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The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more

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Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.

 

Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

Is His Semen Normal?

All spunk is funky, but sometimes it is *too* funky.

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jizz

Very many things about the male human body are a mystery. Penises, hy? Those tiny nipples, what!? But dip beneath the hairy surface of a man’s skin, and even more mysteries await, hiding away in his male depths.

While usually contained, safe and sound inside of the body, semen is a fluid most people eventually come into contact with, but also do not know very much about. If it weren’t for Samantha Jones calling attention to the phenomenon of funky spunk in the “Easy Come, Easy Go” episode of Sex and the City in 2000, women the world over may have lived in quiet misery, forever perplexed by the unpleasantness of the male sex fluid.

To help educate the masses on the contents, and, yes, healthy range of funkiness in semen, Cosmopolitan.com spoke with a urology specialist and sexual health counselor about all things semen.

How semen should look

Aleece Fosnight, a urology physician’s assistant and sex counselor with AASECT, explained that healthy semen should be a milky white or slightly grayish color. “Right after ejaculation, it’s pretty thick,” Fosnight said. “And 25-30 minutes later, it becomes clear and runny.” The change in fluidity is to help aid in reproduction, and thin out the cervical mucous to aid in the implantation of a ~fertilized egg~.

How semen should (generally) smell and taste

Semen is a bodily fluid. Can you name any bodily fluids that smell like roses or taste like freshly baked cookies? No! There are none. So as a bodily fluid, you can expect semen to have a specific taste and odor that isn’t necessarily going to be lovely. Just to clear that right up.

The thing to note about semen is that it’s a vehicle for delivering sperm through a vagina. So everything in it is meant to aid in that process. Semen is mostly made up of sperm, proteins, fructose (to help energize the sperm for transport), and seminal fluid. Fosnight said the typical pH of semen is somewhere around 7-8, or slightly alkaline. The vagina, on the other hand, has a pH between 3-5, or slightly acidic, so the alkaline nature of semen helps keep the sperm alive in an acidic vaginal environment (are you having fun yet?).

Because of it’s slightly alkaline pH, Fosnight said healthy semen should have an “ammonia or bleach-like kind of a smell,” and will taste a bit sweet (because of the fructose) and salty — like the perfect trail mix, in drinkable liquid form, straight out of a penis!

Something Fosnight clarified was that semen left dormant for too long will start to develop a more concentrated taste or smell. Think of it like a stagnant body of water, collecting film and attracting flies. To keep semen from developing a stronger taste or odor — and also to promote prostate health — studies have found that ejaculating at least twice a week is beneficial to a man’s health.

That thing about food changing his taste is true

Remember when Samantha Jones makes the guy with the spunky funk choke down a series of wheatgrass shots in an attempt to improve his semen flavor profile? According to Fosnight, that wasn’t the smartest move.

Although there’s been very little research done on the subject, health care professionals often hear anecdotally from patients that certain foods can slightly affect the taste of semen. While Fosnight said it’s normal for fruits, which are high in sugar content, to change the taste of a person’s semen, vegetables generally don’t have much of an effect.

“Smoking can change the taste,” Fosnight added. “It will have more of a bitter taste to it with smoking and with alcohol.” So, no one’s saying you should avoid ingesting a mouthful of piping hot semen after your partner’s spent the night having too many drinks and then *whoops!* accidentally chain-smoking outside of the bar, but know that semen might taste especially bitter and, ahem, spunky after such an occasion.

When the spunkiness is trying to tell you something

Though there aren’t very many health issues that can be spotted based on a person’s semen, there are a few things to look out for. “A lot of times guys won’t notice it, so partners report if there’s something wrong,” Fosnight said. She also added that at her practice, they call this “when semen goes bad.”

The things to look out for are changes in color. “The biggest thing is if it has a yellow or green appearance to it,” Fosnight said. “Like a prominent yellow or opaque consistency.” An opaque yellow or green color is typically a sign of an STI — usually gonorrhea. A guy whose semen has changed colors like this should definitely see a doctor, and avoid sex until any sort of infection is either ruled out or treated.

It doesn’t happen all too often — Fosnight estimated maybe once in a lifetime for most men — but a busted blood vessel in the prostate (which is responsible for carrying semen out of the body) can cause the semen to have a red or brownish color. If that color normalizes within a few days, there’s nothing really to worry about. But as with any health concern, a persistent discoloration should result in a doctor’s appointment.

