You can find sex and drugs practically everywhere in Berlin. It’s part of the city’s appeal for many, and that’s all fine and dandy… but do Berliner’s really know what they’re doing? In a city renowned for being open minded and unapologetically sexually active, there are still plenty of people who have questions or qualms, who aren’t sure where to turn to for answers, or maybe just need to talk.
Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs is a salon founded by Berlin’s beloved drag queen Pansy, aka Parker Tilghman, and Dr Martin Viehweger of the Praxis Cordes clinic. Their mission is to create a safe space for conversation, a place where taboo is dismantled and unpacked without judgment. Topics such as chem-sex, PrEP, or information on where to get tested for STIs are commonly discussed.
Stigma holds us back from our own health, safety, and pleasure, and Martin and Pansy are using conversation to break free. The duo invite everyone from medical professionals, sex workers, and curious Berliners to come, share their experiences and learn from one another. We put our questions to Dr. Martin Viehweger and Pansy ahead of the next event on February 13th to learn more about the salon and the conversations they’re having.
How did Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs get started in Berlin?
Pansy: The event is based on a project in London run by 56 Dean Street. Dr. Viehweger wanted to bring this format to Berlin, but knew he couldn’t do it on his own and recruited me (a very loud and slutty drag queen) to help get the word out.
Martin: Originally the event started in London with Pat Cash being called “let’s talk about gay sex and drugs” around four years ago. Since the format was based on a book club meeting where people prepared their presentations, lyrics, songs or performances beforehand I understood in Berlin it wouldn’t be possible to do it the same way. People here mostly expect being served a show. So only a figure combining the qualities of show and political, social, educational knowledge and attitudes in one person and has the intention to really engage to change would please the expectations of the audience. But yeah Pansy is also fine. Ha!
What kind of topics do you cover?
P: Everything relating to sexual health and drug use. Nothing is too taboo or off-limits. We promote a healthy and responsible relationship to sexuality and drug use.
M: The intention is to cover all the topics around sexual health and contemporary questions of our subculture. That means talking and furthermore listening to each other about sexual transmitted disease, use of substances, sexuality, intimacy, shame, going out having parties being with friends, being part of a group, question of identity, coming out, coming of age. We want to create a room where people feel comfortable to address topics they would normally not know where to go with to.
Why do you think it’s important to talk about these things in Berlin?
P: Have you been to a club recently?
M: More importantly we need to listen to each other more, to have patience with each other and to take responsibility for each other.
Martin, can you tell us a little bit about the clinic where you work?
M: Our clinic is a specialist clinic for infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, contact/smear infections. We offer Chemsex support. We run office hours for trans*people. Due to our work and the location we are involved in community projects.
Do you find that the English-speaking community have trouble accessing information about sexual health in Berlin?
P: I know that I did when I first arrived in Berlin. I think many places were not prepared for the influx of international residents that has blossomed over the last decade. Our goal is to make access to this information much easier for everyone, especially if they do not speak German or come from migrant backgrounds.
M: We are living in a bubble. We shouldn’t be blinded by our privilege, actually most people don’t have easy access to information, testing and treatment for infectious diseases. And I am not only referring to trans*people, sex workers or escorts – it is the vast majority of heterosexuals that have no knowledge about sexual transmitted diseases.
What are some of the most frequently asked questions?
P: Where to get tested, what drugs should not be mixed together, how to protect oneself from STDs…but honestly the most asked question is “why do people engage in chem-sex?” We don’t have a concrete answer for this and tend to turn these kinds of questions back on the audience to force them to answer by they themselves might engage in these types of activities.
We are living in a bubble. We shouldn’t be blinded by our privilege, actually most people don’t have easy access to information, testing and treatment for infectious diseases.
Can you tell us a little bit about the panelists you feature?
P: It’s not really a panel. It’s an open format conversation. People show up and we start a dialogue. Many times there will be other medical professionals, sex workers, people working within the realm of sexual health and substance use.
M: Before the start we are always welcoming and encouraging everyone personally to speak up, to open questions, to race issues, to feel comfortable talking about their own stories. People either come on stage and share their stories or remain sitting asking questions or try to open a dialogue with us or the people next to them. We try to not only host but also to take care that there is no pre-judgment, that everyone listens to each other, that everyone accepts and tolerates different opinions.
Berlin is renowned for being a sexually open community, but is this still reflected in attitudes towards sexual health?
P: Yes and no. People are people and everyone has their hang-ups and misconceptions. Many people are open and progressive, but there are still others that are hesitant and behind-the-times.
M: What can you do if you never learned how to address topics that are not normative? Topics you get blamed for? How can you maintain shame if everyone told you it’s your fault that you caught syphilis? That happens everywhere and it still does.
What have you personally learned during your experience of taking part in the salon?
P: So much! For me, the most important thing is knowing that I am not alone in my experiences, fears, desires, and concerns.
M: That we need to take care of each other and to take the responsibility for our community because if we are not doing it no one will. That prohibition is never a solution and prevents you from information. That only engaging can change. Sharing is caring.
For me, the most important thing is knowing that I am not alone in my experiences, fears, desires, and concerns.
Have there been any moments or experiences in hosting the salon that stand out?
P: Yes, from the very first one 2 years ago. A 19 year-old boy had just sero-converted and shared his experience with contracting HIV at a young age. It was incredibly moving and emotional, but also very empowering to know that we have created a space in which people feel comfortable to discuss topics like this.
M: When Pansy shared a moment about her sex life from the past with a guy and suddenly that guy told the same story from his perspective afterwards. He was also in the room. Großes Kino!
In LOLA Issue Six, we featured a column by Joel Dullroy in which he spoke about his experiences with doctors advising him against taking PrEP. Do you hear similar stories and discuss these kinds of experiences in the forum?
P: There are many misconceptions about PrEP. Many project their own stigmas and fears about HIV and sexual health into the discussion. We attempt to talk about PrEP at every meeting in order to clarify some of these misconceptions and provide objective information for people to make their own informed decisions.
M: Yes unfortunately – but we always try to not judge those kind of approaches knowing that also medical professionals come from different points of views and therefore have different attitudes. I’m just sorry for the collateral damages.
In general, what are people who are attending Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs most concerned with and what are they most hoping to get out of it?
P: I think most people are just curious about the topic in general. Many people are interested in finding methods of harm-reduction. Others are interested in basic information on STDs. Much of the dialogue around sexual health and drug use in queer communities has focused specifically on gay men. We want to open that dialogue especially to women*, trans*, and non-binary people to insure that everyone is informed and taking care of themselves.
M: Indeed. And more often people are interested in sharing and carrying on the spark of maintaining an ongoing dialogue between you and me and the community, to take care of each other beyond an evening with let’s talk about sex and drugs.
When and where does the salon take place?
P: The event moves around a lot and has no set date. The next one will take place Wednesday, Feb 13th at Aquarium.
The next Let’s Talk About Sex and Drugs will take place on Wednesday, March 4th at KAKE. Follow the salon’s Facebook page to stay in the loop about upcoming events. Praxis Cordes can be found at Warschauer Straße 33 and drcordes.de. Follow Pansy to stay up to date on The House of Presents and all things drag.