Wild Flower Sex is a Lesson in White Abuse of Power

Home Summer of Sex Wild Flower Sex is a Lesson in White Abuse of Power

The callout to Wild Flower is an example of what many Black sexuality professionals face in the field. And more, what Wild Flower Sex did was not accidental, or a one-time mistake.

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Content Note: This piece contains discussion of anti-Black violence, misogynoir, sexual violence (assault and rape), sex work. Please read at your own discretion.

Over the past few months, the sexuality space has been jarred awake by a series of callouts directed towards prominent and popular brands and figures. We’re seeing this thread ripple across several industries; people are fed up with whisper networks and open secrets of mistreatment without any actionable change. No group knows this better than Black femmes who have been systematically disregarded, mistreated, and downright harmed repeatedly throughout history and in multiple spaces. 

But as the callouts subside, I wonder how we can move towards implementing the lessons to create a more compassionate, truly inclusive sexuality space. 

One of the first incidents that occurred this summer came on August 1. Wild Flower Sex (WF), a Brooklyn, NY-based independent sex toy shop, was called out for their racism and anti-Blackness towards Black femme sexuality professionals. Six such Black femme sexuality professionals — myself included — came forward to share stories of manipulation, anti-Blackness, and abuse of power. In our article, “Dildon’t Disrespect Black Femmes: Our Personal Experiences with Wildflower Sex Shop,” co-authors Ev’Yan Whitney, Ashleigh, Karmenife, Venus Cuffs, La’Shawnae, and myself chronicled interactions illustrating misogynoir, anti-Blackness, and violence at the hands of Wild Flower Sex co-founders, Amy and Nick.

“I see this incident with WF as a continuation of upholding and centering whiteness and white supremacy within our society as well as seemingly ‘progressive’, ‘intersectional’ and ‘inclusive’ spaces that are facilitated and ran by white people, no matter what their gender identity is,” sex-positive influencer Ashleigh Tribble shared. “Whiteness is something that continues to operate in a way that is negligent, violent and selfish, so this working along with sex positivity is no different as the voices that are usually centered are those that are white or in closer proximity to whiteness.”

The sexuality space hasn’t always been welcoming for Black and non-Black people of color. In fact, the field still largely remains whitewashed, with white sexuality professionals holding and often gatekeeping the majority of visibility, support, and public clout. Despite the contributions that Black sexuality professionals, in particular, have made to the field spanning decades, we are still largely underrepresented and undersupported compared to white sexuality professionals. And though change is happening, that change is slow.

The callout to Wild Flower is an example of what many Black sexuality professionals face in the field. And more, what Wild Flower Sex did was not accidental, or a one-time mistake. This was a deliberate showcase of racism, anti-Blackness, and violence. And they are far from the only ones in the sexuality space to do this.

“To me, what happened with WF, as badly as it hurt, didn’t surprise me,” sexuality doula Ev’Yan Whitney told me. “This isn’t the first time I’ve felt objectified or not seen as a full human being within the sexuality education industry—from being asked to work for next to nothing (if anything at all) to having my expertise disregarded because of the way that I look. I feel like even though we’re in a supposed ‘sex-positive’ field, there are still many, many people in the industry who still believe that Black people are hypersexual and we’re reduced to our body parts as opposed to being seen as the fully autonomous beings that we are. I also feel that because of how popular it is right now to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘intersectional’ that I’ve been relegated to being the token Black speaker/educator at events as opposed to standing on my own as a sexuality educator and professional.”

Our Summer of Sex is made possible by the sponsorship of Planned Parenthood. With their help, we are able to bring you this thoughtful series delving into the subject of sex and amplify the voices of marginalized people and communities. 

