It’s been over a month since I left Celebrating Sexuality, a “one of a kind festival for the exploration of sex and relationships, held on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia”, and I think I have finally managed to scrub the mud from my knees, catch up on my social media and process what was easily one of the most intense weekends of my life and I can absolutely confirm that there is nothing like Sex Camp!
The key theme that reoccurs throughout my reflection is clarity.
Clarification of who I want to be as an educator; and clarification of what I don’t want to or will never be as one.
Clarification of how to work in a new and particular space; and of the kind of spaces I am and am not comfortable creating.
Clarification of where I have grown personally and professionally; but also where I want to grow.
Clarification of my relationships with technology, physical touch, nature and my trauma.
And clarification of how far I have to go to achieve what I want.
I don’t want to do a complete retelling of the event like I have in the past, but more want to share specific experiences. This piece also only reflects my own story and experience, every person I met had a different one and that was beautiful in its own right. During our opening ceremony we committed to only tell our own stories when we leave and I will obviously honor that.
Before anything else, I want to really emphasize what an amazing event and experience Celebrating Sexuality was for me. Professionally, it meant a lot to be billed with some incredible peers and to take my teaching to a completely new audience and space. I learned so much from my own workshops, the other presenters and from the entire ethos of the event. On a person level, the whole feel of the space and the people in it was truly a gift. I am still so inspired with how much every single person gave to every aspect of camp and it’s their enthusiasm, generosity and open-heartedness that had the biggest impact on me. The location was absolutely magical and the effort the organizers put into making the teaching spaces just as special really help me feel completely transported.
The organisation of the event in general was incredible: working with Jo in the lead up was an absolute pleasure, the (mostly vegan) food was delicious and plentiful, evening events were mindful of big days but never dull, staff took Brigid’s accessibility needs absolutely in stride and never made us feel like a burden, there was no judgement when we needed sessions off to process or manage fatigue, dialogue about consent was clear from the start, the MC Hugh was delightful and infectiously enthusiastic, there were numerous emotional support people and counselors on site, facilities were always clean and well stocked and I was very happy with the balance of respecting boundaries while avoiding spectators. I honestly couldn’t think of anything the team could have done to make my weekend more perfect.
The location in the Mornington Peninsula was breathtaking. Brigid and I were in literal awe as we drove in and at no point did that awe subside. There was something so magical about the place that I can put my finger on. I spent a lot of time just sitting quietly and taking it in which is something I almost never do. It was blissful.
Something my CS experience really hammered home is that I don’t feel like I completely belong in any of the sexuality communities I’m involved in. I feel too hippy for kink, definitely not hippy enough for tantra and related communities, too kinky and polyam for swingers and too much of a swinger and unicorn for polyam. Not feeling queer enough has always been an issue for me (especially as a femme and especially before I dyed my hair), I personally am still finding my place in disability spaces and feminist communities often struggle with my kink or my sex work.
It’s not a new feeling but I think it’s the first time I felt completely disconnected from the worlds I’m most familiar with. This wasn’t actually a bad thing in the end; while it caused a lot of anxiety as I flailed to explain my point-of-view and rejig my most practiced workshops for a completely new audience, it make me take stock of who I am and what I do. It was a huge learning curve and while I personally didn’t feel amazing about some of the outcomes, I received good feedback and know exactly what I want to change for 2018.
But out of this panic came a realization that I exist at the apex of all my intersections; I authentically exist both within and outside these communities and that perspective is unique. I’ve spent a lot of time re-accessing what I want to put out in the world of late and identifying what I bring to the field and this new understanding has shifted from something I considered a weakness to something I now want to explore and develop more in 2018. Stay tuned for my follow up to this year’s resolution post.
A few things made me very uncomfortable. Both in good ways and not good ways.
A couple of workshops forced me to confront my anxiety about being touched and releasing control of my physical interactions. Trusting strangers to respect my body and not abuse their access was confronting but a predominantly positive experience. Allowing people access to my body when I don’t have 100% control is very hard for me because of trauma, but when I kept my eye closed so the interaction had no influencing factors outside the activity at hand and just accept the touch, I found it very powerful. Reflecting on this made me realise its less the touch that scares me but more the fear of what people think I want from the touch and my ability to navigate those interactions?
I did not get to do all the workshops I wanted due to fatigue issues and/or schedule clashes with my own sessions and I definitely want to make sure I make it to more next year. However, based on my experience of the workshops I attended and my experience at the event, two things frequently made me very uncomfortable in a bad way:
a) How incredible cis and heteronormative some of the workshop content was. This was particularly prominent in some of the tantra workshops but not exclusive to. Both in physical focuses and in discussions of ‘energy’, the hetero-centric nature seemed bizarre given the number of queer and gender non-conforming people at the event. As someone who is a huge Urban Tantra fan and a pansexual woman, this was very jarring and I know I am not the only once who felt like this. This does seem like an issue with individuals rather than the event, which I felt was very good at inclusiveness. There were several workshops on gender issues, bathrooms were all-genders and from what I saw most of the attendees were pretty good with not being shit about not-cis or straight people.
b) How many people (*cough* facilitators) made “triggered” jokes. I brushed off the first one (in an opening workshop) as an individual issue but over the weekend I heard so many shitty “triggered” comments from a variety of presenters. It was fucked up. Not wanting to ruffle feathers on my first camp, I didn’t call anyone out, which I regret in retrospect as I had many conversations with people who were profoundly upset by this. Again, this was very discordant in the space of the camp, which was very conscious of the emotional wellbeing of participants.
