Refuge Worldwide partners with Sónar on Lisbon and Barcelona festivals
The events take place in March and June respectively.
Sarah Farina & Kerstin Meißner lead a discussion on dance, eroticism and sexual freedom for all.
By Sarah Farina & Kerstin Meißner
The history of electronic dance music and club culture is inseparably linked to bodies in all their different shapes, as well as forms of identity expression, movement and community-building.
Sarah Farina and Kerstin Meißner of Transmission were recently joined in the Refuge Worldwide studio by Wanda and Zoe from queer feminist club night Lecken, and Nikki from the ethical porn and sexual wellness platform CHEEX. Their wide-ranging conversation covered sensuality, sexuality and the politics of pleasure, both on and off the dance floor.
In this transcribed excerpt, Zoe, Wanda and Nikki introduce Lecken and CHEEX and discuss their personal conceptions of pleasure. You can read the full text version of their conversation here.
Sarah Farina: We are so happy to have you all here. To start with, Zoe and Wanda, perhaps you could explain what Lecken is?
Zoe (Lecken): We like to call Lecken ‘an erogenous party with a strong commitment to the dance floor.’ It could be described as a feminist sex party, or a queer feminist sex-positive party, but it's also much more than that. It's a little bit of a social experiment. It’s a place of play, friction, sexiness and sensuality, with a focus on the pleasure and interest of FLINTA* people.
Wanda (Lecken): We primarily describe ourselves as a queer feminist party as opposed to a FLINTA* party, because we want to emphasise that this kind of work is always political. We were always interested in having an inclusive as opposed to separate space, and an all-gender inclusive darkroom. Of course, we prioritise the needs of populations that have historically had difficulty accessing these spaces.
When we say queer feminist, what we're essentially saying is that everybody's welcome as long as they can live by or live up to queer feminist principles. One slogan that we like to use to understand this, is ‘dare to desire, dare to care.’
Sarah: Beautiful. Thank you for sharing! Nikki, could you tell us about CHEEX?
Nikki (CHEEX): We consider ourselves a sexual wellness platform. We have also had certain priorities related to certain groups since the beginning of the platform – we are focused on platforming the female gaze, feministic or female-oriented porn, as well as supporting queer performers and queer content. But what we really want is sexual freedom for everyone.
Our aim is to disrupt the porn market and to platform porn that is inspiring and realistic while encouraging open communication and education around sex.
Sarah: My next question is, how do you define pleasure? What does pleasure mean for you personally and in the context of your work?
Wanda: There's so much to say about this, I think education is one thing that’s really pleasurable for me – talking to friends about ideas can be libidinal or erotic. Since we started Lecken we’ve had this kind of internal book club. There are a lot of nerds who come to Lecken, you can listen to all sorts of conversations in the hallways or in line for the bathroom, from the latest meme to Donna Haraway. I think this is one kind of pleasure that holds us together: pleasure in intellectual inquisitiveness, and in an understanding of queerness as a never finished practice, as an ongoing process of upheaval.
I also find pleasures that allow relief from accumulated energies in the body, whether that's nervous energy, stress, overwork or trauma. People have different ways of processing tensions, but dancing and pushing your body to the limits of liberalism has a pleasurable attraction for many.
Zoe: As an overthinker, I think that pleasure to me is something that takes me totally out of my mind and totally into my body. And I think that's something that I find myself craving. That can happen in any form, but especially on the dance floor.
Nikki: For me, pleasure is defined by being in your own energy. And I think this also touches upon practices like dancing. For me, a whole part of my journey was discovering myself through dance, discovering what it means to feel seen and to feel free – pleasure and freedom at the same time.
Pleasure has also come to me in calmer situations, such as meditation, yoga, or just being alone. That is also a pleasure, to be able to connect with myself and to be with myself at all times. I'd like to try and focus on being myself at all times and in that way feel more comfortable with pleasure as well.
Sarah: I'm going to play a track now that was selected by Wanda and Zoe, we can talk about why they chose it afterwards.
Wanda: This is a very groovy deep house track that wouldn't necessarily be played at Lecken, but the lyrics play on this theme of dancing being like sex. For me, this speaks about the continuity that we’re trying to create, between the dance floor and the dark room as a continuous atmosphere in which eroticism is not limited to sexual encounters, but spans an entire spectrum of activities.
