporting their legs, hips, or midsection in a balancing pose. These areas of the body are quite personal and intimate, and places that many would be alarmed to have poked and prodded. Thus, consent becomes essential to the building of trust and that safe space. Unless a student in my class happens to be another instructor at the studio, no matter how well I know someone I always ask, “Do you mind if I adjust you?” before even moving towards them.

Consent in yoga creates a sense of respect for others’ bodies and boundaries that will ultimately help students feel like they are in control of their own practice.

I also discussed the importance of consent with Adam to explore the ways in which it takes on a deeper meaning for male instructors, especially considering the community’s history with unwanted touching in class. At times, even the verbal consent that I typically ask for may not cut it. When a male instructor comes up behind a student and asks if they want an adjustment, again we can see how power dynamics may affect how that student will answer. They may feel intimidated or pressured in the moment to say “yes,” especially in the middle of class where ‘everyone’ is getting adjusted and directed.

Adam then brought up how helpful his studio’s use of ‘consent chips’ has been for ensuring that students who are not comfortable with adjustments don’t have to worry about saying so on the spot. These chips have two sides: one gives consent to being adjusted, and the other says no, thank you to being touched. Adam explained how he’ll put one next to every student’s mat at the beginning of class with the ‘no, thank you’ side faced up indicating non-consent to begin with. That way, students start out the class opting out of physical adjustments, instead of starting with opting in and then feeling like they have no choice. Those who then want adjustments have the option of flipping their chip to the consenting side. Adam said that this system has helped him “give more adjustments in ways that are helpful to students because they have decided that they want to receive them.” Additionally, students are allotted the security that their mat will be a safe and uninterrupted space for them unless they indicate that they want the instructor to intervene. 

Interestingly enough, Adam noted how he does not give savasana adjustments. Savasana is the final rest or meditation at the end of a yoga class where students are in stillness for several minutes with their eyes closed, and one might argue it is perhaps the most vulnerable and personal portion of class for most students. I myself have never given an adjustment in savasana, as Adam and I both agreed that there’s something invasive about touching someone who has their eyes closed. Even if their consent chip is flipped up for adjustments, I feel I would be interrupting someone’s personal peace by intervening in their meditation. Female or male, giving adjustments specifically in savasana seems to be based on instructor preference and teaching style.

Yoga, like many things in today’s world, is influenced by gender and instructors are therefore tasked with navigating the implications that their own gender identity has on their power in the studio. Though I am a female instructor and am inherently viewed as less demanding and intimidating, I still must go to great lengths to fine tune my teacher’s voice to fit the room and cater to the needs of students of differing levels and physical boundaries.

Considering this community’s past lack of recognition of sexual harassment and issues with abuses of power, it is then necessary for male instructors to take even more precaution in considering their role as gendered and the implications of that. Adam is one yoga instructor who recognizes the power dynamics that are constructed in an environment where a male leads a predominantly female group through physical postures. He’s taken the necessary steps to still create relationships of trust and respect with his students by being aware of his tone, wording, clothing choices, and always making consent a first priority in approaching physical adjustments. Unfortunately, the broader yoga community still has an immense amount of progress to make in addressing and reforming the oppressive and abusive nature of certain gendered circumstances in the studio.

That being said, my individual community and many others are some of the most supportive, nurturing, and positive groups of people I have ever been a part of, and teachers like Adam are the reason the yoga community continues to provide students with loving and safe spaces. 

 

Gif by Ash Sta. Teresa

An Audience with the Dildo Duchess, Zoë Ligon

 

RoleModel is an interview series highlighting badass individuals. 

 

Zoë Ligon is changing the world one dildo at a time. 

For those who don’t know, Zoë is the CEO of Spectrum Boutique, an inclusive, online sex-positive adult toy store operated out of Detroit. In addition to being a businesswoman, writer, and sexual educator — she also hosts a podcast called Hot Brain, in which she discusses everything from sex to memes to intimacy.

Whether you know her as Zoë, the dildo duchesss, or @thongria, there is no denying that she’s a renaissance woman. Zoë’s shop is online so we decided to chat with her — online. The following is a transcript of our conversation. 

 

Where did the name Thongria come from?

I used to be a moderator for OkCupid in 2014. Essentially, I reviewed user reports as well as flagged content and made decisions on who stays and who gets banned. I came across an account that was clearly a scammer, but before I slapped ’em with a ban, I noticed their username was “Thongria” — and thought it was cute.

Soon after, my original instagram account @poopexplosion was banned from Instagram because… dildos. When I needed a new name, I thought, thongria! [@Poopexplosion] had about 1,000 followers and was by no means visible on social media, so I had no idea that it would literally become known as “me” as time went on.

Recently I learned that “Thongrian” is a common name in other parts of the world, so I have no idea if that scammer meant to write that name and it was a typo, or whether it was really someone being like “thong + sangria = thongria” (which is how I interpreted it). 

 

Spectrum is so welcoming and helpful, an insanely different experience to my first time in a sex shop and I’m assuming many other peoples’. Do you remember your first time in a sex shop? 

I most certainly do! I went into Tic-Tac-Toe (now closed) in Greenwich Village to get a gag gift for my roommate freshman year in college. I also picked up some metal handcuffs (truly the worst restraint ever) and some very toxic butt plugs that were part of an “anal training kit.” I was uncomfortable, but I acted on my discomfort by being like LOL cool LOOK AT THIS!! While my friend who joined me was a bit more quiet and shy.

Like many people, I got insertable things before I got a vibrating thing. When you’re taught that sex equals penetration, you don’t realize that dildos and butt plugs are best paired with external stimulation (for many of us)! I mainly used those butt plugs to send sexy pictures to guys I was into, it wasn’t even for me, really. 

 

Your first vibrator? 

Ah, the original Lelo Liv. In navy blue! I still have it. I got that thing, and it sat in a drawer for weeks, maybe months, before I used it. I didn’t know it at the time, but the vibrations were far too gentle for me. I used it, felt pretty meh about it, and finally connected the dots that I needed something stronger, so I got a wand and the rest is history! The Liv ended up being a prop for me to shove in my ass during sex with partners — and no that is not an anal safe vibrator. I cringe thinking about it, and how it too became a prop for others’ enjoyment more than my own. It’s not that I dislike anal, I just did anal play performatively for others at the time, and I like reflecting on that.

 

Imagine yourself seeing Spectrum online through the lens of a young adult. It seems like a super informational and inclusive place for everyone. Was this the intention?

Oh wow — heck yes! The fact that Spectrum is nearly four years old and growing each day blows my mind, so much so that I almost compartmentalize it. It feels too good to be true. I can’t even absorb how fucking cool it is that I have grown, learned, and healed through creating this platform that also helps other people, too.

Ultimately, the viewers teach me more than I could ever teach myself. The education goes both ways, and I’m excited to make Spectrum a place where the users have even more input and ability to share their thoughts!

 

We are exposed to so much sexual content and have it available at our fingertips thanks to the internet. With that, information about Sex Ed has become more accessible. Your personal approach is very humorous and candid. How did you settle on your educational voice? 

I really think it’s just who I am. I recently watched videos from my childhood, and couldn’t get over how I have always had the same vibe (minus sex toys of course).

Pleasure is an amazing and beautiful thing, but there are many difficult aspects of pleasure, especially in our society today. I can only speak from my personal experience, and there is a lot of pain and trauma in my personal experience. So in order to approach my pleasure and take it back and make it mine, I need to make it funny. Humor is the only way I can authentically navigate the darkness in order to get back to pleasure. It’s not a deflection or glossing-over, it’s the way I can transform pain into pleasure. Humor is the change agent for me. 

 

From an online/IRL lens, have you seen attitudes towards sex changed since opening your shop?

Absolutely. People are much more aware of sexual trauma, specifically. The most frequently asked questions have always involved people with vulvas and their inability to orgasm, but people phrase it differently now.

Questions, in general, are worded in ways that are more aware of things like dissociation and physical pain that manifests from trauma. Instead of “why am I this way?” It’s now more so, “how do I move past this?”

 

What goes into being @thongria? Your internet presence is incredible, and I’m sure the trolls are unforgiving. Have you ever had to deal with online harassment? 

What goes into being Thongria? A lot of haphazard selfie taking that is utterly ridiculous. I have no content calendar, I just impulsively create based off of ideas that float through my brain. I think relative to my reach, I have been pretty lucky with trolls.

The things that cause me to get dragged the hardest are the things that strike a nerve with people and cut to the core of an issue that brings out intense feelings from people. I can’t say that my tolerance for harassment is healthy or natural, but after years of it, I do feel that online harassment over something I am standing up for is far better than no reaction whatsoever.

I just want people to self-reflect. If people follow me just to report me or troll me, maybe one day that ideology will unravel a bit. People who harass others online are making a bigger statement about themselves than the person they’re harassing.

 

Has IG ever removed your content in the name of censorship?

Yes, constantly. Just got notified of something being taken down within the past hour. Twitter is better about not censoring me. I respect the concept of community guidelines, but it’s clear that the guidelines are subjective, selective, and reflect many disturbing double standards in society.

 

If you could snap your fingers and erase a taboo about sex or a false belief/misconception, what would it be?

The belief that you can be entitled to sex or intimacy from someone else.

 

Do you think we will ever ‘free the nipple’? 

