LONG BEACH, Calif.—The West Coast has never seen anything quite like CatalystCon, whose creator, Dee Dennis—she was most responsible for the two MomentumCons back east—is bringing together some of the best sex-positive activists, bloggers, adult industry members, academics and sex workers to discuss issues related to both their everyday lives and the government's continuing war on all sexual freethinkers.
"One thing I kept hearing was, 'Bring Momentum to the West Coast,' because people couldn't afford to travel to D.C.," Dennis said in a recent interview with AVN. "And I couldn't bring Momentum to the West Coast, because I do that with a business partner, but I could see doing this on my own, which is why I didn't do Momentum out here. Also, there were a few speakers on the West Coast that I very much wanted and knew I couldn't get them to the East Coast because I don't cover travel, I don't pay speakers, I operate without a budget practically. I'm an individual who has a passion for changing how we talk about sex and treat sex. So I created a conference I wanted to go to, but I don't get to attend sessions half the time because I'm running around, attending to details."
But it will all come together the weekend of September 14-16 at the Hilton Long Beach and Executive Meeting Center, where there will be sessions/interactive seminars, games, parties ... and plenty of networking.
"I'm a very much think-outside-the-box person, so there's not an official trade show," Dennis said, "but there's a lot of networking that goes on that you would see at a trade show. Masque is my premier sponsor, and the owner said, 'You know, we've done all different shows, tons of media, and the best money we ever spent was Momentum; that's where we got our return.' One of our other major sponsors is Tantus, and their founder and president, Metis [Black], as a manufacturer, she doesn't get to see the buying public, she doesn't get to hear feedback face-to-face from people who use her products, and she did that at Momentum, and she'll do that—and speak—at Catalyst."
Other sponsors of the event include anal toy manufacturer Aneros, as well as adult chains Good Vibrations and Pleasure Chest, Wicked Pictures and Wicked Sensual Care Collection, Wet Lubricants, Kama Sutra Closet, Safe Office and female condom manufacturer FC2.
But what's truly impressive are some of the sexual celebrities who'll be speaking. These include psychologist Dr. Marty Klein, sex-positive activists Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Robert Morgan Lawrence, academics Prof. Constance Penley of UC-Santa Barbara and Dr. Lynn Comella of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, author Dr. Shira Tarrant, Wicked Pictures contract star and sex educator Jessica Drake, Sssh.com's resident sex expert Ava Mir-Ausziehen, activist Francisco Ramirez, author/educators Dr. Ebony A. Utley, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Ducky Doolittle, Reid Mihalko, Dr. Jallen Rix, attorney Allan Gelbard, adult performers Buck Angel and Kelly Shibari, plus AVN Chief Operating Officer Janet Gibson and editor Sherri Shaulis—and many more.
Indeed, there are so many sessions being offered that attendees will likely find it difficult to attend all the panels and talks that interest them. At a cursory glance, some of the ones that caught our eyes were "America’s War On Sex and the 2012 Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?"; "When To Give It Away and When To Charge For It: Knowing Your Worth, Assessing Others’, And How To Make Ends Meet As a Sex-Positive Professional"; "Sex Education: Out of the Classroom, into the Streets!"; "Safer is Sexy: The (Fe)Male Condom"; "Paying for It: How Client Stigma Impacts the Sex-Positive Movement"; "Teaching Porn"; "How to Be an Ally to Sex Workers in Theory and Practice"; "When Is an Orgasm a Political Act? When Is Lube a Tool of the Revolution?"; "Sex and the Media: What’s Right, What’s Wrong, Why It Matters"; "Talking With Your Kids About Sex: A Guide for Parents, Parents-to-be, and Anyone with Kids in Their Lives" and several more.
However, the convention's "blow-off" panel may also be its most attractive to adult industry attendees: "Defending Pornography: United States v. John Stagliano."
"That trial was a comedy of errors; that's how it seemed from my reading of what went on each day," Dennis said, referring to AVN's day-by-day account of the week-long trial. "So when I was coming out here, I emailed Constance Penley—she was going to be an expert for the defense if she'd been allowed to testify—and said, 'I'm bringing a conference, and I would like for you and John and his attorney to speak; are you interested?' And they all said, 'Yeah!' And I think we're going to have an overwhelming response to hearing them talk. It's not just about his case; it's about obscenity overall, and these charges were hanging over him for three years of his life."
But rounding up some of the speakers Dennis would have liked proved difficult.
"Normally how I do it is, I put out a public call for speakers," Dennis explained. "They get to promote themselves, which is about all the payment I can offer—and they do network there; it's a huge networking event, which is the sleeper part of this. I got responses from people involved in so many different aspects of sexuality—educators and writers and professors and industry people and buyers and retailers—so they want to do it, but some sessions aren't strong enough to be on their own, so I put people together, like the Sex Ed panel."
"But when I put together my 'Women in the Industry' panel, I found that it was difficult to get minority speakers," she continued. "I can name many sex educators or people with visible names, but I haven't been able to find those people, and haven't gotten as many submissions by minorities, and so I wanted to find a minority speaker for the panel who didn't start in front of the camera, but held a higher-level job in the industry somehow. I couldn't find one."
CatalystCon is also one of the more affordable conventions for locals, since it's being held in Long Beach, a fairly easy drive from Los Angeles and points south, and the full three-day registration is just $150, with students eligible for a $45 discount (just write "student" in the discount code field when registering) and AVN readers get $25 off the price by following the same procedure and writing "AVN" in the code box.
"This is a passion of mine," Dennis admitted. "I have a childhood friend who will no longer speak to me because I attended AEE and I support a person's right to watch and make porn, and they just think that's horrible and I'm exploiting young girls by doing that. We had this discussion; she thought it was illegal to shoot porn, and she also thought it's filled with young girls who come to Hollywood to be stars and they get talked into porn, and I said, 'That's like a bad Movie of the Week circa the 1970s.' But that was her only knowledge."
This friend was unable to hear the things Dennis might have said in support of the adult industry. But it will be a different story in Long Beach, where the attendees will be there to listen. "That's part of my goal with Catalyst, because if I can change just one person's mind ..." Dennis said, adding, "We're always frightened by what we don't know."
So, AVN readers, here's your chance to “know”—and have a great networking (and partying) weekend at the same time.