As a queer pākehā woman who grew up in the 90s, let me tell you, my journey with sex and sexuality has been a ride! I’ve been through the thistle-bushed journey of teenage shame, and the starry-eyed explorations of young adult-hood. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I’ve definitely learned a lot. For 2023, my sexy contribution to International Women’s Day is to share with you a collection of incredible women who have influenced the way I have thought about sex over time.
I first heard about Georgina Beyer in my final year at high school while my friend researched trans-rights for an English Assignment. This week, we unfortunately mourn her passing at the age of 65. Georgina is well-known for being the world’s first trans Mayor and Member of Parliament, but she was also a former sex worker who advocated for radical changes to New Zealand’s laws around prostitution. Whilst living in Sydney, Georgina was raped by four men. She never went to the police because, as a sex worker, she feared prosecution. Part of her work in parliament included advocating for the Prostitution Law Reform in 2003 which made NZ the first country in the world to decriminalise sex work in a way that protected the rights of sex workers. In an interview with the Spin-off in 2018 she said it “was quite unusual, to look at people like us not as caricatures, but real people with real lives.” When I was 17 years old, it was Georgina’s experience and philosophy that made me realise that sex work is work. This might not seem like a revolutionary idea to me now, but after growing up in a largely Christian household, it blew my mind.
I read The Purity Myth when I was about 22 years old. I heard about the book on a YouTube video, and absolutely hoovered it up. As a young queer person, I had always struggled with the term “virginity”. It made me angry. It made me sad. I felt society had this feverish grip on the idea, and whenever I challenged it I was gaslit into feeling like I was harping on about nothing. Jessica Valenti was the first person to validate my feelings in a way that was well-researched, well-written and critically acclaimed. In her book, she rips into the obsession we have with women’s chastity. Although the book is American-centric, I related - hard. It let me see the madonna/whore complex as more than just a silly trope, but a dangerous tool that subjugated women’s bodies. My body. It gave me the tautoko I needed to let go of any shame I had about my sexuality. And finally throw the word “virgin” in the bin; where it belongs.
When “Dirty Computer” dropped in 2017, I was planning my outfit for Zürich pride and trying to figure out the most subtle way to tell everyone I was bisexual, without telling them I was bisexual. Meanwhile, Janelle’s out here in her vulva costume singing about queer sex and pleasure. She is an artistic genius who reminds us that shame isn’t in our programming. I bought the vinyl, and have listened to that album end-to-end more times than I can count.
Michelle was one of a number of people who presented at a Storyo get-together 2021. She had been a name on my radar for a while, but this was the first time I had spoken to her in person. She is a pole performer and sex coach that preaches pleasure - and in her 5-minute presentation, she changed the way I understood the purpose of pleasure in my life. She challenged us, the audience, to find pleasure in the most mundane moments of our day: in washing the dishes; in putting on our clothes. When you can find pleasure everywhere, you can let it cum in the bedroom too.
Oh my life, what a vibe. For those who are unfamiliar, these two badass women started a podcast that dives into everything with a critical, intersectional feminist eye. One of my closest friends told me about Bobo and Flex when we were taking a walk on the West Coast and yarning about our dating lives. Their final episode, in 2021, was about what it means to cheat. Conversations about infidelity naturally lead to conversations about intimacy, boundaries, connection and commitment. It made me think about sex and intimacy as a sociocultural construct - that what one person sees as a sexy time, another person might not consider sexy at all. What I love about Bobo and Flex is the way they approach sexy topics with equal servings of real talk and humour. As an A-Type millennial, I’m so careful with my language around sex that it can feel stale. Bobo and Flex showed me it doesn’t have to be that way; that sexy talk can be educated and silly and funny and wise.
I could go on. It should come as no surprise to us that wahine toa are the change-makers in the realm of sex and sexuality. Go forth and celebrate, today and every day, the women who help us be our sexy selves!