If I have any one place to thank for my rich queer identity, it’s Baltimore.
I grew up in a small farming town in southern New Jersey. Flush in resources like produce stands and ignorance, it left much to be desired when it came to embracing its LGBTQ youth. “Survival” looked a whole lot like maintaining good friends and a resilient spirit, as well as having access to the worldwide web. The Internet provided a haven for our raging hormones and conflicted thoughts, one that taught us about queerness, desire, pleasure, anatomy, reproductive rights, and cultural diversity. We learned shame and repression from our churches, schools, and families. Far from our guardians’ judgmental eyes, however, the Internet showed us that we weren’t alone. It freed us.
Many LGBTQ folks weren’t afforded my privileges. Whether born before the Internet age and/or too impoverished to have Internet access, they suffered for it. When they longed for like-minded others, there were no chat rooms or social media platforms connecting wayward hearts. When they developed their first crush, there was no blogging community or online forum to pour their yearnings out to. When they had sex for the first time, there were no search engines to press for critical health and safety information. When they were bullied for simply being who they are, no videos assuring them that “It gets better” popped up on their Youtube feeds.
At best, depriving marginalized communities of information leads to isolation, depression, and internalized stigma. At worst, it kills us. To me, this willful obstruction of knowledge and camaraderie was – and still is – absolutely unacceptable.
Some kids grow up wanting to be professional athletes. I wanted to be a professional resource.
In 2006 I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, deaf studies, and LGBT studies at Towson University. It took less than a year for me to confidently proclaim Baltimore “home.” From its gritty, deceptively small-town feel to its unapologetically vibrant artist and activist communities, Baltimore surprised me at every turn. Within Charm City’s nurturing arms, I kissed my first girl, took my first queer theory course, got drunk at my first gay bar, danced at my first strip club, and learned how to be an ally to those impacted by systemic injustice. I worked at my first sex toy store (hey, Sugar!), explored my first non-monogamous relationship, discovered my passion for public health, and, most importantly, fell in love with myself. For all of this, I am forever indebted.
A six-year stint in California guaranteed me enviable weather, radicalized my politics, and provided me with valuable professional development. But when it came time to choose where my family and I would put down our roots, I was reminded of just how much I owe to this city. Now a local homeowner, “The In & Out” is one of the many ways in which I seek to give back to the Baltimore community.
As an educator, I travel all over the country teaching people about consent, pleasure, and how to have healthier and more satisfying relationships. As a journalist, I write about the intersections of race, class, culture, gender, sex, politics, and the sex industry. As a sex and relationship coach, I help individuals navigate their true desires and unlearn toxic societal scripts to set them up for maximum success. Knowing that I’m providing exactly the kind of resources my friends and I would have killed for in our cautious, impressionable youth is the fuel that lights my fire. Look Ma, I made it!
With “The In & Out,” my goal is to provide an inclusive, reliable, compassionate outlet for life’s most sensitive quandaries, and I’m hoping you’ll hold me accountable to my mission. Got roommate drama? Let’s talk about communication compatibility. Curious about opening up your romantic relationship? Let’s discuss strategies for getting a grip on jealousy. Anxious about navigating family dynamics with the holiday season fast approaching? Let’s brainstorm effective ways to assert and sustain boundaries. By working together to debunk harmful myths and stereotypes, bridge gaps between communities, and increase our capacities for love and levity, we’ll breathe fresh, queer-as-fuck life into this beloved city.
Let’s get our hands dirty.
- Andre Shakti is a queer journalist, educator, performer, activist, and professional slut living in the DMV. She is devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, andnot taking herself too seriously. Andre wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about the resistance for Rewire, Thrillist, MEL, Vice, Cosmopolitan, Autostraddle, and more. She frequently lectures,coaches and advises on the intersecting issues of sexual health, politics and pleasure, race, trauma, gender diversity, sex worker rights, non-monogamy, and queerness. When not working, Andre can typically be found marathoning "Law & Order: SVU" under a chaotic pile of partners and pitbulls, and yes, she knows how problematic that show is. In addition to her work with Baltimore OUTloud, Andre is the reigning polyamory pundit at her biweekly non-monogamy advice column "I Am Poly(amorous) & So Can You!", which you can visit - and submit questions to! - via IAmPoly.net. She encourages you to connect with her on Facebook via "Andre Shakti" and follow her NSFW exploits on Twitter via @andreshakti!