Indie Muse | Sexologist Shannon Boodram
Shannon "Shan Boody" Boodram
Toronto Born, LA Livin'
Book | Photography | Blog | YouTube
I have been inspired by sexual educator Shannon Boodram for many years now, particularly her dedication to informing our generation on and about sex and reproductive health in a positive way. A few years ago, I contacted her in regards to doing an interview for my blog because I really wanted to talk to women who inspired me and share them with my readers. The transcript below is the result of an 11 at night telephone conversation between us that lasted nearly an hour. She gave her apologies for being tardy to our scheduled call time due to a conflict she had been having with her then-boyfriend. She entered our call swinging, talking of love and the importance of understanding, especially in predicaments where the two of you aren't able to meet in the middle due to differences in worldviews, wounds, and experiences. With Shannon, you always feel like you're talking to your girlfriend and it's a transparency that she still has to this day - one that has no doubt attracted her legions of YouTube subscribers who connect with her candid sex and relationship talks very readily. This interview happened a few years back, but I still remember it and cherish it as if it were yesterday.
Q: Your book “LAID” offers personal narratives involving sexual experiences of young people, did you know while writing it that it would connect with so many people?
Shannon T Boodram: Yeah, I mean it was really and truly exactly why I wrote it because I had essentially gone through a pretty bad teen sexual lifestyle and I got to participate at this HBCU in Baltimore and there I was surrounded by girls constantly and we started to have these really great, honest conversations and share stories about sexuality. I kinda came up in a time where books like Coldest Winter Ever and Fly Girl and Eric Jerome Dickey were a big sexual compass for a lot of girls, along with other TV shows that – you know, like Gossip Girl – that kinda showed a section of a very commercialized, strong, feminist perspective. So I really concentrate on honest, respective stories because they make me know that I wasn’t a freak, I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy because I didn’t orgasm every time I had sex without oral so I knew that having those types of conversations in a book where most people could read it would definitely be helpful at that age, especially when you’re that young. I think anything to do with sex. When I was 14, put a dirty napkin in front of me and I would analyze it. I’d be like, “Oh I wonder if someone kissed this..” and make up scenes – I’m so obsessed with anything sexual based, so I knew that if you gave people honest, real, captivating stories that I think it would really make a big impact on them as well.
Q: What was the writing process for your book like? How long was the process for it overall, from concept to creation?
Shannon: Well, my book is an anthology so it isn’t like the average book being that is a collection of short stories but I think what’s unique about it is that, a lot of anthologies collect stories from writers and I was collecting stories from non-writers so it was a lot harder than I thought it would be because I was doing like 10 edits from people sometimes and I was getting stories a little bit before my book came out. So I was interviewing people on like MySpace and on this other random site, and I didn't really plan it at the time. This was on the internet when being all in your space wasn't really common at that time, people were pretty much always like friend-screening so people would just not trust me. So I would be like, ‘I’m Shannon, I’m this’ and people would be like, “Oh you’re some kind of creep, you’re this, you’re that”. It took a long, long time. I was so obsessed. I actually failed a year of college because I was so obsessed with it.
I was so obsessed with trying to get writers, I’d say I probably sent pretty close to 200 messages a day and these messages, they have a generic “good day” but you have to personalize it around people to get to them. You have to go to people’s profiles for a relative compliment, give a joke, send them a message and know they’re not going to respond. Out of 200 messages I sent out, maybe 5 would respond. Maybe 2 would be positive responses. One will be interested, maybe they’ll speak to you and actually go through with it. In any aspect, I actually collected about 200 stories from [ages] 19-24, so about 4 or 5 years – probably a longer time. As a non-published writer, it takes a very long time to get people to say “yes” to you so even though I thought my book was done when I was 21 or 20, I still didn't have a publishing company so I kept updating stories. By the time I actually got the “OK” from my agent, who I found after 2 or 3 years, that I had a publisher, it was over 4 years of collecting stories.
That’s why I tell people when they’re always like, ‘Oh I want to write a book, but right now is not a good time for me’ – you don’t start doing something because now isn’t a good time for you because when you start doing something “now”, you’re not going to end up doing it for at least another 5-6 years. So, if you’re thinking you can’t write a book right now because you don’t have the time, okay, 10 minutes a day, start working on it. Because by the time that you actually do have the time and you want this thing to pop off, it’s not going to pop off. Do whatever you possibly can right now and the prep work because whenever you think you’re gonna have time, you’re gonna wish you had something before.
Q: What is your most favorite thing you've ever written?
