Writing about Sex & #WeNeedAButton: An Interview with Sophie Saint Thomas
Photo by Chad Johnson
I recently spoke with author and journalist Sophie Saint Thomas about her life and why she believes #WeNeedAButton. (It has been edited for brevity.)
EL: You’re from the Virgin Islands.
EL: Could you just talk about that for a second? What was that like? How’d your family end up there? And I guess, you could also frame it too, in terms of like, what was sex ed like on the Virgin Islands?
SSTT: Oh God. Let’s see. Well, my parents moved there because they did not like living in a Ronald Reagan America. I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a very liberal and progressive home and the Virgin islands…
There’s a lot of bad things. There’s not enough government funding. There’s still heavy, heavy, heavy evidence of colonization, such as when hurricanes come that we don’t really get federal funds to clean it up.
We have our own government separate than the federal government. Even though we’re impacted by the federal government, we aren’t allowed to vote in federal elections. And it’s seen as this beautiful tourist paradise and that’s really, really true but tourists are only herded and shuttled around to the most beautiful parts and the most beautiful beaches and the poverty and the lack of healthcare and all that is really hidden from them.
I could go on a tangent about that forever, but I wish the U.S. Federal government would treat its territories a little bit better, a little bit more human and a little bit just like a vacation spot, which is great that is because that offers a huge influx of tourism money but the schools are lacking heavily in funding. So as a result, there’s not a ton of sex ed. With that being said, the culture and the people are just my favorite people in the whole world. It’s a very laid back place to grow up. It’s a very beautiful place to go up. It’s a very open and accepting and loving place to grow up. So I suppose I learned about sex more from my community then my schools, but it was from a nonjudgmental standpoint.
Since I’ve been living in, what we were called, referred to as the mainland, and New York City, is its own world. I have noticed that comparatively, I don’t seem to have the same sexual shame and sexual stigma to get over on my own that a lot of my friends and partners have as a result of having grown up, say in the Christian Midwest or the South or really anywhere where there is really this sex negativity, this, ‘Just say no,’ attitude instilled. And so I think that the laid back Caribbean mindset and culture is part of why I have always been so comfortable writing about sex and talking about sex.
EL: It sounds like Virgin islands are suffering. It sounds like what you hear about Puerto Rico, in a way.
SSTT: Oh it’s even worse. I’m going down to, both Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands around New Year’s and Christmas because when you live in the Virgin Islands, it’s like Puerto Rico is the next town over.
EL: How long have you been in New York?
SSTT: I moved here in 2010. I went to college in North Carolina and moved to New York City pretty shortly after.
EL: Did you always want to write about sex? Did you always see that in your future?
SSTT: Everyone asks this. I don’t mean to call you out, it’s just not even a thing to me, if that makes sense. I always wanted to write. I always wrote, and I majored in journalism. That was always what I wanted.
When I moved to New York City, I wrote about sexuality but I also wrote about politics. I covered the 2016 election. I wrote about music. I wrote about drug culture. Then I wrote about sexuality and people were really into the sexuality stuff and that’s when I realized like… Oh, I write about sex in the same factual and informational manner that I would use to cover a Mike Pence speech. Not everyone can do that.
Not everyone is comfortable doing that. Not everyone is going to be comfortable just talking to people about all these different kinks. I had the journalism background and I didn’t have the shame and the stigma and so yeah, I guess I jumped on it.
EL: Have there ever been pieces that you’ve written that have had really strong reactions or were considered maybe controversial in any way?
EL: Does that happen a lot or-
SSTT: I’m sure it does. I can honestly say that I haven’t read the comments on my articles for about five years now. I used to. With one publication it would happen with every single story. Every single time.
But I do really enjoy speaking to and covering and normalizing more marginalized sexualities, whether that’s the queer community or the kink community. And so, I’m sure there continue to be strong reactions. I’m lucky enough to have gotten busy enough and understood how just the internet works enough that I purposely just cut that out of what I do, because I don’t have the time. People will still tweet at me and send me emails about, maybe, I’m going to hell or maybe I’m a whore or this and this and this…
Sometimes it still comes up in human interactions, even in situations or parties or environments where I assume everyone is sex positive. People will, for instance, assume I do porn, which… I love porn. I love my friends who do porn. I see nothing wrong with doing porn, but I find it interesting that people see someone who’s comfortable with sexuality and talking about sexuality and instantly conflate it with all these other different sex industries. That still catches me off guard. It’s not even what the story is even about. It’s just seems to be the word ‘sex’ unfortunately.
EL: That’s a depressing. And it’s also just sad for them, as people.
SSTT: It’s really sad, yeah. It just comes off as so hateful to me, especially when it’s coming from a place of Christian values. And then you’re talking about, thinking people shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be themselves, that are going to spend eternity literally burning in flames for being who they are and being brave enough to love the way that they were meant to love it. At this point, honestly, it just really makes me sad.