I am genuinely unsure, but I am hopeful. As we all begin to understand the fluidity of gender, and we see that reflected within the structure of society — maybe.

 

What’s something about you we couldn’t learn from googling you?

I had two pet snakes growing up. One was a large bull snake named Bullet, and one was a ribbon snake that I named Birthday because I got it on my birthday and I am terrible at naming pets. 

 

What’s your sign and do you think astrology influences your sex life at all? 

I’m a Taurus sun, Gemini rising, Aquarius moon… yes I know all that, yet I don’t think that astrology influences anything in my life, period.

I do appreciate that it is a way we can discuss personality traits and relationships, however! I have found far more personal insight from things like Enneagrams (I’m a 6.) I don’t have any issue with astrology, but I am bothered by people using it to manipulate other people (i.e. you can’t do X today, mercury is in retrograde!) as well as people who use it as a scapegoat for their shitty behavior.

But having said that, my Venus is Aries so I’m terrible to date!

 

What’s a toy from spectrum that my boyfriend and I should try?

This is a question I receive often, and the answer is… that’s up to both of you! There isn’t one specific thing that I think all people or couples should try. There are definitely things that can be helpful for couples, like sex positioners which help you get better angles, but nothing is “just for couples.”

But in the spirit of answering this question, even though it isn’t a toy, get a sex wedge! You can always just use it as a back pillow for eating snacks in bed. 

 

You can follow Zoë’s hilarious and thoughtful Instagram account here, and be sure to check out her podcast Hot Brain — currently streaming on Apple and Spotify. 

Article photos (in order of appearance) by Chloe Sells, Megan Lovallo, and Maizy Shepherd.

My Mom’s Abortion

The people who raise us spend the entirety of our lives getting to know us. From the time that we’re infants, they learn our favorite foods, our fears both rational and irrational, our hopes, our dreams, our allergies… They pepper us with questions like “How was school?” or “What movie do you want to watch?” They see us at our dance recital best and our snot-soaked worst. My mom remembers events in my life that have long escaped my memory, but I didn’t start really learning about her until a couple of years ago when I first interviewed her for Killer and a Sweet Thang. 

I can’t recall exactly what prompted me to ask my mom if she’d ever had an abortion, and to be honest, I thought I already knew the answer. She seemed a little taken aback by the question, but she answered honestly.

My mom had an abortion when she was 22. Over a decade later, she went on to have one beautiful daughter and one human fruit basket (me). We had a discussion about abortion a few months ago (you can read it here if you’re interested). At that point I already knew about hers, but she asked to keep it private. A few months later when legislation was passed in Alabama that effectively banned abortion procedures, she decided to share her story.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

 

When I first asked you to do this interview, you said no — 

Mom: Well, I said I would talk about abortion in general, but I didn’t want to share my own experience.

 

Right. How did you come to that decision? 

I think it was because it is such a personal experience, and I hadn’t talked about it [before]. Almost nobody knew and that’s the way I [had] wanted it. 

 

And what made you change your mind and want to share your story?

What changed my mind was the speed with which that right has become endangered. I want to do what I can to speak out against the very distinct possibility that you and your sister and anyone who needs to access abortions may not be able to.

 

How old were you when you found out you were pregnant?

22 — same age as you.

 

Wow, that’s crazy to think about. What were the thoughts going through your head?

I was very, very scared and panicky. I thought “This can’t be happening,” and I knew right away [I was going to get an abortion]. It was never a question. I did not want to be pregnant.

 

Can you talk about what fueled those emotions? Like [was it], “Can I afford to take care of a child?” “Am I ready?” “What will my family think?” 

I didn’t even get that far. My specific thoughts were, “I’m twenty-two, I’ve just started my professional life, this is not something I want, my parents would freak, for sure.” We’ve talked about how Catholic they were.

It wasn’t something I could ever go to them about. I couldn’t say, “I’m pregnant and I don’t want this, I don’t want a baby.” They would not have been supportive.

 

Even just the fact that you were pregnant would that have upset them?

Yeah, they would’ve still loved and supported me, but it would’ve been very upsetting for them because Catholics don’t have premarital sex.

 

No they don’t. Ever. None of them.

*we both laugh* Nope.

 

So who did you tell first?

I only told one person. I told a very good friend of mine who lived a three-hour drive away at the time. I felt I could only confide in one person, and I did and she came down when I needed her.

 

And how did she react when you told her?

She was nothing but supportive. Gentle and caring and supportive. She took care of me. And looking back on it, I realized that it may have been a hard thing for her to do, because she was a born-again Christian. She was very religious — not when we were in college but later on. But she never ever judged me. She never made me feel like I was doing something bad or anything like that.

 

She was a great friend.

Yeah, she was.

 

Were you living in Maine at the time?

Yes, I was living right in Portland. It was 1981, I think. Or 1982. It wasn’t very long after Roe v. Wade was decided. What was that, ‘72? ‘73?

 

It was ‘73 I think. [Editor’s note: It was 1973.]

So less than 10 years, but abortion was available. It was not hard to access.

 

Where did you go?

Well, this was back before you could take an at-home pregnancy test, so I went to Family Planning — which was like a Planned Parenthood — to have the test. They told me it was positive and that’s when I freaked out. I made the arrangement right then and there. This was like a Tuesday or a Wednesday and they said, “There’ll be a clinic on Saturday and you can make an appointment now and have an abortion in a few days.”

And I said, “I’ll do it. Sign me up.”

 

Did they tell you how far along you were?

I think they said six weeks, so just barely [pregnant]. I called my friend and we went that morning to the clinic. There were maybe ten or twelve other people all there for the same thing.

It didn’t take long. My friend drove me home and she stayed with me and I went to sleep. Then a couple of hours after that, I woke up and we went out for pizza. And that was it.

 

How did you feel physically afterwards?

I don’t remember any discomfort. Maybe there was a little bit of cramping, but it wasn’t enough that it stayed with me as something that was painful or hard to get through physically.

 

And how did you feel emotionally?

Relieved. Just relieved. I never looked at it with any kind of regret. I never felt, Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. Never, never.

And as time went on it just got farther and farther from my consciousness. I didn’t think about it at all. I mean, I didn’t have to think about it. It was done and it was my choice to do it, and then I moved on.

 

You were with Dad at the time, right?

Yes.

 

Did you tell him before you had the procedure?

No. Like I said, I panicked. We were in a long distance relationship. I felt like it was my decision to make and it had to be done right away, so I took care of it. And then after the fact I told him.

 

How did he react?

Oh, he was very supportive, very kind and thoughtful. I guess I’m afraid that it’s going to sound like he didn’t want to be there, or to be involved or to have a voice in the decision. I didn’t really give him that.

I still have a little bit of guilt about not telling him before I made the decision, but it doesn’t change anything about the fact that I needed an abortion. I was able to access it, I could afford it… it was in a safe, professional environment, and it was my choice about what was happening in my body.

 

Are there other people you’ve talked with about your abortion since?

No. Like I said it happened and it was done and I put it behind me and moved on. I mean, I’m not saying I never thought about it but I never dwelled on it.

 

I know you feel secure in your decision to terminate your pregnancy, but can I ask was there ever a time where you weren’t so sure?

No. Never. Your sister asked me that, too. She said, “Was it something you thought about when you were trying to get pregnant and couldn’t?” And I said no. I never thought about it as, “Dang, I hope that wasn’t my only shot,” or anything like that. I’ve always been glad that I did it. It was the right thing to do for me at the time.

 

I think that’s really admirable. It makes you a really good role model.

Really, how so?

 

Well, I think your story shows that A) you don’t need to be in dire straits to get an abortion, B) you can have an abortion and go on to have children later, and C) that it’s not something that you have to feel guilty about.

I think I want the message about my experience to be that it wasn’t unusual. It was just an ordinary unplanned pregnancy that I didn’t want. I was able to end it rather than not having access [to an abortion], not having that freedom, that control.

 

I think there’s so much shame around abortion because the current government of this country and anti-abortion activists do so much work to bring shame upon people who do decide to have [them]. I think the fact that you’ve gone through it and never once doubted your decision and never once felt shame is really inspiring.

Well thanks, honey. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but I like thinking of it like that.

 

Did you always wanna have children?

Um… you know, I think in some sort of abstract way, yes. But I didn’t want to have children before I was ready. That’s for sure. I mean… who does?

 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Willow Gray, Lucia Rosenast, and Nikki Burnett

 

When Literotica Gets Political

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

 

There’s an app for everything these days — including erotica.

Enter Slide Stories. A new app “for the culture, by the culture” offering users a variety of sensual fiction, covering everything from love to ghosting. Despite only launching this past Spring, several stories have already amassed thousands of views. Although Literotica (erotic literature) has been around since the internet was born, any horny fan will tell you — the key is quality control. It can take hours to cypher through the hundreds of poorly-written, not to mention offensive erotic fiction on sites like Nifty.org before you land on a story that will finally get your rocks off.

However, Slide Stories is not interested in maintaining the status quo.

Turning the format on its head, every tale you peruse on the app is told via text thread. Reading a steamy text exchange on your phone is not only delightfully meta — it lends the fiction authenticity.

