THE OTHER SIDE OF ME

A STORY BY DEONTÉ SAVAGE

You never truly realize how vital communication is until it just isn’t there. This shoot showed us

its importance in more ways than one. There’s an innate need for humans to engage, or

communicate, with other humans. Because our phones are the most essential way to do so, of

course we’d have an attachment to them. Imagine the anxiety we felt when we couldn’t get in

contact with essential collaborators both days of the shoot, knowing most people, especially

Americans, have this attachment. On day one, it was the owner of the most important prop for

the set, the bed. On day two, it was the high profile model whose flight was already paid for.

Both situations were handled and the show went on but we definitely learned some valuable

lessons - stay calm even when you want to punch a hole in the wall. It’ll all come together,

somehow.

Most if not all of the models lost their virginities with this being their first shoot or the first time

being a part of something so risky, so we cut them some slack. At least they looked good. This

shoot created a space for the models to show off their bodies, feel sexy, and release that erotic

energy. One might assume that the confidence level was on 10 for everyone, and for most it

was right up their alley, (literally right up Cordlandt Alley). There were a few, however, that were

taken aback by the concept. They pulled through though. You can’t be timid wearing a g-string -

that would just defeat its whole purpose. Even for Creative Director, Serge Fils-Aimé, this was

the start of a new chapter in fashion - a chapter full of jaw dropping editorials.

It was the theme that drew most of us in, especially because erotica and fetishism are taboo in

the African American community - and for good reason. The sexualization and objectification of

black bodies through fetishism is very violent and we’re tired of the abuse. For most, this project

was liberating and a kind of release to take back their sexualities from a world that has taken it

without consent. “The theme speaks to a larger taboo in society, fetishes, which is something I

definitely experience being a trans woman and a big girl. I would like to explore the beauty in

that,” Gia admits.

Each of the models have a unique experience with fetishism. Some embrace it, while others

challenge it. A few models admitted that they were actually into the BDSM culture - expressing

that their fetishes were light bondage, role play, dirty talk and even things more physical like

getting choked. For a lot of them, it was the clothing that drew them in. I guess it’s not a surprise

that a bunch of models would admit that they like fetishwear.

“I love bondage wear. I love fetish wear. It’s always been something I’ve been into since I was a

kid, before I was even old enough to wear this shit. It’s something about the aesthetic that I’ve

always found appealing. I also feel like it's a cool homage to indiginous shit. If you really look at

tribal, African wear, this is a very dark interpretation of it. There’s a lot of similarities in the use of

metals and spikes and shapes. Really manipulating the body and using that as a form of self

expression. All of that shit is inherantly punk and rooted to the diaspora so that’s why I fuck with

it.”

- Dylan, a black, cis-gendered, “pretty” straight woman

Whatever the reason, to see these models of different shades and sizes, identities and

preferences come together in this way is powerful - especially when these are the very things

that create division. There is a long, abusive history between heterosexuals and the queer

community and the proof is in the countless, innocent lives that are taken just because of the

differences in sexual preferences and identities, #TransLivesMatter. Because of this rift, it has

been toilsome for the two communities to coexist. While one side works to maintain the status

quo, the other is working persistently to be seen in a world that is constantly trying to diminish

their existence.

One of the overarching goals of this shoot was for people with different identities to come

together and realize that we aren’t so different after all. We may have different experiences, but

there are similarities, though our differences have the tendency to be more obvious.One of the

biggest differences in the two types of sex is the tools at play. The prefix homo literally means

same, so people who participate in homosexual sex have the same sexual organs. It gets a little

more complex when trans people are involved. Tamia, who identifies as a transwoman,

explained that because cis-gendered females are born with vaginas and transwomen are born

with penises, the sexual experiences are very different. I still have so many questions. I guess

that’ll be a conversation for another day.

Though a few of the models believe that it’s in the feeling that the experiences are similar, there

were also a few models who disagreed. Two models in particular spoke to a feeling of freedom.

