There are many exploratory erotic spaces that I want to be in. However, the specific spaces I want don’t usually exist. Often, that means I create them, because I want them to be in the world.
Recently, I created two very different erotic explorations, Transexy and Black Velvet. The events had very different intentions and different results. In reflecting and contrasting the two parties, I learned that my desire can’t be separated from my commitment to good body politics, and in fact, I’m turned ON by spaces that actively deconstruct the dominate narrative of attraction! Maybe you are too?!?
The first space I facilitated was Transexy: a sex party for transmasculine folks, many of whom had never attended a sex party. There were probably 50 people initially in the room, as I led us through a series of warm-up games. Games that help you know what you want in the moment, and communicate it clearly to your partner. Games that teach about boundaries and consent, as well as non-verbal negotiation.
You know, the type of sexy education we all should have gotten as teenagers, except we didn’t. And in this particular demographic there’s a higher percentage of folks dealing with really intense stuff than in the general population: dysphoria, shame, trauma, internalized transphobia, challenges receiving touch and having sex at all. So this party was a Big Fucking Deal. Just being naked together was an act of solidarity and revolution in a society that says trans bodies are fucked up, wrong, and that’s often best case.
The second space I facilitated was Black Velvet: a sex party in the dark for all different types of bodies, genders, sexual orientations, races, ages, body sizes, political affiliations. The only thing in these bodies had in common was that they were somehow connected to me or my fellow organizers, and we trust them. This party was held, from start to finish, in the complete darkness. Consent, boundaries, negotiation, desire… all without any sense of sight. Yep.
Black Velvet is an event that a friend and I conceived a few years ago, as we lamented over not getting to be gay males in the 1970’s pre-HIV sex scene. Dark rooms, also known as blackrooms or backrooms, were a common feature of gay bars, where anonymous sex can easily take place. We decided to create an erotic experiment that would recreate the dark room space:
Question: What happens erotically, between a group of people in a completely dark, anonymous, anything-goes-but-consent-is-required space?
Hypothesis: Participants will explore their own erotic desires, curiosities, hang ups, and boundaries, and will move beyond who they know themselves to be as erotic beings.
Having conducted one Black Velvet several years ago, I wanted a chance to go deeper into the experience, and am doing so this fall with a series of three by invite-only events. Last Saturday was the first of the three.
At the first party for transmasculine folks, I knew the space was radical. There were moments when the healing in the room was palpable. I looked around and could almost see shame constructs crashing through the floor, to be returned as power and pleasure in community. I knew without doubt how powerful and necessary this space was/is. I feel dedicated to continuing to create such spaces for folks with marginalized identities and bodies. And yet.
At one point, I looked around, and the bodies lying on the floor made a map of oppression. Central to the space were the young, white, able-bodied, thin more masculinized body with beauty privilege. Surrounding that central pile were groupings of folks with less desirability cred: the fat, the older, the disabled, POC, less masculine folks. I couldn’t see class status, but I’m sure it was also reflected in the space.
All of the privilege centralized, and upheld by the folks having to do the emotional labor of wrestling with their own self-worth and feelings of desirability. It broke my heart. And this map was somewhat my fault; I didn’t set up a critical space, or invite in the politics of desirability to be named and seen. I don’t think I even realized them so clearly, until this party.
At the second party, because of the absence of the visual, I have no idea if this map of oppression repeated itself. My sense is that it did not. It was a much smaller group, in a small space, and the edges of the space aren’t very far from the center. From the reports that participants submitted, there is no evidence to suggest this happened. While we can never erase oppression and desirability politics from our sex spaces, I’m curious if these become quieter factors when you just can’t see who you’re are messing around with.
Some racial features, and body size somewhat identifiable by touch, but in my experience, most touch started with limbs, where it was pretty impossible to discern the entirety of someone’s presentation. The space was designed to be scent-free, so that a participant with a disability around scent could participate, so again, that subverted some of the centralization of able-bodies, in terms of scent.
For at least a couple of the participants in Black Velvet, the absence of the visual was distracting from being connected to their arousal. I personally found the absence of the visual helped me to concentrate on what I was feeling and experiencing with each body I encountered. It’s interesting to me how the actual erotic energy feels with various folks.