I also question the ethics of a workshop I attended that actively encouraged trauma suffers to engage with their abuse or pain in a space that provided no actual care but promised to “destroy trauma cells in the body with light language”. While we all process our trauma in different ways, I feel the risk to the participants did not balance out any potential benefit. I was also told that anyone requiring mental health first aid should “stay in the space” and not seek medical attention which I thought was grossly negligent and invalidating. I participated in the workshop as much as I was comfortable and had serious flare ups for the next two days and after over a decade of therapy I still found it challenging. As someone with trauma I am obviously sensitive to things this area and I can acknowledge that that colours my response, but it still bothers me enough that I wanted to write about it.
But for every issue I had, I have a hundred positive things to counter it.
I could literally write five thousand words on the things that make me know I will return to Celebrating Sexuality, so instead here are some vignettes:
- Roadtripping with Brigid to and from Melbourne – even when I had a cold and we had to wear very sexy face masks.
- The feeling of the opening ceremony, which took me from anxious disassociation to tears of joy as the terms of conduct were collectively negotiated, a spark was lit and shared, I realised that I had achieved something I had set out to do over a year before and I felt truly transported from the real world to the otherworldly Sex Camp.
- The moment in my choice of opening night workshop when I felt myself completely surrender to my sensual truth and let my body speak. Crawling on the ground, feeling people press against me as we slide over, under and around each other’s bodies, drawing ‘energy’ from the depths of the earth and from the people around me, closing my eyes and trusting my body to guide me, letting my breath reach every cell of my being, not only accepting touch but reveling in it and just feeling completely present in my body but also elevated above it.
- Sharing the mountain of snacks I packed with new friends.
- Waking up in Mornington each day. I do not have the words to tell you what that felt, looked, smelt, tasted or sounded like. I am by no means outdoorsy but something about that land just really resonated with me and with the energy of the event.
- The mix of joy and mortification when someone stared at me mid-conversation and said “oh my god, you’re Siren Vandoll” #supernichefamous
- The playful but validating fury of the people who let me vent to them when a snide femmephobic comment was made about my wearing eyeliner while camping.
- The wonderful discussions with different people about which of the spaces (heart, star, moon, garden and sun) they connected with.
- The slightly smug feeling when you remembered to pack a headlamp!
- Sharing and hearing stories of everyone’s individual experiences with each workshop – whether we were in the same one or not – as everyone took something so beautiful and unique from each session.
- The kindness of near strangers when I felt my worst and wanted to hide from everything and everyone.
- The diverse and spectacular costumes at the Saturday night party and the crowds authentic encouragement of the participants in the fashion show.
- OMG THE VEGAN CAKES!!!
- Eating vegan cake and drinking tea in the Heart Space with Brigid while only hearing the audio from Seani Love‘s Pirate Interrogation Workshop
- Deliciously vicious fun with an adorable masochist (despite having to play in a tent ;P)
- Skinny dipping in the swimming lake at noon (except when it meant I was late to introduce my workshop =/)
- My amazing Brigid stepping up to announce it for me and apparently doing an incredible job.
- The gift that was my polyamory discussion workshop. It’s almost always my favourite to teach anyway but the energy, openmindedness and empathy of this group were very very special. It was the perfect end to my official CS experience.
- Sunday morning photoshoots and exploration with Brigid – even with the bugs, mud, grass and twigs where they shouldn’t be!
- The little bit of reception that kept me connected to my polycule. I know some people find it freeing to be away from technology but to me, not having that connection to my support network was incredibly anxiety inducing during such an intense few days with so many emotions. The few moments I got to talk to them kept me grounded and allowed me to really enjoy the weekend.
- Sunday Night Sybian. This one might deserve its own post but I finally got to mark it off my fuckit list in a space and context that felt right and it was magical.
- The fantastic agony of being a Switch torn between a queer degradation gangbang of her girlfriend and super hot dommy texts from and out-of-state lover taking advantage of a Sybian-induced subby moment.
- The Queer Degradation Gangbang.
- Breaking a nail at Sex Camp but not from sex OR camping… (SPOILERS: I still don’t know how but I know it wasn’t either of those!)
- Connecting with so many incredible people as educators, volunteer and participants on so many levels.
- Stillness. Not something I am often comfortable with, but something I need to teach myself to appreciate. Taking a morning off to just sit by the lack and drink tea – no headphones, no book, no phone, no work – was challenging but allowed me to take in and be present in the special space we were sharing and the beautiful environment we were surrounded by. It’s definitely something I want to make room for this year.
- A re-calibration of perspective. Logically I know my life is pretty unconventional but being reminded that my ‘normal’ isn’t ‘normal’ is important because it reminds me I have something to share. The people I met at Celebrating Sexuality came from such a wide range of backgrounds and experiences – there was no “type” – and that motivates and drives me to help empower people move beyond the normative to live their best sensual, sexual and intimate lives.
I could go on forever, but what I really want to share is the joy that my Celebrating Sexuality experience bought me both personally and professionally. It was beautiful and intense and passionate and challenging and sexy and inspiring and just so much fun. It was an absolutely privilege to be involved. I cannot wait for the 2018 festival – you can sign up for presale info here – and I hope that you will come and join me for this absolutely magical and transformative experience (you’ll find me in the Glamping section this time) and stay tuned for a Sex Camp Survial Guide coming later this year!
One final note is one of the most important: the biggest thank you to my beautiful Brigid. From doing the driving, to bringing the camping gear and making sure I didn’t die of exposure, from helping and bottoming for my workshops to supporting me emotionally. You endlessly inspire and push me to do more than I could ever believe I could. Couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you my love. Xx