Shannon: That’s a really good question. On Those Girls Are Wild, I have this thing called “Think About It Mondays” where I wrote short stories based on experiences or sometimes you get an anecdote of a story but my favorite thing that I ever wrote was about unrequited love and it’s a story – it’s actually a true story – about this guy that I was crazy in love with and essentially how over a steel brush, the relationship ended and the steel brush, how it had so much significance in terms of my feelings and the day that he realized I cared too much and felt too uncomfortable to be around me anymore. I always read that story and it’s one of those things that I definitely want to build something around one day because I think that when you write those really honest pieces of non-fiction set to a fiction tone, you say something about yourself that you may not have realized and you say things about something that could have hurt you that you may not have even told to your best friend. Those are really great pieces of writing.
Q: I've seen a lot of your work as a photographer, where the subjects are couples in love, maternity photos of couples creating out of love, and even your own love – what is your artistic vision? Is it love? What is love?
Shannon: That is crazy! (Laughs) Before, I really struggled over the past year or two because of being confusing in people’s minds, like “What does she do? She does all this stuff. Is she a photographer? Is she a writer? Are you this, are you that?” And I’m always trying to find a way to tie things together. I’m really into controversial topics and I love discussing, I really have a thing for social analysis, and I thought that was kind of my calling. And then my boyfriend, probably since we started dating, [he’d say to me] “You just keep trying to find what your thing is”. Like I know what I love to do but what’s my niche? I’m a writer, photographer, and I’m a TV host but what is my expertise? [He said] It’s love! He said you love shooting love, you love writing about love, you love talking about relationships, that’s what your thing is. And I was like trying to fight him, “No, I’m a hardcore news show host, I’m so smart.” But my opinion, in the past maybe month or so, I’ve introduced myself as not a love girl. I only shoot weddings, I write about love and relationships, so in terms of talking about it, I don’t know if I’m so specific about it in that way but I don’t know, I definitely think that having to admit that, yeah I do love celebrating love, I do love talking about the good and the bad of relationships. Like we were talking about before in terms of everyone being different, there’s a couple things in life that everyone can agree on and love is definitely one them.
Q: What is fear?
Shannon: Fear… Fear is really not having a handle on the outcome of something and you don’t know what to do if it’s not what you want. It defeats the outcome if not favorable. So fear to me is like when I saw Tracee Ellis Ross. I’m such a big fan of hers and it’s crazy because I’m actually developing a webseries right now and she’s on YouTube right now and she’s gladly a YouTuber. She’s new to this world so I know that I have something to offer her and she has something to offer me but I saw her and I’m like, I was afraid. I was afraid of talking to her and bothering her, of her thinking I was a creeper and I just… I saw what I wanted, I had no idea what my percentage was of getting that, and I’d be so crushed if I asked and didn’t get it so I allowed fear to stop me from doing what you did when you wrote your message. You were like, “Look, this is what I want, you might brush me off but at the end of the day, I’m putting it out there”. You got what you want in the end. I think fear comes into play when you don’t know if they’re going to say “yes” and fearing that when they respond they’ll say “no” makes people not do shit.
Q: Who taught you your courage and your confidence?
Shannon: I have very unique parents in the sense that, I come from – I’ll give you an example: coming from Those Girls Are Wild, Andrea’s mom is just very involved, extremely involved in her life. My parents are not like that. They are very supportive but my parents don’t really get too hyper or involved in what I do. And I think that’s a good thing because my parents have always instilled in me independence and a go-getter attitude. So they’ve always been like, “Whatever you do, we’ll support you and we’ll help you when we can but we don’t know what you’re doing. If you want something, great, then you’ll go for it and do your best but at the end of the day, it’s on you. We’re not going to stop you” so I think as parents, their style of parenting was responsible. I always knew I was limitless, I was capable, what I was quote unquote “allowed to do” or expected to do. But I also knew that if I wanted it I would have to do it. So if I didn’t do shit, then shit wouldn’t happen.
Q: What motivated you to further develop a brand with your name, outside of your work with Those Girls Are Wild?
Shannon: This is what I mean when I was saying before about being confusing. I went to this interview before for this TV station in Toronto and when the head guy left, which I’m thankful for, but when the head guy left room, one of the other interviewers said to me, “So you love Beyonce” and he kind of said it with this smirk on his face and I was like, “Huh?” “Like literally, I saw some of your videos”. My heart just sunk and I was like, “Ohhh, what videos did you see?” So it was kind of like it kept happening. For photography, sometimes I get booked for somebody’s wedding and somebody in the bridal party would be like, “Oh, Those Girls Are Wild!” And the bride would look at me like, “Do you do porn?” It just got to a point where I had to keep managing my life where I’m like, you can know about this but you can’t know about that, like I’m trying to hide this from you and show this to you. I wanted to just do everything in one place where I’m proud of it all. I don’t want to have one site for photography and one site for writing. I had a site for Facebook and a site for Those Girls Are Wild and I had a site for photography and a site for myself and like, I just wanted to have one site where I’m really proud of everything I’m doing and doing it all on a certain level of professionalism. Even if I’m acting a fool and being crazy, it’s shot really expertly and it’s branded great. I might be doing something silly but it is still in a professional, mature, respectable manner. [In terms of Those Girls Are Wild] It’s really hard to control two of you especially when you’re just trying to control your path. They could be doing something totally different and it’s still under your name so it just kinda became apparent with the website, you know, time to take full control and full responsibility for myself so that’s kind of what that is.
