Indigoes: Four Great Concepts I Learned Out of AltSex 2018

Last year, I heard about a little conference called AltSexNYC. I was truly enamored with the idea of a bunch of people who study sex and psychology in a room together talking about sex and psychology. So I decided to go by myself. With very few connections in New York City at the time, I was a little nervous, but I made a friend through another friend who let me stay with them. It turns out that a bunch of people studying sex and/or psychology and coming together to talk about sex and psychology was perfect for me! So when it came up again this year, I immediately bought my tickets. This time, I was lucky enough to stay in a hostel and bring a friend.
I always learn fascinating things from conferences, but this one has a special place in my heart because it’s so professional-based and very much about research that I just learn things I know I will use and expand on in my everyday life. So let me tell you about the 4 mind-blowing concepts I learned at AltSex2018.
First. The DSM is lazy. Samuel Hughes presented some excellent research about kink and how it develops in our lives. One thing he briefly touched on was the pathologization of kink. In easy terms, we often think of kink as a medical issue to be fixed. The evidence of this can be found in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM), where we currently find around 8 diagnoses that have to do with sex and/or kink. These include Masochism, Sadism, Fetishism, and Pedophilia to name a few. Now, most of them cannot be diagnosed without one major component: That it causes significant distress to the patient.
So many people think don’t get diagnosed with these things. And Hughes made the argument that we should not be using them at all. Because the desires are not the problem. The results are. So instead, of diagnosing someone with Masochism, get to the bottom of their distress around it. Are they in physical danger from too much harm? Are they in distress because they worry what others will think (external locus of control)? Those issues are fixable. With pedophilia, the issue isn’t the desire or attraction itself, but the action around it. That is more related to impulse control, which has other diagnoses.
I recently heard that the use of the word “crazy” is just laziness because you usually mean something else. When I say that some administration is crazy because it’s making policies against marginalized communities, I probably mean “careless,” “thoughtless,” or even “cruel.” But not crazy. Now, I’m beginning to think of these diagnoses in the same way.
Second. Sex Educators are still using the word “virginity.” There were many times I heard the word virgin in this conference. Someone even used the phrase “lose their virginity.” I cringed so hard when I heard it. Virginity is an out-dated, sexist concept that was used to commodify women and control sexuality. I think that a room full of people should say “had sex for the first time.” Or “someone who hasn’t had/engaged in sex.” I feel so strongly about this because:
Third. Language is incredibly important. Both inside and outside of communities.
One study presented talked about common traits of “tops” and “bottoms.” It was presented by two people who seemed to be outside of the community, or at least less knowledgeable. They never addressed switches. They never defined “top” and “bottom.” They never diverged the idea of top/bottom dynamics from dominant/submissive dynamics. Then they attempted to take these words from the context of BDSM and apply them to the vanilla community.
In that transfer, the words lost their meaning. Instead, the presenters described “topping” and “bottoming” like dancing. “Someone has to lead,” they said. Well, when you enter a room of kinksters, and those who work with kink, you need new language. Because those words are taken and they do not mean what you think they do. The words we use in kink and negotiation are as important as pronouns or names. We cannot recycle them. Leading/Following, Topping/Bottoming and Domming/Subbing are all different concepts in subtle ways. If you take our language, you muddy the waters through which we tread and someone will be hurt.
Lastly. Being seen is being mistaken for being loved. Dr. Herukhuti gave the last speech of the conference. It was beautiful and moving. There was a poetry in the words that made me feel safe and invigorated all at the same time. He ended to a huge round of applause that was well-deserved. I took away a few concepts from that talk. But he wasn’t done. During the final Q&A, he had one last thought that hit me like a truck:
“Being Seen is so rare, and so spiritual, that it can often be mistaken for being loved.”