While not super common, blood in the semen is often indicative of a prostate injury, explained Fosnight. These can be caused by using anal toys or putting pressure on the prostate, and if the bleeding subsides and doesn’t come with any other symptoms like high blood pressure, things are fine.

As long as a man is doing his due diligence by having regular STI tests, regular prostate exams when he turns 40, and just FORCING himself to ejaculate a couple times a week, semen should be pretty healthy. It may never taste like frozen yogurt, but at least it will be healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

The Vulnerable Group Sex Ed Completely Ignores & Why That’s So Dangerous

By Hallie Levine

When Katie, 36, was identified as having an intellectual disability as a young child after scoring below 70 on an IQ test, her parents were told that she would never learn to read and would spend her days in a sheltered workshop. Today she is a single mum to an 8-year-old son, drives a car, and works at a local restaurant as a waitress. She blasted through society’s expectations of her — including the expectation that she would never have sex.

sex-edKatie never had a formal sexual education: What she learned came straight from her legal guardian, Pam, who explained to her the importance of safe sex and waiting until she was ready. “I waited until I was 19, which is a lot later than some of my friends,” Katie says. Still, like many women with disabilities, she admits to being pressured into sex her first time, something she regrets. “I don’t think I was ready,” she says. “It actually was with someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. He was cute, and he wanted to have sex, so I said I wanted it, but at the last minute I changed my mind and it happened anyway. I just felt really stupid and uncomfortable afterwards.” She never told her boyfriend what happened.

Katie’s experience is certainly not unique: In the general population, one out of six women has survived a rape or attempted rape, according to statistics from RAINN. But for women with intellectual disabilities (ID), it’s even more sobering: About 25% of females with ID referred for birth control had a history of sexual violence, while other research suggests that almost half of people with ID will experience at least 10 sexually abusive incidents in their lifetime, according to The Arc, an advocacy organisation for people with intellectual disabilities.

When it comes to their sex lives, research shows many women with intellectual disability don’t associate sex with pleasure, and tend to play a passive role, more directed to “pleasuring the penis of their sex partner” than their own enjoyment, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex Research. They’re more likely to experience feelings of depression and guilt after sex. They’re at a greater risk for early sexual activity and early pregnancy. They’re also more likely to get an STD: 26% of cognitively impaired female high schoolers report having one, compared to 10% of their typical peers, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Katie, for example, contracted herpes in her early 20s, from having sex with another man (she says none of her partners have had an intellectual disability). “I was hurt and itching down there, so I went to the doctor, who told me I had this bad disease,” she recalls. She was so upset she confronted her partner: “I went to his office crying, but he denied everything,” she remembers.

Given all of this, you’d think public schools — which are in charge of educating kids with intellectual disability — would be making sure it’s part of every child’s curriculum. But paradoxically, kids with ID are often excluded from sexual education classes, including STD and pregnancy prevention. “People with intellectual disabilities don’t get sexual education,” says Julie Ann Petty, a safety and sexual violence educator at the University of Arkansas. Petty, who has cerebral palsy herself, has worked extensively with adults who have intellectual disabilities (while not all people living with cerebral palsy have intellectual disabilities, they face many of the same barriers to sexual education). “This [lack of education] is due to the central norms we still have when thinking about people with ID: They need to be protected; they are not sexual beings; they don’t need any sex-related information. Disability rights advocates have worked hard over the last 20-some years to get rid of those stereotypes, but they are still out there.

“I work with adults with disabilities all the time, and the attitudes of the caretakers and staff around them are, ‘Oh, our people do not do that stuff. Our people do not think about sex,’” Petty says. “It’s tragic, and really sets this vulnerable population up for abuse: if they don’t have knowledge about their private body parts, for example, how are they going to know if someone is doing something inappropriate?”

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Historically, individuals with intellectual disabilities were marginalised, shunted off to institutions, and forcibly sterilised. That all began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, with the push by parents and civil rights advocates to keep kids with ID at home and mainstream them into regular education environments. But while significant progress has been made over the last half century in terms of increased educational and employment opportunities, when it comes to sex ed, disability rights advocates say we’re still far, far behind.