Q: Which title best fits you: host, photographer, writer, creator, or actress? Do you feel that they all embody you in different ways?
Shannon: I’m really definitely not an actress but it’s a good question to ask because I actually call myself a storyteller. And you know when people say like, “Oh which one would you choose?”, I really choose to be everything for the rest of my life. In my ideal life, I have a TV show and I always push TV because I feel like it’s the holy grail of free publicity. My career idol is this guy named Reggie Yates and if you look him up he’s from London but he writes, does photography, and does TV for BBC. His photography has been in the national portrait galleries, he’s written for FHM Magazine, GQ, and Esquire – he’s a strong, amazing writer. But he would not have gotten that opportunity, we may not have even known that but when you have that platform, you can just push out your story, you just become a beacon of stories. I call TV a big boulder because there are small boulders and big boulders and you can spend your whole life trying to push a big boulder over and not do shit for your life, that boulder may never move. But if that boulder does move, then that’s quality, you’re in luck so TV’s my big boulder. But at the same time, I don’t know how to describe that, I love to take pictures, I love writing, I love talking. So I don’t know, I think I’m a storyteller.
Q: The reason why I asked you that, I kind of already knew the answer. I read this quote that you said and I was like, man it’d be dope if she said that answer again, and you kind of did.
Shannon: What was the quote? Now I need to remember to try to say it (laughs).
Q: It was a long paragraph but you mentioned the storytelling thing and you were like, “I don’t know people ask me if I’m this or that – "
Shannon: Oh yeah! Yeah, a lot of us, I think being called a jack of all trades – I just find that so offensive in my heart. To me, I’ve always felt very centered, I’ve never felt like “Oh man, I’m that rapper who sells DVDs”, [by that I mean] I feel like everything I do is in the same lane. I can see how from the outside, because they don’t know that common link, how it can seem that way.
Q: If you had to define yourself using three words, which would you choose? But you don’t have to stop at three.
Shannon: I would really say I’m a “very” person which is a weird thing to say but I’m either very good at something or very bad at it, I’m either very liked or very not liked, I’m very passionate or very inconsistent like my taxes which are so overdue. (Laughs) I know that’s bad. I’m a very person, like if I want something to done, I’m gonna be up until 5 in the morning doing it. If I want it done, I get it done. I would say purposeful… And hardworking.
"I'd say that love is very much unlike your career."
Q: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned so far as an adult in your 20s?
Shannon: I’d say that I used to think, in terms of love, that love is very much unlike your career. Because in your career, you can try your hardest, you can be honest, you can be aggressive, and that’s supposed to get you further whereas in love, all of those things usually turn people off. You can be aggressive, do all of these things, and be able to get what you want in your career. But today I think, you save time. As much as it’s a scary thing, it’s hard to tell people you want them, it’s hard to tell someone what you think you’re worth, but you just save time by just asking. And sometimes the answer is you need x, x and y and now you know what to do and you’re not spending 3 more years wondering how to ask. You already asked and if the answer is no, you see what you can do differently. If the person says “I don’t like you”, [and your response is] “Well what can I do differently?”, that person is not for you. You’ll know how to prove yourself in your own time. I think the major thing I’ve learned in life is to be freaking real. I’ve told people that I’ve loved them before and I’ve heard “I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way” and you feel bad for the first month because you’re embarrassed but those feelings go away and you’ve opened your heart to new experiences. I think that’s something huge in our 20’s. We’re so concerned about who’s keeping score and we think we’re turning people off by being opaque but either you’re meant for something or you’re not, you’re prepared for them or you’re not, you’re ready for it or you’re not, and you just need the answers, you don’t need to wonder. Wondering wastes so much time in our 20s, so so much time.
Q: Who are some of your biggest inspirations and why?
Shannon: Jodie Kikou for writing. You should look her up, she’s the best writer in the whole goddamn world. Marie Forleo for hosting. She has this webshow essentially, and it’s shot beautifully and it’s about how to live your best life. It’s kind of like a self-help channel. She’s been on Oprah and has done such great things. For photography, this girl Lara Jade who is a very young photographer from the UK and who is just freaking talented. I don’t honestly believe that I’m God’s gift to photography but I think my skills combined make me a great photographer. I know how to tell a story and I’m personable so I know how to bring out some life in people. I wouldn’t say that me and the camera become one or that I’m getting Harry Potter shots or anything like that but she does, there’s something special that she has. Since she was like 18, I’ve been following her, I think she’s my age. She’s just doing dope shit consistently and getting respect from people all around the world. I think those are probably the three – and then there’s that guy I mentioned, Reggie Yates, he has the career that I would one day like to have in my life.
