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Trans Writer E. Parker Phillips Finds Poetry in He/r Fluid Identity

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E. Parker Phillips conveys a message of nonviolence.

By Liz Tracy

At a Yale writing workshop in 2003, one of E. Parker Phillips’ college classmates said Phillips’ erotic poem reminded them of a Calvin Klein ad. Phillips, who identifies as genderqueer and uses “s/he” and “he/r” pronouns, doesn’t remember the poem itself, only one line from the work about a lesbian sexual awakening: “Love is where we stay in bed and go shopping for hats.” The classmate was trying to humiliate Phillips. But s/he treasures the memory.

“The connection between sex, power, and writing felt undeveloped at a place like Yale,” Phillips recalls. “It made me feel like things weren’t set up for me to have a voice.

“Well, now I fight for that voice.”

At the time, Phillips was studying for a degree in Chinese. These days, s/he’s one of the busiest people in Miami, juggling writing, teaching, performing, BDSM and fetish work, and activism. Phillips cannot be explained simply in a line from a poem or exemplified in a single memory. But though Phillips defies labels, he/r uniquely intersectional message and example has made he/r one of South Florida’s most prominent voices in the queer and literary realms.

Phillips was a queer kid raised by strict parents near the Adirondack Mountains in Glens Falls, New York, a largely white, Republican, rural town. There was a lot of pressure at home to go to a good school. Phillips found sanctuary and joy in playing sports. “I was an athlete before anything else in my life,” s/he remembers.

After graduating from college, s/he lived “on the fringes of literary cultures at Yale and in New York City.” The red state of Florida might not seem like the most welcoming place for a queer writer, but Florida International University’s creative writing program offered Phillips the chance to study with renowned poets Campbell McGrath and Denise Duhamel. There, s/he recalls, “I could learn to embrace how I write from my groin and my heart while also exploring ideas and politics. Miami, and FIU, helped me turn my position as an outsider, once a source of shame, into a place of empowerment.”

Phillips taught at FIU and Broward College while publishing poems in journals such as Voluble (a LARB channel), The Sensations Feelings Journal, Jai-Alai Magazine, and Hinchas de Poesia. Along the way, s/he developed a unique literary style to express he/r layered experiences. “I am happiest at the nexus of language, performance, and physicality,” Phillips notes. “Writing poems is a trans-like state where I am thinking about my body both physically and emotionally, processing my experience in language — consciousness tethered to a sensual world.”

From 2014-’16, the instructor found a less conventional avenue for expressing he/r identity by opening a 1,500-square-foot BDSM commercial dungeon. “Both [kink and poetry] feel like arts of consciousness,” s/he explains. “BDSM, kink, for me brings together making money and art; it is how I have made a living in the past four years.”

S/he now operates out of a private fetish studio in Hollywood, Florida — and not just to pay the bills. “I try to work outside academia so I can deepen my engagement with the world, which affects my voice in poetry. It is not always easy. I probably do too much,” Phillips admits.

In addition to hosting BDSM play parties and a meetup for kinky people titled Miami Munch, for the past six months, Phillips has cohosted the weekly Queer and Trans Yoga class at Agni Miami.

“Poems, BDSM, yoga — these are my lifelines. Sharing these practices with other people amplifies their meaning and helps me push the boundaries of the various forms,” Phillips explains. “When I try to live up to the expectations of what I perceive as the mainstream poetry world, I end up not writing.”

In joining all of these varied pursuits, s/he explains, “If I can focus on bearing witness to my feelings and my body, bearing witness to politics and injustice, I can engage poetry as a vehicle through which I traverse the known into the not-yet-known… Imagining a different, more equitable world is particularly important to me as a nonbinary, genderfluid person.”

Part of imagining that world is changing the words used to describe it. “Language is an ontological problem — a world of ‘he’ and ‘she,’ a binary world,” Phillips continues. “How can we take that apart and build something more livable?… What happens when I share my queer, feminist consciousness with a reader? A change in hearts and minds can happen there.”

The Queer and Trans Yoga class s/he cofounded is another converging of these realities for Phillips. In a hatha class, the teacher focuses on yin — “practicing being versus doing” — according to one instructor. Students hold poses for three to five minutes, and class leaders discuss topics such as self-acceptance, self-love, and coping with rejection. During the class, a reiki practitioner attends to individuals. The class also begins or ends with a poem by a queer or trans author, or a talk by a community member.

“The message we convey is one of nonviolence toward self and others. There is a lot of emphasis on the self and falling in love with the self,” Phillips says.