Geared towards POC consumers, readers of all backgrounds can enjoy stories like “Weekend Zaddy” and “Love and K Pop.” More than targeted marketing, Slide Stories centering of Black and Brown identities feels empowering. Most erotic fiction is written by white people under pen names, and much of the un-policed literotica currently on the web is laden with racial fetishization and stereotypes. By creating a safe space for all readers to enjoy the more imaginative alternative to porn, Slide Stories has tapped into not only something essential, but political, too.

We spoke with 25-year-old founder Keryce Chelsi Henry about her company’s inventive approach to pleasure.

 

What inspired your team to make an erotic app marketed towards POC consumers? 

Keryce: Our team loved the text message format as a new way and opportunity to create interesting stories — and we thought there was a big opportunity for us to create a storytelling platform focused on voices that would resonate more with millennial POC. The focus on romance and erotica was inspired by urban romance novels, like those written by Zane

 

A lot of erotica features highly fetishized and racist depictions of non-white characters. Slide ensures the authenticity of its content by sourcing it directly from the community it seeks to represent, correct? 

Yes. We crowdsource our material through our team’s personal networks and via social media, and specify that we’re looking for millennial WOC and/or LGBTQ writers. Contributors are encouraged to develop storylines that are authentic to their own experiences and relationships. I tell writers to write the dialogue the way they’d text their friends.

 

Did you always know you wanted the erotica to live on an app? 

Yes, the goal has always been to create an app where these stories could live.

 

Your interface is super creative — it really makes you feel privy to someone’s sexts. Can you speak to the thought process behind the text-thread approach? 

We knew the visual of a text thread would be immediately familiar to our target audience, especially considering the kind of content Slide Stories is publishing — so many of millennials’ conversations surrounding sex and relationships occur via text, like first getting to know a potential romantic parter or getting advice about a partner via group chat. That familiarity helps to engage users, giving them the experience of sending and receiving these texts themselves.  

 

It’s particularly effective for stories depicting ghosting. How important was it that Slide include narratives that weren’t solely centered on sex? 

Slide Stories is geared toward love, sex, and dating, so it definitely opens the floodgates to storylines that aren’t just centered on sex. But even more than that, it’s important to us to depict specific situations that our demographic can relate to, like ghosting or dealing with exes who still like your social media posts, for example.

 

I’m thinking specifically of the “More Than Bros?” series, which tackles homophobia, both societal and internalized. It was like social commentary meets erotica — the potential is endless. However, when Ty reveals he’s HIV positive and knowingly had unprotected sex with another man while drunk — did it occur to the writer this may be perpetuating harmful stereotypes about HIV positive individuals?

I can’t speak to the writer’s thought process, but I did work with the writer to soften the potentially harmful nature of how that narrative played out. 

Generally speaking, writers are encouraged to draw from real-life experiences to maintain the authenticity of the stories while I advise on voice and tone, but we do our best to be cognizant of how stories will be received by our audience and let the writers have the freedom to express what they want to say.

 

On the flip side, it can normalize sexual exploration. I’m imagining curious guys downloading the app for the straight stories, then stumbling upon this and feeling, maybe in some way, seen. How important was it for your staff to include queer narratives? 

Including queer narratives is extremely important for us. Our goal is to represent POC, and you simply can’t do so without including LGBTQ+ perspectives because they’re a part of the community. 

We’ve also recently launched Prism Stories, another chat fiction app that features solely LGBTQ+ characters. 

 

Overall, it doesn’t seem like Slide shies away from taboo topics. For example, “Locked-Up Lust” is a text exchange between an inmate and his partner. In the KAAST office, we often talk about how we struggle not to over-police our own sexual fantasies. Are there any topics your team would consider off-limits to explore? 

We’re definitely open-minded about the topics covered on Slide Stories, in an effort to allow users to both relate to the content and also explore their fantasies. We do avoid storylines that include non-consensual acts, however, so as not to trigger users.

 

Have you ever considered incorporating educational elements into your stories? Maybe something like ‘Slutty Nurse Teaches Patient About STI Prevention’? 

We haven’t gotten pitches for Slide Stories with educational elements, but that’s definitely a great idea! I’d love if users could get helpful takeaways from our stories. 

 

Ideally, how do you want users to feel after they’ve used [the app]?

We want Slide Stories users to feel entertained and seen. Stories can only be so compelling to the readers if they don’t relate to the characters — that’s why our stories include slang, cultural references, and images with a diversity of skin tones and hair textures, to represent a variety of identities.

As for users who are writers themselves, we want them to view Slide Stories as a trustworthy outlet where POC/LGBTQ creatives can write for an emerging format and be compensated for doing so.

 

 

You can download the Slide Stories app on your smartphone here. 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Alyse MazyckNikki Burnett, and Tamara Chapman.

Zach Grear’s Art Pushes the Queer Aesthetic

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

 

Etymologically speaking, the word queer originally meant “odd” or “eccentric” — anything that deviated from the norm. At the turn of the 19th century, it caught on as a pejorative for effeminate men, before ultimately being reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community in the 80s and 90s. What it means to be queer and who qualifies as such remains widely debated, however, most can agree that it doesn’t deal in the expected.

It is within this space and understanding multimedia artist Zach Grear’s work lives.

Concerned with more than physical expressions of queerness (although, plenty of same-sex action is featured), Grear’s art explores queerness as an expression of societal dissonance. Whether he’s superimposing tattoos over the bodies of Marilyn Monroe and Keith Haring or re-rendering iconoclasts like Nina Simone, he takes already eccentric images or figures and further queers them by subverting traditional visual notions.

His essential thesis: queer is punk as shit.

 

A portion of your work centers on marking up photographs of famous personalities with figurative tattoos and other body art — can you speak to the inspiration behind this?

The inspiration in utilizing tattoos and collage work comes from my own evolving standards of beauty. I got my first tattoo in 2013, and since then my journey with tattoos has become a way to reconnect with my body image. With each new piece I feel more in control of my body and my sense of beauty — each tattoo reclaims what the oppression of Body Fascism steals from us every single day. I know an image calls out to me when I’m compelled to place my own standard of beauty onto it.

 

Is there a criteria you consider when selecting these celebs?  

In terms of the selection process, the celebs I use are people whom I have admiration for. And for some of them that admiration may very well be based simply on aesthetic. More and more I’m trying to focus on contemporary artists and activists, ones that inspire me daily, who may or may not be on a “celebrity” level.

 

Between collages, prints, and clothes, your art seems pretty multidisciplinary. Do you have a favorite medium?

My favorite medium has to be drawing — pen, marker, or mechanical pencil to paper. Somehow my mind is always most liberated while I’m drawing; no matter how complex the design I’m working on is, I find myself in the middle of strange daydreams all the time. It’s an odd balance of concentration and mentally letting go.

 

Whether it’s a tee with a leather daddy gripping his hard-on or a sweater with two men kissing naked on it — your art is unmistakably queer. Were you ever concerned that such strong imagery might alienate non-queers?

The concerns of non-queer people don’t interest me.

 

Reversely, has anyone tried to censor or sanitize your work?

Fortunately I haven’t encountered anyone outright trying to censor my work. I’ve been lucky with the companies I use for screen-printing shirts and for photo prints. They don’t seem to mind boners!

 

You have a backup Instagram account in case your “main gets deleted.” Have you run into problems sharing your work on the app?

Being a queer artist on Instagram is like being in a toxic relationship. I’ve gotten amazing opportunities, exposure, and, most fulfilling — I’ve met so many other talented artists through this platform.

However, sharing my work within the confines of ambiguous “Community Guidelines” is infuriating. 77.6 million people use Instagram, so the concept of “Community” is absurd, especially when run primarily by wealthy cishet [cisgender and heterosexual] white men. I have a back-up account because the “Community Guidelines” tend to snowball once you’ve had even just one post deleted. Most queer artists I speak to share the feeling of walking on eggshells with each post, trying to stay visible while being hit with shadow bans (which IG still hasn’t even acknowledged exists), all while expecting their account to be disabled one day for no reason or way to reach out. I’m enjoying the ride while I can. I was an artist before Instagram, and I’ll be one after Instagram.

 

There are some recurring “tattoos” in several of your prints — different dates, and in particular, the Roman numerals VII — is there a significance to these?

A few of them have significance. My life-path number is 7, which is why I use it often, and there are certain words I have an affinity for: “Lust”, “Bliss”, “Radiant”, and the Joy Division song “She’s Lost Control”. Often times while drawing I’ll use lyrics from the song I’m listening to in that moment. If the subject is a celebrity I like to use symbols attached to them — birth date, zodiac sign, quotes, etc.

 

Are there queer artists of the past that inspire your work?

Absolutely. David Wojnarowicz blows my mind with the extent of his reach: street art, photography, writing, music, protest. He knew it wasn’t about being comfortable — as any oppressed group will tell you, there’s no such thing as being comfortable. James Baldwin is my hero. Another Country is my absolute favorite book and I tell everyone I meet to read it.

 

How would you define “punk” within a queer context?

I view punk as a very ‘Now’ stance. That is, it’s the opposite of a “turn the other cheek and wait for the oppressor to decide we should exist” mantra or even the feeble “but we’ve come so far/let’s meet in the middle” platitudes.

As queer people, punk means we exist solely on our own terms. Society wasn’t created with queer people in mind, so the concept of assimilation and compromise only serves to feed the beast.

 

Your work gives nods to sexual subcultures, like Leather and BDSM — how does eroticism dictate your work?

