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Wild Flower Sex and the Perpetuation of White Supremacy in Sex-Positive Spaces

At the end of July, an article titled "Dildon't Disrespect Black Femmes: Our Personal Experiences With Wild Flower Sex Shop" sent shockwaves through the sex positive and sexuality professional space. In the post, allegations of shady business practices and faux allyship were leveled against Wild Flower Sex — a well-known NYC-based store focused on sexual wellness and adult products — by six Black femme sexuality educators and influencers who felt "used, exploited, and manipulated" by Wild Flower Sex's Nick and Amy Boyajian.

All six Black femmes PAPER communicated with — curve model La'Shaunae Steward, sex positive influencer Ashleigh Nicole Tribble, sexuality doula and sex educator Ev'Yan Whitney, sex educator and writer Cameron Glover, dominatrix and fetish party promoter Venus Cuffs, and dominatrix Karmenife X — said that Wild Flower had used them and their platforms to "manipulate [us] into doing their dirty work of uprooting their competition," per Ev'Yan. That said, for many in the sexuality business, the article came as a surprise. Founded in 2017, Wild Flower Sex built its brand around the tenets of inclusivity and diversity — something they attributed to Amy's experience seeing "racism, sexism, and discrimination" as a former sex worker. And for a while, as Ashleigh notes, "they walked the talk, and that's not something a lot of people get to see, especially when it comes to our community."

However, following a July panel at Welcome Home Studio, this image began to unravel. According to Ev'Yan and Ashleigh — who were booked for the panel back in March — after the event wrapped up, Welcome Home co-owner, Tea Leigh, took them aside to talk about an email they had received on behalf of Wild Flower, who had been previously contacted as a potential sponsor for the panel.

"Wild Flower wrote back that they were interested, but 'unfortunately we can't, because several of the people on the panel are ethically compromised' and that was the end of it," Ev'Yan says, before elaborating that the email specifically named her, Ashleigh, and one other panelist. "It was based on the work I had previously done for a brand that has ties to a pharmaceutical company and based on Ashleigh's previous work."

Needless to say, Ev'Yan was "terrified to hear that Amy and Nick were going behind my back and trying to blacklist" her from this particular job — something that could have possibly continued to happen without her knowledge if Tea hadn't informed her of the email. "The first thing I thought was that they're probably saying the same thing to other people I'm working with, because the sex education and sex positivity community is really small and we all know each other for the most part."

And after the talk, Ashleigh felt the same way. Spurred by the imminent threat to her career and livelihood, on the car ride home, she put together a group DM of people who had spoken on the panel.

"It seemed like there was so much going on, because everyone's story sounded so similar," she says. "I was like, 'we have to do something'... so we came up with the idea to share all of it, put it in a more digestible way, because there's so much we just started finding out. About how they're operating on their end." Not only that, but several of the femmes say that after comparing notes, it became all too obvious that Wild Flower's animosity all seemed to stem from gripes surrounding a competing adult store called Unbound Babes.

The femmes who directly interacted with Amy and Nick were given a "heads up" at some point about Unbound's alleged ethical shortcomings, with their main issue revolving around the company being a "super fucked up company financially backed by shady Republicans," as a screenshot of a DM conversation between Wild Flower and Ashleigh shows. However, once the femmes came to their own conclusions about Unbound, Wild Flower began their behind-the-scenes work of blacklisting and intimidating them.

According to Ev'Yan, the femmes began realizing that they were all being told the same exact story ("almost verbatim") in an effort to motivate them to go after Unbound — a company Wild Flower claims is "partially funded" by the Founders Fund, a prominent venture capital company founded by Peter Thiel, who is a noted Trump supporter and donor.

However, the actual story surrounding Unbound is a little more nuanced than that. While the company did accept an initial $150,000 from the Founders Fund, according to Polly Rodriguez — Unbound's CEO and co-founder — it was via a genderqueer VC named Cyan Banister at a time when they weren't aware of Thiel's political donations. Additionally, Rodriguez says she's never met Thiel and doubts he even knows about Unbound's existence, though that apparently hasn't stopped Amy and Nick from believing that "Peter Thiel was going to take down Wild Flower à la Gawker."

"They're one of the top VCs in the world. They've done Lyft, Postmates, Spotify, we're a little [speck in their portfolio]," Rodriguez says, before arguing that it's "ironic" that Amy and Nick (who was, notably, employed by Google up until last week) are "coming for me on Instagram" — a platform that has a far more significant investment from the Founders Fund as a property of Facebook.

"They're [angry] about us taking a check, but are using Instagram to monetize the entire time," Rodriguez adds. "The Founders Fund is a much larger investor on that platform. Same thing if you use PayPal, Facebook, or any other thing."