Those themes will carry into he/r course at this week’s TransArt, an annual event that advances equity for the Latinx and LGBT communities through education. Titled I Talk to My Body, Phillips’ workshop will “look at the topic of the self addressing the body, which we will explore within the context of a queer and trans lived experience,” s/he says. Using works by poets Lucille Clifton, Anna Swir, and Joy Ladin, Phillips hopes to teach students to “make sense of, or even celebrate, a discontinuity between self and body.”

Phillips recalls a recent moment at Queer and Trans Yoga when a practitioner spoke about being queer-bashed by a trusted yoga instructor. The reflection evoked a related yoga practice. Class members were told to lie on their backs with legs in the air, “so we could feel the disorientation the person experienced. It felt like falling backwards,” Phillips remembers. “I really wanted to get up and leave — it was challenging both emotionally and physically.”

But the meaning of the action made it bearable for Phillips. Inversion poses like that lift energy to the throat, s/he explains, renewing one’s voice.

“Learning how to work through discomfort is a hugely valuable lesson for me as a queer person, given the discomfort I face in the adult entertainment industry, in my family, and as a poet,” Phillips describes. “Doing yoga in community and turning the raw, painful stuff of lived experience into something inspiring and shared — that is another act of poem-making too.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What It’s Really Like To Be A Hands-On Sex Coach

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Celeste & Danielle

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Millions of Americans struggle with sex. We don’t like to talk about our coital troubles, though — so we read Men’s Health and Cosmo in private, hoping that one tip, one magic bullet, will allow us to become sex gods. Maybe sometimes these rapturous new moves work, but more often they lead to disappointment.

So what should you do when you want to be a better lover but don’t have a roadmap of how to get there? Who do you turn to when Hollywood has failed you and x-rated features have filled your head with unrealistic expectations of what sex ought to look like? Sometimes you see a sex therapist or an intimacy coach to talk about your problems. And other times… you need a little bit more. That’s where Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel (they’d prefer you just call them Celeste and Danielle) come in. They’re the founders of The Somatica Method, an interactive, experiential approach to sex coaching that helps clients break down emotional barriers connected to sex.

What makes The Somatica Method different than most other forms of sex therapy is that it exists in a place between counseling and sexual surrogacy. While communication is the bedrock of Celeste and Danielle’s practice — because good sex can’t happen without it — the duo also recognizes the importance of the physical realm during sessions, meaning that an appointment with them may include everything from a frank discussion about your sex life to a hands on lesson on how to bite your partner’s neck (they’ll practice with you) or throw them up against the wall (if that’s what you’re both into).

So who should get hands-on sex therapy? Can all of us achieve our dreams of leaving our partners gasping for more? We spoke to Celeste and Danielle about what being a sex coach is really like, what clients can get out of it, and how they handle even the toughest sexual problems.

Sex coaching isn’t just for the sexless.

Picture the type of person you think might seek out a sex coach. Is that person generally happy and healthy? Are they fulfilled in other areas of their lives? Are they already in a relationship? The cultural narrative (and every rom-com that revolves around professionals who helps clients lead better sex lives) suggests that only the strangest, neediest people will pay someone to coach them to be better lovers. That’s simply not true.

Committed couples come in regularly, Danielle tells us. They may seek out services because they have desires that they may not be able to talk about on their own. Or their levels of sexual desire may be vastly different and they want to find a happy medium. And men (both single and partnered) may come in because they’re realizing that being good at sex isn’t all about intercourse.

“Men come in because they want to figure out women,” Danielle says. “They can’t understand their wives or girlfriends or women they want to date and also to overcome physiological challenges including getting hard and controlling their orgasm. They want to be better lovers.”

Women set appointments for different reasons — often to work on pain during sex, to ask for help achieving orgasm, or to talk about low levels of sexual desire. Regardless of the reason, the first step in the Somatica Method is to make sure that no one feels stigmatized.

“There’s already so much shame in our culture about sex,” Celeste tells us. “Even now, when you’re seeing sex everywhere, we still have this underlying idea that sex is dirty or extraneous or unimportant, but the bottom line is we’re all sexual beings. We are wired that way from the beginning, but people have learned that sex is bad from many places. I do feel that we’re raising consciousness around sex and shame and we can see the people we work with get so more relaxed around their sexuality.”

You’re not showing up to have sex.

“When clients first come in we’ll sit and talk for a while to discover their issue,” Danielle tells us. “Then, depending on what the issue is, we’re going to do something experiential in that first session.”

