Minding the Gaps: Making Space for All Identities in Intimacy Work

Chelsey: First and foremost, when I’m in the position of a writer or as a director, my intimacy practice and the things I’ve learned through it really help me imagine a new way of creating media. That’s kind of what intimacy professionals are here to do is enter processes and give people the tools to do media in a more radically humanity-centered way.

So I did a short film called “Let Them Be Loved,” which is about a queer son who comes out to his mother and finds himself battling his spirituality. My intimacy practice made me realize that I can do that in such an incredible way. I wrote the intimate scenes while thinking about the intricacies of choreography and storytelling. I had an intimacy professional onset, Denise Khumalo, who is also in Intimacy Coordinators of Color. I cast an intimacy professional as my lead, Joy DeMichelle of Intimacy Coordinators of Color, and then my executive producer was also an intimacy professional—you, Ann James. That process allowed me to consider all of the ways the production process can be humanity-centered and all of the resources that you can give to your actors and crew to ensure their ability to do their best work with their consent and boundaries intact. It was also very intentionally a Black film, as in I had a fully global majority cast and crew, which meant that everyone who touched the film, everyone who gave any input all needed to be a person of color for me to do it justice.

In my future projects that I’m working on, I’m also trying to consider how to do them with humanity-centered storytelling in mind. My next project is called The Audition, and it’s about performance-based sex work in strip clubs. So the intimacy professional I’m choosing is a sex worker or someone who does or has done the work that is in the film. My choreographer is also someone who has a history of doing that work. I’m thinking about the ways that I can curate my process with the same mindset that intimacy coordinators bring into every single room, but from the directing perspective and the screenwriting perspective.

Intimacy was a huge gap that was identified in our industry, and now that we’re in the mindset of identifying gaps, there are even more that are being identified.

Ann: Excellent. I cannot wait to see this work. I’m so excited for you, for your process, and for the people that you’re bringing into your production team. It’s quite remarkable, and I’m so excited about that for you.

Now let’s try to get in our time machine, and we’re going to move to the future. What excites you most about the future of the intimacy field?

Chelsey: Honestly, one of the things that excites me the most, other than the incredible media that is being generated from it—because we’re finally getting some quality representation and some accurate depictions of sexuality—is that the actors are supported. So I’m watching actors really dig deep into their practice because they have the container to do so in a safe way.

Also, I’m excited about all of the things that are emerging from the intimacy field. Intimacy was a huge gap that was identified in our industry, and now that we’re in the mindset of identifying gaps, there are even more that are being identified. So we’re bringing cultural competency specialists onto theatrical productions and now also into TV and film as well. People are hiring more consultants for things like kink and disability. We’re thinking about all the other ways that we can fill gaps in our industry, and we’re creating more justice-centered spaces.

And of course, Hollywood is still a structure, and you know theatre is still a structure. So it’s always going to be what it is, but at least we’re moving closer to this vision of centering people. That’s something that’s really exciting for me as I also imagine ways to help this field move toward accountability and sustainability.

Ann: I love it: pulling the resources that we can from these big machines and focusing them in on the actual people who are in the cogs of the machine instead of all the glitz and glamor. And you know this is not a glamorous job, but people seem to think it is. We’re focusing all the energy on the health and sustainability of the actor’s careers. I definitely think that your work and your practice is cutting edge, and I can’t wait to see what you deliver in the future.

Chelsey: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Ann: It’s been so great talking to you, Chelsey. So finally, I have one last question. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you would like people to know about your artistic perspective or where you’re coming at intimacy from?

Chelsey: I mean, I think that a lot of my practices are intertwined and all interconnected, but the idea that I’m really trying to emphasize with all the different things that I make is that there are so many different things that make people human. So, how can we get more of that into the media and into how we make media?

A big part of why I got into making and writing and creating media in the first place—before I even knew intimacy coordination was a thing—but also the reason why I got into sexuality and justice education in general is that I got sick of people looking at stories and their critique being like “Oh, you know, this is character doesn’t need to be both Black and queer and also trans and also this.” In reality, yes they do because that is what real people are. People are complex. They have different identities that all inform each other, and that all informs the world around them. That emphasis is what’s important to me. Any projects that I can, you know, help with, consult on, work on, or create on my own that emphasize the complexity and the different angles of what it is to be a human—those are really the things that I want to focus on in my career.

Ann: Brilliant. Thank you for sharing that.