Not only that, but Rodriguez doesn't understand where Wild Flower's "hatred" comes from, especially as she's gone out of her way to communicate and try to rectify the situation — only to be blocked, sans answer, on every platform.

"They've accused me of being transphobic, and [other] accusations that make no sense. They said I served them legal paperwork, then said we never did it," Rodriguez says, later adding that while she's tried to keep the spotlight on their stories, what incenses her about the entire situation is that these femmes were "put in harm's way, because of Wild Flower's obsession with our company."

On a similar note, Unbound collaborator Karmenife also points out that, "Black women and femmes don't need to constantly do labor for you to be believed and respected." That said, "Wild Flower's so-called respect and love went right out the window when it was like, 'Oh, you're not going to do labor for me now? You have to be punished.'"

According to Ashleigh, the punishment in question was the way Wild Flower not only terminated their business relationships with them, but actively went "out of their way to send emails and DMs actively sabotaging the opportunities we have."

"All the values they claim they have, they've never actually had them," Venus explains. "If you felt so strongly about these values, even a callout against you wouldn't provoke you to do things the way they've done it."

What resulted from this realization was the aforementioned article, which was vetted by lawyers and published to Ev'Yan's Medium account on July 31. Filled with screenshots of DM and email conversations with Wild Flower, the article is a compilation of all six femmes' accounts, experiences, and/or knowledge of the situation. As Venus explains, while some of the writers didn't have as direct of an experience with the company as Ashleigh and Ev'Yan, the fact that they're Black femmes immediately puts them at a disadvantage in terms of being taken seriously.

"You needed [more] people with some kind of influence in the sex positive industry to verify and validate what a couple of Black femmes went through," Venus says, "Because we already knew no one was going to believe us." Karmenife also adds that the likely reason this happened was because they "weren't counting on us to say anything. They were banking on this fear, so it threw them off when we posted the article."

This knowledge was also something that spurred Cameron to lend her voice in solidarity, since, "across industries, Black folks — especially Black femmes — are regarded with such disrespect, dehumanization, and regarded as less than constantly by non-Black folks."

"From the beginning, we have asked Wildflower Sex to acknowledge the harm they've caused and to commit to rectifying that behavior so that no one else would have to experience it," Cameron adds, "And yet, the response thus far and continues to double down on this, refusing accountability."

Echoing this sentiment is Ev'Yan, who explains that since "we're Black, we're queer, a lot of us don't fall within those lines of respectability politics." She then points toward a couple of comments she's also received that question the validity of the accounts, while also noting that Wild Flower's reach and visibility within the sex positivity and education space was an intimidating thing to go up against.

After all, as Ev'Yan notes, many of her "own friends and colleagues have promoted, worked, or endorsed them." However, she's noticed that while these people may have "quietly taken down a post or are in my DMs being like, 'Oh my god, I had the same experience,'" no one is using their platform to explicitly talk about what's happening.

"We've done so much labor," Ev'Yan explains. "I put my own career on the line to bring up my experience and knowing there are so many people out there that have had similar experiences, but are only speaking up right now because we've already done all the labor and can protect and shield folks. That's really frustrating."

On the other side, the Black femmes have also been at the receiving end of racist criticism from Wild Flower supporters accusing them of "whining, race-baiting, accusing everyone of racism, asking for handouts," and "taking advantage of white guilt" — comments that Venus says the company not only stayed silent on, but liked. Meanwhile, many of the femmes, including Ev'Yan and Venus, have implored her followers "not to bully [Wild Flower] in order to hold them accountable."

Following the article's publication, aside from a brief Instagram "apology," Wild Flower remained publicly silent in the face of increasing scrutiny — though they did temporarily deactivate both their Instagram and Twitter. Privately, they also sent the same, copy-paste email to everyone who was involved with the piece, which made the femmes feel like Wild Flower was more concerned about making the issue "go away," rather than take true accountability for their actions.

To further this sentiment, the following Monday, Amy and Nick published their own article, "A Response From Wild Flower," which tries to address the allegations by discrediting certain details within the Black femmes' accounts, doubling down on their rationale, and skirting responsibility. At this point, they reactivated their Instagram — though they deactivated comments and ended up making it private following further backlash — something that Ev'Yan notes is just another way for them to shirk accountability and "control and manipulate the narrative." When PAPER reached out for comment, Wild Flower said that the response piece could be considered their official statement on the matter.

Not only did Karmenife notice that the response was filled with half-truths and inconsistencies that don't match up with "the screenshots I have," but it also reminded her of the way institutions try to "discredit survivors of sexual violence in order to shut us up." Arguing that Wild Flower misconstrued and catastrophized their experience with her, Karmenife believes Nick and Amy used their piece to hold specific interactions over their heads as "punishment."

