For the last few weeks, I have felt wildly overwhelmed by life. Between finishing up at my language school, falling sick a bajillion times, working away, and trying to juggle my 3874 hobbies and interests, I just couldn’t find time to sit down and write. Also, when it came to TI, I was feeling a bit uninspired. That is, until Sunday, September 25th, when I waltzed my way over to the Festival of the Happy Vagina at LOA ACROBAX.
Festival of the Happy Vagina or Festival della Vagina Felice
In its first year, the Festival of the Happy Vagina was held over two days this past weekend, 24th and 25th of September, and hosted some absolutely fascinating events. Sadly, I missed the Saturday (I was, yet again sick) but saddled myself up for the full day on Sunday. The festival celebrated open discussions about sex, sexuality, self-love, self-acceptance, community, activism and of course, the power of the vagina and of feminine power.
For those unfamiliar with Acrobax, or many of the similar CSOA spaces in Rome, I will try my best to explain. CSOA spaces develop in abandoned buildings by pure community spirit and hard work, preserving historically significant buildings and providing a safe space for those who need it. Coming from Dublin where the housing crisis has coloured most of my teenage and adult life, these spaces are a breath of fresh air. Acrobax began in the year 2002, where the people took back an abandoned dog racing track (ex-Cinodromo) and turned it into a fully-functioning community space, complete with bathrooms, discussion rooms, a community garden, a gym, a huge track field, spectator seats, a gigantic professional stage, a spacious bar and canteen area and even an outside kitchen complete with a pizza oven. The space of Acrobax itself is inspiring, let alone the atmosphere of pure warmth and acceptance that characterised the festival taking place within its walls. The festival aims echoed the very motto of the space itself: to construct a capacity for fantasy and for revolution.
My first event of the day was to attend a presentation on Polyamory, teasingly named ‘Poliamore Lesson N.1’. The aims of the presentation were to clear up any misconceptions about what polyamory is, how polyamory differs from monogamy, the ties of monogamy to patriarchal control and what that means for polyamorous people and poliactivists, where polyamory fits into the Queer umbrella, and much more. I say much more, because about half way through the presentation, I got completely distracted by two very adorable dogs who took up 70% of my attention.
Of course, all of the events were in Italian, so even though I know my level of Italian is actually quite good by now and I understand 95% of what is said, I was still too embarrassed by how many grammar mistakes I make while speaking to ask any questions in front of the crowd. However, there were some really fascinating arguments, questions and discussions during the Q&A section about the ethics of polyamory and what discrimination may look like to someone who is polyamorous.
Next, I grabbed some lunch – Pasta of the Happy Vagina (otherwise known as all’amatriciana). It was delicious. I chatted away to a few people and took a phone call from a darling friend who recounted the dramas of the week to me while I gleefully munched through my pasta. So distracted, that I almost missed out on getting a seat for the next event of my day: Be Kinky.
Be Kinky by Dr. Andrea Farolfi
Now, now. It was a book presentation, I shall have you all know. I am a literature scholar after all. Authored by Dr. Andrea Farolfi, Be Kinky is a sex-positive book that is perfect for all, regardless of sexual orientation, sexual experiences, sexual preferences or gender. The onus is on arming the reader with the skills and knowledge to satisfy themselves and their partners, but moreover, to promote a healthy, positive view of sex and sexuality.
Dr. Farolfi presented the book, taking us through the background for what inspired the book, what his experience was of kinks before (Farolfi is a consultant sexologist professionally, just FYI) and after writing the text and also to open a discussion about the taboos surrounding certain sexual practices. He responded to questions about how popular discourse surrounding sex, and kinks more specifically, can be as damaging as freeing as well as how power dynamics within relationships can be better understood and defined. We also played a delightfully fun game where we were given a card with a kink concept (e.g. role-play) and had to describe this concept without using the most obvious words. As he so greatly put it, sex is supposed to be FUN so this game felt very fitting. It really brought the kinksters out of the woodwork and gave us all a great way to close the presentation on a happy, connected note.
Acrobax: Take Two
Next, I had an hour to kill before the next event I had signed up for. I decided I was going to explore the entire complex of Acrobax. Enjoy the absolute HEAP of photos I took while wandering around.
What I loved most about this little adventure was that it gave me the opportunity to see the space as a lived-in and well-loved place. After stumbling upon a hidden art exhibition of the erotic body, I followed the path on the grass to find a small community garden growing vegetables as well as chickens living happily in the back safe-space near the racing stands. It feels like a breath of fresh air forward to the way we must consider changing our living conditions in order to become self-sustainable and more deeply rooted in community, looking at the crises that approach us.