I had significant erotic encounters with four different folks, and a variety of other encounters. Each time, the energy I share with my partners has a distinct quality. There is one person in particular who is running a low base note of Eros, and I lower my dial and feel the connection open like a slow, wide river… deep and sultry and timeless.
I know that I feel more desirable in the dark. I don’t worry about what the connection “means” or how I’m perceived, or if I’m wanted. It is clear that if someone is engaging with me, they want me. It really shuts up the dumb stories in my head about not being hot enough.
Of these two events, Black Velvet is the hotter erotic space for me. And in part, it’s because there has been some negation of the prevalent visual narrative that tells me who I’m supposed to be attracted to, and who is supposed to be attracted to me.
At Black Velvet, I found that I was attracted to all kinds of bodies in the dark. Bodies I would probably never engage with erotically were I able to see them, because they don’t go along with my narrative of who I am attracted to.
Here’s the thing. We all think that our desires, who we want, what we want, is just mysterious magic. Like, isn’t it surprising that my desire trends towards everything that culture tells me is attractive?
While many may think of who we are attracted to as personal preference, those preferences are not developed in a vacuum. It’s impossible to separate one’s desires from the culture and society in which they were formed, so it’s important to think critically about it. ~Tristan
There’s this thing called sexual capital. The more you are what culture centralizes as “good, normal, beautiful” the more of this sexually currency you possess. You get to trade it for things like dates, being asked out, make-out sessions, getting laid, etc. Yeah, all the good stuff! The problem is, that just like in other forms of capitalism, some folks have more access to sexual capital than other folks do.
As an older, fat white person with sags and wrinkles and a weird gender presentation, I have less access than if I were younger, thinner, and conventionally hotter. I have more access to sexual capital because I facilitate erotic stuff frequently, and have experience with touch, boundaries, etc. Sexual capital isn’t good or bad, it just is. But sexual capital becomes bad when we refuse to acknowledge the impact it has in radical spaces designed for sexual exploration, especially on those with less access to it.
I had a heart-breaking conversation with one guy with less access to sexual capital at Transexy, who sat on the edges of the party. When I enquired if he wanted my help integrating in, he said simply “I’m waiting to be wanted.”
“this unwillingness to recognize how love, fucking and whom we find attractive is political. It’s like we, as a society, have created this whole untouchable area around intimacy in our lives – and perhaps the most important area – the area I think could use the most critique – leading to this massive resistance around analyzing any decisions relating to love and sex. You hear terms like “preference” or “love is love” or “you can’t help who you like” and the conversation stops there.” ~Hari Ziyad
I mean, of course privilege and centralization of certain bodies occurs in these spaces. It occurs everywhere, and why would we expect radical sex spaces to really be any different?? I always say that there are no safe spaces, spaces where we magically leave all our socialization at the door and show up pure and innocent in our desires. Nope. Never gonna happen. But we can start to create sexual spaces for exploration that deliberately hold a critical lens, and strive towards inclusivity.
Mia Mingus talks about moving toward the ugly. Ugly folks and those deemed less culturally desirable have just as much chance to be good at touching and connecting as folks who hold the beauty bundle, maybe even more, because they are working to gain sexual capital rather than having it handed to them.
I learn that for an erotic space to turn me on, it’s gotta be reflective of my politics. Erotic spaces that oppress, no matter how well-intentioned or revolutionary in their own way, just don’t get my nut off. In this post, I’m publically making a commitment to never holding sexualized spaces again that don’t have an active lens of critique and desire to deconstruct oppression, as opposed to reproduce it unconsciously.
Lemme say that one more time: I’m committed to creating revolutionary, erotic spaces for marginalized bodies and identities that hold a critical lens around sexual capital. I’m committed to bringing my work to people who think inclusivity is the hottest thing. And I am pretty certain that my politics can get even juicer, even bolder. That my personal and professional approach to sexual arousal that lifts people up can expand and evolve. Now THAT’S a hot erotic experiment.