"How dare you try and punish me for what I do to survive?" Karmenife says. "If you felt that strongly about [Unbound], you have a huge following. You have a website. Why aren't you talking about this if it's something you feel is so important? Instead, you want to funnel that information over to us and basically punish us when we choose to have autonomy? That's when I started to realize, 'Oh, you don't see me as a person. You would respect my right to do business the way I choose if you did.'"

Added to the fact that the response didn't include any screenshots of emails or DM correspondence that would've back up their claims, and Karmenife believes that Wild Flower was banking on "that perceived innocence that all white, femme people have." Within the piece, Wild Flower also addressed the question of Nick's employment at Google, which they believe, "as a whole, is an extremely ethically principled company and is not 'evil,' as was stated by Ev'Yan" — though they did mention that Nick was leaving the company.

"Regardless of what they do, they have the privilege of being seen as innocent people, as human beings that just make mistakes and they didn't know any better," Karmenife adds, before pointing toward the comments she's seen in support Wild Flower, which argue that "one" mistake shouldn't be held against them.

That said, Black femmes haven't been the only ones harmed by Wild Flower. As Cameron notes, Nick and Amy have spread "misinformation about HSV-1 and HSV-2 in an effort to gain followers," before pointing toward a statement directed at the brand written by HANDS (Herpes Activists Networking to Dismantle Stigma), as well as a post by HSV+ activist @V_for_Vibrant. Additionally, a few of the femmes pointed toward the comments made by a person claiming to have been "the person in New York City who has known Amy the longest." The person responded to Ev'Yan's video update on the situation by accusing Amy of pandering to queerness and refuting the assertion that she was a former sex worker.

As for Venus, she also has her doubts about the veracity of Amy's claims, saying, "how they use their false queerness to make themselves more marginalized and more relevant within the sex worker rights movement is disturbing." According to Venus, in addition to being told by "multiple people in a couple sex work group chats" that Amy was "never a sex worker," the fact that Wild Flower decided to unnecessarily out her as a dungeon owner was the lowest form of "intimidation tactic."

"It's like they were saying, 'we know where your dungeon is, we know what you do, we know who the girls who put on the event are,'" Venus says, explaining that she'd only had one indirect interaction with Wild Flower while they were selling products at an event being held in her space — contrary to what they say in their response. "This whole thing has nothing to do with my dungeon. How can you say you were previously a sex worker and go out of your way to publicly out me or out other sex workers? That's the most disgusting thing you can possibly do."

As Venus points out, while most people are aware of her dungeon, she does take issue with Wild Flower's approach to the situation, as their post put her in a situation "where they thought I wouldn't defend myself," as she "would have to mention those said sex workers [who] organized the fundraiser in order to defend myself."

"They put me in a situation where I can only defend myself in a limited way because I'm not going to 'out' other sex workers putting them at risk trying to defend myself in this situation," she adds. "They have literally pissed off the entire sex worker community with their actions."

Ultimately though, the Black femmes say that this is less about Wild Flower and more about bringing awareness to the way many sex positive spaces still center and cater to whiteness, while profiting off "inclusivity" rhetoric.

These incidents exemplify that Black femmes — despite being some of the most powerful and influential voices in the space — are still not centered or considered in these spaces, even if those in power portend the opposite. Instead, as Karmenife puts it, it feels as if they're still being actively dehumanized as "mouthpieces" whose sole value lies within their ability to prove that these companies really are as "inclusive" as they say they are.

"The bigger picture is, this is how white supremacy is perpetuated," she says. "Just because someone claims to be something or posts pictures of Black people holding dildos, doesn't mean they really care. Just because you use our bodies, doesn't mean you care about the people in those bodies."

Ashleigh also points out that "anyone can slap an organic label on their stuff." However, if a company claims to be "inclusive" and seems to be doing that on the surface for all intents and purposes, "that's a really big deal." And that's what makes it even more disappointing when it's all revealed to be a front, as a simple label can't "mask when white supremacist behavior in culture peeks its head in."

After all, as Karmenife says, Wild Flower — and other companies calling themselves "inclusive" — "needed our images to promote this faux inclusivity, diversity bullshit. You needed our photos."

"They wanted in with the community, because it's very profitable and people, ultimately, want to support a business [that's in line with their ethics]," she concludes. "But it was never actually about caring about us in the first place. It was about solidifying their image and making a profit off of it."

Welcome to "Sex with Sandra," a column by Sandra Song about the ever-changing face of sexuality. Whether it be spotlight features on sex work activists, deep dives into hyper-niche fetishes, or overviews on current legislation and policy, "Sex with Sandra" is dedicated to examining some of the biggest sex-related discussions happening on the Internet right now.

Photo via Getty

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