I am just home from a preternaturally awesome conference in Los Angeles, CA called Farmhouse. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and as a whole, I tend to enjoy them although the exhaust me. MomentemCon in Washington D.C. was a marvelous affair and I think I shall always file it as my first big family reunion of sex positive feminism and its cousins, second cousins, in-laws, and maybe even a few party crashers, too. I learned a lot and had many a tremendous moment and I was also very much in my comfort bubble.
One of the reasons why I agreed to speak at this crazy little thing called Farmhouse was because it wasn’t but it sounded like a cool idea that I could get behind. I wanted to meet the kind of person who looks out at their backyard in Hollywood, CA with a massive avocado tree casting a fruitful canopy across the space and could see a bunch of people getting together to break down walls and rocks in their brains at a conference. At the same time, I didn’t really think I fit into a very tech-centric conference in Los Angeles. That’s my home town and one that I left because I never felt like I belonged in it. I was intimidated by speaking with a tech satellite event and tangled complicated knots about coming back to old haunts of social and cultural incompetency.
I’ve put a lot of personal work into not running away from things like that. Anxiety is a motherfucker and L.A. gives me a lot of it. That’s the place that civilized me, by and large, produced those early fundamental experiential moments that are etched so indelibly into your brain you take them utterly for granted. Moreover, I literally did grow up in L.A. underneath two large avocado trees that were very likely cross-pollinated over the century they have grown in such a relatively close proximity quite accessible by the L.A. public transit system. These were ideas that ran through my head as I rode a train from Oakland to L.A. Union Station over the course of 12 hours.
Farmhouse was the best conference I think I’ve ever been to and the realization of this hit me in one of those rare and precious times where happiness is a full body experience. Everyone filters the world into something we can navigate. Asking what “reality” looks like is just like asking what the internet looks like. The way the internet looks and interacts with you has a lot to do with with what you’re running, the hardware and the software and the experiences both have had since they first powered on and started to take a look at this universe that humans have created. If you’re a running a committed and positive, “I’m going to get something personally valuable out of this experience,” personal web browser, you’re going to see that which is personally valuable. Part of confronting my anxiety issues was recognizing the kind of project I was going to do and making conscious software decisions that would help facilitate my optimum user experience. I made a choice to stay committed to positivity and listening to people and staying as open as possible to their ideas without letting my very unhelpful anxiety corrupt my network and limit my experience.
The theme of the conference was mapping. The theme of the people was really about navigating your own way. Not one of the speakers got up and laid down concrete directions on how to get from Point A to Point B. No one recited a recipe. Somehow, everyone (and hopefully me) managed to convey a profound truth about navigation. An L.A. tech scene when everyone knows that it’s based in Silicon Valley, why a 5 year old girl in Haiti after the earthquake put in substantial work to acquire money through begging from strangers to ride a bicycle, anarchy on Twitter and how mapping can be hostile to the territory, why Skid Row isn’t just a few street blocks you can identify with a pin, getting across the country powered by absurdism, emerging collective hacker spaces and constructing a network of collaboration, literally inventing a new way to leave planet earth and see the stars, how a theory by Einstein pushed someone as a performance artist, and how the map to invention really is like building a Rube Goldberg Machine.
Thing of it is, when I got up and talked about how the gender map actually hinders our navigation of the world and ourselves and threw in a few nuggets about the queer porn revolution, my whole universe did something funny. It got bigger and smaller at the same time. When your topic is sexuality and when you do make explicit hardcore pornography, you get cordoned off from pretty much everything. In the field we call it the sex ghetto. It’s hard to get your message out when it will always be caught in the filter . The collective reality of our times says that everything I make and do is simultaneously the root of all evil and also devoid of meaning.
Especially because I just had a front end collision with the walls of my work when Visa threw down the hammer or processing credit card payments to the website I run with my partner because there were photographs of me putting rosaries in my vagina. The fact that those photos were constructed for a narrative project on what masturbation can mean to an individual and a visual exploration of the joy I experience during self pleasure and the way that religion has influenced it rather than something reckless. The photos were actually taken for an art project and my partner and I did make the conscious decision to post them in the context of a porn website but our porn website also covered our personal video and photos of Occupy Oakland and its horrific early raid. Part of my porn site mission is about finding my way to authentic and unrepressed sexuality and that means not mimicking the sexuality of someone else. Politics, religion, poetry, music, movies, and other “non-sexual” things are an indelible part of that and I do not consider my rosary pictures of porn site journalism of Occupy to be belittling these ideas. My whole world is in every single orgasm I’ve ever had in my life.
There was a moment where I felt stupid and terribly small for not getting out there and just busting out my deeply passionate manifesto of how committing social suicide by doing porn and destroying my reputation as a reliable citizen in impeccable social standing is why I came to understand that it is imperative that I chase down every single one of my dreams. I didn’t know it when I did it at the time but I did do it and it was exactly what I was supposed to do. Society is never going to let me back into it. Thing of it is, where can you really go in life if you frame what you’re capable of doing by what anyone will let you accomplish. There is no Google Map for your dreams.