We try to reassure them that there is a way to totally belong to the space without even stepping foot in the dark room. It’s much more about feeling safe to be adventurous and to form a relationship with your sexuality regardless of the kind of sex that you are having. I think it’s also very important that you can have a conscious relationship with your sexuality, even if you have periods in which you're less sexually active, when you’re monogamous, or anything else that one might usually place on the conservative end of the spectrum.
Sarah: Thank you Wanda. Nikki, how do you choose what content to show on the CHEEX platform and how to address different bodies? Maybe you can expand a little on what the mission of CHEEX is?
Nikki: First of all, it's a work in progress. The platform has been online for two years, and we are constantly learning, evolving and improving. We get a lot of feedback from our communities. We want to know what we can improve and what's missing. How do users feel about the categories and the content we have?
We also take a lot of time to do thorough research, and we have certain parts of the team that are just dedicated to researching new directors, independent movies and performers so that we have a variety of content, from homemade movies to more professional productions and more diverse, alternative productions.
In the beginning, we were going to a lot of porn events and festivals, in order to connect with people and get recommendations. We are very thorough about which videos we pick for licensing, so that in the end everything is aligned with what we're trying to promote, which is ethical and fair porn.
Kerstin: I think diversity is an interesting point to expand on, because it’s such a corporate buzzword as well.
How do you represent different people’s bodies and appeal to people from marginalised communities, without exploiting that kind of diversity, or using it just to make your platform look better?
Nikki: Yes, thanks for touching on this. In the end, we want to make sure that we can continue to exist, we want people to use our platform and we need subscriptions. The question is how can we make sure that our product is still matching the values that we’re trying to share?
What we try to do is just go at a slow pace. It is our priority to include everyone, but it's not worth being hasty regarding content. We work organically video by video, there’s no quota system where we put out 10 queer videos, then 10 of something else, for example.
We try to have completely open communication, within the team, when new people join. As in any company, we try to ensure there is diversity and inclusion in our team. Our emphasis is really on finding matching energies and finding people who believe in what we are doing. We don’t want to force it, or even suggest diversity is something that defines us. It’s something that happens naturally.
Sarah: You have so many tutorials on your website. Maybe you can tell us a bit more about how education takes place on CHEEX?
Nikki: We try to support an open conversation, which starts with our free blog. Our blog covers the topics that you never dared to ask about. It’s where we try to include the most information that we can. This covers all the topics you never dared to ask about, and it’s the fastest way that we can try to provide education without having to involve multiple parties.
Then we have workshops and discussions. We talk a lot about the shame normally associated with watching porn, particularly once you know that something has been ethically produced. We try to cater to different groups so that whoever is interested can join in the discussion. One topic was ‘how to eat pussy.’ Another time, we had a conversation with a domina, who hosted a zoom conversation about BDSM. We’ve also hosted roundtables with some of our performers.
Sarah: Wanda and Zoe, not long ago I had the pleasure of playing at Lecken, which was a really great experience. I felt such a sexy energy in a room, but didn’t feel immediately sexualised, which is so impressive. It really made me think, what are they doing differently?
How do you educate your community and help people understand the difference between feeling sexy and feeling sexualised?
Zoe: It's a very good question. That is really part of what we consider the ‘social experiment’ of Lecken. I think a big factor is that the party is organised by people who have experienced objectification themselves or those who have a ‘feminised’ experience. We are the people who are operating the party, setting the tone and the standards.
Another factor is the strong community vibe that we try to cultivate. This comes ideally through person-to-person sharing. The party started out quite small among people who all knew each other. It's grown exponentially over the last couple of years, but in a lot of ways, it's grown through connections that people have made, so that ethos has been passed on.
When that’s not been possible, we’ve tried to use texts to help with the process, which is where our manifesto comes in.
Wanda: I have this saying, ‘every party gets the crowd that it deserves.' Of course, it’s a bit folksy to claim that ‘the values you put out are the ones you get back', but at points, it has turned out to be true.
At our first party, we opened the dark room at Ficken 3000 to persons identified as female for the first time. Six years ago, that was a really radical idea, and the line for the door stretched all the way to the corner of the street, to everyone’s surprise! It showed us that this was an idea whose time had come and that there were many people in the city and beyond for whom these queer feminist values were resonating.
That’s a big part of it: we are many, and we are creating this culture together.
The events take place in March and June respectively.
The curtain comes down on our winter party series, Friday 08 December.
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