Because of how demonized and suppressed these feelings for people of the same sex can be,

they feel a release of built-up tension - tension that breeds passion. It’s liberating.

Our sexual experiences can also be different in the ways we approach sex. “Straight people

have vanilla sex,” Serge says. If you don’t know what that means, don’t feel bad. I didn’t either.

Apparently, it just means that it’s plain and boring. Many of the models believe people who

identify with the queer spectrum are more likely to try new things in the bedroom - though some

of them spoke to the fact that there are straight couples who explore. One thing’s for sure, I

haven’t been to any straight events where people just have sex in public in front of a crowd

without raising an eyebrow.

“I think the difference is that people on the queer spectrum are more open to doing more things

in bed because we’re confident in getting pleased. It’s funny how the male g-spot is in the ass

and most heterosexual men don’t even go near it. I feel sorry for them because they won’t ever

experience full pleasure. You don’t have to be gay to experience that. There are females out

there that are comfortable in that.

- Zo, a bisexual black man

Zo believes that heterosexual men in particular tend to be more rigid when it comes to sex.

There are lines they do not cross, one of which is anal play. This has been an ongoing

conversation, especially after black male celebrities, in particular, who identify as heterosexual,

have admitted to or have been exposed for enjoying anal play. It would make sense if men liked

their “salads tossed”, especially since hitting that g-spot can produce some of the most

transcendental organsms of their lives. I guess Zo was right. Queer men may be more confident

in their sexualities.

Around the time of gangsta rap, the black community especially started opening up to the queer

community but only one group was allowed to the party, the bisexual woman. It became cool for

woman to be bisexual because in the man’s mind, the woman’s bisexuality was for their

consumption - translation, more women in the bedroom. Unfortunately, though women were

allowed to explore their sexuality, men weren’t given that same freedom. I’m sure one of the

reasons men aren’t open to anal play, or admitting to it, is the homophobia that is still so

prevalent in society. There is a literal fear of being considered homosexual. In a conversation

with Zo and Nay, Nay, a cis-gendered straight female, admitted that if a man asked her to l “toss

some salads” she would question his sexuality, mainly because it’s just not something straight

men do. They don’t even want to go near hers. Zo thinks women like her are the reason

“down-low” men exist.

“I think there is more space for women to be bi-curious than men. Women have the space to be

curious and explore, while a man who may be curious is less likely to act upon it.”

- Noble, a black heterosexual man

I believe that in all of our differences, there is common ground, but in order to find that common

ground, we must connect in a more meaningful way. According to the models, one way they

connect deeply with another is through sex. No, I’m not telling you to have sex with everyone

you want to connect with. However, maybe we should talk about it a little more intently. It’s

interesting that even being such a popular space, people find a hard time using conversations

around sex to get to know each other better. I would argue that you can learn a lot about a

person by finding out who they are sexually - which may be the reason people have a hard time

with it. It reveals more about themselves then they’re willing to uncover. Sex is a universal

language that communicates things we aren’t even aware of, that we may never verbally

express. “ Whether you’re gay or straight, you see someone you like and your body reacts,”

Prince says. Maybe in these similar experiences, we can find common ground.

At it’s most basic level, sex is very primitive - simply, the means to procreate. However, at its

basic level, we are no different than any other animal on the planet. There is, however, an

essential distinction between animals and humans, our erotic life - the socialization of sex. Ester

Perel, the author of Mating in Captivity - Unlocking Erotic Intelligence , and who I call “the guru of

erotic intelligence,” describes eroticism as an “expression of individual freedom and

sovereignty... It’s a place you go in yourself to feel alive, vibrant. It’s transcendent.” 1 What better

place to look than the very place where one may feel the most free.

“Sex goes beyond penetration. It’s about how you make me feel as a man.”

- Saaid, a black, heterosexual man

We all have different experiences in our erotic lives, but when asked to describe sex in one

word, the models spoke to some consistent themes. Imagination and fantasy. Intimacy and

connection. Creation and expression. Necessity and life. Liberation. Experience. No matter how

we describe it, we all have a relationship with sex - whether that relationship is healthy and

fruitful or unhealthy and problematic. “It means too much but also means nothing at the same

time,” Dylan says ingenuously.

