BY ADINAWA ADJAGBODJOU
So tell us: who is Val elefante?
I am Val Elefante. I am 23, almost 24 years old. I’m on the cusp of gen Z and millennial. I feel like I identify with different aspects of both generations and feel lucky to be positioned where I am.
I graduated from Harvard in 2019 and I studied Social Studies, Economics and French. After school, I went to work for a woman I met doing thesis research. So, my thesis was on topics related to feminism and queer theory, and technology. So, after college, I went to work for a Startup called Lips and that’s where I work today as the Community Manager.
I also do some other freelance work including working on another project that has to do with social media and sort of activating creators to talk more meaningfully about social issues. So I care a lot about how we use technology, especially social media to create important, necessary change in the world and especially elevating the voices of marginalized folks.
Could you share with us how your identities have shaped your journey thus far?
So I identify as a Latino woman, and I’m also a queer woman. And those identities, I feel like have shifted over time, and have changed. I’ve identified more and less with those different qualities, but where we stand right now, I’d say, that’s where I’m at.
Being a girl growing up, I definitely felt the pressure that girls feel to look a certain way, be a certain way, act a certain way. Being polite, respectful and staying in your lane as well as being thin and white and of a particular body type and hair style.I mean, I hated my flat feet at one point, like stupidly. I was super self conscious about that. Growing up as a woman, um, and then struggling and wondering about my sexual identity, wondering about my identity as a Latin woman, I guess I never really found a safe space to explore those things.
I grew up in a pretty predominantly white, pretty conservative town on Long Island and it’s just kind of in the town’s nature to be gossipy and judgmental. And so I kind of just felt like I had to, again, like stay in my lane. I guess it took me going to college really to start exploring those different facets of myself, personally in my personal life and in my academic life. And I started to like be able to do that in my personal life and study it in my academic life.
So that was super exciting. And that’s how I came to care about those types of issues, because I struggled with identity and feeling valued and appreciated and loved for exactly who I am. And I want to create more spaces that do that for other people who look like me and other people who don’t look like me, but just no matter what you look like, you should have a safe space to explore your identity, be who you are.
So I would love for your to share with me a moment when you felt empowered or really connected with yourself based on how a space or how the people there made you feel?
Okay, here we go. This isn’t the story of the first time, but it was probably the time that was most shocking and jarring and set me on this whole sort of trajectory that I’m on, which is examining queer and sex positive spaces specifically.
It was on the set of a porn film.
So for my thesis, I wrote about the ethics of pornography and I researched a ton about the history of the debates that feminists, sex workers and mostly those groups have had about pornography. Like, can we get behind this? And in doing that, if I was going to be arguing about those things, I wanted the chance and I was lucky enough to get the chance to go beyond a real film set and see pornography that is identified as feminist and is queer feminist ethical porn. I wanted to see “What does that look like physically on set?”
And so I wasn’t a performer in this film. I was one of the writers and directors. So it was like a collaborative project and a bunch of us strangers from around the world came together in Oakland, California to write and direct our own erotic film with the help of a famous, very well known feminist porn director and producer and previously a performer named Madison Young. The vibe of the people that were there alone, even before we got into the substance, was so warm and receptive and it felt like everyone had just a baseline, respect and love for each other. It was like this unspoken contract. Literally everything upon meeting these people that felt like they didn’t know me– they were strangers–but I felt comfortable and safe.
And then we started talking about really intense topics, really intense topics like sex, sexual topics, because the performers that were going to be coming to shoot with us the next day. were a queer couple and it was two women. And we were going to be the ones to write the scene for them. And we had to take a lot of things into account, including the way that they like to have sex, things like their identity, what they might feel like doing different things. We were talking about really graphic sexual stuff.
And I had to think about keeping ourselves safe in that space and keeping them safe in that space. And so, I mean, I think that was definitely conducive to continuing to feel just like the entire experience was all about just being really intentional about making people feel comfortable and allowing people to be their true and open selves. Like that is the key thing is: when you can be comfortable in a room, that’s one thing, but to truly be able to be your real self, to let your creative juices flow, to share your wild idea to, for the performers to get naked and have sex in front of all these people, and in front of the camera, it’s not just comfort. You’re not just comfortable. Like you have to feel safe enough to be open and authentically honest. Like, who you are at your rawest and realest.
Some of your work is around sex tech. Can you tell us what you define as sex tech?
So sex tech is technology that has something to do with sex and sexuality. So it’s really broad and I think a lot of us in the industry like to keep it that way, because we call it kind of like an umbrella and there are a lot of different careers. Like there’s a lot of different factions.
Like there’s a lot of different work that is under the umbrella. There’s a lot of different types of companies that fall under the umbrella. I gave a talk about Sex Tech and I defined it as people using technology to channel erotic power that they use to fight against injustice.
I like that it gives you flexibility. Like how I do sex tech is different from a sex worker who’s doing sex tech. But, I mean, just for some examples of different ways that looks like, it can look like a sex worker who is using platforms like OnlyFans or Patreon to show their sexuality, sell their sexuality and make the money to support themselves, and who are fighting to decriminalize sex work who are fighting to de-stigmatize sex. It looks like companies that are building safer digital spaces. And another company that’s doing something similar is this company called Pink and White Productions and they are building a virtual festival platform. So for film festivals that have been canceled during COVID they can happen online.
So that’s like another example of software and then there’s hardware. So there’s vibrators and intimates, like Lingerie and things. Cause they’re all designed intentionally. And so they all fall under technology and in my opinion, and in our sort of industry consensus massage oils and condoms, things that protect you, and birth control do as well. There’s a lot, and it’s sort of my life thesis to prove to everyone that everything is sex tech. Like I’m genuinely like everything can be used as sex tech and I’m on a mission to prove that.
Can you Tell us more about Lips and what your hope is with this startup?
Yeah, you can find us at Lips.social. We are launched now, which is crazy. What you can do, which is something you can’t do on other platforms is you can post your real authentic, open, honest self.
You can share your art. You can share your body with the community and not have to worry about being censored and being harassed and having your art stolen. So the main three solutions that Lips provides for creatives and just anyone in the digital space is that we create a safe, open and honest platform for you to share with us without harassment, censorship or plagiarism. So, all you have to do is abide by the community guide, which are basically to be a good person, no discrimination, no hate speech. Come in with the intentions of sharing with others, giving to the community and learning, taking non-judgmentally, taking and learning as much as you can.
So as long as you do that, you can share whatever you want. You can share, and can talk about hard things that you might not feel comfortable talking about on another platform, or you can post pictures of your cat, we don’t care. So yeah, I’m really excited to see what people think. So I appreciate being given this platform to innovate.