02 March 2010

Radical sex and fat activism

Two long-standing fat activists, Phedre and Cholla, have issued a call for participants inviting members of the Nolose community to co-create an inclusive "late night intentional erotic space" at the forthcoming conference.

Volunteers are requested to take on the role of courtesans, who will make themselves available to offer a range of sexual services based on their own personal specialisations. Here, sex is conceptualised in expansive ways, it could include various kinds of "erotic touch," BDSM play, or other activities. Phedre and Cholla write: "Creating access to sex positive space is a political act especially when it fully embraces fat bodies and creates a place where disenfranchised people can speak their desires." So here sex is also understood as political, and generating collective embodied pleasure is activism in a wider social context where pleasure is regarded as sinful, and where isolation, denial and shame are sexual currency. It's not just activism, it's fat activism because it acknowledges the particular impact of discrimination and marginalisation on fat people and is doing something to redress that wrong. Right on.

As if my heart were not already singing, the call for participants goes on to say: "Our hopes in making this sex positive space is that all attendees at Nolose will have equal access to erotic touch, sensual exploration and the space to speak and experience their desires." The idea of an accessible sex-positive space, which prioritises participant's safety, is really special. The radical potential of shameless sex between shameless bodies as a community project is not being reserved for beautiful, popular, or cool people only; it's something to which everyone has the potential to contribute, if they so wish. Perhaps the subtext here is that everybody has the right to such experience.

I'm swooning at the sheer brilliance of this project, but I've got a few more things to add before I die of happiness...

Firstly, unlike the sex workers who set up business when a big convention comes to town, volunteering at the Den of Desire is being framed as a community service, services are offered for free, it is unlikely that money will be exchanged, though there may be a cover charge to manage costs. Anyone can volunteer to be a courtesan, and anyone can be a punter. Phedre and Cholla "especially encourage butches, transpeople, people of colour, disabled and superfat courtesans to apply," presumably because they are interested in creating a sex-positive space that reflects the Nolose community. The Den of Desire illustrates the varied contexts in which sex work might take place; it blurs the boundaries between play and work; and raises good questions about the identities and motivations of those who provide sex as a service, and those who consume. I think this is a good thing, it demystifies sex work, humanises those who do it, and it suggests that sex work can be a platform for radical social activism.

Next, 2010 will be my fourth Nolose. I have never experienced the conference as a place where I plan to hook-up with sexual partners; my interest is in community and activism, and hanging out with rad fatties. Yet isolation within the wider community, and the sheer energy of the gathering, makes it a sexy place for many people. One of the various things I love about Phedre and Cholla's proposal for an intentional sex-positive space is that it acknowledges and makes explicit the existence of sexuality at this conference. How could it not be so? Nolose developed out of gatherings of lesbians, and has blossomed to include many more genders and sexualities; desire has always been a part of it, why not make something of it?

Lastly, I'm not entirely at home with the courtesan idea, I live in a country where a monarch still holds court, the idea of sexing it up to a fantasy based on such an oppressive power system does not turn me on at all, not even in play. But I can handle that, it's a minor niggle, and I'm working on my application right now. I really want to be a part of this brave, experimental, imaginative, super-radical, utopian and mind-blowing project. This is what fat activism means to me.

Two books that have influenced the writing of this piece:

Agustín, Laura María (2007) Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry, London: Zed Books. 

Califia, Patrick (2000) Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Cleis Press.

Application for Courtesans

Please answer the following questions. Your candour will help us make the Den of Desire a safer place for both you and your clientele.

Send your e-mail to denofdesire2010@gmail.com

1) Why do you want to be a courtesan for the Nolose community?

2) What do you hope to get out of it for yourself?

3) Describe your sexual style and skills.

4) What could you offer on your menu?

5) Describe yourself and your potential courtesan persona


Kate said...

I am a fat, size 24, sex worker and I think this idea is truly awesome and exciting. If i was able to go to NOLOSE, I would totally vounteer. Perhaps the 'court' in 'courtesan' could be reclaimed to mean a court of non-competetive sport or play?

Also, if anyone is living in the US, there is a call to participate in a body image and sex survey/project: https://www.indiana.edu/~sexstudy/

Charlotte Cooper said...

Thanks Kate.