When given a chance to express who they are sexually, a few expressed that they were

pleasers/givers. Others expressed that they were dominant, while others more submissive.

“ Who I am definitely defines who I am sexually. I am a transgender female so sex with me is

like no other experience,” Tamia decrees. The majority, however, expressed that their identities

in sex depended heavily on the energy of their partners. It wasn’t a surprise that more women

expressed that they were submissive and men expressed more dominance.

“I’m a huge pleaser. If you want to be dominated, I’ll dominate. If you want to dominate me, I’ll

submit to you.”

- Ominay, a black, bisexual woman

It was refreshing, contrastingly, to see that there were straight male models that broke the

general mold of gender norms in society. One admitted that he gets turned on seeing women

take control. Two other guys admitted that they were pleasers in the bedroom - that they

actually cared about their partners' needs over their own. This is important when putting into

context the ‘organsm gap’ between men and women. It is reported that 95 percent of

heterosexual men usually or always orgasm during sex compared to 65 percent of heterosexual

women, who were the least likely in a poll with diverse sexual identities. This 2 is mainly due to

the fact that sexual intercourse isn’t pleasurable if the clitoris isn’t being stimulated. Stimulating

the clitoris takes extra effort, so kudos to those guys for applying that extra effort to please their

women.

What we like, our fetishes and our preferences, are huge aspects of who we are. Even in our

erotic lives, you see them manifest. You can learn even more about yourself paying attention to

what really turns you on. “[My] biggest fetish is dirty talk. You gotta be able to say something

and talk to me and fuck my mind before I let you fuck my body, ” Brandon asserts. For some, it

was physical features, like body type/shape or facial features that turned them on. Others talked

more to personality types - people who are intelligent and “not ugly on the inside”. A very

popular one was confidence or what Jalen would call “Big Dick Energy.”

“ Big Dick Energy and that’s with anybody, male or female. If you’re aggressive with what you

want and you’re direct about it, I fuck with that. Even if I’m not necessarily attracted to you, I’d

be open because you came correct. So that’s a turn on to me.”

- Jalen, a black free man

A good amount of the models admitted to spicing things up in the bedroom or participating in

what I call laced sex - sex enhanced with other people, drugs, toys, concepts and ideas. For

some, their vices range from poppers to maybe alcohol and/or weed, to drugs that are a lot

stronger like coke or k. For others, they enjoy the company of other people. “Pain turns me on.

Control. Lack of control and energy. Not even touching, just the tension between two people

when you’re looking into someone’s eyes without saying anything,” Jayla admits. A lot of them

are into the bdsm culture so they’ve experimented with all types of toys, handcuffs, whips,

outfits you name it. For those that haven’t, they admitted that this shoot definitely boosted their

curiosity.

This conversation gets a lot more complicated when you learn that even in our identities, there

can be contradictions. In an article by Ester Perel, she speaks on the mystery of eroticism which

she reveals is the conflict between love and desire. She noticed that a common issue couples

have is in relation to their erotic lives. The issue comes when who they are sexually doesn’t

neatly align with who they are in every other moment. The models connected 3 to this idea,

though the manifestation of this issue is most notable outside of a romantic relationship.

“I have a very submissive identity in sex, however, I am not submissive in my everyday life. I’m

very dominant….I’m a very respectable person so I need to be respected. I need someone I can

trust so we can role play and go there and get disrespectful.”

- Gia, a black transgender woman

This world waits for no one, leaving no room to be submissive or passive, so it makes sense

that some of the models expressed that they see a conflict in their separate identities. Most

times, in order to win, you must be assertive and dominant. For some, it is the very fact that they

are so dominant in the real world that the bedroom becomes a place where they can balance

out those energies. It’s important to know who we are in sex, but also why we have sex in the

first place.