In the dark
We are all desire
There is no age
No race or gender
In the dark
We are sweat
In the dark
We are delicious
If you like this, gimme some comment love below?
Listen to a participant talk about the power of communal erotic learning.
By Marcus, a participant in the “Geography of Pleasure” workshop.
After the last day of the workshop, I was driving home meditatively, feeling the edges of my being. Not clicking from one radio station to the next, and blasting my senses with distracting stimuli. I wanted to allow myself to feel.
When I arrived at my place of residence, I thought, ‘I am home.’ I was feeling in my body and holding myself in a pleasant, nonjudgmental observation. My awareness of self was for once not about boundary patrol against shame, fear, or violation.
Two days before, I arrived at the workshop space in a daze, overwhelmed by the feeling of being around other people. I had become so used to the security of isolation and shutting down before I could be rejected. Alone, I could (unsuccessfully) pretend that I was all the things I wished I could be, and remove myself from reminders of failures and inadequacies.
I tried to relax into the comfortable seating, dim lamp lights, and the circle of anxious strangers, only to find myself comparing my body to others and listing off all the ways I lacked qualities that I admired in others and so wished for myself. The expression of trans masculinity became ever so in focus. I began to irrationally perceive my body to be physically smaller and smaller and uglier and uglier, as I unrealistically assumed perfection and invulnerability in others.
Though it was my intention to stay and not run or hide, my body sure wanted to run as we began to take turns speaking in the first of many circles. I was suddenly morbidly afraid of looking and sounding funny, and not being taken seriously. Amazingly, these divisive views between myself and others were gradually broken down, in a way I never thought was capable… I will now attempt to describe some of my most groundbreaking workshop moments.
This scared me a lot, as I have long experienced this as mutual invasion of private space. While it is a common expression of wanting to know and be known, sustained eye contact was something I only normally used within the following contexts: romantic interest, aggressive challenging, or conversations. I felt extremely exposed because it was as if I were ‘caught’ seeking an inappropriate level of closeness. There was little excuse for me to stop looking, because the activity did not allow for typical distractions. It was very unsettling to feel that emotional nakedness that I reserved for almost no one. By the end of the workshop, I no longer felt such reservations once I understood seeing and being seen to not be a threat. Instead, it can feel so loving and fulfilling!
When I allowed my body to observe and be observed, I was overcome by the emotions of others and the energy of the room. When I felt loving, gentle gazes caressing my body’s surfaces, I realized the toxicity of my self-directed gaze. I never extended to myself the same kind of understanding and acceptance I aspired to give others.
Moving to music felt awkward. I was confronted by my body’s lifelong reluctance to express itself. Interacting with space around me felt dangerous compared to stillness, which felt so safe and contained. My initial line of thinking was that I don’t know how best to move, so I might as well not.
Though I had a blindfold on, I still felt a critical gaze upon me, the kind that has long held my arms down, my torso stiff, and my legs frozen. Then I realized no one was laughing, and others were similarly focused on their own movements. I had nobody to apologize to for my movements, as no one could see. This activity allowed me to ponder the following questions. What am I holding back from, when there is no one to please but myself? What is possible of myself, when no consequence will arise from honoring my impulses?
It was difficult to surrender, and I don’t think I fully could yet, but I willed my mind to allow my body to interpret the music how it pleased. I allowed myself to enact my varying emotions: playfulness, exploration, loneliness, calm. To stand and shuffle and wave and swagger and sit the way the music called my body to do.
Healing another, watching the healing of others, and receiving my own healing all were magical moments. It was when shame, anger, and grief looked startlingly beautiful in all their ugliness. When I realized we needn’t harden against it all. We could all face and absorb the immense shame and trust that our existence would not be smashed to smithereens.
For me, the ritual felt like bones being reset, and being allowed to heal with alignment and clarity. I had to dig really deep, because I had buried so much of my shame. Entering the circle forced me to verbalize what was holding me back from the happiness and pleasure in life that I desire. I found, and released fears, inadequacies, and traumas that my body was holding despite my amnesia.
