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.