Cos’è il sesso? written by D’Onofrio, Montanaro & ills. by Montalto
Now, the event that I was most looking forward to as a Master in Children’s Literature scholar… the picturebook presentation of ‘Cos’è il sesso?’ or ‘What is sex?’ Authored by Francesca D’Onofrio and Silvio Montanaro and illustrated by Luisa Montalto, this newly-released picture book for children explains exactly what sex is, but for younger readers.
I was curious to see how the presentation would be carried out for such a young audience (my fellow presentation-goers ranged in age between 2-55 years of age) and how the authors and illustrator would handle difficult questions. I had, originally, thought the book would be quite vague about sex, thinking back to the children’s books I had growing up in the late 90’s/early 2000’s that dared to talk about sex. I was completely wrong. I had also underestimated the younger generation’s knowledge and pure coolness about the whole thing.
Throughout the presentation, the children were actively encouraged to share what they knew, to ask questions and ask for clarifications if things still weren’t clear. We were given many different tasks to follow, such as pinning a sticky-note to a figure of a human and deciding where is a nice place to be caressed and where is not a nice place, and, what we think the different genitals of the different sexes look like. It was informative, matter-of-fact, but also very fun for everyone.
After we had followed through puberty, and being attracted to another person, and what one way of having sex looks like, we were asked to draw what our idea of pleasure looks like. For the children, this direction was to draw whatever emotions they feel when they feel happiness or pleasure. For the adults, we were instructed to draw an orgasm. I diligently got to work and began drawing. I shared my table with an eccentric legendary-rockstar-looking person who was also engrossed in their drawing. When I had finished, I snook a peak at their drawing and laughed. We had drawn almost identical abstract images of comets rocketing through space. Right down to the colours we had chosen and the spacing on the page. We shared a lovely moment chatting through our lives and where we had come from while we waited for the others to finish up their drawings. Overall, I was incredibly impressed by D’Onofrio, Montanaro and Montalto for their handling of the event, how they focused the lens, and for how engaging they made the subject.
For the next two hours between the picturebook event and the night-time performance by the one and only Kinky Girls (you may remember I saw them perform last at San Lorenzo Pride which you can read about here), I wandered about and made some friends with those who were also hanging about between events. Having lived in Rome for almost a year now, I had begun to really miss the warmth of Irish people. Romans are a very welcoming bunch, but there was a sense of belonging and actual friendship that I was missing. Rome had begun to feel quite cold in a lot of ways (though waking up this morning to see the far-right government that has taken power… you could say I’m feeling pretty cold for all of Italy right now) However, the people I met at this event truly changed my picture of how the Romans are with strangers and foreigners. Despite my dodgy Italian, I was welcomed and encouraged to join into discussions. One photographer who I had glanced before during the earlier events took my photograph and we ended up chatting along with another lovely lady I hadn’t met yet. Time flew by and before I knew it, it was almost time for the Kinky Girls performance.
If you have never seen a Kinky Girls performance, I urge you to come to Italy and see for yourself how inspiring and energising these women are. The Kinky Girls are a collective of women (Cis, Trans and Queer-identifying) who host play-parties and hangouts, fostering a community of feminine power, sensuality and support that is otherwise basically absent from the classic social structure. As they explained in their Aftershow Q&A, what they do is not about kink for kink’s sake. It is about liberation and engagement; about acceptance of your body, your identity and self-love; it is about community and belonging. Within the collective, the members are exclusively women or woman-identifying in some respect. This was raised during the Q&A, as the idea of ‘woman-only’ can be quite exclusive towards non-binary people otherwise interested in joining the collective. The Kinky Girls further explained, as they see it, anyone who has experienced feminine conditioning and/or favours femininity and feminine power in their chosen identity are more than welcome.
The performance itself was powerful. Three of the collective performed, with two taking Mistress positions in the power dynamic with one taking the Submissive position. The performance moved between wax-play, flogging, rope-restriction and sensory play with blindfolds, fabrics, and movements of the hands. The images that would come to mind for any of these words for a random person on the street usually come from a place of the modern porn industry, one rampant with violence, abuse of personal boundaries, unhealthy dynamics and very little inter-party communication. Instead, the performance was rich with tender moments between play-partners, checking in before, during and after, as well as showing affection and tenderness towards each other throughout the performance. Again, as I had felt the very first time I saw the Kinky Girls perform, I felt moved by the connections and authentic care that existed between all on stage and off stage in the collective.
After the performance, I legged it to catch my bus home, buzzing after the events of the day. I felt I had finally broken my summer curse of having done nothing in particular to develop my world-view or expand my lens on the experiences of others and of myself. Let’s hope I can stay on the roll! Otherwise, you’ll hear from me again in another two months.
Ciara Aoife O’Síoráin