“What I find is shocking is I’ll go in to teach a workshop on human sexuality to a group of teenagers or young adults with cognitive disabilities, and I find that their knowledge is no different than what [young people with ID would have known] back in the 1970s,” says Katherine McLaughlin, who has worked as a sexuality educator and trainer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England for over 20 years and is the co-author of the curriculum guide “Sexuality Education for Adults with Developmental Disabilities.” “They tell me they were taken out of their mainstream health classes in junior high and high school during the sexual education part, because their teachers don’t think they need it. I’ve worked with adults in their 50s who have no idea how babies are made. It’s mind blowing.”

“There’s this belief that they don’t need it, or that they won’t understand it, or it will actually make them more likely to be sexually active or act inappropriately,” adds Pam Malin, VAWA Project Coordinator, Disability Rights Wisconsin. “But research shows that actually the opposite is true.”

Indeed, as the mother of a young girl with Down syndrome, I’m personally struck by how asexualised people with intellectual disabilities still are. Case in point: When fashion model Madeline Stuart — who has Down syndrome — posted pictures of herself online in a bikini, the Internet exploded with commentary, some positive, some negative. “I think it is time people realised that people with Down syndrome can be sexy and beautiful and should be celebrated,” Madeline’s mother, Roseanne, told ABC News. Yet somehow, it’s still scandalous.

Ironically, sometimes the biggest barrier comes from parents of people with ID — which hits close to home for me. “A lot of parents still treat their kids’ sexuality as taboo,” says Malin. She recalls one situation where a mom in one of her parent support groups got attacked by other parents: “She was very open about masturbation with her adolescent son, and actually left a pail on his doorknob so he could masturbate in a sock and then put it in the pail — she’d wash it with no questions asked. I applauded it: I thought it was an excellent way to give her son some freedom and choice around his sexuality. But it made the other parents incredibly uncomfortable.”

Sometimes, parents are simply not comfortable talking about sexuality, because they don’t know how to start the conversation, adds Malin. Several studies have also found that both staff and family generally encourage friendship, not sexual relationships. “It’s a lot of denial: The parents don’t want to admit that their children are maturing emotionally and developing adult feelings,” says Malin. An Australian study published in the journal Sexuality & Disability found that couples with intellectual disability were simply never left alone, and thus never allowed to engage in sexual behaviour.

I’m doing my best — but despite all my good intentions, it’s certainly not been easy. This fall, I sat down to tell my three small children about the birds and the bees. My two boys — in second grade and kindergarten — got into the conversation right away, and as we began talking I realised it wasn’t a surprise to them; at a young age, they’d already picked up some of the basic facts from playmates. But my daughter, my eldest, was a whole different story. Jo Jo is in third grade and has Down syndrome, so she’s delayed, both with language and cognition. And because of her ID, and all the risk that goes along with it, she was the kid I was most worried about. So it was disheartening to see her complete lack of interest in the conversation, wandering off to her iPad or turning on the radio. Every time I would try to coax her back to our little group, she would shout, “No!”

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Lisa Shevin, whose 30-year-old daughter, Chani, has Down syndrome, says she’s never had a heart-to-heart with her daughter about sexuality. “The problem is, Chani’s not very verbal, so I’m never quite sure what she grasps,” says Shevin, who lives in Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit. While Chani has a “beau” at work, another young man who also has an intellectual disability, “They’re never, ever left alone, so they never have an opportunity to follow through on anything,” says Shevin. “I feel so frustrated as her mother, because I want to talk to her about sex ed, but I just don’t know how. I’ve never gotten any guidance from anyone. But just because my daughter is cognitively impaired, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the same hormones as any other woman her age. You can’t just sweep it under the rug and assume she doesn’t understand.”

In one interesting twist, sex educators say they tend to see more women with intellectual disability than men being sexually aggressive. “I worked with a young woman in her late 20s who would develop crushes on attractive male staff members at her group home,” recalls Malin. “She would try to flirt, and the guys would play it off as ‘hah hah funny,’ but eventually she called police and accused one of them of rape.” While the police investigated and eventually dropped charges, Malin was brought in to work with her: “We had a long conversation about where this had come from, and she kept talking about Beau and Hope from ‘Days of Our Lives’,” Malin recalls. “It turned out she had gotten so assertive with one of the male staff that he’d very adamantly said no to her, but her understanding of rape boiled down to gleaning bits from soap operas, and she thought that if a man in any situation acted forcefully with a woman then it was sexual assault.”