Is it ever deeper than just sex? The models weighed in and for a lot of them, sex is about the

experience. It’s a place to try new things and explore the body. For most of them, sex is about

the connection - a chance to connect and become one with each other. Rita, a cis-gendered

bisexual woman, names it “the most personal and raw connection you can have with someone.”

“ Sex is like a magical thing. You [are] able to engage with someone else from a source (energy)

you don’t usually frequent. Once those two energies align, you guys can make something

beautiful. You may take on some shit that happened in their life. They may take on some shit.

New things manifest.”

- Gordo, a black, free man

In conversation with a few of the fellas, they thought it was important to differentiate between

casual sex and making love or what Jalen called detached vs. attached sex. Everyone agrees

that when it’s passionate and with someone you really want to connect with, it’s good. When it’s

just casual, it can be hit or miss. Meaningless sex overtime can be very draining and unfullfilling,

but maybe not for Jayla. When physical touch is your love language, sex can be a way that you

communicate and experience love.

“ Sometimes you can have sex and not like it at all and sometimes you have sex and it’s your

top three. So I never go into it with any intention of it being the best experience. I just go into it

making sure it’s a mutually beneficial situation. As long as you’re benefiting me, I’ll do the same

for you.”

- Brandon, a black, gay man

Sex can be one hell of a drug when used in the ways it’s intended. However, like many drugs, it

can become addictive and often misused and abused. Let’s create a parallel to a very popular

drug, weed. I know we all know a “weed head”, if you aren’t one yourself. If you know them, you

may have noticed the progression of their weed consumption. It always starts off small until your

tolerance level heightens. People tend to call weed a gateway drug because it is very likely that

you might either just pack it heavier or move on to heavier drugs. Sex is similar in that way. The

more you have, the higher your tolerance becomes, making it harder and harder to satisfy you -

a consequence of having a lot of meaningless sex.

One thing I’ve gathered, is that people don’t have sex just to have it. They have sex to feel

something. It can be therapeutic for some, for others it’s just about their own sexual pleasure.

But either way, when you decide to have sex, there’s a reason and it can get problematic -

especially when it becomes an addiction, a means to cope. It’s important to consider the

ramifications of connecting with large numbers of people. That’s a lot of energy to be connecting

to, a lot of energy to give away. One model expressed that after the first time, it became

addictive - “needing it everyday, every hour, every minute.” That’s not healthy. Sex was

intended to be a pleasantry not a necessity.

You couldn’t have learned this all from just looking at the models. Each of them holds a unique

story that informs their identities. However, an issue that happens often is the assumption of

who someone is by how they look. As humans, we’re always looking for the shortcut, but you

can’t shortcut true engagement. In order to understand the fullness of each other, we can’t

assume that because someone looks a certain way or acts a certain way that that is all they

have to offer - we need to go deeper.

“It’s so funny you brought this up. I don’t know if this matters but I’m a Leo. I’m from Texas. I’m

black “af”. I kind of have a twang to me I guess. I’m dominant. I’m aggressive. I’m fiery. So in the

bedroom, I’m dominant. So if you would ask, top or bottom, if it even matters, I would just pick

one because whatever I’m doing I’m dominant. However, it’s confusing for people outside of the

bedroom because I like clothes and high fashion. One day I can wear what someone would say

is full woman’s clothing but I’m a whole nigga and I’m proud of that. So I’m that but in that and

it’s fashion so fuck it. The next day I can wear what would be considered masculine. I can have

on forces or suit jackets and some jeans and a tank top. It’s the same shit to me. It’s just a look

for the day. It’s hard because whatever day you catch me on you might assume that that’s my

entire identity. I may wake up the next day and say I want to wear a skirt for the day. So I think

that’s where the conflict lies.