If the word experiential sounds daunting, you may be relieved (or disappointed) to know that it’s much less scary than you think. No one’s going to demand that you undress. Instead, Danielle says, the practitioner may start with deep breathing exercises to get the client to feel more in their body and connect with themselves in a way that ignites erotic energy. Sometimes, the experiential portion of the session may include learning how to make eye contact (terrifying for many) or working on relaxing in sexual situations.

“It could be just talking about their fantasies or what turns them on,” Danielle says. “That’s an experience that so many people have never had in a safe nonjudgemental environment.”

That place of non-judgment is essential to the practice. Because most of us have grown up thinking of sex as something shameful (or only reserved for the very attractive and well-endowed). We forget that all of us are entitled to have good sex and not be ashamed to explore the things that turn us on, whether that be BDSM or 20 minutes in the missionary position.

“A lot of what we bring to the approach,” Celeste says, “is celebratory, fun, and exciting, and we stay away from shaming people’s desires. We are normalizing what they are experiencing in all different areas of sex and desire, which is very helpful as it gives them a different perspective about how they can embrace themselves and transform in the ways they want to.

Here’s how this works: Imagine you’re a dude coming in to work on the issue of premature ejaculation (common! Normal! Will happen at least once to most of us!). The first thing your sex coach will do is demystify the experience and explain that because masturbation is viewed as something shameful that needs to be hidden, many men condition themselves to orgasm as quickly as possible, not recognizing that this kind of pattern will affect their sex lives, and then, when they do involve themselves in romantic situations, they end up not feeling adequate.

“I had this young guy who really thought he was supposed to be able to stay hard and not ejaculate for like an hour,” Danielle laughs. “No, honey, that’s not going to happen like that. It’s not realistic. We do a reality check around that.”

And then the work really begins. Once Celeste and Danielle (they work with clients individually) pinpoint the problem, they’ll teach a client how to slow his or her body down, how to touch, and how to relax and enjoy sexual experiences.

“We see many couples,” Danielle says, “many times one partner says, ‘You have to teach them how to do that, you have to teach her to respond the way you respond.’”

But the sessions are sex-y.

While traditional sexological bodywork is a one-way street when it comes to touch (the practitioner does touch the client’s naked body, often with a glove on), Somatica is different in that the practitioner and the client touch each other. The clothes stay on, but instead of manual touch (just physical training), the client and the therapist work on both sexual and relationship techniques to prepare the client for the real thing.

“You’re learning everything from emotional connection and communication to erotic connection,” Celeste says. “A client could be learning about passion by practicing with us throwing each other up against the wall, or they could be learning about romance with tender, gentle touch. You’re learning different energies of erotic connection but also seduction and how to be more in your body in an erotic way. There’s a huge set of experiential tools we use to help people be fully realized sexually and emotionally in relationships.”

Wait up, throwing each other against walls?

“If you just think about it,” Danielle says, “we have this idea that we’re supposed to know those things and to do them. Spontaneously. How the heck are we going to get that information?”

Only the movies come to mind.

“You know there’s technique to everything.” Danielle continues. “You can really learn how to bring the right energy, you can learn how to say the right words, and touch in a way that’s going to make someone feel arousal and turn on. We see some of it in the movies, but we don’t get the full picture or the ‘How To’ – they cut out so many of the most important aspects of sexual connection.”

Media representations of sex tell us one of two stories: The first features people who, by some preternatural means, have become master lovers. We don’t know how, we don’t know why. We just know they’re good at what they do. They know how to kiss, to nibble on ears, and, yes, even throw each other up against walls in ways that are sexy and dominating without being creepy.

The second story is more awkward: We either see people go from ugly ducklings into sex monsters in a brief montage or we never see them get there at all. They live in a world where sex is awkward and strange but enjoyable with the right person. Celeste and Danielle, however, are trying to tell a third story — the one in which even the most insecure people learn to feel comfortable and confident within their own bodies.

“People think we’re going to do role-play, so it seems like it’s going to feel phony,” Celeste says, “but we show up really authentically. When I’m practicing with somebody I’m Celeste. I’m not practicing, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m so and so.’ It’s a very real, very beautiful connection that we share with our clients.”

That connection helps smooth over any nerves, even when you’re doing something that sounds silly or challenging.

“When you first throw somebody up against the wall, yeah there’s definitely going to be some awkwardness and some laughter,” Celeste continues, “but we practice. When somebody comes into my office, they’re not going to practice it one time. We’re going to do it eight times, ten times. By the end, it’s like, “Whoa, that was really hot, you are sensual and you’re turning me on and it’s super exciting. I think any learning curve can have some awkwardness and discomfort to it but the outcome is so profound and fun that I think people are willing to go through the awkwardness.”