Again, this comes to the idea of standards of beauty. The fantasy of vintage erotica is most powerful when viewed through a nostalgic lens. I gravitate towards them in order to clash and twist the old school appeal — whether 50s era muscle mags or 70s unpolished Honcho men — with my own standard of beauty.

 

You designed the AIDS Memorial “What’s Remembered Lives” t-shirt, which is a lot of responsibility. Can you talk a bit about that process?

I’d followed and interacted with the AIDS Memorial Instagram for a few months when Stuart, the moderator, reached out to help design the first iteration of the t-shirt in late 2017. It’s been great seeing people share their stories while wearing the tee, and I’m excited to see new versions of the shirt from different artists.

 

Has the current administration’s encroachment on LGBTQ+ rights affected your artistic output at all?

Like many people, the 2016 Election definitely woke me up. Toni Morrison specifically snapped me out of my red haze when, in response to the election, she wrote: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work.” 2016 was also the year of the Pulse shooting, so I realized that if I claim to be part of the queer community, I’m going to have to claim it loudly. Art, which up until that point had mostly been a hobby, became a place to funnel that queer rage.

 

Do you have any upcoming projects coming up that you can dish on?

I just purchased my first real “big boy” camera! I’m excited to start taking portraits of the queer creatives I’m surrounded by, then transforming those portraits with my drawing and collage.

 

 

All photos courtesy of Zach Grear. To engage with and purchase Zach’s work, visit his website. You can follow him on Instagram here.  

 

Isabelle Fuhrman, Annarosa Mudd and Deborah Kampmeier on “Tape”

 

 

 

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

 

If there were any justice in the realm of film distribution, every member of the #MeToo movement would currently be the proud owner of a boxed set featuring four movies written and directed by New York-based auteur Deborah Kampmeier.

Her 2003 debut, Virgin, starred Elisabeth Moss in a breakthrough performance as a teen who believes that she has been impregnated by God, a conviction that deeply disturbs her Baptist family. Kampmeier’s 2007 follow-up, Hounddog, received an enraged backlash upon premiering at Sundance for its frank portrayal of the abuse endured by a young Southern girl (Dakota Fanning). It wouldn’t be until nearly a decade later that the director would release her third picture, Split — a deeply haunting portrait of an artist (Amy Ferguson), who learns to fully embrace her identity, freeing it from the clutches of her domineering boyfriend.

Now Kampmeier has completed Tape, her fourth feature, which builds on the themes embodied by her previous heroines while exploring them in an audacious new way. It may be her finest work to date. 

Isabelle Fuhrman, an exceptionally gifted performer whose credits include OrphanThe Hunger Games, and Masters of Sex is flat-out astonishing as Pearl, an aspiring actress whose dreams for success are revitalized by the manipulative words of Lux (Tarek Bishara), a predator-in-director’s clothing.

He spouts empty, authoritative terms — “Sprezzatura! Claim your power!” — like a shield, clouding the air with white noise as a diversion from his true intentions.

When he gets Pearl alone in a room with him for what he promises will be the filming of a career-launching audition tape, Lux insidiously places the blame on his intended victim, causing her to feel as if she must prove herself by having sex with him. What neither of them know is that the room has been secretly fixed with hidden cameras by one of the man’s previous targets, Rosa (Annarosa Mudd), who intends on utilizing the footage to take him down. Rosa’s warrior-like attire pays homage to Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, while a shot of menstrual blood seeping through the sheets and onto Lux’s mattress calls to mind another Shakespeare classic, namely the “Out, damn spot!” monologue from Macbeth, a play that Fuhrman will soon be performing Off-Broadway.

Tape is an intentionally challenging film to watch, initially because of its style — as Rosa’s concealed lens frequently abstracts the image during the first half — and ultimately because of its content, as Lux’s grooming of Pearl is viewed with piercing clarity during a nearly 40-minute sequence that is excruciating for all the right reasons.

Just as Jennifer Fox’s The Tale, a movie also co-starring Bishara, found an ingenious method for its filmmaker to reexamine her forgotten memories of abuse while interrogating her childhood self, Tape allows Rosa to peer into her own past by observing Pearl, and eventually rescuing her from the prison of unearned shame. A few hours prior to Fuhrman embarking on a 344-mile run from LA to Vegas via The Speed Project, she joined Kampmeier and Mudd for an in-depth conversation with about bringing this fact-based story to life on camera.

 

When I first spoke with Deborah four years ago, she told me about how the theatre saved her life by providing her a safe space to tell her truth. As artists, in what ways was the experience of telling this story a healing experience for each of you?

Isabelle Fuhrman (IF): I think that, as women, we all experience moments like this. When I turned 18, I remember that the description for every single character I went out for said “nudity required.” It’s not like the shift happened gradually. You turn 18 and those are the jobs that you get sent immediately. So I was very lucky that I’ve never had an incident like this occur when it came to work, but especially at the time when I read the script, I related to that feeling of when you’re working so hard toward a goal and you feel that you need a mentor — somebody in your life to help propel you forward. I remember a time when I was searching for that sort of person, and ultimately realized that the person was me. I didn’t need anybody else for that. Pearl is at a moment in her life where she doesn’t have the time to figure that out for herself, and she’s found someone who seems trustworthy. When you really feel seen as an artist, you feel freer to perform in the best way that you can, and you feel an attachment to the people that you work with because you’re sharing in that experience.

Deborah, Annarosa and I all made this movie together, and I love them so deeply because we shared things that I haven’t shared with some of my closest friends over the course of this film. This industry breeds an intimacy that you can’t get anywhere else, and when that intimacy is put in the wrong hands, that can cause a lot of problems. What we’ve seen coming out in the press over the past two years is not new news by any stretch of the imagination, but the fact that the stories are finally being told is a really exciting and scary thing to have happen. It is pushing into the limelight something that people don’t want to talk about, and even with our film, I think people are afraid of it in some ways because it does really show what that abuse is like. Consent is not a black and white thing. It’s very, very gray, and I think we do a great job of showing that in Tape. It shows how you can put your faith in someone and have that person completely betray your trust, which is what a lot of women in their careers experience.  

Annarosa Mudd (AM): One of the things that I enjoyed about playing Rosa was getting to have this vigilante sense of purpose. I’ve just got one thing that I want to do, which is kill this guy. *laughs*

It was kind of cleansing because her life isn’t cluttered with anything else. Deborah wrote the script long before the #MeToo movement happened, but while making Tape, we had the luxury of having all this material coming out as women in the industry began sharing their experiences. In addition to the horror stories, like Annabella Sciorra’s — which really affected me — there were all these weird little encounters, like when Harvey Weinstein burst into Daryl Hannah’s room and she felt that he would have raped her had her makeup artist not been there.

I just felt so honored to carry the experiences of these other women with me as my character went after this guy. My entire role is the product of healing in some ways. Rosa is the figure who is there to heal, and she’s not great at it. She definitely misses a few things, and she doesn’t have it all quite mapped out, but she’s driven by an overarching purpose to fix something.

IF: What stood out to me in the script, and came alive even more so when we began filming, is how it captures that weird feeling you oftentimes get as a woman, when you find yourself in situations with men, and something doesn’t feel right. I think every woman would be able to relate to that. In fact, that happened to me the other day, when I was sitting in a room with someone and suddenly I was like, “I should leave.”

AM: It really shows those little compromises you make in order to convince yourself that something weird isn’t happening. It was an honor to put those sorts of details on film for everyone to see. I was talking to my sister last night about our movie, and she said, “People don’t want to be uncomfortable, but being a woman is uncomfortable.” We have to be in uncomfortable situations all the fucking time, and they don’t always lead to something that becomes a real transgression, but there are times when they do. I just love that our film doesn’t shy away from portraying that truth. This is what it’s like, this is how it feels.

IF: On Amy Schumer’s new comedy special, she said that there was a recent study about how the number one fear that women have is an act of sexual violence being enacted against them, and the number one fear that men have is being ridiculed. And I thought that was so funny. When I walk home at night, I am so afraid all the time. All the guys claiming that “it’s such a hard time to be a man right now” I find hilarious. My response to them is, “Yeah, because we’re talking about you right now, that’s why!”

Deborah Kampmeier (DK): When we last spoke, Matt, I told you that I had completed my trilogy on rape, but then I realized that I actually wasn’t done. Everything that I’m writing and wanting to direct right now is still dealing with sexual violence against women. It is a big issue for me, and I’m going to keep talking about it, writing about it and making films about it until I am done, and that might not be until the end of my life. What was really powerful and healing about making Tape, for me, was that it was my dear friend’s story instead of my story. When she initially told it to me, the first thing I said was, “Go to therapy,” and then, “Can I make this into a movie?” She did go to therapy, and then she gave me permission to make the film. My own story is not exactly this story, but I understand it intimately, and in the process of holding this story for my friend, all these other stories started to be told.

Suddenly, as Annarosa was saying, we were holding this story not just for my friend or for ourselves, but for the entire world, for all of the women who are holding this story too. I see Rosa and Pearl going from a place of isolation to a place of connection, and in the early days of making these films, the shame I got for telling the stories of Hounddog, Virgin, and Split left me feeling very isolated.