(NOTE: Eros is a men’s bath house (very trans-inclusive) in San Francisco that generously donated admission for anyone in the class who wanted to go and check it out on Saturday night.)
I had reservations about going to a men’s sex space as a straight man with no prior inclinations towards having sex with men. But, I am really glad I went, as it was exciting to explore a new space with unfamiliar dynamics, all while feeling so safe because my amazing friends from the workshop were around!
I discovered I was actually physically desirable to some individuals, and the context of the men’s space really made me feel validated as a man. (Though I do worry about assumptions being made, based on my body type.) I also realized I still have some work to do about feeling ok and not guilty when enforcing my boundaries.
I did not discover any desire for sexual interaction with other men, but I now yearn for more access to intimate men’s spaces. This hasn’t really been open to me as a straight man, and I have, for a long time, adopted a normatively competitive gaze towards other men. For me this has fostered more feelings of isolation, inadequacy, and jealousy.
We were invited to sway to nautical music while imagining ourselves to be bull kelp. The idea of being rooted and just o.k. with my existence while swaying with the movement of the water was strangely profound. When we were invited to return to feeling the edges of our bodies, I could not help but weep from the sensation of viewing myself with non-judgment and comfort. It shook me to observe how long my body has been deprived of my love, and how long I have gone without noticing!
I appreciated both lessons on the chest and the genitals and the fact that they were presented in dysphoria-reducing language. I have had some bottom surgeries, and am eager to understand my genitals. Tissues have now been rearranged, rendering some parts more accessible, and others less or not at all.
Despite having pored through countless anatomy articles and diagrams, I learned a new term and site of pleasure: the perineal sponge! This knowledge has helped me gain a better understanding of how to best stimulate the nerves that I thought were no longer accessible.
I felt extremely soothed, and so grateful feeling the love and care of the two people working together to bring me the release from muscle tension I desired. They were eager to comply, and I grew in my comfort to be able to ask for how I wanted to be pleased. For once, I experienced the joy of trusting another’s desire to please me. It was liberating to not feel guilty or burdensome
My body felt extremely honored by their touch, and I had never known that comfort and love could accompany such vulnerability. Who knew that exposure doesn’t need to be just about shame and embarrassment and instead could feel so delicious and freeing? I didn’t.
We took turns in a circle being held and holding one another, before everyone stepped backwards together towards the center of the circle. How amazing it felt to be this stable entity of love, so unyielding in its solid hold of me, despite how fragile we may each feel in so many moments of our lives. In this moment I knew I was not the scared person I was on Friday who was eager to shut out the intrusive presence of others. Instead, I leaned into the warmth of our bodies, the life of our collective breaths, the energies of trans masculine brethren with whom I felt an unmatched closeness.
This workshop was such a highlight of my life after so much anguish and pain. I have rarely cried so much and been so deeply moved. There was a ‘before workshop’ era of my life, and now the ‘after workshop’ time is only beginning. I left with the profound understanding that there are truly greater possibilities for really knowing others in a way that facilitates the closeness and healing that I so desire, yet have always been so afraid of.
After saying many goodbyes, I entered the elevator, alone. The loneliness was momentarily terrifying. I was so sad to leave the space, because the world outside will never be nearly so safe, with facilitators actively shaping healing vibes. But even as I return to my real life, where my physical and emotional boundaries are continually tested, I recharge and revive when I think of being in that circle of bodies, holding and being held. Even now, my heart is still overflowing with love for our capacity to heal so much pain. I revel in the memory of that circle.
(The following is a Guest Post by Roman Rimer, describing his experiences at the Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop. Enjoy! ~ Pavini)
When it came time to write about what feelings came up all the words I piece together seem slightly off, empty. Perhaps this goes back to the adage that writing is the loneliest profession. By contrast, participating in a workshop with family members you never knew you had, feels to be quite the opposite. Feeling part of a larger group is huge, especially if it doesn’t happen often.
Warm, safe spaces exist everywhere; they’re just not always open to everybody. My first impression when I entered the space was that I was welcome, and not just because I was helping other people sign in. Often I feel I have had to be on guard, even when I am in familiar places with people I know. Quite often those most “comfortable” elements in my life have at points turned threatening. When I find myself in a new space, I am safe. I do not have to worry about where I will go next and I can be fully present.