And the coaches do get turned on…

With all this talk about being authentic, we wanted to know the answer to the age-old question when it comes to any kind of work in which sex is involved: Is the practitioner aroused?

Turns out, that’s not just a hazard of the job; it’s the goal.

“The best feedback that we can give clients is our turn on, and we’re not faking it,” Danielle says seriously. “We’re letting ourselves respond authentically and get aroused. We’re teaching them how to seduce us and turn us on because that’s the best learning that they’re going to get, an authentic and real response. They really appreciate it, because men especially, very rarely they get gentle and real feedback that points them in the right direction.”

“I had a client in my office the other day and I was teaching him how to bite the back of my neck,” Celeste adds. “We were taking turns and it was so arousing. I was like, ‘Yay, this is my job.’”

But there are clear limits. Bites on the neck? Appropriate. Erotic touch? Part of the process. Kissing? Celeste and Danielle don’t do that, because it’s important to set boundaries when you’re doing this work. “Besides,” Celeste says, “there are other ways to learn how to be a good kisser.” (Yes, this can sometimes involve practicing on hands.)

Even couples have to keep it PG: “They’re making out and touching each other,” Danielle says. “They can kiss each and they can put their hands underneath each others clothing, stuff that we can’t do with them in session. But they don’t get naked.”

Hey, just more excitement for when they get home.

Speaking of boundaries, they’re a cornerstone of a sex coach’s work.

Sure, part of Celeste and Danielle’s job is to teach clients how to turn them — and others — on in order to benefit the client, but another huge part of their work is making sure that clients understand that relationships have boundaries.

“We have a relationship with our clients and it can be a very strong and beautiful attachment,” Celeste says seriously, “but it still stays within the confines of our practice and the boundaries of the session. We’re not seeing our clients outside of session, not going to dinner or dates with them. You can have this beautiful authentic connection with someone and then support them, encourage them to really go out and find that in their lives as well.”

But that doesn’t mean that all clients are so receptive to these boundaries. Some may not be ready for the type of healing Celeste and Danielle offer, others may become jealous due to the nature of the coaching.

“I think in any coach or therapist’s history there are times when things come up that are particularly challenging within the relationship,” Celeste says. “We try to keep the boundaries and try to make sure everybody’s okay in those relationships, but sometimes things don’t go well. It’s almost impossible when you’re working at this level of intimacy for that not to happen sometimes. Danielle and I always try to repair, whenever repair is possible.”

In fact, Celeste and Danielle say that the hurt and jealousy that client experience — especially when the work gets intense — is another learning experience. As is the reconnection that the pair attempt with their clients after such a rupture. Not only can it lead to more strengthened relationships, but, as Danielle points out, it can help clients understand that being part of a couple isn’t perfect all the time. It’s not about never fighting, she says, it’s about being able to repair and reconnect after conflict arises.

At the end of the day, though (and they’re long days!), Celeste and Danielle can’t imagine doing anything else. “I think being in such deep and intimate connection with so many wonderful people, seeing them grow and transform and seeing their lives get better, is so fulfilling,” Celeste says.

“I like the realness of it,” Danielle adds. “I don’t need to try and pretend that I’m someone else. I can be real in the relationship. I really love that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ kids are missing out on sex education—and it’s up to schools to change that

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Last year, California officially mandated LGBTQ history lessons in public schools, vowing to teach “the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” and their impact on both the state’s and the country’s history.

This was a victory for LGBTQ rights, because it’s a rarity; in most states—in all but nine to be exact—schools don’t even cover LGBTQ sexuality, let alone queer history.

When surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 12 percent of millennials said they received sexual education material that covered sex between gay partners—even though 20 percent of millennials consider themselves LGBTQ. American sex ed is “primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people,” according to a different study conducted by Planned Parenthood and the HRC.

This hetero-specific focus creates a multitude of problems for all young people sorting through their anxieties and questions about sex and sexuality. For one, straight students aren’t being forced to acknowledge other sexualities, which can foster bullying and promote a culture of intolerance. For another, a lack of school discussion means most LGBTQ students are being inadvertently told to stay in the closet. And with that messaging, there is the shame and hiding, and then there are the health risks.

Proper safe-sex education is important for all students, and LGBTQ people are no exception: 22 percent of all transgender women are HIV positive, and queer men face a higher risk of contact with HIV or a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ignoring queer students may not be a new phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be remedied. And perhaps school districts can start by listening to the stories of queer people who have gone through the country’s lackluster sexual education systems. Through them, activists can learn how to fix such a massive gap in sex education.