Similarly to the circle of women sharing their stories in Split, all the women talking together at the end of Tape are actually sharing their own personal stories — they aren’t scripted. That is when the film hopefully opens out to all the other women who have, and have not, come out in this #MeToo movement. For me to go from a place of real isolation, as an artist, to a place of community has been incredibly healing.

 

The true story portrayed in Tape is strikingly similar to that of a close friend, who was targeted by a predator masquerading as a theatre director in Chicago. The exposé published in the Chicago Reader a year prior to #MeToo, where she and many other survivors were interviewed, led his venue to be permanently shut down within a week, and inspired theatre companies around the country to break their silence about their own histories of misconduct. What advice would you have for young people on how to spot abuses of power while avoiding the temptation to rationalize them?

IF: There are always red flags, but we just tend to ignore them. I always look for the best in people and that’s a quality Pearl and I share. There’s a lot of people in this business, in LA, who will constantly feed you empty promises, and it’s so important to have a support system that you can go to when necessary. It’s difficult to be honest about things when they are actually happening. In the film, when Pearl is calling her mom and talking about all the amazing things on Lux’s resume, she really doesn’t see what’s happening yet. What’s hard is when she gets into the room with him for the taped audition, and there’s the long build-up of her trying to comprehend and understand where she wants to draw the line. He manipulates her by claiming that she has a marker and can draw the line wherever she wants, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work out for them, work relationship-wise. That’s a moment where Pearl could’ve called her mom, but that’s not what she does. Just as Annarosa’s character has this one goal to kill this guy, Pearl’s goal is to be an artist and find someone who has her back one hundred percent. She thinks that she has found that with Lux.

My advice for any young actor or anyone in any industry is to keep questioning everything. Just because someone has a certain level of authority doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to ask them questions. You should be able to say, “Hey, this doesn’t make me feel good.” Deborah does an incredible job of capturing that day where Pearl sits in that room, trying to decide whether or not she wants to go through with it. That sequence intentionally took up a large part of the film because the woman whose story this is told us, “That was a whole day.” She thought she was doing something to help accomplish her goal, but was in fact helping him accomplish his goal. This #MeToo movement is incredible because it has made me feel more empowered in my work and in my personal life. For the first time, people are listening. I don’t know if everybody is hearing everything, if that makes sense, but I do think that people are listening, and that is a massive step forward.

In any industry, you really just have to trust your gut. When things aren’t feeling right, oftentimes they’re not right, and that’s a really hard thing to acknowledge, especially when you are standing in front of someone you think has the keys to your future. That’s why these men prey on people who are young, and we just have to be brave enough to say, “No.” I’m 22, I’m still figuring things out, and if someone came up to me and was like, “I have the magic key to help you succeed,” I’d probably believe in them one hundred percent. And then my mom would be like “What do you mean?!” [laughs] If Pearl had taken a moment in the bathroom to call someone rather than look in the mirror and tell herself, “You want this, you want this,” I think that would’ve changed things for her.

AM: I’m putting myself in my younger shoes thinking about Pearl. I’m a bit older than her now, and it really is so tricky when you’re starting out in this industry. You’re still figuring the world out, and you may try something that crosses a line or two because you’re young and trying to be sexy and having a good time. That’s what I see when I look at my younger self, you make mistakes. I was at a speaking event last night with The League of Women Voters in my county, and I was once again overwhelmed by the wisdom of women who are older than me. I was so fucking lucky to be able to reconnect with Deborah in my life, after having studied with her in my college years. She was a superstar to me, and I didn’t think that I would ever be able to work with her in the way that I have here.  

My advice for people like Pearl is to find your tribe of women who value what you have to offer, amplify your voice and help you grow. There is such a fucking fierce energy among women right now, especially after the midterm elections. Find those people who stand for what you stand for, and maybe you’ll get to work with them. Women are talking about everything now. We are looking out for each other, we are creating, we are organizing, we are making shit happen. Just try alerting your senses to those people. There are wonderful men too, of course, but there is something going on right now among women that’s really powerful and protective and invigorating, and it opens so many more doors to connect with others.

DK: Speaking of old ladies, I don’t mean to sound like Andrea Dworkin — well, actually maybe I do, because she spoke a lot of truths for which we’ve shamed her for a long time — I think there can only be red flags because we live in a patriarchy. As Annarosa was saying, we have to continue deepening our connection to women and find our tribe. That isn’t to say you can’t have a relationship with men, but the fucking red flag, if you’re a young actress, is being in a room alone with an older man who’s in a position of power. Don’t do it. There can be another person who is a female or a female-identifying person in the room too. There is no audition situation where a young actress needs to be alone in a room with a man, whether or not it involves a sex scene.

IF: I’ve worked with two different male directors in doing sex scenes, and they have gone amazingly well. What you don’t see on camera is that there is a large group of people sitting in the room with us. Very often what happens is the director describes what exactly he is looking for, and then he’ll say, “You and your fellow actor talk about what you are comfortable with and figure it out amongst yourselves. Then I’ll figure out how to shoot it without making you feel uncomfortable.” While rehearsing Tape with Deborah, she and Annarosa and Tarek came to my apartment and we acted out the whole thing. It was very funny.

DK: Did I climb on top of you at some point? I think I was playing Lux.

IF: [laughs] Yeah, yeah. I was nervous about the scene because of its context, but blocking it out made me so much more okay with it.

 

Considering that you, Isabelle, made your film debut in Hounddog, 12 years ago, how did that first experience collaborating with Deborah help shape your approach to future projects?

IF: Hounddog made me realize that I needed to take my job more seriously. I had such a great time, and the only other jobs I had done up to that point were easy games where you just get to go to work and play. Dakota is an incredible actress. She was so wise and professional onset that she was an adult, in a sense. I looked up to her, and through that experience of watching her work with Deborah, and watching the way that Deborah worked with all of the actors, we all felt comfortable. It was my first time on a movie set, and I was watching something happen that I could only really describe in my head as being magic. It made me go, “Oh wow, people do this as a job. This could be something that I could do beyond just having fun.”

Of course I enjoyed it, but there were real emotions that I had to portray during that shoot, and I remember being kind of unsure about how everybody gets to that point so incredibly quickly. I was so grateful to Deborah for creating such a comfortable space onset, and when I came out to do Tape it weirdly felt like a continuation of our relationship. Deborah didn’t feel like a stranger at all. I just felt like I could slip into this part and feel protected and safe with her and with Annarosa and Tarek. A lot of that was because she knew me when I was a kid. She was there for my first steps. I was so excited to be trusted with a role like this, and when Deborah said that she wrote it with me in mind, I went, “Oh my god, you still remember me? From when I was a kid?”

DK: I did. She was the person I wanted for this role from the beginning. Isabelle was perfect in Hounddog. And I always wanted to work with her again. I did have her in mind from the beginning for Tape, and I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role of Pearl. I have to say that Isabelle went to places in this film that were so far beyond my wildest imaginings. It was just amazing working with her. I felt the same way about working with Annarosa and Tarek and their performances. I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. And they each put all of themselves into the work and went beyond what I had hoped for.

 

I was delighted to spot your daughter as the actress in Tape who skewers the Olay anti-aging cream ad. You’ve spoken beautifully over the years about ensuring that your daughter grows up “whole” rather than “naive and pure.” What changes have to be made in society in order to make this a reality for future generations?

DK: Until we change our sex ed to a sex positive education that includes consent and teaches women and men about female sexuality, then there is no way past these red flags. It has to go back to elementary school and how we set up our sexuality with our daughters and with our boys in relation to our daughters. How do we raise daughters who would know to walk away in the situation portrayed here? Hopefully they wouldn’t be in that situation anymore because we’ll have raised young men who understand what a relationship to a woman and her sexuality is about. What I find particularly interesting about the Pearl character is that there is a naiveté to her in the midst of being a very, very smart woman, and the naiveté is not her fault. Society has engrained it into her and every other young woman that I know — this notion of remaining naive around their desire in terms of their bodies and their sexuality.

IF: Another thing deeply ingrained in our culture, from the time we are kids, is that when something goes wrong, as a woman, you must apologize. A man never needs to apologize for anything. It’s women who are taught to feel guilty about things. There’s that scene in Eighth Grade where the girl is in the back seat of the car and the guy’s asking her to take off her shirt. She repels his advances, and then goes, “I’m sorry.” I remember something like that happening to me. Someone wanted to kiss me and I didn’t want to kiss him. For the rest of the day, I kept finding myself needing to apologize, and he was like, “Your first kiss is going to end up with someone you don’t even like and you’re going to be bad at it.” I was like, “I’m sorry, I know, I know,” and he’s like, “This is about you.” That’s when everything gets skewed, and it happens so far back in our lives.

In sex ed, they talk about the male orgasm, but they don’t teach you about the female orgasm. That’s a massive problem because it basically instructs you that sex is a thing for men. Woman are something to be had versus people who can make choices for themselves. This is as much your decision as it is the man’s. I was very lucky to have a mom who told me, “You have the cookie jar. If you say no, they can’t do anything about it.” When I wanted to have my first kiss with a guy, I realized that if I wanted to make it happen, I could make it happen. You have to take control of your sexuality as a woman, and that’s kind of what’s happening right now. We are being up front about what we are okay with and what we aren’t, and there is a lot of conversation about it, but it has to go so much deeper than that. There needs to be actual change happening. I’ve asked all my great male friends how their moms raised them because I want to make sure I know what to do if I have a son.