Throughout the entirety of the piece, connecting threads of repeat violence can be seen. Amy and Nick, the couple and co-founders of Wild Flower Sex, would repeatedly try to make the Black femmes that they worked with choose between them and Unbound Babes, another sex toy company based in New York. Wild Flower’s reasoning for this was that one of Unbound’s investors was Peter Thiel, a right-wing conservative and known Trump supporter (and for further note: Thiel has also backed companies such as Lyft, Spotify, Instagram, Facebook, and Postmates.) Though this may be unsettling, this was something that Unbound has always been upfront about with the Black femmes involved. At the same token, up until the week of August 1st, Wild Flower Sex cofounder Nick worked at Google. His resignation was publicly announced in the first Instagram post addressing the Dildon’t article, where it was alleged that his two-week notice was submitted prior to the article’s publication.

When the Black femmes would rightfully refuse to be pitted in a sex company-vs-sex company feud of Wild Flower’s own making, they were punished with isolation, abuse of social capital via unfollowing and ghosting correspondence. But to make matters worse, Wild Flower would actively conspire to have various Black femmes in jeopardy of losing future gigs, by emailing and reaching out to event organizers and space owners in the hopes of having them removed or blacklisted. In a space where Black femmes are already fighting for what little space is afforded to us, to have two white people use their social capital and public power to actively try to ensure that Black femmes lost jobs and income is reprehensible and deliberately violent.

To be clear: I never had a direct business interaction with Wild Flower Sex. My co-writing of the introduction and conclusion was to stand alongside the other Black femmes that experienced direct harm from the company. It was also important for me to bring in the important thread that connected this from being an isolated incident: Wild Flower Sex is not the only sex toy company to commit to acts of violence via racism and anti-Blackness.

“Honestly, I’m going to be much, much more leery of white people within this space,” Ev’Yan added. “I’ll admit that I was really naive in thinking that people who are sex-positive and sexuality professionals are also anti-racist and intersectional (in the way Kimberle Crenshaw defines it), but after this egregious experience with Wild Flower and just thinking about all the other microaggressive experiences I’ve had, it’s in my best interest at this point to make sure, as best as I can, that I am in spaces with people that can be vouched for and that have proven themselves to be safe. I’m also going to listen to my intuition more because I had some alarm bells go off with Wild Flower initially that I ignored or just didn’t give a lot of attention to because I was under the impression that white folks like WF can ‘put me on’ so to speak—that they can be the ones to help boost my career and connect me to the right people. I’m never, ever, ever going to fall for the belief that I need white folks to put me on. I can put myself on; I don’t need whiteness to co-sign for me.”

Following the publication of Dildon’t, former customers and fans of Wild Flower publicly called for accountability and ownership of harms committed. The brand, however, reacts differently. Wild Flower’s Instagram and Twitter accounts were deactivated, and when they were reactivated, it followed a “response” from Amy and Nick, further gaslighting and distancing themselves from what was initially asked of them: to take accountability for the harm that was done by them towards Black femme sexuality professionals.

Since the response article’s publication, Wild Flower Sex’s Instagram has been turned private and no further action has been taken. Since the rebuttal, other marginalized groups have come forward with their own stories of harm at the hands of Wild Flower Sex, including herpes activism group, HANDS (Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma). HANDS released their own statement illustrating their interaction with Wild Flower Sex, illustrating how the shop, they write, “spread harmful and stigmatizing misinformation in a recent blog post and collaboration with another educational account on Instagram, My Boyfriend Has Herpes.” When HANDS members reached out to work with Wild Flower Sex to edit the piece, correspondence ceased unexpectedly and no edits have been administrated.

HANDS believes that all who desire to be a part of the sex-positive community, whether as educators or students, deserve a space and a voice. We also believe it is each community member’s responsibility to cultivate awareness around their privileges and strengths and to understand how that intersection adds to the overall power of their presence in the world. Further, we believe that everyone who holds space within the community must be held accountable for transgressions. HANDS stands with Ev’Yan, Ashleigh, Karmenife, La’Shaunae, Venus Cuffs, Cameron, and anyone else who didn’t feel safe coming forward. In addition to the transgressions made against these Black femmes, we would like to expand the conversation as it relates to inaccuracies in WF’s content and the damage this misinformation costs.” 