This is what the queer sex ed gap looks like

Larissa Glasser, a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts, grew up in the 1980s, an era whose approach to sex ed was based in fear and simple authoritarian phrases like “Don’t do it.” Glasser, whose transgender, obviously couldn’t rely on schools to teach her about queer life.

“I was in public school until fifth grade and we had no sex education whatsoever,” she told the Daily Dot. “This was during the Reagan presidency, so all we ever heard about sex was AIDS as a scare tactic to be abstinent.”

Very little accurate information existed about transgender women outside of schools. Glasser was only exposed to trans people through filmmakers like John Waters and Ralph Bakshi.

“Finally, during the 1990s, trans issues were addressed somewhat respectfully in about 10 percent of the films I saw,” Glasser said. “Then I discovered writers like Jean Genet, Angela Carter, and Hubert Selby Jr., who were willing to portray queer femme sexuality in a somewhat positive light.”

Glasser’s experiences mirror many other LGBTQ students’ struggles. Sophie Searcy grew up miles away in Kentucky during the ’90s and 2000s, attending Catholic school all the way through high school, and she too had virtually no experience with LGBTQ education. Queer and trans sexuality just wasn’t discussed.

“The Catholic system I belonged to had a program called ‘family life,’ which was a religious health and sex education program,” Searcy told the Daily Dot. “Very basic facts about anatomy and puberty were explained in gender-separated rooms. There was no mention of safer sex methods, navigating consent, or any LGBTQ issues whatsoever.”

Searcy knew early on that her church wasn’t LGBTQ-inclusive. But looking back on those early years, she realized that queer people were treated as if they simply didn’t exist at all.

“The class explained sex as exclusively between a man and a woman, as if only heterosexual orientations existed,” Searcy said. “Similar to how the class erased all non-hetero orientations, the class explained gender, sexual development, and sexual intercourse in a way that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of trans people. Boys had penises, girls have vaginas, boys develop into men, girls develop into women, etc., etc., etc.”

In particularly conservative areas, sexual education isn’t just biased—what it is lacking can induce violence. LGBTQ activist and writer Sarah Bess grew up in southeast Missouri in the 1990s, and she was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and physically assaulted across school districts.

“I was this awkward, autistic, queer kid from the middle of nowhere, so I got picked on a lot,” Bess explained. “I dropped out in the seventh grade because I was getting beat up so much and my home life sucked and I really didn’t care about school.”

Bess’s classes didn’t provide a respite from the attacks. “Being gay wasn’t really mentioned as a possibility in my sex ed classes. The existence of trans people definitely wasn’t acknowledged. There was a lot of fear-mongering about pregnancy and STIs, and that’s mostly what I remember,” Bess explained. “I don’t remember anyone at school even mentioning trans people. Beyond transphobic Jerry Springer and Maury Povich episodes, I don’t think we were on anyone’s radar.”

In one case, her sex education teacher enabled a physical assault.

“My seventh-grade sex ed class was taught by a gym coach who watched two boys beat the shit out of me after school one day,” Bess said. “He just laughed, got in his car and drove off.”

When anti-LGBTQ sentiments take hold in a school, then queer students live in an ongoing state of fear. This not just impedes their education, it can be debilitating for their growth and self-esteem—and it can separate queer people from one another by forcing them to stay hidden. For someone like Bess, this was extremely alienating.

“I was in my late teens the first time I knowingly talked to another trans woman online,” Bess explained. “I was in my twenties before I knowingly met anyone like me in person.”

For others, sex education classes could have possibly saved their lives. A 2014 report published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA Williams Institute reveals that suicide attempt rates are particularly high among transgender and gender non-conforming students who face harassment or bullying at school. Through sex education, though, students could have a better understanding of gender transitioning or normalizing queer sexuality. The more that classrooms validate LGBTQ experiences, the more likely students are to treat their fellow classmates with respect.

“Gender was always conflated with assigned sex and body parts,” Searcy said. “It wasn’t that trans people were portrayed as evil or misguided, but that the possibility of being trans was never even acknowledged.”

Then came the internet

So if LGBTQ students aren’t able to learn about their bodies from primary and secondary schools, where do they go for information about queer sexuality? Many turn to the internet.

But the internet is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to access—especially those in previous generations. In Bess’s case, this directly impacted her exposure to trans material.

“I didn’t have consistent internet access for most of my life, so I picked up bits and pieces where and when I could,” she said. “I watched a lot of porn with trans women in it and read a lot of gross forced fem erotica, none of which was very helpful for learning about sex.”