The implications of this statement were so profound. I capitalize the word “seen” for a reason. I don’t mean to physically see someone. I mean to understand who they are and what they want or need. To really know someone. On one hand, being Seen can be like being loved. It can feel so affirming and wonderful. It’s the highest form of interaction in some ways. However, it can also be used. People who are abusive usually See their victims immediately, which helps them target. They identify with them and know their ins and outs. It’s hard to be Seen because it’s vulnerable. And someone who is all there, who just lays out their life, can be Seen by anyone.
I’ll leave you with one last thought that I had. It occured to me while Buck Angel was talking about what trans men should need to transition (namely, that every trans person should have a therapist). While I agree that everyone (regardless of gender) should have a regular therapist, this is an inaccessible notion right now. At best, the idea that Buck has is privileged. Buck argued that many people are making irreversible decisions without knowledge or thought, and seeing a therapist would help them with those decisions. I agree a therapist would help, but I don’t think anyone is trans without being very mindful of their gender expression. While I disagree with Buck in these basic ways, I just don’t understand why he feels such an inaccessible form of help is the solution. Basically: If you try to solve a problem, but can’t work within the structures that currently exist, or create the entirety of the ideal world you want to live in, your solutions are not solutions, but speculations.
Again: If you cannot make your solution work in this world we live it, then it is not a solution.
I don’t want to focus too much on that, because I truly loved AltSex this year. I learned a lot and shared a lot. I was grateful for the experience, just as I was last year, and I’ll see ya’ll next year too!
For More quick recaps of what i learned, take a look at these Twitter threads (I’m real good at live-tweeting, y’all):

 
Author’s Postscript: I didn’t want to harp on the negative things about AltSex, because I love this conference a lot. But I do have some issues with it too. There is a survey disseminated, which I will also put this feedback into, but I want my readers to know too. 
Firstly, they don’t stay on schedule. We lost about 10-20 minutes of our lunch break because of this and it’s extremely frustrating. There need to be more buffers built in or more severe cut-offs for speakers. 
Second, they lost a lot of time because the organizers talk a lot. I feel bad saying this because I know people want to talk and it’s important to thank those involved. But having less time for the organizers thanking people and introduction of speakers would help with the time crunch.
Third (and last), they do not link to the speaker’s websites on the AltSex webpage. If you look at the schedule page, they have links in the names. Those links lead to another subpage of AltSexNYCConference.com, and there are no links to the speaker websites despite many of the speakers having one. This is unfair, and undermines a speaker’s publicity and reason for speaking at conferences. I honestly believe it’s ethically wrong. 

The DepressiOnion

Trigger warning: Talk of deep depression, brief mentions of fat-shaming.
This article is a late-night musing. I hope that it gives you a new idea of how my brain works, and I hope you can use this idea to relate to others. If this model works for you, I highly encourage you to use it too. 
This week, I had the opportunity to attend Playground Conference in Toronto. I had an amazing time, met a bunch of new people, and this will all be covered extensively in a blog post later. Right now, I want to focus on one moment that particularly stuck with me: I was talking to someone at length about personal philosophies and how their mind works through life. When it was my turn to share, I was at a loss to describe my own brain despite thinking about it almost every moment of every day.  I’m a Psychology student and I think about thinking a lot. I was shocked to realize that I couldn’t have this conversation. Some of it is because I’m too close to my own brain to summarize it properly. It’s hard to see everything at once. However, there is another layer at work here. I didn’t want to explore my brain because it scares me to talk about it.
The Problem
My brain is a hellish landscape of depression, anxiety and grief. My father passed away at a very important time of my life. My family was a wreck throughout my growing up. I didn’t really understand this until recently, but now I feel it very acutely as I try to work though my own mental problems with a professional. I begin tracing back the problems I have now to things that happened years ago, and were subsequently buried under life.
