//Shanae Adams is a sexuality professional, Domme and co-founder of Chrysalis House. Adams is also studying for her Ph.D. in clinical sexology and is also working as a sex therapist. Photo by Sara Martin | email@example.com
Shanae Adams’ journey as a sex educator started back in high school. Adams, who uses both she/her and they/them pronouns, recalled watching shows like “Real Sex,” or her favorite, “Talk Sex with Sue Johanson,” returning to school the next day to share their newfound knowledge with classmates.
As a Black femme, Adams said, “I remember having very distinct memories of seeing this old white woman talk about sex on TV, and I was like, ‘Oh, she can do it. I can do it.’”
And sure enough, today Adams runs her own practice, aiming to normalize and explain sex topics with melanated representation. While she initially connected to the field in high school, Adams said they really fell in love with sexuality education while completing their undergrad at the University of Missouri.
“That was kind of the first time that I saw that this was a career field that I could actually be in, and be able to support myself and make money off of,” they said.
After graduation, Adams worked as a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Rwanda, giving talks about Depo-Provera and other, long-lasting, reversible contraception.
When she returned home, Adams began working at Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, where she said their work, and the independence they were afforded, proved she could do a lot of this work herself. Soon after, their solo education and consultation business, HonestlyNae, was born, with an initial focus on sexuality lectures and workshops.
“What I found in doing these talks and these workshops is that a lot of people want to talk to me afterward about some of the personal things that were happening in their lives,” Adams said. “And I felt like I could listen, but I found that people were really calling me for answers. And for help, and I just felt ill-equipped to be able to show up in that way.”
So they went back to school, securing their master’s in clinical counseling.
“As soon as I graduated, I went immediately into private practice,” she said. “I’m part of the Therapists of Color Collaborative, which is the largest hub of clinicians of color in the state of Colorado. I am in the process of getting my Ph.D. in clinical sexology, and in this program, I will also [become a] certified sex therapist.”
Throughout this journey, Adams found their love for kink and the liberation available to folks pursuing kink. Over time, she developed a Domme persona and started working in professional domination. A Domme, Dom or Dominant is a sexual participant taking a leadership role and consensually controlling a submissive participant, or sub. This type of partnership is common in BDSM, an acronym describing activities of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism.
“My Domme persona’s name is Syre, and they are a sexual, sadistic, bratty vampire,” they said. “We specialize in sensation play, impact play, fire play, torture play, electric play, things of that nature.”
Adams incorporates these conversations into their broader talks and workshops around sex and sexuality, especially focusing on how Black people and people of color can use kink as an intervention for trauma. Though, that’s not to say Adams hasn’t been met with resistance.
“When we think about kink, the first thing that comes to mind is ’50 Shades of Gray,’ which is a horrible representation of kink and BDSM. At least it’s out there, but… [people of color] don’t see ourselves in those movies. Even if you go on Google and you search ‘BDSM,’ you don’t see that representation.”
They started to make it part of their mission to invite more people of color into kink, exploring it as a spiritual and healing medium.
To continue expanding on this mission of community healing, Adams also co-founded the sex-positive organization, the Chrysalis House. Spearheaded in collaboration with Becky Taha’Blu, the group aims to create space for holistic healing, education and community, primarily for queer and trans BIPOC folks and sex workers.
As Adams started their practice, she often found organizations were reluctant to host her for a number of reasons, largely because they were sex-negative, “and they didn’t want me to come in and be sex-positive,” she said. After meeting Taha’Blu and discussing their mutual desire to show up for Colorado’s BIPOC community and create a sex-positive space to teach classes without navigating the respectability politics of other spaces, the Chrysalis House launched in October 2017.
“Some people didn’t know if they had an interest in kink, but making it more palatable, making it something you could actually approach, and also providing some representation so, that way, people know kink is for Black people; kink is for women; kink is for femme-of-center folks, and that we can find liberation, joy, enjoyment, pleasure, power in this as well.”
Adams recognizes that there aren’t many sex-positive, POC- or Black-centered spaces in Denver. The spaces that do exist for Denverites of color are often “siloed,” in that it can be difficult to connect to a group unless “you know someone in that silo.” Denver dungeons are generally white-centric; people of color can experience fetishization and objectification, which keeps them from accessing these spaces and the liberation that can exist within them.
Adams also said they are skeptical when they enter spaces that claim to be for people of color without any people of color in leadership roles, which sets the Chrysalis House apart.
The space has also expanded its umbrella of support over time. Adams referenced the “outpouring of community” when the collaborative found a brick-and-mortar location. As word got out about the Chrysalis House and pandemic struggles mounted, the founders started a clothing pantry and a feminine products fund, learned about safe usage kit creation and administration of Narcan and organized around the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations with protest kits for the community.
Even though the deck might be stacked against them and others in this movement, Adams knows young people will be at the forefront of this movement in the future. As Adams continues her education, and looks ahead to the future and the continued growth of the Chrysalis House, they want to continue pushing this era of sex-positivity among the community and other counselors.
“We found that as much as we turned out for community, community turned out for us as well, and it was just great to be really received and start to see definitely a variety of different POC showing up in Denver wanting to be a part of community, wanting to engage in conversation with us, wanting to play with us and hang out with us.”
For more from Adams and HonestlyNae, keep up with their official Instagram.
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