Even when internet access is available, its resources aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they can be damaging.

Shortly after Glasser graduated from library school, she stumbled across a gender transitioning guideline called tsroadmap, also known as “Transsexual & Transgender Road Map.” Glasser felt even worse about herself while using the website, in part because the guide relied on rigid stereotypes and generalizations for trans women. In one case, the site demanded that trans women undergo surgeries in order to properly transition, when many trans people prefer not to undergo permanent surgery.

“It was useful at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight, I think its normativity had a fairly toxic effect on my self-esteem when I was at my most vulnerable point.”

Searcy, on the other hand, saw internet access as a major source for learning more about non-hetero sexuality. Some of her biggest resources for her transitioning were writers who have gained significant prominence thanks to the internet’s impact on the trans community.

“Ultimately, a close friend came out as trans which led me to question my own gender and explore resources on my own,” Searcy said. “Julia Serano and Morgan M Page were particularly helpful, as were Imogen Binnie and Casey Plett.”

So while online resources aren’t exactly perfect, the internet has advanced far enough that it can connect trans and queer people with the online communities they need to learn more about themselves. On Reddit, there are subreddits like /r/asktransgender that let trans people learn about undergoing gender transitioning. Sites like Sites like Keshet and Queer Theology provide resources for religious queer and transgender people. Resources like TJOBBANK host employment listings for LGBTQ folks searching for inclusive workplaces. And services like Discord and Slack allow queer and trans users to create their own closed groups where LGBTQ members can hang out, talk about queer life, or get together and play video games. The internet has changed over time, and that means there are more ways for queer and trans people to meet each other than before.

But it’s unfair to relegate LGBTQ students to the internet for advice, often in secret. It can stall LGBTQ kids from coming out, make trans and queer sexuality feel like a taboo, or send the message that queer and trans life isn’t important enough to understand.

Schools are supposed to provide students with learning opportunities that help young kids grow into productive adults. That’s why third graders learn basic reading comprehension skills, and high schools teach American history (albeit often from a very straight, white, male perspective), and middle schoolers get a whole class dedicated to sex and their bodies—so they can go out into the world informed and prepared.

But if schools leave out LGBTQ sexuality and force queer students to learn on their own time, then those schools are failing at their jobs. Why must the burden be on LGBTQ youth to educate themselves?

The solutions that exist

Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love, lived in an upper-middle class suburb in Oregon during her high school years. At the time, she enrolled in an “internationally-focused hippie-ish sub-program” that seemed more like “actual sex ed taught by Planned Parenthood.” And yet like Glasser and Searcy, she says, “I cannot recall LGBTQ issues ever coming up. Negatively or positively.”

And as for trans issues? “Ha,” she told the Daily Dot. “No. Zero.”

This was in 2001. But she recognizes things have changed since then. LGBTQ equality has become more mainstream, trans rights have entered the news cycle, and queer sex ed has turned into a serious activist rallying point. Today, she thinks there’s solutions that school districts can take to bring LGBTQ education to kids, instead of forcing them to turn to the internet. That is, if they’re willing to put in the effort.

“There are plenty of gay sexual health resources out there,” Plett said. “I’d get a hold of them, pay them to come, and let them take the wheel. And be open and loving and willing to learn.”

Plett is right. Today, many local LGBTQ organizations host workshops for queer youth, providing the resources students need to learn more about their sexuality. Long Island’s Pride for Youth, for example, facilitates workshops on fighting transphobia and working with LGBTQ youth. Other community centers, such as New York City’s Apicha Community Health Center and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, provide training segments for educators, giving them the skills they need to teach LGBTQ-inclusive material in classrooms. And in recent years, Planned Parenthood has both criticized the lack of LGBTQ sex education in public schools, and begun taking a more LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education.

Gender therapists and counselors traditionally host workshops for teens as well, allowing them to explore LGBTQ topics in an affirming environment. And programs like the GSA Network even give students the training they need to host workshops and class sessions that can debunk damaging myths about the queer community.

For those who don’t live in “gay-friendly” metropolitan areas, there are also online resources available for classrooms. TED hosts a variety of TED Talks covering LGBTQ issues, from coming out to helping transgender teens. And many educators host lesson plans and teach-ins that are available for free online, allowing students to engage in queer sex education topics through a vetted workshop environment.

These programs and groups normalize LGBTQ sexuality. Workshops talk frankly and openly about what it means to have sex as a gay or transgender person and provide safe sex education to prevent STIs. They also give educators the training they need not just to respect queer students, but to include LGBTQ topics in future lesson plans. If school districts aren’t sure how to approach queer sexuality, here is where they can start.

