Welcome to horizontal with lila! Horizontal is the podcast of intimate conversations about sex, love, and relationships that’s entirely recorded while lying down. I’m lying down right now. While typing. I’m committed to horizontality.
When I was 28, I went traveling for a year. I dubbed it “looking for love in all of the places.” Whether I stayed in campers or guest rooms, whether I had an apartment to myself or a couch in the basement, at some point my hosts and I would find ourselves talking about relationships. All kinds of relationships — parents, exes, lovers, spouses. They wanted to tell me about their loves. They wanted to tell me about their sex lives. It was as though they’d been waiting for someone to ask. I was lucky enough to be curious, have no skin in the game, and be in no rush. We stayed up late talking, in the back of vans in the Netherlands, on rooftops in Barcelona, on the floor of dance studios in North Carolina. Often, we wound up horizontal.
Before I went traveling, I thought I was going to have so much sex. But as it turned out, I only had sex twice that entire year. I was looking for something — a new home, a partnership, a lover, something to ground me. I thought I might fall in love with a place, or a job, or a person, and that would become my anchor, and that would show me where to put down roots next. It would show me where to live and give me direction for my next 28 years. I didn’t exactly find that place. I didn’t find that job. I definitely didn’t find that person.
I’d never been in a good romantic relationship. Either the friendship was there but the sex wasn’t, the sex was there but the liking-each-other-as-people wasn’t, or the relationship was fraught, troubled. The loneliness I’ve felt since childhood accompanied me everywhere. Yet, during those intimate conversations while I was on the road, those moments and hours of connection, my loneliness didn’t hurt as much. I felt … hammocked. Swinging gently. Adventuring lovingly.
I joked that I should create a show called “tell me things.”
While nomad-ing, I was in a new place sometimes every couple of days. Before the year was through, I burned out on the constant traveling. All the logistics. All by myself. I now self-diagnose this as adrenal fatigue, but I didn’t have health insurance, so I didn’t go to a doctor, and I can’t be certain. After a few months of recuperation, first at my mother’s house, then my father’s — a winter in which I was so fatigued and depressed that all I could manage to do was read books and stack firewood — my vitality and creativity eventually returned.
When I settled in New York again, I moved back to Brooklyn. I found myself even more insatiably curious about intimacy in all its forms. I wanted to see what a sex party was like. I wanted to try having a polyamorous married man as a lover. I wanted to have more sex. I wanted to have a partner. My friend Matt handed me books. First he lent me Arousal. Then Sex at Dawn. Then Mating in Captivity. I started to feel like I was doing an independent study on Human Sexuality. I began writing a (long) (unpublished) essay, titled “The Last Closet: A Woman on the Verge of 30 Questions Monogamy.”
As a person with very little connection to her family aside from her divorced parents, I sought family everywhere. Each activity I delved into — theatre, yoga, AcroYoga, tango, fusion dance — I looked around and asked, “Is this the place?” I felt like the little birdie in the children’s book Are You My Mother? — “Are you my community? Are you my community? Are you my community?” I had been looking in all the places for an anchor, for a home, and I found it here. In Brooklyn. Where I was born.
None of my blood family lives here anymore. My grandmother died, and with her, the glue of my family dissolved, and the aunts and uncles and cousins never again gathered all together, in New York or anywhere else.
Three years ago, I moved into a remarkable house. Hacienda Villa is a sex-positive intentional community in Bushwick, Brooklyn. As sex-positive people, we work to dispel the shame surrounding sex by celebrating all genders and sexual orientations, and all sexual acts and relationship styles between consenting adults. As an intentional community, we live together on purpose as a modern tribe, sharing common values and supporting each other’s growth. The Villa began in 2014 as Andrew Sparksfire‘s vision and Kenneth Play‘s experiment, and I was a founding member. It was my first introduction to co-living, and to the larger sex-positive community, a web of people who believe, like I do, that sex should be talked about, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, that it’s worthy of our care, our study, and our celebration. It’s also up to us to curate our relationships, and we can do that as we see fit, as long as that is with honesty and care.
The Villans (our name for each other) began in 2014 as strangers. We were fourteen housemates living in an intentional community, none of whom had ever lived in an intentional community before. We did a fair amount of stumbling. Eventually we solidified our core mission (to be a center for the erotically curious) and our guiding principles (Sex-Positivity. Community. Kindness. Compassionate Communication. Integrity. Stewardship. Responsible Hedonism. Self-Actualization. And Social Responsibility.) Now our community curates an event space called Hacienda Studio, which is a nexus for sex education, intimacy education, play parties, and socials.
