Lynn Comella is presenting Feminist Porn 101: What it is, What it isn’t, and Why it matters, The Feminist Sex Wars and Beyond: “Sisterhood” and Sex and the Closing Keynote Plenary Address: Afternoon Tea with Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Check out Lynn’s bio here.
How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
I’d like to think that I’m a catalyst for change through both my teaching and my writing. A lot of academics – if not most – get stuck in their own little bubbles of talking to other academics, attending academic conferences, and publishing their research solely in peer-reviewed academic journals. While these things are certainly important, they can also be very limiting in terms of impact and reach. I love the fact that I have a monthly column in Vegas Seven where I get to write about sex and culture for a popular audience of readers. I’ve also started to do some writing for Pacific Standard Magazine. Moving discussions about gender and sexual politics outside the often insular world of academia is really important to me. That’s also why I love CatalystCon so much. It’s rare to have a conference where there’s such a great mix of sexuality scholars, educators, and activists who are all talking to each other. This kind of cross-pollination of people and ideas is crucial if we truly want to build sex-positive coalitions.
Who or what was a catalyst for you?
There are so many people and books that, over the years, have inspired me: Our Bodies, Ourselves; Betty Dodson’s Sex for One; and On Our Backs magazine, to name just a few. I have a lot of respect and admiration for sex-positive feminists who were writing books, holding workshops, and opening sex toy shops in the 1970s and 1980s – long before there was anything called “the women’s market.” This includes Dell Williams, who started Eve’s Garden in 1974, Joani Blank, the founder of Good Vibrations, and Nan Kinney and Debbie Sundahl, who started Fatale Video. There’s a rich history of sex-positive feminism that often gets overlooked by people who equate the 1970s with anti-pornography feminists. Sure, those forces existed but they are far from the whole story. I think we owe a great debt to the sex-positive pioneers of the 1970s and 1980s who made it possible for many of us – including myself – to do what we do today.
What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
I am writing this on the day that the Texas legislature begins its second special session in an effort to pass SB 5, which, among other things, would ban abortions after 20 weeks and put in place restrictive regulations that would lead to the closure of all but five of Texas’ 42 abortion clinics. Like many people, I was riveted by Wendy Davis’ filibuster and stayed glued to my Twitter feed reading updates. That Governor Rick Perry felt the need to call yet another special session to stamp out women’s access to safe and legal abortions in Texas is just stunning. But why the debates over abortion rights and these kinds of draconian measures should matter to everyone is that it all boils down to sex and the question of privacy. I want the government out of my uterus, out of my bedroom, out of decisions that are frankly none of their business to begin with. So the biggest challenges facing us, I think, continues to be the religious right’s desire to legislate sexual morality, and make their ideology the law of the land.
What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
I was really heartened to see how effectively feminists mobilized to push back against the war on women, as well as rampant anti-gay and anti-immigrant sentiments, during the 2012 election season. There’s no doubt in my mind that feminist activists played crucial roles in helping to defeat conservative Republicans in a number of key elections in important battleground states. I was especially impressed by the role that social media played as an organizing tool. While I certainly don’t think all feminist organizing can be done online, the 2012 election season showed us that the power of social media can’t be ignored. And of course, the recent Supreme Court decision regarding DOMA is just huge.
Why do you feel it is important to bring the topic of your sessions, The Feminist Sex Wars and Beyond: “Sisterhood” and Sex and Feminist Porn 101: What it is, What it isn’t, and Why it matters, to CatalystCon West?
One of the sessions that I’ll part of at CatalystCon is titled “The feminist sex wars and beyond: ‘Sisterhood’ and sex,” with the lovely Carol Queen. As someone who came of age as a feminist at the height of the feminist “sex wars” in the 1980s, it’s been fascinating – not to mention unsettling – to see the various ways that battles over pornography, prostitution and BDSM continue to resonate, creating some awfully strange bedfellows between supposedly “progressive” feminists, the religious right and conservative politicians. In this session, Carol and I will offer a bit of history about the feminist sex wars, as well as discuss some practical strategies for feminist intervention.
I’ll also be part of a panel with Tristan Taormino, Nina Hartley and Jackie Strano that discusses feminist porn – what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. The topic of feminist porn is hot, but there still remains some confusion – at least in the popular press – about what feminist porn is. Is feminist porn the same thing as “porn for women?” If not, how is it different? And what about those naysayers who argue that feminist pornography is nothing more than a clever marketing scheme? We’ll discuss these topics and others in what I’m sure will be a really lively and fun session.
As if these panels aren’t exciting enough, I also get to moderate the Closing Keynote, an afternoon tea with one of my heroes, former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders.
Share one unknown (or little known) fact about yourself.
I own a vintage 1950s Kotex napkin dispenser.