Someone recently described their default mode as “quirky and looking for innuendos.” At the time, I was baffled because that is the farthest thing from true for me. As I begin to think about how my brain interacts with the world around me, I am realizing that my default is “isolated.” I am consistently seeking out ways that I am special and different from others. I want to be seen as a commodity because I am unique. I also want to be independent, because my freedom is so important to me. However, I also default to a sense of loneliness. My brain automatically sees differences between me and the people I love. The differences that make me good come with other differences that (as my brain sees it) make me not-so-good.
The negative side of this primarily comes from a side of my depression that actively hates me. For every “Leo moment” where I love my hair, my skills, my humor, there is a moment where I feel obnoxious, annoying, awkward, or downright asinine. I play up my “Leo moments” because I want to believe them myself. I know this hateful part of me has existed for a long time, and I’ve learned to live with it. It got buried under careers, relationships, and other life. But now, I am working through those piles so I can live a healthier and fuller life. As this hateful side of me becomes more accessible, it becomes louder and more harmful.
If my default state is so easily tipped into the negative, what does that mean when I have social interactions? Well, thanks to insecurity, and a lack of being able to recognize social cues, I very often second-guess what I do, and the information I think I know. For example, I have a hard time believing that someone would be flirting with me. I let things go over my head because I’ll never be sure if they really were, or if I just wanted to believe that because I want to make sure I stay in a positive space that day. I usually walk away from parties and conferences fearing I missed opportunities (at best), or was downright awful to be around (at worst).
The New Idea
All of this sounds like very typical bad self-esteem. That certainly plays a big part. Why would I be sharing this when it’s nothing new? Well, there’s a new idea that came into my brain as I recover from Playground Conference.
The word intersectionality refers to a concept where differing identities cross, creating a more complete picture of someone. This most commonly gets applied to different types of oppression and/or prejudice. This concept is what I’m going for, but with depression. I refuse to use the word intersectionality for my depression concept because that is already associated with a movement and concept which is much bigger than my mental health. But I would like to borrow the basic principles and apply them. This is why I use the word DepressiOnion. It’s a really great pun (which is on brand for me), and it conveys this idea very well.
Let Me Explain
Imagine me holding a tiny onion sprout. It’s little with maybe two or three layers. This represents my base depression. It’s small but manageable enough. Not very trusting, a little less secure in attachment. With just this, I’m moving through the world differently already. I default to a feeling of loneliness, even when with a lover. I struggle to keep my head up on some days. But overall, I’m doing okay; I check in with a professional regularly just to make sure I’m on track.
Now add in some chronic issues like fat-shaming, transgender identity, weird non-monogamy spectrum, whatever applies. The onion is a bit bigger with a few more layers. It’s still easy to hold and work with, but it takes up more room and I have less space to hold other things (heh). I take on less of the outside world, and I need to check in more frequently.
Now, add in a life event, such as the recent break-up that I went through. The onion is even bigger, with more layers now. It’s still manageable, but requires much more energy than the first iteration. It’s takes up much more space than it used to, and now I have to spend all of my energy and space in one hand holding this onion. Each layer is built upon and working with the others. Again, my world view is different than before.
Now, with these three sets of layers, it’s much harder to feel good. I have a hard time feeling desirable. Maybe I’m better off alone, but then why am I lonely? Perhaps I’ll never be loved again. I worry that any time I date someone, they won’t see me for who I am. I worry that if I click with someone, I won’t be in a good headspace to date them at that time. I think that I am too much work/hassle/etc. But this is me, and I can’t get rid of it. I can’t change these identities.
So what if something else happens? Con drop? A new potential affection for someone? A friend being revealed as someone you’re not sure you can trust? All three in one week (which is what has happened)?
Well this onion is joined by more and more layers. That con is more isolating because I’m coming home to an empty bed instead of a partner. The new affection is highlighting how infrequently I feel seen (and loved) in my entirety. My untrustworthy friend reminds me why I don’t trust my own judgement in the first place. All of these layers are now related. They are intimately involved in one another. It’s hard to get to the core of the onion now. It takes up all the space and energy just trying to hold it.
Oh and you can’t put it down either. Because it’s you.