“It would have been incredible for me to hear the simple facts that sex is complicated and messy but that there are a few universals that we should consider (consent, safer methods, exploration),” Searcy explained, “or that gender is independent of assigned sex and that it might be helpful to consider if my assigned sex did not fit.”

That’s something echoed by Bess, who knows all too well that many school districts are still avoiding LGBTQ topics in their entirety. She insists that the federal government should take a more active role in protecting LGBTQ youth, especially in areas where people are particularly bigoted toward queer students. Many school districts simply aren’t evolving anywhere near the rate of young people’s attitudes toward sexuality.

“It’s been awhile since I was in school, but it doesn’t seem like things are much better now in the places I grew up,” she explained. “Federal intervention is absolutely necessary to protect queer and trans students and educators, especially in rural school districts.”

Safety is where educators need to start if they want to facilitate an open, tolerant conversation about sex and sexuality. With transgender students under attack through outrageous “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and the Trump administration officially rescinding any federal guidelines for protecting trans youth, state and federal intervention is more important than ever.

For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially outlawed all forms of discrimination against transgender people in 2015. Discriminatory fines for “willful, wanton or malicious” discrimination is up to $100,000. Massachusetts offers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, a joint initiative that provides training for school administrators on queer topics and gives students the tools they need to become activists in their school settings.

Fostering change and giving schools a legal incentive to end discrimination is important. Seeing how 42 percent of all queer youth feel their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people, promoting tolerance and opening constructive discussion are the keys to getting there.

Schools teach basic sex education for a reason: Most adults will have sex, and the repercussions of sex are often far-reaching and far-ranging and can be life-changing. But if sex education doesn’t address the current population and the culture, then it’s time for administrators to recognize they’re doing youth a disservice. Making things right could actually save lives.

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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Study: Sex Ed Should Include Advice About Relationships, Consent

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Most parents aren’t great at educating their kids about the birds and the bees. But children are also missing out on general relationship advice, according to a new study. Researchers found that 75 percent of kids surveyed wish their parents had taught them how to manage the emotional aspects of their relationships, rather than just informing them about sex. The findings suggest that parents are largely doing “the talk” wrong—and that we need to focus less on how youth should manage casual sexual relationships, and more on how they should foster healthy, romantic ones.

We tend to assume that our kids “are going to learn to love naturally, or that they will magically or organically figure this out,” coauthor Richard Weissbourd of Harvard University told Quartz. “There’s a lot of evidence that’s not the case.”

Parents, as well as schools, tend to approach sex education with a heightened focus on hook-up culture. But the data indicate that the notion of a pervasive, high school hook-up culture is mostly a myth. When students were asked about their ideal Friday nights, only 16 percent of those surveyed indicated interest in casual sex. The rest felt their weekends would be better spent with significant others, with friends, or alone. That’s not to say solid sex education isn’t essential. But the study suggests focusing on the sexual sides of relationships isn’t serving the needs of the average kid.

Our overemphasis on sex rather than romance can also lead to a number of problems for kids as they mature, including high divorce rates, unhappy marriages, and even domestic abuse. Despite statistics suggesting misogyny and sexual harassment are as prevalent as ever, the study found that more than 60 percent of kids never have a conversation with their parents about consent, or even about the “importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you.” Shockingly, two thirds of the kids also told researchers they felt media reports of sexual harassment were “overhyped”.

Parents need to have more detailed, meaningful conversations with their kids about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the authors conclude. And we desperately need to revamp our approach to sex ed, so it addresses the issues kids are actually facing. Because while we now thoroughly address a hook-up culture that barely exists and arm our kids with condoms, it seems we’ve forgotten to teach them how to navigate relationships, obtain consent, and be safe, supportive partners. Unfortunately, that’s something they’re unlikely to figure out on their own.

Complete Article HERE!

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This App Could Bring Sex Ed To All Students

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Real Talk helps middle schoolers access reliable sex ed information using storytelling, regardless of whether they have internet at home

By Emily Matchar

It was a long way from Princeton. After graduating from the Ivy League school, Vichi Jagannathan and Liz Chen both wanted to give back by teaching. So they joined Teach for America, the program that places talented graduates in low-income schools around the country. They found themselves placed in adjacent classrooms in a high school in rural Eastern North Carolina.

Here, Jagannathan and Chen both had the experience of seeing students struggle with unplanned pregnancies at as young as 15 or 16. They wondered why: was it a lack of health education? Could something be done about it?