DK: I definitely think that sex ed should start with the clitoris. Then it can lead to penises and penetration and pregnancy, but pregnancy should be at the end and they put that at the beginning of sex ed when I was growing up in the South. It has to be reversed, and they never included the clitoris in class much less start with it.

IF: When you teach sex ed as only a means to have children, you’re completely ignoring the fact that sex has become a recreational activity and it has been for a very long time. People have sex with each other, it’s just a fact, and yet it’s being explained as, “When a mom and a dad love each other very much…” What if two people just want to have some fun? Why can’t we talk about that openly and explain how you prevent disease, how you stay safe, and how you should decide whether a person is worthy of you in that way?

AM: Navigating our own desire in general has been difficult because we don’t talk about what women are looking for. But that’s really starting to change, and we see it more when women are behind cameras. I was watching a sitcom that had a really excellent make-out scene and I was like, “That clearly was directed by a woman.” There was something about it that felt super-hot, and it had that acknowledgement and celebration of female desire. There is such value in the work of filmmakers like Deborah that provide us with a space to have that conversation about what we are into, what it looks like, what turns us on.

IF: In my first meetings with Deborah about Tape, she told me how there would be three cameras, each representing a particular perspective — Lux’s camera representing the male gaze, Rosa’s hidden cameras representing the female experience, and the director’s storytelling camera. Those are three separate visual approaches that are all merged into one. It’s so different from the movies where women seem to be occupying a completely different film than the men. The door opens, the lights come on, her legs are oiled up, and you’re like, “Didn’t they just come back from the bar? It makes no sense!” *laughs*

DK: For me as a filmmaker, Tape was about trying to find a cinematic language that shifts from the male gaze to the female experience—not the female gaze because for me, as a woman, it’s not ever about the gaze, it’s about the experience. Rosa’s hidden camera represents how hard it is to find that female experience and the search for it is confusing and unclear. Near the end, there is this huge payoff where you’re hearing that typical sex scene between Pearl and Lux with all the moans, and then you get that hidden camera and it is focused right there on her face. She looks in that camera and you see the truth of her experience.  

 

In my first article for this invaluable site, I wrote, “Only by embracing the full extent of ourselves can we become capable, at long last, of seeing the light.” That is what the final moments of Tape convey to me, as all the women begin sharing their stories.

DK: The story that we tell is the future we create. The most powerful part of this whole journey for me was hearing what my friend said to Isabelle when she first saw the film.

IF: She told me that I made her feel like she wasn’t stupid for having been in this situation. I was so concerned going into the film because this is also the first time I’ve played somebody who is a real person, and Pearl is not a stupid girl. She’s incredibly smart, she didn’t grow up in some small town and she is not naive. It’s just that someone took advantage of her at a vulnerable moment in her life. It is so easy to blame victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, saying that it’s their fault, but the truth is that it’s the fault of the manipulator who’s able to see those moments of vulnerability and capitalize on them. It was very important for me to make sure that there was never a moment in this movie where the viewer would think, “She’s stupid, she doesn’t know what she’s doing.” I wanted her blind faith and beautiful vulnerability to come through, but I didn’t want it to seem like the clichéd idea of what this experience could be.

Even when I was prepping for it, I talked with friends and asked questions about their experiences. Someone was like, “Well I was really young and naive,” and I said, “I’ve never seen you as young and naive.” Of course, we are all young at first, and we all have moments where we are naive about things, but when those situations happen, I think we are sadly aware to some degree that something is up, and we choose to ignore it because of what we want to believe. When we were filming that crazy long day in the room with Tarek, I felt everything so deeply, and even my mom was like, “This is the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen you in a movie.” Hearing Deborah’s friend say that my performance made her feel less stupid really made me cry because that was the only thing that I wanted.

DK: And I am so grateful for Isabelle’s performance. The vulnerability that she brought to Pearl is breathtaking and it does create this humanity where you can see her intelligence. The patriarchy thrives on making us feel stupid and ashamed, and shaming us is the way that we are silenced. There is no denying this young woman her humanity because of the performance Isabelle gives, and my friend’s words to Isabelle just broke me open.

AM: At a Q&A during one of our first screenings, our moderator said that she felt the film was revolutionary. People like Lux can get away with these crimes because no one knows that they are happening. All of these stories were hidden not only because of people like Harvey, and the culture that created him, but those who protected him as well. It’s a fucking revolution to put this story, moment by moment, on camera and make people sit through it. The fact that we were able to find backing for this film is because the #MeToo movement was loud enough. Our two investors felt that this story was important and needed to be seen. I don’t know if they would’ve jumped on board a few years ago when Deborah first wrote it, but it’s because of their power and means that our movie got made, ultimately. We need people with money and influence to hear us, believe us and support us.

DK: Our investor had been reading all the Harvey Weinstein news stories and all of the women’s shared experiences, and he kept saying, “How does this happen?” Then he read the script and was like, “Oh now I understand. People need to know how this happens.”

AM: He cared about this story being seen. When Isabelle was saying how much she apologizes, that took me to so many little moments in my life where I’ve found myself carrying around the shame of men’s behavior. We are working on very new ground here, simply taking you through one woman’s true story, and to me, that is a revolution.

IF: Every woman has a story, whether it’s “some guy looked at me” or “grabbed me” or “catcalled me,” and we continue to carry around that shame. It’s not like you can look at somebody and go, “Woah, that must’ve really hurt,” because you cannot see it. It’s not a wound that you can visibly see on our bodies, it’s something that we harbor and that we’ve been taught to not talk about, to feel shame about. We’ve been taught to think that it is our fault every single time, and we’ve made it okay for so long. The only way to get over something is to be able to talk about it.

 

 

For more info on Tape and to keep up to date on upcoming screenings, you can follow the film on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Isabelle’s production of “Mac Beth” kicks off at NYC’s Red Bull Theater on May 7th, you can purchase tickets here.

Photos by Sweet Suezy

 

Talking Gender with My Mom

One Saturday afternoon, at my monotonous service job at a New York theater, a man with salt and pepper hair walked up to me. Clutching his plastic cup of beer, he inquired, “Isn’t New York one of those places where they let the men use the ladies’ room?”

It took every ounce of my self control not to clock him on the head with the giant basket full of wine-in-sippy-cups I was holding.

This wasn’t the first time I’d fielded a remark of this sort, nor was it the last. For me it was irritating and uncomfortable, but for members of the trans community these interactions are harmful and potentially dangerous.

In this day and age, media representation of trans and genderqueer people is better than it’s ever been, but we still have such a long way to go. We still have cisgender actors playing transgender characters. Our armed forces are still intolerant of trans people. When older generations are shutting doors on gender nonconformists left and right, it can be difficult to imagine them ever understanding a narrative beyond the hetero, cisgendered normative one that has prevailed in this country for centuries.

This begs the question: in a nation divided on gender, can we bridge the generational gap? I talked with my mom who is a baby boomer — but doesn’t look a day over thirty three — in pursuit of common ground.

 

Let’s go back to ten years ago. How did you understand gender then?

Mom: Well, there was the binary. There’s male-female, there’s boy stuff-girl stuff. And as a feminist, I never believed that girls couldn’t do some things that boys could do and vice versa. There are no girl careers or boy careers, or girl toys or boy toys, but boy/girl was either/or.

I first became aware of the spectrum when, as you remember, the school I work at accepted two students who were trans.

 

And who were out.

Who were out, right.

The summer before they were to start [the] ninth grade — I was diversity coordinator, so I had to understand what it meant to be trans. I was given a book that really changed my paradigm completely. It was called “The Transgender Child”, and that’s where I was first introduced to the idea of gender as a spectrum and of gender as being separate from sexuality, as two distinct parts of someone’s identity.

That really made me understand the complexity of it much more than I had before. Before that I understood that people who were transgender were born with the physical sex characteristics, but felt that they were the other gender. 

 

Now, twenty years ago you have two young children — you’re forty. How did you understand gender then?

I think I was even more steeped in the stereotypes of looking at it from a binary perspective. I’d say twenty years ago — I’m embarrassed to admit it — but I thought it was a choice or that there was something disturbed about someone who would dress or present as a gender different from their sex. I’ve learned a lot.

 

How do you identify in terms of gender?

I identify as a cisgender woman.

 

What does being a woman mean to you?

It’s kind of hard to answer that because I don’t really have anything to compare it to. It’s just [such a] big a part of my identity that it’s hard to kind of tease it apart and isolate it. Can you come back to that one?

 

Sure. Are there any moments that make you really aware that you’re a woman?

Well, yes. I think within the last couple of years, especially in the political environment that we’re in, it sometimes feels very frustrating to see what happens when men, especially rich old white men have the power.

 

For me, I think the #MeToo movement made me re-contextualize what being a woman meant, because I lead a very privileged life, a life in which I am safe and accepted by those around me. But it’s scary sometimes, to be a woman.

Yes. I think it’s even scarier to be a young woman. I feel less threatened at times in public than I did when I was younger.

When I was your age and in my thirties and even forties, there were times when I felt inhibited from doing things because I was a woman alone. I couldn’t run by myself at night…I think it is harder for you as a young woman at times.

