Condom Couture

Condom Couture is a Project Runway-style annual event where local students create dresses entirely out of condoms, modeled by people from the community. The show was inspired by a 2008 study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that one in four teenage girls in the United States has a sexually transmitted infection. Condom Couture was born of Planned Parenthood of Central Ohio board member, Lonni Thompson’s idea for a creative way raise awareness. The idea is now being imitated by other events in several other cities across the country.

Condom Couture 2012. Photo by author.

Since 2008 Condom Couture has raised more than half a million dollars for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (PPCO became PPGO this year) and has awarded scholarships (gifted by an anonymous donor) to the top three student designers every year.

This year’s winner was Julie Ward, who produced a gold-painted, rolled condom dress, which she says was inspired by Alexander McQueen.

“The silhouette and the design were inspired by designer Alexander McQueen,” said Ward. “I chose him because he really represents strength and femininity. I wanted to be a part of (the show) this year, because of the election: because women need to stand up for their rights.”

Condom Couture’s winning design. Photo by author.

The second place prize went to Bridgette Steven’s pink gown, inspired by her mother’s battle with breast cancer.

Condom Couture’s second-place winner. Photo by author.

Marquis Lucky-Engle, who received his HIV+ status at a Planned Parenthood clinic, got third place. His model wore a silver shell made of unwrapped condoms, which she removed to reveal a paint-splattered mini dress underneath.

“To see condoms on a dress is one thing, but to see them used is another.” He said. “I wanted to concentrate on what happens when the condoms are not used … a beautiful disaster.”

Third place; Condom Couture. Photo by author.

Sex Work and Storytelling at “Sex and Justice”

Sex and Justice Conference Oct 4-6 2012. Photo by author.

“I have been thinking a lot about the question of sex and innocence because sex is usually framed in the context of innocence and its loss—an enormously dangerous idea. We need to address this because as long as innocence is the definition of the right to be a sexual person, we will always lose. Because if we tell the truth about desire; tell the truth about our lives; tell the truth about who we are; what we do or want to do or try not to do, we will never be able to be innocent.”

–Amber Hollibaugh; Sex and Justice, October 5. 2012

I have a wrap-up of last week’s Sex and Justice Conference over at Tits and Sass.

The conference was motivating and, I think, essential. I think the event laid a groundwork for something new — exactly what, I’m not sure yet; a movement maybe.  As I mention in the article at Tits and Sass, I felt attuned to the act of storytelling as a political action, in that it is a different structure of conversation from which a new way of seeing things can emerge.

The three main conference topics were HIV criminalisation, sex work, and sex offender registries. It was unlike anything I had been to before: the speakers (which included several idols including Carol Queen, Gayle Rubin, Deon Haywood and Judith Levine) took on these issues, things usually only spoken about in near-silence, honestly and without apology.

“This conference is necessary and fundamentally frightening,” said Hollibaugh.

More from Amber Hollibaugh:

(If you talk about) the complicated lives of people who survive economically with bad choices, you can start to build a movement that can deal with these complicated lives. You can’t build movements that actually bring people together to begin to articulate the reality of the complexity of the intersections of their lives if you make people lie.”

International AIDS Conference Hub, Kolkata

This month, for the first time in over 20 years, the International AIDS Conference will be held in the United States: from July 22nd – 27th in Washington, D.C. That the conference, the largest on any health or development issue, took so long to return stateside reflects a policy of exclusion that was in place for more than two decades: the ban on people living with HIV from travelling to the United States was overturned only at the end of 2009, leaving just five countries with the ban still in place (Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Singapore, and Turks and Caicos)

Still, the United States continues to exclude drug users and sex workers from entering the country, effectively barring the participation in the conference of two key populations at highest risk of HIV transmission. In other words, “How effective can a conference truly be that doesn’t include the opinions of those most affected?”

In response, sex worker rights activists have organized an alternative AIDS conference, called the Sex Worker Freedom Festival, to be held in Kolkata, India. The festival, which is an official AIDS 2012 Conference Hub, will provide a space for sex workers to protest their exclusion and to ensure that their voices are heard.

The Freedom Festival’s “central theme will be the “seven freedoms” that sex workers are entitled to including freedom of movement and to migrate, to access quality health services, to work and choose occupation, to associate and unionise, to be protected by the law; freedom from abuse and violence, from stigma and stigma and discrimination.”

The conference hub is being organised by the Global Network of Sex Workers Project (NSWP) and the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Commitee (DMSC). The DMSC, a collective of around 65,000 sex workers, runs HIV intervention programs in around 50 sex work sites across West Bengal, providing testing, counselling and care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Durbar also runs anti-trafficking programs through boards made up of sex workers; provides housing and training for children of sex workers, and literacy training for adults.

The conference will feature both formal meetings and presentations and a Global Village with cultural and activist events. Participants include representatives of around 20 Indian organisations and 66 international groups, and a programme schedule is available here.