While most cases don’t escalate to this point, sometimes people with intellectual disability can exhibit behavior that causes problems: Chani, for example, was kicked out of sleep-away camp a few years ago after staff complained that she was hugging too many of her male counsellors. “She’d develop little crushes on them, and she never tried anything further than putting her arms around them and wanting to hang out with them all the time, but it made staff uncomfortable,” Shevin recalls. Chani’s since found a new camp where counsellors take her behaviour in stride: “They’ve found a way to work with it, so if she doesn’t want to do an activity, they’ll convince her by telling her afterwards she can spend time with Noah, one of the male counsellors she has a crush on,” says Shevin. (At the end of the summer, Noah gave Chani a tiara, which remains one of her prize possessions.)

So what can be done? Sadly, even if someone with ID is able to get into a sexual education program, the existing options tend to severely miss the mark: A 2015 study published in the Journal for Sex Research analysed 20 articles on sexual education programs aimed at this group and found most fell far short, mainly because people who unable to generalise what they learned in the program to an outside setting. “This is a major problem for individuals who are cognitively challenged: They have difficulty applying a skill or knowledge they get in one setting to somewhere else,” explains McLaughlin. “But just like everywhere else, most get it eventually — it just takes a lot of time, repetition, and patience.”

In the meantime, for parents like me, McLaughlin has a few tips. “Take advantage of teachable moments,” she says. “If a family member is pregnant, talk about it with them. If you’re watching a TV show together and there’s sexual content, don’t just sweep it under the rug — try to break down the issues with them.” It’s also important to be as concrete as possible: “Since people with ID have trouble generalising, use anatomically correct dolls or photographs whenever possible, especially when describing body parts,” she says.

Some local disability organisations also offer workshops for both teenagers and adults with intellectual disabilities. And the Special Olympics offers protective behaviours training for volunteers. But at this point there’s a dearth of legislation and organisations that are fighting for better sexual education, which means parents like myself have to take the initiative when it comes to educating our kids about their burgeoning sexuality.

It’s a responsibility I’m taking to heart in my own life. Now, every night when I bathe my daughter, we make a game of identifying body parts, some of which are private, and I explain to her that no one touches those areas except for mommy or a doctor. Recently, she’s started humping objects at home like the arm of the sofa, and I’ve begun explaining to her that if she wants to do something like that, it needs to be in the privacy of her own room. It’s taken a lot of repeating and reinforcing, but she seems to be getting the message. I have no doubt that — like every other skill she’s mastered, such as reading or writing her name or potty training — it will take time, but she’ll get there.

As for Katie, with age and experience, she’s become more comfortable with her sexuality. “It took me a while, but I’m confident in myself,” she says. “I am one hundred percent okay saying no to someone — if I’m pressured, there’s no way in the world now I’ll do anything with anybody. But that means when it does happen, it feels right.”

Complete Article HERE!

Let’s Talk About Sex

Overcoming Barriers to Discussing Sexuality and Empowering Adolescent Girls

by

It can be difficult to offer sexuality education to adolescents anywhere—but it’s especially difficult in deeply conservative communities around the world, where sexuality remains a taboo topic. At “Let’s Talk About Sex,” a day-long event organized by GreeneWorks, American Jewish World Service, CARE and International Women’s Health Coalition, participants got an opportunity to explore this challenge through a mix of discussion, movement and performance.

It was a unique way to kick off the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum, which brought together feminists—1,800 of them, from more than 30 countries—to strategize and connect in Bahia, Brazil this September. Among the participants were representatives from AJWS grantee organizations working to advance gender equality in India.

“As researchers and practitioners, we often operate inside our heads,” said Meg Greene of GreeneWorks. She noted that many people working with international nonprofit organizations tend to resist meaningful discussions of sexuality out of sheer discomfort. “This is a very embodied challenge . . . what can we learn by embodying our experience of it?”

Margot Greenlee of BodyWise Dance began the day by leading the group through a series of warm-up exercises set to samba. Participants drummed on their knees and moved to the music. One woman remarked that the experience was “better than coffee,” and it was followed by a discussion of the reasons why everyone had come.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

One participant said her work with adolescent girls, while deeply meaningful, was sometimes sad and frustrating—in part because the girls were reaching an age when sexuality was becoming part of their lives, and she often felt it impossible to discuss their questions without risking anger from the community. Another woman agreed; she explained that even when her organization tried to educate young people on sexuality, the curricula wound up focusing more on topics related to anatomy and hygiene, like menstruation. She and others wanted to explore new strategies for addressing sexuality more openly.