There are too many themes covered in the workshop to fully process, and I’m sure with time a few moments will pop up when I am least expecting it; perhaps they will provide guidance for that particular moment and it will make sense.
A concrete reminder for me was how important human touch can be. Well-meaning touch is not always easy to come by, consent is only occasionally addressed, and at moments in my life I have wanted to fully separate from my body. I imagine if we were taught at a young age to establish and respect boundaries, how the human race could start to heal itself. Even when in relationship(s) I constantly crave human touch and to receive it in such a loving way as it was in the workshop was a much-needed gift.
I enjoyed the exercises in which we were placed in smaller groups, either two or three of us. In one we allowed the other person to touch us, told them where, how much pressure to apply. In the groups of three we asked our partners to remove article(s) of clothing. It was something that on the surface so simple, yet while enacting it felt incredibly empowering.
The actions that many take for granted, are usually much more weighted with trans folks. Perhaps it was because we all knew what it was like, maybe the safety quashed all fears. From talking with other folks I identified that I, too, have felt my body at times was stolen from me, misidentified, physically harmed, attacked with words.
Us transfolks must love our bodies more than anyone could understand, we have held on to our bodies through everything. And what a better way to treat our bodies than to allow them the tenderness from others?
I’d forgotten how satisfying it was to be around ones brethren. While it wasn’t my first time with a group of solely trans-masculine folks, it was the first time in a while.
I’d imagine for many trans folks we’re constantly surrounded by cis people, often well-meaning, but still for lack of a better word, at times, horrible. I constantly find myself in a teaching role, as I find that tends to be one of the more hopeful ways to reach out to people. Being able to talk about my relationship with my body and not take on that role, is something I really value.
Though most of us were meeting one another for the very first time, I felt as though we’d known each other forever. Coming from different walks of life, different generations, family dynamics, occupations, we fit together like puzzle pieces, the individuals so strong yet together creating something even more magnificent than us all individually.
“The space was sacred there’s no doubt about it. I could feel the spirits of our transancestors and those who have yet to be born, all there with us. Those who have been silenced helped give me the strength to speak. It was as though as soon as we formed a circle a spark was lit, igniting an everlasting flame, warm enough for all of us.”
The workshop the previous three days was a mindfuck in the best way possible. Imagine, always feeling like an outsider, feeling misunderstood, always wary of how much to disclose (if at all), the idea that many people might not get it, or their reactions could be harmful, even dangerous. And suddenly I was in a place where not only was it safe to share, but it was encouraged, and others spoke their truths, let their fears out into the air. Suddenly, I felt less ashamed of my own struggles.
Often I feel as eager to cover up as I am to shed my layers. Growing up in the States, feeling ashamed of my body, nudity, sex. While it was never hard for me to find my voice, it was always hard for me to trust it. The workshop provided the trust, part from within the community and building it within ourselves.
The day after the workshop I had an improv class. I was still recovering, emotionally. Thoughts zoomed across my mind. How comfortable I’d felt, while battling through recurring memories of trauma over and over again. In class there were about fifteen of us and I looked around thought, holy fuck, I’m the only trans person here. Improv is known for “gender role reversal” if anything this drama therapy helped me figure out my identity. Though I’d known most of these folks for months, and was out as trans to maybe a third of them, I instantly missed my kin. Though it was only in my mind, I felt I stuck out as the lone trans thumb, and I instantly missed those bonds I’d just formed.
I like the idea that everyone is trans, only some of us have realized it. Perhaps this meeting was for those of us with the courage to move forward. After feeling shamed by the medical community, by family, friends, all these aspects of my life I could trace back to deciding to live openly and authentically. Once I came out I couldn’t quite go back. And as exhausting as I am by the constant teaching, It’s worth it. All the people about to have kids, for all the people who may not have given transphobia a second thought.
Nothing has made me happier than the friends who have since given birth acknowledging gender can very much be placed on children before they are ready to express who they are and they need to check their own beliefs before imposing them on their children. And to meet other trans folks at this workshop who were parents themselves gave me quite a lot of faith in the next generation.