On the other hand, I think that young women are so much more powerful today than when I was a young woman. I think young women see their power and feel entitled to it much more than when I was young. On the flip side I think, in the culture we’re in, it can be easier to be a woman when it comes to expressing emotion. Being able to understand how we’re feeling and being able to talk about it… and not only to express feelings but to express gender with fewer constrictions.

People who identify as male have a narrower perimeter of what is accepted in terms of gender expression. This is maybe more true for older men in the U.S., but if you’re a man and you wear feminine clothing — that’s not often accepted. Women can dress in a more masculine way and it can be stylish and fashionable and acceptable.

 

Have you ever questioned your gender?

No.

 

Have you ever questioned gender itself?

You mean the concept of gender?

 

Yeah, the concept of gender.

I think I’ve learned a lot more about it than I thought there was to know within the last several years. Like most people, I grew up steeped in the dichotomy of male or female with nothing in between.

Now I’ve learned over the course of the last several years working in a school that’s had to educate ourselves in order to serve our students the way they should be served, that there’s so much in between the two ends of the spectrum and that there’s a whole range of not just identity, but of expression and behavior. That’s how I’ve grown to understand it.

 

You know, I feel like there was a learning curve for me as well. Binary trans-ness was a concept that was very easy for me to understand. I learned about it in middle school, from “This American Life” actually, where they did an episode on trans kids. The binary is so ingrained in our society that I was able to understand [being] trans as long as it was binary. I remember starting college, and I hate to admit it, but I had trouble grasping the concept of nonbinary identity and they/them pronouns. I was one of those people for a short period of time.

Thankfully, I learned, grown, and evolved. But everything is gendered, everything in our world. Like sunglasses, like school supplies and lotion, you know, razors. Everything that we consume is gendered. And it doesn’t need to be.

The power of the media and advertising hasn’t failed to reach the young kids I work with. I have lunch in [the] Early Childhood [department] on Fridays, and I see the girls’ Hello Kitty lunchboxes and the boys’ superhero lunchboxes and I’m sure that they’re saying to their parents, “I want a pink lunchbox, I want a superhero lunchbox.” So they’re being influenced by the media and advertising say boys should have… and girls should have… even as three and four year-olds. Now what they’re learning from their school is very different, and I can hear their learning and understanding of that in their conversations with each other. For example [I’ve heard kids say to each other],“Girls can do that, too.”

[And the other kid says back], “I know girls can do that, too, I just wanted to play with my friend who happens to be a boy.”

You know what I’m saying? They understand and can articulate that there’s an equality. In fact, just today I heard someone say the name Sal and a girl said “Sal can be a girl’s name or a boy’s name” and another kid said “I have an aunt named Sally,” and someone else said, “My neighbor’s name is Salvador.”

 

You’ve got two perfect examples there.

So this year in our K-1 class they’ve done a lot of work on identity and gender as part of identity, as a piece of it. The kids all made these really cool life-sized portraits that are hung up all around the balcony in the foyer of the new building. It’s really cool looking. They hung smaller self-portraits on these strings [which represented] the [gender] spectrum and the kids put their self portrait where they felt they identified, closer to boy, closer to girl. Some were right at boy, right at girl, and some were right in the middle.

Their expression was clearly one way or the other, but the way they were feeling was a little less binary. And so they talked to the kids about how that can even change day to day. Some days you might be closer to one side or the other, or not. You might say “every day this is how I feel” and that it’s all okay.

 

That sounds like a really wonderful project.

It was a really good lesson.

 

And it’s amazing that they’re learning it early.

Well, they’re learning it whether they’re being explicitly taught or not.

 

You know, I’ve actually questioned my gender before.

Have you?

 

I have, yeah. What I ultimately came to realize was that I was confusing gender identity and gender expression because I do tend to present in a more androgynous way.

Our society tells us there’s one specific way to be a woman, and I thought if I didn’t fit into that box, then maybe I wasn’t a woman. And it wasn’t just me. Sometimes other people are confused by me. In my classes in college, I remember there was a man who would just never use any pronouns for me. It was a theater class and he was directing us at one point and he was like, “Okay, Nora’s gonna go over here and Nora’s gonna do this and Nora’s gonna do that,” and I remember thinking, “You are playing a strange game.”

Still, I feel really lucky to have a community of people who I can talk openly with about gender. And at the end of the day, I take a lot of pride in being a queer woman and in being a woman who presents in a way that is not always deemed acceptable and is sometimes frowned upon.

I hope that even if there’s one kid in the afterschool program I work at who is, one day poised with a razor in the shower about to shave their legs and stops and thinks, “Oh wait, I had that one afterschool teacher who didn’t shave her legs. Maybe I don’t have to shave mine.” If I can be that for one kid, I will have done my job.

I think you already have been just by being there for them to see. You’re that window for them.

 

I’m the window.

And I’m sure there are kids for whom you are a mirror.

 

I hope so.

*  *  *

Photos (in order of appearance) by Adyana Covelli, Kate Phillips, and Antonia Adomako.

I Talked To My Mom About Abortion

 

On January 22nd of 1973, a 25-year-old named Norma McCorvey was informed by the Supreme Court of the United States that her right to an abortion was protected under the Fourteenth Amendment. Norma was better known by the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, and her case, Roe v. Wade, would go on to become one of the most significant and controversial cases in Supreme Court history.

In 1973, my mom was 15 years old and living with her parents and seven older siblings in a small town in Rhode Island. She attended high school and played flute in the marching band. Forty-six years later, she and I sat down to talk about abortion.

 

Was abortion a topic that was ever discussed in your house?

Mom: It wasn’t discussed but I think, being raised in a very Catholic household, there was unspoken opposition to it. On the other hand, my parents were very socially conservative but liberal in the idea that the government should provide support for people who need it. I think as far as faith-based beliefs go, they probably came down on the anti-abortion/anti-Roe v. Wade side, but we didn’t have conversations around the dinner table about it.

 

What did you have conversations around the dinner table about?

It was a lot of noise and talking. My father would sometimes tell jokes. That was always fun. I do have a memory of something from junior high school — I must’ve been in ninth grade. This is going to kind of surprise you given my firm support of it now, but in English class and we had to do some kind of report, a persuasive essay or something about a current topic. I chose abortion and I was against it. I had all of these pictures that I’d found in a magazine and cut out and passed around the classroom and I talked about how immoral it was.

 

What made you decide to take that stance?

Like I said it wasn’t something that was discussed in our house openly, but my parents got publications like Catholic Digest and Columbia Magazine — which was a Catholic men’s magazine. So at that time it was all about Roe v. Wade.

We’d go to church every Sunday, and I’m sure it was mentioned in church, so that was it. That was the opinion. I was swimming in that pond. Everybody around me believed that [abortion was wrong]. There was a high percentage of Catholics in Woonsocket at the time. Maybe the demographic has changed, but everybody I knew was Catholic. I guess without even thinking about it, I must’ve assumed everybody felt this way. I wasn’t giving it much critical thought.

 

Do you have any memories of hearing about Roe v. Wade on the news?

It wasn’t something I was paying attention to — I mean obviously I was just a kid – but I do have a vague memory of it. And I don’t remember feeling any particular way about Roe v. Wade, specifically.

 

I learned what abortion was at age ten, and I remember being confused because I didn’t know if it was good or bad. The world is so black and white when you’re a kid, so at the time I was thinking,“Do they kill the babies? Is that what that is?” But pretty soon I realized that that wasn’t the case. Learning about fetal development was helpful for me and over the years I gained more perspective. But even to this day you rarely actually hear the word “abortion” on TV or in movies. You always hear “I took care of it” or something like that. It’s not unlike the way people talk about death. Rarely do you hear people say “so and so died” it’s always “so and so passed away” or “so and so passed on” and it’s a similar scenario with abortion. It’s never “so and so had an abortion” it’s “so and so took care of it”, “so and so got rid of it.” 

Yeah, there are lots of euphemisms for it — “terminated the pregnancy.”

 

I wonder if the use of euphemisms like that was part of what led us to have misconstrued beliefs when we were younger.

Euphemisms and misnomers like “pro-life.”

 

The use of the term “pro-life” really frustrates me because if one side is [referred to as] pro-life, that implies that the other side is anti-life. I think the use of this euphemism only makes the chasm between the two sides bigger.

And I don’t think the “pro-life” movement is any more pro-life than those of us who believe in the right to choose, in someone’s right to have agency over their own body. But I agree, it’s a way of setting those who are pro-life or anti-choice apart and give them a feeling or belief that they’re morally superior.

 

When you listen to pro-life/anti-choice politicians — people like Senator McConnell, Justice Kavanaugh, people like Trump — speak about abortion, are there things you wish they could understand?

I think their opposition is mostly disingenuous. I think most of them — because most of them are men — take that [anti-choice] stance because it puts them in a stronger position politically. It speaks to a block of voters who they think will help them continue to hold onto their power. What do I wish they understood? What it really feels like to be in that position. To be in a position where, for whatever reason, you are pregnant and not by choice — what that really feels like.

 

Have you seen public opinions of abortion change over the years? Or the way abortion is being represented in the media?

I think so. Over the years, I think a majority of adults have grown up not having to question whether or not someone who needed to make that choice could make it. Recently there’s been much more support for [someone’s right to access an abortion]. As your generation — the post-Baby Boom generations reach adulthood, there are more of those kinds of human rights. I think it’s becoming more and more [incorporated into] the fabric of our culture, and I think that’s what really scares the white Evangelical Christian conservatives — loss of [their] grip on our culture.