To date, Wild Flower Sex has attempted apologies coated in white fragility and supremacy. From their copy-and-paste email and Instagram DM reach outs to everyone in the article to the Medium rebuttal that they posted on August 12 all circles back to the main point that led to the publication of Dildon’t in the first place: the harm that Amy and Nick caused to multiple Black femmes were acts of anti-Black racism. The lack of accountability, ownership, and commitment to change only proves that they are not remorseful of their actions, and as such, will continue to double down on the Black femmes as retaliation for going against them.  

Our Summer of Sex is made possible by the sponsorship of Planned Parenthood. With their help, we are able to bring you this thoughtful series delving into the subject of sex and amplify the voices of marginalized people and communities. 

But of course, they are seldom the only brands that have mistreated Black folks in the sexuality space. Just recently, porn producer and director Erika Lust was called out for the violence she and her company allegedly exhibited towards a Black non-binary porn performer and producer, Hello Roo. Back in 2017, Rooster (who uses they/them pronouns) was allegedly sexually assaulted onset of one of Lust’s films, and alleges that there was little to no structure for accountability or managing sexual violence on set. Rooster also alleges that they experienced repeated misgendering and gaslighting by Lust and her team, and stated that the recording of the alleged rape was still available for purchase on Lust’s site until recently. Following this, Rooster alleges that they were blacklisted by the company in the porn industry. In addition, Rooster has been seeking legal recourse following the alleged assault. 

Since the calling out, Lust has published a response to the recent resurgence in a call for accountability on her site. However, the response itself seems to follow a similar pattern to Wild Flower’s response.

It does a disservice to all of us when prominent figures within the sexuality space use their social power to excuse themselves of ownership and making amends for the harm they have committed. There lacks true remorse in their actions, and there have not been proper, actionable steps taken to ensure that the violent acts are not committed again moving forward by the called out parties. So where does this leave us?

In many ways, right where we started.

Much of the pushback and discourse on why these calling outs were necessary in the first place also illuminate the work that white people continue to need on their part. It was evident that many white folks have been trying to absolve themselves of the anti-Blackness exhibited in the situation, though at the same time, they themselves perform acts of anti-Black violence, though to a lesser degree. In recapping the incident to their own circles and erasing identities by calling myself and the other authors of the piece everything from “women of color” (when we repeatedly self-identify in the title of the piece and throughout the article), to “those females”, to even questioning our right to call ourselves Black femmes because of a seemingly lack of proof of our queerness on our social media pages. The misogynoir that follows any Black womxn or femme that speaks out about injustice and anger that they experience is wild, but to have this come from the camps of folks that claim to be in support of us speaks to the ways that Black femmes have been treated, in the industry and beyond.

But despite this, we remain resilient. Even those directly affected are dusting themselves off and pushing forward, creating the spaces we need while also centering the importance of their own self-care. And for much of that support, Black femmes can only turn to and rely on other Black femmes.

“This has taught me that community and healing are essential, as we all separately had our issues with WF and having those recognized, organized and validated is the only reason why the article was written and went live,” Ashleigh said. “The healing process is still in progress, but knowing that I have other black femmes I can identify with and share my concerns with on this matter, lets me know that getting through this doesn’t have to be a solo experience.”

She concluded with, “I’m centering my own self-preservation as a Black femme in this space moving forward by being more deliberate in my research, trusting my feelings and creating more intentionally planned spaces and content that needs to reach an audience that doesn’t feel as welcome in this space due to the lack of representation and respect.”

Despite the progress that has been made within the sexuality field, it’s still important that we remember how important it is to center Black femmes’ joy and upliftment. Even in the face of so much violence, many of us remain resilient so that we can continue to bring about necessary change. 

“As exhausting and maddening and scary all of this has been, the one thing that has given me so much joy and solace is the connection and community that’s been created between me and the Black femmes who’ve been involved in this mess,” Ev’Yan explained. “Having their support and their encouragement and solidarity has helped restore my faith in the industry, and they’ve helped remind me that I/we deserve to be here.”

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article neglected to include versions of the word “alleged” around the situation between Erika Lust’s company, Erika Lust and Rooster. We have amended this to reflect that this is an ongoing legal case pursued by Rooster. The article also stated that the recording on Lust’s site was still available, it is no longer available.

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