- Jalen, a black, free man

For a lot of us, the issue is in the way we see ourselves, though a lot of the models expressed

their comfortability in their sexuality. Insecurities are human, but condemnation and shame are

not yours to keep. It takes real conversations with yourself and an environment that is conducive

to that growth to achieve true sexual freedom. It’s important that you understand who you are

sexually and know why you’ve participated in certain sexual acts. You must also engage with

people who accept you for who you are no matter your preferences or your past. As you learn

yourself through experience, you’ll become more confident within yourself - confidence can

make or break any sexual experience.

“ I recently went on a boycott against down-low men who have sex with trans women who aren’t

open to it. People of all different sexual experiences have had those random hookups. However,

I feel like there’s an oppression that happens when you’re ashamed of them. That fetishism

oftentimes leads to violence for a lot of Black trans women. So I don’t deal with down-low men

because there’s nothing to be down-low about me. My resume is extensive. I’m a good catch

physically and on paper. I’m not going to reduce myself to these experiences that don’t uplift my

humanity as a visible experience, not only just for me but for us, even in a casual encounter.

The shame came from me engaging in relationships with people who were ashamed of me. You

can’t get this pussy if you aren’t open about what you like because we’re literally dying at the

hands of insecure men, particularly Black men. I’m not going to be a victim of someone's

insecurities. I’ve done too much for a weak ass nigga to be the cause of my demise because he

can’t take the fact that my existence is so powerful. You want to peek at me and fuck me at

night but not uplift my narrative in the day time. Enough is enough.”

- Gia, a black trangender woman

In light of the recent controversial chart topping of WAP and the rise of acts like Sza, The City

Girls, Summer Walker, Jhene Aiko, Megan Thee Stallion, to name a few who I believe have

shifted female thought, I thought it was important to ask the models their thoughts. A few of the

models see this song and these women as catalysts to real change in the world.

“I think they are doing exactly what they need to be doing - making sure their voices are being

heard about the topics that need to be discussed. So if we just focus on what needs to be

discussed and not just the obvious explicit lyrics, you can learn something from these women.”

- Brandon, a black, gay man

Let’s start here. A woman’s body is hers. No matter what she chooses to do with it, she has full

autonomy. This society under patriarchy has tried to put limits on what women can and cannot

do all while simultaneously objectifying and sexualizing them for man’s consumption. How can

you find it to be okay for men to use women for their own gain, but women can’t do the same?

Men have rapped about “wap”, what Cardi and Meg would translate as “wet ass pussy,” but only

when a woman talks about it it’s controversial. Men have featured women in their videos barely

clothed but when women do it it’s controversial. There’s clearly a double standard here and the

controversy around these women exposes it.

“ I love it. If you can rap about wet ass pussy, you’re making people more comfortable about sex

in general. The more sexual content we have in a public view will make people more

comfortable about talking about it in a public setting. Obviously, we’re not going to be sitting

here talking to kids about wet ass pussy but as a society, around the world, sex is very

suppressed. People aren’t able to be openly sexual people. It’s something that needs to be

talked about considering there are so many unsafe sexual practices and people end up

releasing that in a very negative way.”

- Rita, a black, bisexual woman

In the last few years, there has been a lot more awareness around sexual violence and sex

trafficing - where woman and children are the biggest victims. It is unfortunate how many people

are suffering at the hands of men and women who engage in very negative sexual activity. In

order to stop these practices, we need to not only have conversations around the awareness of

these issues, but to also find solutions to the roots of these problems. It’s a lust issue. People

have lost control over themselves and given themselves completely to their lustful desire. How

can we speak to these issues if we can’t have public conversations about not only just the

action of sex but the potential threats and opportunities that it can present.

“It’s good that we’re having these discussions on how to not only celebrate this sexuality but

around how men can do the work to make sure this is still safe for us. There are some men that

assume that a woman showing this much or celebrating this much is automatically for their

consumption - that it means consent, physical consentual sex at any point because you’re

already showing it off. I understand that logic through patriarchy and from rape culture and it

needs to go away...This next generation needs to learn about consent and boundaries

[especially] when all of their favorite rappers are getting outed for being predators or abusers or

rapists every other day.”