 

Has someone close to you ever gotten an abortion? A friend, a family member?

Actually, yes. When I was in high school a friend of mine did.

 

Was this friend also in high school?

Yes, she was a grade behind me. It was obviously not a planned pregnancy and she, like me, grew up in a very Catholic household.

I remember her telling me after the fact that she had gotten an abortion. The father wasn’t somebody she was in a relationship with, it was just another kid that we went to high school with. Luckily, she was able to make that choice, so I guess it was after 1973.

 

And was there access in your area?

It could’ve been that she had to go to Massachusetts… I don’t know any of the details. I don’t think her parents knew.

 

How did you feel when she told you? Do you remember what you said?

I remember expressing support and care for her. I remember feeling how hard it must’ve been for her to go through [with it] and just feeling good that she was able to take care of it — “take care of it”, huh — and [thinking] now her life is back to normal. Of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t know that.

 

It seems like you made a pretty big leap [then] from ninth grade when you did that report. 

I hadn’t thought about it but yeah… that’s a big change in a few years, isn’t it?

 

Do you think it’s because it became personal when it happened to a friend of yours?

Yeah, I probably didn’t give it much thought at all in between the ninth grade report I did and when a friend had to go through that. You’re right. I think knowing someone who had to make that decision made it real, and I was able to be sympathetic.

 

I know from some of our previous conversations that your school’s sex ed program was, to put it gently, lacking. Was there any talk of what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?

No. That wasn’t part of the curriculum at all. There definitely were girls in my high school who were pregnant. There were quite a few pregnant students, maybe because access to birth control wasn’t as easy to get as it is now?

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose it wasn’t all that unusual to have children around that age, because I remember once looking through your yearbook and all the seniors would write a little bit about what their plans were for after graduation, and a lot of them said they were getting married.

That’s true. I couldn’t tell you a percentage, but there was a bigger number of students who weren’t planning to go to college than were. So without that four year transition, the leap into adulthood right after high school was very real. It was still a bit of a scandal for girls, but not for boys. Can I ask you a question?

 

Of course.

You asked me earlier about the change that I’ve seen over the years. I’m wondering what your perspective is on attitudes toward the right to choose. Do you feel hopeful that it’s gonna continue on that path? Or are you fearful that there’ll be some backsliding?

 

I am fearful, largely because of the Supreme Court. I don’t think they’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade, but I do think they’re going to gut [funding towards upholding] it. The fact that they recently blocked the Louisiana abortion law [threatening to restrict] access, gives me hope — but it also makes me more nervous. It makes me feel as though they’re stalling. There’s a ticking clock now that Kavanaugh is a justice. I feel detached from it to a certain extent, because I’m not at a high risk for unwanted pregnancy, but I have a sister who could end up pregnant and not want to be pregnant, and I want her to be able to make the choice for herself. I want to know she’ll be safe.

I agree with you but I also have — this is going to sound kinda cheesy — but I really have a lot of hope for your generation. You are all, as a group, much more accepting and progressive and open than we were —  are. And you care a whole lot more and you believe.

This is getting beyond the scope of our conversation here, but you believe that climate change is real and you believe that trans people should be treated like anyone else and you believe that LGBTQ+ people should have the same right to love and be loved as hetero, cis people. I have hope that the world is going to be a more open and accepting place than it is now as you all age into leading. It’s happening already. I’m excited to have you guys fix the crappy mess that my generation has made of it all.

 

I think you’re the first Baby Boomer to ever admit that Baby Boomers fucked up the world for millennials, because I believe they did.

I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that.

 

You’re the first one I’ve ever heard admit it though, so thanks for that.

You’re welcome. And I apologize.

 

 

First two photos by Madeline Jo Pease and the third by Sofia Amburgey.

Euphemia on Sex Ed, Kink, and Butt Plugs

 

 

RoleModel is an interview series highlighting badass individuals. 

 

When we first start having sex, it is easy to believe that fast and rough sex is good sex — blind to the spectrum of experiences. Certified pleasure educator Euphemia Russell wants people to explore their bodies through science, communication, and body autonomy.

In fact, they want to see a cultural shift of how society views it. Russell founded the website and blog I Wish You Knew as a platform to share information to assist people wanting to navigate their bodies with a new light — whatever that looks like for each individual. From the classic latex to the more niche kinks, this self-proclaimed dork wants to find what pleases you.

I had the pleasure of talking to the 30 year-old San Francisco resident about kinkiness, pleasure as a tool for health, and their upcoming workshops — including a butt plug dance party in Oakland. 

 

Can you start by describing your work?

Russell: I am a pleasure educator who started my own business I Wish You Knew. It is a platform to share practical information with adults on how they can explore their pleasure, bodies and communication. I also do workshops, blogs, consultations, and soon online courses.

 

Why did you start I Wish You Knew?

I came and spent six months in San Francisco, I realized there are so many amazing people making a core vocation out of sex and pleasure education for adults. I was like hell yeah I want to do that.

 

Growing up in Australia, what were the challenges you faced in expressing your sexuality?

The sex education I got was mostly scare tactics and heteronormative. Focusing on penis, vagina penetration. A lot was about reproduction and there was nothing about pleasure. There was never actually any talk about how sex is supposed to be fun.

 

How would you like to see sex education changed?

I would like to see it being sex positive. Celebrating whatever people’s needs, wants, and identities are. It could be having no wish to have sex and supporting them to do that. Or people who are potentially really slutty and celebrating that too. For young people what I would really like to see is them understanding their bodies and autonomy.

That is why I talk about pleasure autonomy, the nervous system and understanding the science behind pleasure. A lot of it is cultivated through experience. So encouraging people to explore what feels good in a way which doesn’t encourage shame, unless that is something they are into.

 

How can pleasure be a tool to better a person’s health?

I talk about how pleasure is health. In our society it is seen as an indulgence or distraction. Talking about the nervous system — if you move from the fight or flight state, which is the sympathetic state we are so often stuck in and shifting to the parasympathetic state, which is like rest and digest. This is when your anal sphincters relax, and when your immune system kicks in, when you are able to digest food and you start lubricating. Being in that state is good for your health, and gives you time to regenerate. There needs to be a big cultural shift. Having pleasure in your life is not a distraction, it can be a tool for your physical and mental health.

 

On your site you say, “It’s not about ‘being good at sex or spicing up your sex life.’ It’s about body autonomy.’” Can you talk about what you mean by body autonomy?

First and foremost your body is your body. You decide exactly what you want to do with it. It is no one else’s, you don’t owe anyone else your body. It is knowing what you want, need, and desire. Then having a relationship with your body so you can feel connected to the subtleties, nuances and what feels good, instead of rationalizing situations just in your mind.

 

So you have been teaching sex education in schools around San Francisco. What subjects make up the curriculum?

We teach much more beyond STIs, birth control and reproduction. We teach puberty to eight and nine years old, so hopefully before they go through puberty they actually know what is happening. Then we build up each year to 15-year-olds. We go into healthy relationships talking about sexual harassment, assault and rape, and understanding how to look after yourself online — porn consumption and sexting. We also talk about the basics of pleasure and information around health.

 

I think sex education now is completely lacking discourse around digital communication.  

Yes, there is a whole other realm of how to look after yourself. It is a hard time to be growing up.

 

So you also run adult kink workshops?

I do three fundamental workshops at the moment. One is the ‘Kinky science of pleasure’, one is ‘Know your sexy parts’ — which is about pleasure anatomy. The third is ‘Know your fantasy and desires.’

 

Define what a kink is?

I don’t love the word kink, because sex is weird for everyone — there is no normal. But basically kink is the less common practices or fantasies, desires that people have, which maybe are not as known or accepted. I think kink has become a fashionable aesthetic, but it is a narrow representation. For example, black, red, leather and latex. But it can look literally any way. And it is the same with sex. Pleasure and sex can look literally any way. It doesn’t have to be a particular way, it’s not prescriptive.

 

For someone who might be interested in attending, can you give a sneak description of your upcoming kink workshop in California?

The ‘Kinky science of pleasure’ will be about going through waves to regulate your body, getting into your parasympathetic state of your nervous system. Then tips for magnifying your pleasure that aren’t considered common. It ranges from impact play to spanking to various different toys and technique. It is for all bodies and genders.

Then I have butt plug dance party that is happening in Oakland in March, and an impact play workshop in Santa Cruz.

 

What does the butt plug dance party entail?

Well a lot of people think it’s pretty kooky, but it’s basically a way to get people into their bodies during my workshops without any nudity or hooking up. When you get a ticket you are sent a  video on how to choose a butt plug for your body, how to use it safely and pleasurably, then ways you can magnifying this pleasure. If you live here you can come along to the actual dance party.

Basically it will be a room full of a 100 people dancing around. The DJ is playing butt songs. It is dorky and fun, but people also get to explore what it feels like to wear a butt plug and it can be super pleasurable. It’s actually the cutest party ever.

 

 

Tickets to Euphemia’s upcoming workshops in California can be found here.

You can follow them on Instagram at @sex.iwishyouknew and visit their website www.iwishyouknew.net.

 

Photos by Shannon May Powell.