OPENING DISCUSSION MESH co-founders Gaelle Win Robin and Kelly Arbor.
Ever feel like it’s getting harder to talk about sex? As liberated as pop culture and mainstream media makes us out to be, having an honest conversations about sex, intimacy, and the human body are still one of the most difficult things for people to do. And this is true across demographics—from the queer community to straight-laced family types.
Enter MESH. Formed in June as a response to the energies and discussions that came from PRIDE week, the Maine Educationalists on Sexual Harmony include writers, performers, activists, educators, and change artists. They make it their mission to widen the discussion and create spaces for a participatory, sex-positive community.
“When we say ‘sex-positive,’” explains co-founder Kelly Arbor, adopting a mock freaked-out tone, “somebody’s going ‘whoa, sex party.’” But that’s not it at all. MESH’s primary goal is to foster sex education—whether that’s through workshops headed by their own collaborators; creating welcoming spaces where people can participate in dialogues with others in the community; or through entertainment, like burlesque shows and erotica readings.
A typical MESH event is fun and playful, but doesn’t shy away from the complexities, differences, and safety concerns the topic of sex can bring up. They’re equally concerned with discussing desire and consent, and are committed to keeping that conversation open to a broad set of communities—not merely the LGBT set.
The key is “getting people engaged with stuff,” says Arbor. “Getting (people) to dress up and come to a show, that’s participation. Or even just saying naughty words together—that’s opening up conversation. To get people talking and create comfortability.”
“We can also educate through entertainment,” adds co-founder Gaelle Win Robin, a poet, performer, and activist. “I know so many performers and none of them perform anymore, because there’s no venue that’ll host them. I wanna revitalize that performance community
To that end, MESH has organized a series of participatory, game-based events this fall, blurring the lines between entertainment, social networking, erotica, and audience participation. Even better, they’re hosting the events on stages that generally hold more conventional clientele.
On November 9, Robin will lead “Aphrodisia,” another in a series of “sporadic erotica readings” they began at Local Sprouts Collective last spring. On November 12, the group hosts a stylized speed dating event at SPACE Gallery. And November 14, there’s “MESH Leather and Lace: A Debutante Cabaret,” a body-positive performance which includes “some roleplaying, talk about consent and identities, (and a) really fun and sexy show.”
MESH considers the trio of events at Portland bars and clubs a large part of how they’re building a public presence, but the idea is to broaden that concept too, hoping to remain open to Portland’s 18-21 crowd and the sober community as well.
“Portland is very community-based,” says Robin. “You have these communities that don’t really interact. And I’m a part of so many of them, and I feel like a lot of times I don’t have that bridge to bring them together. I want to be that bridge.”
“I’ve always been into spaces where everybody’s welcome,” adds Arbor. “I’m transsexual, so growing up in dyke communities and then, you know, having a beard and looking very male in the world, I’m not always welcome going back into those spaces.”