The idea of getting off the map and guiding yourself through dedicated and disciplined self-awareness was heavy on my mind not just because of the conference but because of the challenge being told I could not post pictures on my website because this giant machine with way more direct power over my life said that I couldn’t. The idea of not posting those pictures was never really an option in either my mind or Ned’s and he had the brilliant idea of how to address the situation by re-mapping the website. This was a concurrent event and when I left for the conference it was still a little shaky as to whether or not the new map was stable and whether this banner of overcoming an pretty big obstacle was still standing.
Given that my life has been about wrestling with this problem, I did want to talk about it and I did not do so up at the microphone. In the past, that moment right there would sink me. All I would see is yet another time in my life when I didn’t get up and go with the fire in my belly and speak my present truth. The name of my website in that story is rather irrelevant to what I wanted to share about censorship. Then this crazy thing happened: all kinds of people came up to me to talk and not a single person was anywhere near being inappropriate and genuinely open and excited for an opportunity to come and talk to me about their experiences with gender and porn and the boxes we take for granted that don’t really exist at all.
I didn’t miss my opportunity at all. In those awesome moments of connection I felt as though I pulled myself from what would have otherwise been an emotional nosedive. On top of this, I was checking in with the website pleased to know that things were still standing and that my community is infinitely bigger than the “sex ghetto” because I am connected to everyone that I don’t know. One of the speakers towards the end of the night, Nova Han, started talking about the bee theory which, whether or not it really was Einstein’s theory or not, it a brilliant thought experiment for connection via action.
Boom. There it was. There it fucking was. This guy, Shane Becker, is living his life independently of me and doing his thing. He moves to Los Angeles and he moves into this cool house with a great backyard and this giant avocado tree and he envisions a bunch of people getting together and trying to figure out, essentially, what it means to do your human thing. Most people just look out their window and see their property. He gets this idea and because life is weird and I wind up getting an email to come down and take part in this plan. But before I shook his hand for the first the time and before we were connected through another guy out there in the world doing his thing and talked through email, we were already connected. Dreams, bees, and avocado trees–boom.
I actually had to go walk for several miles which I accomplished at swift pace because it felt impossible to verbalize just how enormously big and small everything felt all at once. When I had that moment I was stone cold sober but I tripping balls just listening to people and feeling suddenly porous to the world. This kept growing exponentially because other people were hitting a similar peak for a lot of the same reasons. The conversations were electric and it felt as though the wifi signal had gotten into my brain and I could navigate all kinds of ideas at once.
It’s a hard thing to verbalize and despite moving beyond repression and running around and talking to people about avocados, man, and this wifi in my brain because those are really feeble and rudimentary tools for conveying how profound it is to tap into those energetic moments when you’re having a peak emotional experience. Those moments are so important to have and I utterly bask in them. They are the emotional nutrition to build the muscles of progress. The problem is every attempt to convey that is just a metaphor. Rather than likely confusing people in a ridiculous attempt to stuff an experience like that into rhetoric and ascending into a hypermania, I headed to the bar quite deliberately so that I could actually reign things back into just being happy enough to smile, laugh, hug, and keep coming back to the marvel that it occurred at all. I can maintain the pace of the connection better (though still far from skilled) if I’m hugging people and expressing deep gratitude for the role they’re playing in this full bodied happiness I’m experiencing than if I suddenly rope them into editing what is, effectively, something like 100 You Tube videos playing in my head all at once.
I wish I could construct a map for why this was the best time I’ve ever had a conference but there are no concrete plot points I can relay to you. An abundance of what I experienced was about what I willfully wanted to experience but that’s not the whole story either. The speaker lineup was really fantastic and what stood out to me was the fact that no one gave a “presentation” so much as they really spoke with passion and conviction. The trite way to say that is “from the heart.” I’m accustomed to conferences where I learn something quantitative and measurable. A fact, a skill, a technique gets passed on and I’m grateful for every single teacher I’ve encountered on my way. This conference taught me things I cannot effectively measure or define for any of you.
The power and gratitude I felt towards every single person I interacted with was not about fetishizing them so much as feeling awe in the face of the immensity of human networking. I guess that’s what the word namaste might be signifying, to greet the preternatural potential of every individual on earth, to act with love for all the people. That word is a great meditation for pausing for a moment and willfully and consciously suspend the instinct of your ego to interpret their humanity before they’ve begun expressing it to you and to exit an engagement by reaffirming that we really are all in this life thing together and not to retreat from fierce compassion.
It’s just a conference but it was also glimpse at the meta and every glimpse can be distilled into rocket fuel. The coolest part of making rocket fuel out of a most excellent experience with people is using it and projecting that energy forward into something.
Here I am at the end of another long read, already over 2,300 words. I’ve tried to convey something I felt at a conference listening to people from totally different fields, some of which they invented for themselves, but every one of them being innovated and resolutely reverent of the human experience and it shook me to the core. My writing here is in one way a total failure because they cannot have transported you there to how I experienced the conference. I do know of someone who can do a much better job of expressing that reverence. What I should have done is just shared this video of Neil DeGrasse Tyson and my wishes that everyone in the world could experience it and to keep working towards making it more and more possible for people to do so in the ways that I have the tools and resources to do.