The Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference
by Emily Sauer, Founder + CEO
I heard my dad say “penis” for the first time ever at the Philadelphia Trans(gender) Wellness Conference. When the conference ended three days later, I could not believe the words coming out of his mouth.
My parents are definitely not your average duo. I grew up talking about safe sex and sexuality around the dinner table. In early high school, my mom pushed me to get regular gynecologist checkups (whether or not I was having sex yet) so I could learn about my body. And then there’s my dad who has always loved to tell adorably sexual jokes, which I found fascinating namely because of people’s reactions to taboo subject matter. If not for the two coolest parents out there, Ohnut would not exist.
The Sauer Clan smiling proudly behind the Ohnut booth
Understandably, however, they were raised in a heteronormative, binary world. In their eyes, there are men and there are women, with a little bit of wiggle room. Those men and women can be gay, bisexual, and/or straight. That’s the story they knew.
“There are going to be 10,000 transsexuals,” my dad said to a friend on the phone the night before the conference. (Oh, dear.) While his gender terminology might be rough around the edges, the man has become shockingly comfortable with terms like dyspareunia, endometriosis, and vaginismus ever since Ohnut came around. And because the conference was taking place near my home town in Philly, my proud parents wanted to help out at the Ohnut exhibitor booth. It was going to be a learning experience for all of us.
“I can’t believe how many parents are here with their trans teenagers,” my dad said. He was right. It was incredible. There were parents with trans teenagers, parents with gender-curious children under 6, trans parents in their 30s with toddlers. A sweet mom walked by our 18+ exhibitor area with a child in a Spiderman dress, with boyish features. He pointed to the display of phallic ’packers’ that can be worn beneath underwear, and asked, “What are those?” His mom brilliantly responded, “Those are penises that can be worn by people who aren’t born with a penis, but who might want one. We can talk about that more when you’re older.” My heart exploded, and I literally ran up to her and gushed with awe.
A beautiful group of conference attendees posing with Ohnut
Everyone in attendance was beautiful and un-figure-out-able. Couples with matching facial hair, had vastly different body parts. Stylized or unkempt hairdos indicated the character of the individual, rather than their gender. A range of vocal tones and intonations filled the room. “I’m trying to figure out who’s a man or woman, or who’s attracted to who… and I can’t tell,” said my dad. It appeared that everyone was scoping everyone else out too. On that first morning, many attendees appeared timid in the massive exhibit hall, and rightfully so. It was a lot to take in and, while some folks at the conference flaunted their true colors loud and proud, the larger energy was hesitant curiosity. As was mine, and I’m assuming my dad’s too.
Throughout the weekend, folks approached the Ohnut table intrigued by “Customizing Penetration Depth” and to play with the squishy rings. The biggest part of our job was to be comfortable and welcoming, which was tricky because we had no idea where each person was with their body, sexuality, or transition. Yet the shared truth is that sex can be painful for a ton of reasons that aren’t talked about, and the trans population in particular has limited access to quality healthcare and supportive resources. It’s crucial to ask why sex is painful. Ohnut can be a springboard for that conversation.
One particular man spoke nervously with me until he mentioned that Ohnut reminded him of a hamster tube. So obviously, we took all the Ohnut rings on display and made the longest, squishiest hamster tube in all the land (so fun). One woman with fuschia hair in a wheelchair came up to the table and exclaimed the rings look like cute mushrooms that should have faces on them. We then came up with a Christmas package (below) and the seasonal name “SnOHnut.” (Such a clever thinker.)
A rough mock-up of "SnOHnut"
Later, in a drastic mood shift, one person walked up to the booth extremely clammed up, forewarning that they have severe anxiety around big groups. “I like the blanket you’re wearing” I said lightly, to which they responded, “Thanks. It makes me feel safe.” We warmed up over a couple patient minutes and I softly offered an Ohnut to play with. They took it from me carefully, and with a big smile said, “It’s so squishy.” I told them about the SnOHnut idea, then they chuckled and signed up for our raffle.
It starts simple. “Sometimes penetration can go too deep, and that can feel really uncomfortable,” I say genuinely. There's involuntary nodding almost every time. I hear my dad talking to another set of ears, “It can be worn on a penis, strap on, or dilator—and can often help trans-women be intimate post operation,” said my dad. (Oh my gosh. GO DAD!) Then! In a whirlwind of excitement and revelation, creativity ensues.
“It’s like a sex lego.”
“I can Macgyver what I want!”
“It’s a love bumper!”
“It’s like spring-loaded sex!”
Regardless of gender or transition state—we’re all still people, and over the course of the weekend I lost the need to define by gender at all. Upon reflection with my dad, he said to myself and the Ohnut team, “you know, I have so much respect for everyone there—because most of us take for granted that we get to wake up every day not needing to align with who we are and what we feel like inside and worry about being accepted socially as that person. Every single person there has to prove themselves every day.”