Welcome to “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” GO Magazine’s brand new interview series that profiles a different queer babe each day, by asking them seven unique (and sometimes random) questions. Get to know the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the groundbreaking, fierce forces-of-nature in the queer community.
I remember first hearing about Troll Hole from a friend and thinking to myself: a local shop that sells sex toys and zines and healing products? I’ve got to go! And so I found myself inside this tiny shop that is an offshoot of the Mermaid Laundromat in Bushwick. Monica Yi is one of the founders of Troll Hole and when I met her, I was working on a few sex ed projects in community. We decided to collaborate on a community based event and dialogue around sexual healing and holistic sex education for adults.
Monica has such a force behind her, and in our meetings I learned so much from her intentional energy and communication. You can tell that Troll Hole is a passion project that’s turned into a beacon for the community because it’s such a needed resource—for teens, adults and everyone in between. Also, her cute pup Francis that is often at the shop is such an added bonus.
So it is with my utmost excitement to present our seven minutes in heaven today with Monica Yi. She talks with us about QTPOC visibility, why Troll Hole is pro-intersectional feminist in its approach, and where she goes for healing when she feels depleted.
GO Magazine: Who are you and what do you do?
Monica Yi: My name is Monica. What I do to pay my bills is art direction and branding/graphic design. I am a daughter, only child, slow writer, cultural critic, one person comedienne, part-time activist, full-time pro-intersectional feminist, cat and dog guardian. I am a co-founder and current owner of Troll Hole NYC.
GO: Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of Troll Hole and what you hope to do with the future of the store?
MY: Troll Hole started with a series of questions in a very millennial group chat around 2012. This was post Occupy Wall Street, post Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown… the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining international traction.
A queer film curator in the group chat complained about having to travel into the city from Brooklyn to get non-drug store lube. (I’m no longer friends with that person as their real feelings about Black Lives Matter came to surface shortly after.) The group chat led to me asking why so few sex shops existed in Williamsburg (cis/hetero-centered), which led to the group chat expressing disappointment in the rise of hookup culture (Tinder, Scruff, Grindr was still kind of new then), which led to group musings about pre-Giuliani NYC (peep shows in Times Square, AIDS activism), which led to wondering about what happened to Courtney Love and Riot Grrrls (they’re kinda racist), which circled back to me asking why so few sex shops don’t also exist as queer feminist spaces? Those questions never left me, and I don’t think people thought I was serious about opening a real space to contain some of those answers.
Troll Hole mirrors the community at large. Bushwick’s been going through a rezoning initiative for over a year now—since around the time the store opened in April of 2016. There is consistent resistance to keep the heart and soul of this neighborhood in tact, but it’s really daunting. Troll Hole went through some of its own changes this past spring. It’s just me now, so I have a couple initiatives in the works. Maybe an e-store is one of them? Maybe a sister space? 😉 I don’t know exactly what the future of Troll Hole holds, but my heart is here, and I’ll do this until I can’t anymore.
Oh, and the reason why Troll Hole is pro-intersectional is because I think it’s important to be mindful of Black Feminism. Intersectionality, as a way of thinking about identities and systems of social oppression is great, but also centered Black women in its original analysis. I realize language is malleable with time and context, but so much Black feminism and Black activism gets erased. I’m a non-Black woman of color (also WOC was a phrase created by Black feminists), so intersectionality works differently for me than say, a Black queer person.
GO: Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling discouraged or depleted?
MY: This is a great question—something my therapist forced me to answer not too long ago. Being in NYC everything is inspiring, which can sometimes result in feeling overwhelmed or defeated. The first thing I do when I need inspiration is hit that nap button. I need sleep. That being said, I think I get inspiration from other inspired people. Cardi B.’s Instagram. I re-read Audre Lorde’s poetry. I just re-read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric again. I’m really inspired by Juliana Huxtable’s writing in Mucus in My Pineal Gland. My very religious mother is inspiration. 3AM morning constitutionals with my dog, Francis, is a very good reflection/inspiration time.
GO: Why do you think it’s important to have space for community to talk about sex and sexuality?
MY: There is still so much stigma and misinformation around Sex & Sexuality™. In my experience, sexual and reproductive health discourse ends at a pro-choice feminist sentiment. Also Sex & Sexuality™ is sensationalized to be a bland free-spirit-tantric-orgasm–which is probably why straight guys carrying around shame still come in to the space and make awkward dildo jokes.
The phrase Sex Positivity™ is really popular at the moment, but I’m still figuring out what this means for myself. The topic of sex and sexuality is still held behind a very cis-hetero-white supremacist-patriarchal and also capitalist gaze. Maybe sex is actually overrated?! I was going to respond to this question with something about “dirty laundry” but the feminist advocate in me needs to talk about the non-sex/y things. What is sex and/or sexuality like for people of color? What are complicated realities for sex workers? Why is there resistance in sex store workers to unionize? When people do talk about LGBTQIA sex and/or sexuality, why is white gayness centered? In fact, the majority of the sex/y zines received in the shop that is most celebratory of sexuality has been from white gay men. We need more celebratory sex/y zines from QTPOC, but that narrative is still being explored under the gazes.
Sometimes older teens come into the space, and they’re already so versed in talking about consent, sexuality, queerness. I’m so amazed by them. I technically learned about consent in my late 20s.
GO: Who are your queer role models?
MY: Right now, as a grown womxn, my role model is Cardi B. I don’t know if she identifies as queer, but her happiness, curiosity, hard work, authenticity, and success genuinely makes me feel happy. Writings from Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, James Baldwin stay lingering. The confidence of Grace Jones, Eartha Kitt… The intellectual starlight of Nina Simone & Whitney… The fever of Marsha P. Johnson, Assata Shakur, and all the queer youth in revolt.
GO: What music are you listening to right now?
MY: Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Azealia Banks, SZA, Jazmine Sullivan, and Karl Jenkins have been in current rotation for the past 5 months.
GO: Where can people find you?
If you’re a QTPOC who wants to or does make zines and things, please find me!