…To live in such a place of hate and permanent judgment and you’re missing out on so much. Gay people are awesome. And also, I just think it’s completely hypocritical because the contributions that queer people have made to every single aspect of society and that all of society continues to enjoy and engage with, is insurmountable. And so, whatever. Whenever someone says something homophobic I just want to smash the computer to get rid of their Spotify and get rid of all their records and take away all their paintings. I don’t think they deserve it.
EL: Could you talk a little bit about from when you started out writing to today, what’s changed about the landscape, in terms of what people want to read about and what publications are mandating or having been written for them? Would you say you’ve seen a shift?
SSTT: Oh, 100%. I mean, from now, almost 2020, to when I first moved here and was in the landscape of 2010…Back then, it was only 10 years ago, but it was still completely okay to make stripper jokes. No one thought to cover sex work. Bi-phobia was just rampant, just completely rampant. The misogyny, especially towards female sex workers was crazy. Things were entirely gendered. Male-focused publications were for straight cis men and that was it. People constantly wonder, ‘Which came first, society or media?’ Probably society, but I think media has an obligation to represent society.
Now we ask pronouns, now we write in more gender-neutral language. Any respectable magazine writes about gay and queer people, not as if they were this ‘issue’ that needs to be figured out, but as it should be. There doesn’t need to be a fucking marching band, like, ‘Oh, we have gay content,’ every time someone writes something about strap-on sex. It should just be included – in my opinion – as if it was any other type of sex.
And so, I have seen a drastic change in media to be inclusive and it’s not… I’m not saying it’s perfect yet. There’s still a lot that we all have to figure out, but the desire to be inclusive of different orientations, of different genders, of different kinks, of the whole spectrum of sexuality, is 100% there in a way that it wasn’t even talked about 10 years ago.
EL: You said there’s still some things the news industry needs to work on. What are some of those things?
SSTT: I still get passed up for articles that has a more “male-centered focus.” I still see cis writers consistently being the ones to cover trans issues.
The Gender Revolution, at least in New York City, is something that people are aware of…But the language is not always caught up to it. And I hope to see that happen more in the next 10 years.
EL: You recently participated in a #WeNeedAButton event at Babeland Soho. What drew you to the campaign and why do you think it’s so necessary?
SSTT: Healthcare isn’t this one size fits all model and – whether you’re talking about going to get your STI panel done, or some blood work done, or you’re looking for a psychiatrist or a therapist or an OB-GYN or a primary care doctor – it’s still largely run thru this cis, heteronormative lens that, I guess, is just the norm that’s being upheld because that’s how it’s always been done. I am seeing some changes. For instance, there’s a collective website called Manhattan Alternative that lists LGBTQ plus friendly therapists, which is really useful.
But we don’t have that on the more major doctor-patient matching sites and we don’t have it for primary care doctors, for physicians, for OB-GYNs. And people seem to becoming more accepting of homosexuality but still, I’ve never had a doctor tell me how to have safe sex with another person with a vagina and what my STI risks are.
Or for instance, if they ask me, ‘Do you have a partner?’ And I answer, ‘Yes, it’s this woman,’ it’s just like, ‘Okay, she’s a lesbian and birth control is crossed off.’ And I’m not a lesbian. Lesbians are wonderful, but I’m queer and bisexual. I have a partner with a penis currently, who ejaculates good, healthy sperm and could very well impregnate me and I do not want children. So I would like that to be included…There’s so much that needs to be done. I don’t even know where to start. I just wish doctors had basic education on queer identity and that even the ones who know about gay culture, don’t seem to understand why it’s like, a fucking rainbow. We have a rainbow to represent that our community is comprised of a spectrum and continuum of sexualities and gender identities that can’t be described by checking one or two boxes.
And that’s not even getting into that queer people, when it comes to issues such as depression or discrimination or sexual assault, the statistics just go so much higher, as they do for any marginalized group. And that means that we’re going to probably need a therapist, perhaps more so than our straight counterparts. And it’s really unfortunate when, because of discrimination against queer people, someone experiences something such as a hate crime and then goes in to seek treatment for it and they’re just re-traumatized because the doctor has absolutely no idea who they’re fucking dealing with.
It’s intricate and it’s complex and… they’re supposed to have medical degrees and be good at science. I think if they can master science, then they should be expected to be able to understand that sexuality is more complex than ‘straight or gay.’ And I think that the standard for LGBT care should be held higher than doctors having an understanding of just cis gay men, which seems to be the first avenue they go down because the healthcare needs are different. Whether to go on prep or birth control or talking about how two people with vulvas have more of a risk of skin-to-skin STIs, or what happens when you’re having primarily anal sex….or sex with toys.
We need change.
Thanks so much, Sophie!
To learn more about #WeNeedAButton, visit www.waxoh.com/weneedabutton
Stay sex positive!