“Vichi and I talked to students and realized that health was not a huge priority in the school; it came second to physical education,” says Chen, who is now in a PhD program in health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

There were health classes, but teachers didn’t necessarily have good resources like prepared lesson plans and PowerPoints to use. And even when the teachers in the area did have resources, they often felt ill at ease discussing certain aspects of sex and sexuality openly.

“Some of them didn’t feel comfortable answering questions, or discussing topics, potentially because of their religious affiliation,” Chen says.

So Chen and Jagannathan—and later a third woman, Cristina Leos—decided to create a resource that could speak directly to students. That tool became Real Talk, a sexual education app that uses real teenagers’ stories to address questions about sex, puberty, gender, relationships and more. The project has received a $325,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, and an additional $25,000 in funding from a student entrepreneurship prize at Yale, where Jagannathan is completing an MBA.

While the app was originally intended for high schoolers, the women realized that many of the teens they were talking to began having sex before 9th grade. So they decided to target the app to middle schoolers instead. To design Real Talk, they spoke with more than 300 students in North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut and elsewhere, conducting long interviews, doing group sessions, and soliciting real life stories about the kind of things most people, teens and adults alike, feel awkward talking about. Not surprisingly, they found that, even in schools with comprehensive sex ed, students still had questions.

“We got the sense that not all of them are comfortable talking about the topic of sex ed in school, which could be for a number of reasons—they’re around their peers, they don’t want other people to know their questions,” Jagannathan says.

They also realized that it was important that students feel the source of information was credible—and to them, that often meant it came from a peer who had been through an experience themselves. They also wanted that story to be written in an authentic way, which meant plenty of slang and emojis. Teenagers, for instance, often use fruit and vegetable symbols to represent genitalia, a fact perhaps not known to most adults.

“Once we started developing the idea of sharing experiences, we learned that stories are a really engaging way to get middle school students to listen and be curious,” says Leos, who is in the same PhD program as Chen. “There’s a lot of development science research that shows that facts and statistics are pretty difficult for teen brains to recall, particularly when they’re in situations of high emotional arousal. But stories are easier to recall.”

Using the app, teens can select their topic of interest and read a text interaction between real teens dicussing the subject at hand—acne, say, or wet dreams. The story will link to factual information from reliable sources, so teens can learn more.

The team says many of the students they interviewed were actually less interested in traditional sex ed topics like pregnancy and how to avoid STIs, and were more interested in puberty and hearing about other peoples’ experiences with things like embarrassingly timed erections.

Students were also “surprisingly both comfortable with and interested in speaking about gender identity and gender fluidity,” Jagannathan says. They wanted to have the option to read stories from real teens of various genders, including genders beyond the traditional male/female binary.

“It’s been refreshing and very surprising to have that pressure from our users,” Jagannathan says.

Some of the stories featured on the app are from students that Chen, Jagannathan and Leos met in person, but many came from an ad placed on Instagram asking for teens to share about their sexual health questions and experiences. The team plans to use Instagram as a key part of their marketing strategy for the app, which they hope to have in iTunes by early next year.

“Over 90 percent of the teens we worked with check Instagram every single day,” Jagannathan says.

The team also plans to offer Real Talk to sex ed teachers and other educators, who can share it with students. While there’s no lack of high quality sex ed websites aimed at teens, the team hopes having an app will make the information more accessible to rural students and students of color, some of whom may not have reliable internet access at home. They can use their school’s wifi to get the app, which comes with some stories loaded to be read without an internet connection. While it’s not the only sexual health app for teens on the market, its storytelling format gives it a unique edge.

Real Talk’s founders plan to assess the app’s efficacy by looking to see if using it makes teens more likely to understand various sexual health topics, or if it makes them more likely to speak openly with trusted adults about these topics. Ultimately they would like the app to have real-world effects such as reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for some 20 years—in 2014, there were fewer than 25 births for every 1,000 females between 15 and 19, a decline of 9 percent from the previous year. Interventions like Real Talk can help ensure that rate stays low, or perhaps drops even further, said the judges who awarded the team the government grant.

“These interventions will help ensure that this important national success story continues,” said Lawrence Swiader, vice president of digital media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in a press release.

But reducing teen pregnancy is not the only important thing. Learning about sex and relationships can potentially teach a number of self-care and interpersonal skills too.

“Since we’re focusing on such a young age group, really one of the best things for us is to help middle school students develop some foundational skills that will improve a variety of other behaviors and outcomes,” Leos says.

Complete Article HERE!

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