Julie Gillis is co-producer of Bedpost Confessions, a monthly reading series in Austin that encourages perspective and education through conversations on sexuality and human relationships.
In my last piece Let’s Really (Really!) Talk About Sex, cross-posted from Good Vibes, I created a little thought experiment how how people could discuss sex in a way quite different than their current model. And yeah, it probably seemed a bit stilted. Thought experiments are often clumsy in practice. But practice makes perfect.
How though, does one really get the conversations started in a fun and relatively non-threatening way? Well, I always find that laughter helps a great deal, as does creating a community space. Art is often a great conversation starter.
I’ve had the privilege over the past year to co-produce and curate a wonderful conversation starter here in Austin, Texas: Bedpost Confessions. It’s a monthly reading series focused on sexuality, sensuality, and stories about human relationships. My colleagues in this venture, Sadie Smythe, Mia Martina and Rosie Q, are all writers and are all focused on sexuality in some form, be it open relationships, podcasting, erotic fiction, or the intersection of the political and the personal.
We started the series because we all felt healthy sexuality was something that needed to be celebrated in a public space, among adults, and that using a model of a reading series accomplished a couple of big goals: 1) getting the information out there, and 2) entertaining people while we did that.
Co-producer Mia Martina notes, “Sexuality can still be a taboo subject and I think by creating a venue where sexuality is discussed, especially in the entertainment format, helps normalize people’s perceptions and attitudes. We share our stories to encourage people to share theirs.”
With that goal, each month we gather writers and performers of all ages, races, abilities, sexual orientations, and expressions to read, sing, play ukelele, tell jokes, perform slam poetry, and even perform magic acts! In addition to the amazing talents we showcase for Austin’s audiences, we offer the attendees an opportunity to make a “confession” of their own, anonymously, which we gather and read several times throughout the night. The confessions are a huge hit and each month we get more than we could possibly read during the course of a night.
We also include what I’ve dubbed the “Obligatory Political Moment” each month. After intermission, we briefly let people know what’s going on in the local and national landscape regarding sexuality, LGBTQ rights, and more. We know our guests are there for fun and entertainment, but we also like planting little seeds about political action.
One of our most common pieces of feedback is, “This is so important, the work that you all are doing.” It really hits me right in the heart when I hear that. It’s my favorite kind of compliment, knowing that work we’ve produced is meaningful to people aside from the entertainment value, that it’s giving the audience something important, even if it’s a tiny nugget. I often describe the show as “strangely wholesome,“ not only because the venue is such a safe space (it’s not a pick up scene per se, or focused on “getting laid”) but also because the work we bring to the stage is so … human.
On any given night we might have a piece about a breakup that left deep scars, a one night stand gone mortifyingly wrong, a journalistic piece about The Oneida Colony’s pursuits in 1850’s upstate New York, first lovers trying to figure out how to be sexy for each other, discovery of desire after a long time, disappointment in inevitable loss.
The constant theme is how human beings try to connect. Not just to others but to the self. As co-producer Rosie Q succinctly puts it, “When we cut ourselves off from our sexuality, we hold back a hundred other things with it. When I opened my life to my sexuality, I found an incredible wealth of energy and inspiration also emerged. Sharing this energy on stage was a dream for me. I’m so thrilled we’ve been able to make it a reality.”
For me, that’s the takeaway. Sex is fun—yes. It feels good—yes. But, what I see in the stories submitted to us are tale after tale of human beings trying to connect to other human beings, sometimes with wonderful results, sometimes with sadness and failure. Sex, even casual, “meaningless” sex, is filled with complexity and in my opinion, meaning. It’s always a story of two people trying to navigate … something. A void? Boredom? Loss? Hunger?
Human sexuality is so complex—it deserves more exploration, not less.
We have so many things to explore. How to talk about sex for one thing, and all the subsequent vocabulary words that go along with it. We should practice saying basic anatomy words! We should explore how to speak of desire, of consent. We could start discussing what monogamy really means and all the subsequent misinformation pieces around non-monogamy. We could talk about the range of vanilla to kink and how it’s in many ways hard to tell what’s what these days.
We should talk about gender and how sexuality changes over our lives, how we age in our bodies. Quite importantly, we should talk about how we pass information down (or don’t) to the next generation. It is vital that we have conversations about how to fight for the right to be sexual, how to be human with each other, and how to address sexuality in courts of law and in the courts of public opinion.
Bedpost Confessions gives people an opportunity to stop hiding human sexuality under the proverbial bed.
Co-producer Sadie puts it this way: “ I believe it’s important to create a space that promotes sexual literacy and positivity. At Bedpost we tell tales about the many unspoken aspects of sexuality, the parts of ourselves that too many of us keep hidden, locked away, as if sex were some dirty little secret meant to be ashamed of … And because we realize it’s just not always possible to strut our sexual stuffs, we have created Bedpost Confessions. To start the conversation. To allow people the freedom to hear others open up about what they like and exactly how they like it. To give people the blessed opportunity to sneak peeks into the perspectives of other people whose sexualities and experiences may not align with their own. Because that’s how we learn. That is how our consciousness is expanded. And that is how tolerance and acceptance are built.”
Sometimes people relate to the stories, but it’s safe to disagree or even dislike a piece. It lets them tell the beginnings of their own stories through confessions. It gives them steps to change the larger story through political action.
Even if none of those loftier goals are achieved, Bedpost certainly gives folks something to talk about on the way home.