Q: What does being a woman mean to you?
Shannon: I think being a woman means permission to be who you are. Guys have all these uh, well look at my nephew for example. He’s 3 years old but he’s not allowed to do all this stuff. He’s not allowed to cry that much, he’s not allowed to be super silly, he’s not allowed to play with dolls. I think that being a woman – you are allowed to do whatever you want to do. You’re allowed to cry at movies, you’re allowed to laugh at jokes that make you snort through your nose, and you’re not made fun of for doing it. We don’t take advantage of that enough. Women, we live in our heads a lot. They think people are going to judge them but I don’t think that’s an obstacle for us. That’s something we put on ourselves when most of the world wants women to just be themselves.
"Being a woman means permission to be who you are."
Q: One of your most recent projects – vibrant beanies with the word NATURAL stamped on the front of it for all the world to see – what does the word “natural” mean to you? As the person who has cultivated this idea, what do you think this word encompasses when affiliated with you?
Shannon: Good question. I really think it means whatever you’ve come to be, being honest again, being able to be true to yourself. I really became bothered specifically by the whole natural movement online, the pressure with that. Because I discovered extensions last year and I love extensions. They’re so amazing. And I think a lot of girls who I know who feel great relaxing their hair or do whatever they did and they became pressured to do what’s [considered to be] natural. Why don’t you do what works for you? There are people who are happy doing it but don’t tell me what that is. Don’t try to tell me how I’m supposed to present myself or the right way to present myself. I watched this movie where the word “natural” was used so often because they talk about natural order, the whole pursuit, the whole freedom of slaves, and how it’s not natural to have a white man and a black man walking side by side on the street and one not being superior than the other. Or even the whole marriage equality debate in which the word “natural” is used in defense in saying this isn’t the natural way of life, so why are we condoning these people to celebrate their love if it is a stigma? I kept being touched by that word in general and I know that a lot of people would be seen as natural. So I was kind of like, okay well, everybody has an idea of what this is, why don’t we do something that puts it on a counterfeit? So that’s kind of how it came about where I wanted other girls to see it as be honest, as much as these girls call themselves natural, natural this, natural meet-ups – they come to those things wearing heels or wearing makeup or a push-up bra, but who are you to think that they you own that word because of one part of yourself and yet faking the funk with others? Why are they trying to put that pressure on other people to live up to a standard based on one area when you should open it to whatever you feel represents you?
Q: What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?
Shannon: I got a deal with BET, this is my big boulder. This is exactly how life plays out and life is funny. I booked a show on BET, got flown to LA last fall, and I shot it. It was the perfect – essentially like The View – we do these debates, we get to have guests who we do debates with. It was a really cool show. Working on that was like a dream because it was a full time job, such a talented, diverse group of people you’re working with, and I’m like man this is gonna be it. But it’s a pilot and pilots sometimes don’t get picked up and this one did not. Fortunately I got an extended contract which means I’m sort of like an artist who is still signed but not doing anything. So I’m working feverishly on my visa still so I can stay and work, but in the meantime here I’ve booked a show called Caribbean Vibrations and it’s a Caribbean travel show so I work on that. I also do a morning show and I write for two magazines, one is called Exclaim and one is called Women’s Post, which is feminist culture. And I do wedding photography. What’s next for me though is I’m looking to start my own webshow which is to be centered on love, relationships, and sex. I feel that as a wedding photographer and all that I’ve done for sex education, I’m in a good place now to do something that’s very incorporative, that’s very much about collecting like-minded people and it’ll be centralized around a topic I’m very passionate about. But I want to do it right. I don’t want it to come out like it’s shot in my bedroom so I’m taking my time with that and that’s what I’m working on right now.
all photos via Coveteur
Interview originally posted on The Indie Byline 7/8/13
THE INDIE MUSE INTERVIEW SERIES IS AN ONGOING MONTHLY SERIES ON THE INDIE BYLINE THAT SEEKS TO SPOTLIGHT NOTEWORTHY WOMEN WHO ARE MOVING AND SHAKING IN THEIR LIVES IN DIFFERENT WAYS, WHO ARE INSPIRED AND IN TURN ARE INSPIRING. INDIE MUSES ARE WOMEN WHO GIVE NEW DEFINITIONS OF WOMEN BY BEING THEMSELVES. THERE IS SO MUCH POWER IN SEEKING TO EMPOWER OTHERS.