- Dylan, a black, cis-gendered, “pretty straight’ woman

Men have historically been taught that women are for their consumption. Some even justify it

through a distorted interpretation of the Bible and other religious texts. Women have been the

victims of sexual violence for so long all as a result of an idea that men are who they belong to.

Men have even furthered the issue by putting the onus on women to dress more modestly, to be

more chaste and quiet about their sexual desires. The culture has shifted and women are a lot

more vocal about their sexuality. It is important that men continue to do the work that allows

women to be as sexually liberated as they want to be without the fear of rape or any other

sexual violence. Remember the two P’s, pleasure and protect. They deserve it. “Even down to

being able to make the vagina wet you have to be making the woman aroused. There takes a

level of consent to even get to that point,” Dylan says. The way a woman dresses does not

communicate consent. No matter how much she talks about her sexuality, it doesn’t give you

license to make an assumption that “anything goes.” The only thing that communicates consent,

is verbal consent.

Though most of the models saw this as an opportunity, one model in particular saw it as a threat

not only to ourselves but to the next generation.

“Sex has become glamourized [and that’s] not a bad thing....I love that we have leading women

on this platform engaging us and being authentic about their stories, making it easier for other

women to relate to them. I’m just concerned about the next generation and how they consume

these stories...No matter how hard we try to censor the devices we use, there’s no way we can

ensure that they will never consume these things.

- Gordo, a black, free man

Gordo touched on a lot of topics. His issue is not necessarily in the glamourization of sexuality

because in a lot of ways that can be a good thing. The issue lies in the ways in which we

present this to people of the latter generations. We have no control on how they consume this

information so we need to be responsible. Yes, these conversations about consent and rape

culture are great if we’re actually having the conversation and not just talking about sex. Let’s be

honest. When listening to a song like WAP, most people are consuming these lyrics at face

value. They’re not thinking any deeper than what’s being said and oftentimes, the lyrics don’t

have deep political messaging. If we’re going to use these songs as a means of education we

need to do so intentionally. Let’s be clear in our wording. If not, let’s not pretend there’s more

depth to the song than there really is.

Another issue he brought up was the lack of empathy and care we have for people. “Now you

see women saying they don’t want you but will fuck you for some money. There’s just a loss of

love and empathy,” Gordo says. In this new wave of music, women have been using their

platforms to speak on the ways they exploit men for their own pleasure and gain. The

exploitation of anyone is intrinsically bad but it’s interesting that we’re having this conversation

now that it’s coming from a woman’s mouth. Two wrongs don’t make a right, however, men do

have to answer for the centuries of abuse they’ve inflicted on women. Women are just returning

the favor. Do I think it’s right? No. However, if we’re going to have this conversation, we need to

make sure we’re holding both sides accountable.

During the first shoot, I noticed the tendency for people with similar sexual identities to flock

together, even though most of the models expressed that they didn’t have a problem connecting

with people with different sexual orientations. Some even expressed how they didn’t understand

why there would ever be a problem. “ Everyone has sex. If you stop thinking about it in a

derogatory, offensive way, and think of it as just a natural act, you can relate to a lot more

people and not feel so separated or divided,” Brandon says. We definitely have so much more

work to do. One day, we’ll be able to come together comfortably in all of our differences. This

shoot was just a start.

“It feels amazing to know what I'm capable of. This is just fuel to my imagination, fuel to my

creativity, fuel to my drive and ambition,” Serge says. Not only is he fueling his own destiny but

he is fueling the dreams and visions of anybody who sees his work. It’s crazy to think that in six

days a 19 year old was able to pull off what can be classified as a big production all from the

inspiration of one pair of leather pants - a pair of pants that created unity, meaningful

conversations, and connections that’ll last a lifetime. We’ll be looking forward to what’s coming

next. “[I'm in] business overdrive mode rather than euphoria or happiness or excitement. I'm like,

oh, snap, I could do this. I already have my next a million ideas laid out just waiting to be

executed. And I'm already getting the ball moving with that. This is just like ammunition for me.”