When I first moved into the Villa, a dear friend of mine said, “How come it’s gotta be an intentional community? Why can’t people just be cool about sex, without having to make a fuss about it? Why does it have to be a thing?” It took me about a year and a half to “come out” about living in this house and being an advocate for sex-positivity, and part of the hold up was my friend’s voice ringing in my ear, saying, “Why does it have to be a thing?” After three years of sharing intimacies and cultivating space in which other people feel free to do the same, I know why.
We’re not there yet. Sex-negativity runs rampant, even while a world of advertisers use sex to sell us things. Sex is still a political “scandal,” women are still largely seen as madonnas or whores, and entire societies are still cutting the clitorises off of their girls.
When any kind of sex between enthusiastically consenting adults is no longer considered shameful, when everyone feels free to express themselves through the gender they identify with on the inside, or to queer their gender, or not to express gender at all, when all people can practice the relationship style that suits them at this point in their lives (or abstain from romantic or sexual relationships) without fear of repercussions, and when everyone has access to an extensive, ongoing, positive sexual education that includes pleasure education and intimacy education, then communities like ours will no longer need to exist, and a podcast like mine will become obsolete. It will no longer need to be “a thing.”
On that day, I’ll happily pack it up.
As I wrote in my article for Bust Magazine, “You Call It A Sex House, I Call It Home,”
“Living here is a balm for the deep shame and secrecy I’ve experienced surrounding sex in our culture. Since sex isn’t taboo at Hacienda Villa, nothing is. We can talk about politics. We can talk about love. We can talk about death. We can get spanked at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday and then breeze into the kitchen saying, ‘Good morning!'”
My housemates and I wind up, most nights, and, to be frank, most days too, reclining on the dueling couches, or curled up with Tiny, our giant teddy bear, or lying down on the lime-green patio furniture in the backyard, talking. I’ve been inspired, humbled, unburdened, mirrored, challenged, comforted, and thoroughly schooled by the everyday conversations we have at this house, and I thought it was a pity that we were the only people who got to hear them. We joked that we should start a website called Overheard at the Villa.
In horizontal, I invite you to eavesdrop on stories that might seem almost too personal for you to hear, which is, of course, exactly why I want you to hear them. Many episodes are recorded in my bed. It feels to me as though my guest and I have stayed up all night talking. The sky is just beginning to lighten, dawning in oranges and yellows at the bottom, but, looking up, shoulder-to-shoulder (sometimes hip to hip) we can still see the stars.
I noticed that people have their horizontal voices, and these can be so different from their vertical voices as to sometimes be unrecognizable. While horizontal, we reveal much more of ourselves than in the vertical plane. I wanted to share that confidential, on-the-pillow tone with all of you, when our voices lower several registers and we say tender, unrehearsed things. On the podcast, our voices are not just sultry … they are relaxed. We wear silky robes. Our hair is messy. We tell the truth. My friend said I should call this podcast “Lying with Lila.” I couldn’t do that, no matter how clever.
Whenever I write autobiographically, I ask myself, “Is this true? Could it be more true?” I do the same with the podcast.
Eventually, I’ll leave the comfort of my impossibly lovely Casper mattress and take this show on the road — I foresee hammocks in the future of the podcast, picnic blankets, beach towels, a claw-foot bathtub or two, an Airstream, and just maybe, a tent, if anyone can convince me to get back into a tent after my three harrowing experiences.
I try to make every episode less of an interview and more of a conversation. I hope to do one tiny sliver of what Cheryl Strayed has done for the advice column genre, for the interview genre. Not by giving advice, and hopefully not really by interviewing, exactly, but by sharing my own stories, telling the most-true truth about myself. Raw. Revealing. Wounded in all the places I am wounded, kinked in all the places I am kinked. Sharing what is most personal to me. Because that is what dispels shame. That’s what intimacy is made of. And intimacy is more important to me than almost anything. I want to make horizontal with lila interview turned on its ear — mixing questions with storytelling, mingling confessing and identifying, weaving in brainstorming and damage control.
Won’t you please … come lie down with us?