And while it may take cis-gender people a while to catch on, I believe it’s possible. Once they get close enough to our fire, they will see the warmth, the camaraderie that elevates us all once we accept ourselves, and by proxy each other.
I mentioned the importance of a warm space and there is no way I could omit the hot food. It might not seem like much to some, but I am always grateful to have a hot meal in a warm space. I still feel quite privileged even with trauma I’ve endured. Since transitioning my housing situation has been more uncertain than not. It’s all connected.
And while I would never give it up, or change anything, it’s clear the price I’ve paid to live an authentic life. To not have basic needs met, or at least a given, I’ve put myself at risk. Knowing where I will be at a certain time, knowing I will be fed – is a huge thing. It shouldn’t be and everyone should always have these basics covered, but by seeing once more how “outsiders” or rather, folks who don’t subscribe to a certain, limited way of being, exist, my empathy has grown and flooded from me. It’s easy to see we’re not alone.
To know that although we went through this all alone, we were finally able to be there with each other. There’s something that only we can give each other. And that was remarkable. The scariest part is in thinking that we are all alone. The Geography of Pleasure workshop proved nothing could be further from the truth.
~ by Roman Rimer
It is only now, four days out, that I can bring myself to write of the beauty, the heartbreak, the joy, the community and the exquisite pain that was the first Geography of Pleasure: Embodiment for Trans Guys workshop.
Here’s what I notice: my heart aching mightily with the openness we created together. I find my heart expanding into love and joy, and contracting into fear and anxiety, in a regular pattern. I find I want the rawness and intensity of the workshop space in my everyday life. It is hard to return to dishes, kids, and regular life.
How can I describe how the electricity in the room as we smashed paradigm after paradigm? How to write of the power of claiming our rightful erotic space, as humans who live on a trans-masculine spectrum? How can I describe the utter suffering that the people in this circle have endured, that has impacted every aspect of their lives? And how can I describe the fierceness and righteousness of watching the erotic call each of us home to our bodies, just as they are in this moment?
Truly, I cannot.
But what I can describe is the feeling of success I have as a facilitator of a crucible that created demonstrable transformation for participants. People looked different when they left. They felt different. They felt like their context around pleasure, their bodies and their relationships had shifted so much that it was difficult to articulate. They spoke again and again of feeling a sense of safety that they had never in their lives felt.
I knew the workshop was going to be potent, but I really had absolutely no idea to what degree we would change everything.
One of my favorite reflections comes from workshop participant Jun C:
“I came in feeling like I had nothing to offer. I now feel like I have everything to give.
“I feel like I finally found the kind of community and connection with other trans-masculine people that I’ve been looking for that I couldn’t find for so long.
“I had initial reservations coming in (didn’t we all?) I thought there was a very likely possibility that it was going to be some hokey new age-y type thing that usually strikes me as being disingenuous, devoid of real substance, with a false type of enlightenment. I don’t know yet how to articulate the sparkle magic that happened, but I’m so glad I was there.”
This workshop arose from a vision I had of a room of trans-masculine people, working together to banish shame, craft community, and communally welcome into our bodies the pleasure that heals trauma, brings sensation to numbness, and replaces fear with joy. And this bold vision actually happened.
As a facilitator, my heart grew larger and larger with each story, each sharing, each time I sobbed with the hurt we have all borne. The scars I saw this weekend, (and I saw many,) denote a strength and a resilience, a determination to live in our bodies and to be truly ALIVE, without apology.
Perhaps I will write in greater depth about the specifics of what we did, but for now, I am basking in the delight of a heart full of passion for continuing and growing this work. We have already been invited to Portland, New Mexico, Toronto, Minneapolis and the UK. You’ll be able to track our progress at http://www.geographyofpleasure.com. I’ll be posting participant written reflections on my blog, as well as spoken reflections on our website and youtube. Stay tuned!
Our dream is for every trans-masculine person in the world has access to pleasure and embodiment, in the body they are in, RIGHT NOW!