The rest of the day alternated between performances by the BodyWise company, participatory dance exercises and more cerebral reflections on participants’ respective work. Conversation started off with the social norms and experiences that shape people’s understanding of sexuality and gender roles—and how some people’s beliefs lead to serious barriers that keep girls and young women from exercising their rights.

For example: Alejandra Colom, who works with Population Council, talked about a rural community in Guatemala that’s ruled by drug traffickers. She said many people there view early and child marriage as something that happens simply because, in their view, “it’s the only way to stop bad things that happen to girls.” The community thinks of marriage as a way of increasing the security of girls in a place where sexual violence is commonplace.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

To begin expanding the options and information available to local girls, Population Council hired a young woman who served as a mentor. She met with about 40 girls once a week and spoke to them about topics like sexuality and gender-based violence. Alejandra said the mentor wanted girls to understand their rights—to know that “it’s not normal that if you pass man on road and he fancies you, he thinks he has the right to rape you.”

Once the community heard what she was teaching, Alejandra said, some of the men started proclaiming the education she provided “dangerous.” The real message: women who stand up for their rights will face danger. Young men started harassing the mentor and interrupting her class. One day, a truck followed behind her motorbike, pulling closer and closer. Then the men inside opened fire.

The bullets missed the mentor. But her days with that community were through. She decided not to go to the police. Everyone knew the drug traffickers were ruling the area, not the government. Alejandra said the young woman told her: “The moment they know that I’m doing something about this, they’ll come back and kill every single member of my family.”

This was just one example of the many challenges the group shared. The conversation also unearthed the strategies participants use to continue their work in places that don’t exactly welcome it. Several people at the event spoke about how collectives—organized groups of girls who learn to advocate for their rights together—can be so important for negotiating with communities when tough situations arise. They reminded the group that there’s power in numbers.

On the other hand, participants pointed out, girls need the freedom to make the decisions that are best for their individual situations. In many places, that means choosing between a few very limited options. Archana Dwivedi of Nirantar—an AJWS grantee—spoke about her organization’s research in India, which found that many teenage boys and girls are actually choosing to get married. They often view early marriage as less oppressive than staying at home with their parents, who are incredibly strict.

In order to address the limitations that many girls and young women face, AJWS’s grantees in India are finding ways to increase girls’ mobility and opportunities. Some of them offer computer or English classes because they know this kind of program is accepted by parents; then, the organization discreetly offers sexuality and human rights education to participating girls.

In Archana’s experience, organizations can often withstand community objections to sexuality education by explaining the importance of their work to angry parents and community members, waiting until the tension breaks, and returning to their work in a few months. She noted that organizations who broach topics like sexuality and gender equality with women and girls should expect backlash from conservative communities and prepare accordingly.

“There is always a backlash when you’re working with adolescent girls,” Archana said. “Everyone wants to control them.”

Read more about the connection between early marriage and control of sexuality here.

Complete Article HERE!

Raising a gender nonconforming child

An interview with Eileen O’Connor

By Kim Cavill

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Eileen O’Connor, blogger at No Wire Hangers Ever, lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses. She has been published on Huffington Post 26 times and appeared on the WGN morning news. Recently, she wrote a blog about raising a gender nonconforming child. I asked her for an interview and she very kindly accepted.

Hi Eileen! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I am a working mom of four. I have been married to my husband for eleven years. My kids are 9, 8, 7, and 6 years old.

Sex Positive Parent is about teaching parents how to talk to kids about sex and relationships, including conversations about gender norms. Gender norms are expectations and rules about the the way women and men “should” look and behave. As the parent of a gender nonconforming child, what do you want other parents say to their children about gender norms?

I would love people to know that my kids want the same thing every kid wants: to be loved and accepted. They may not fit the gender norms when it comes to the clothes they wear, but they are just clothes. Clothes don’t define who they are as people.

Excellent advice for all of us, I think. What sorts of things have other adults said to you about your child or your parenting. How did those things make you feel?

I have been told that I’m “making my kids this way”. That “God doesn’t make mistakes”. I have had grown ass adults tell my kids that they can’t be something for Halloween because their gender. And my favorite is “you’re the parent. Tell them no”. At the beginning I worried about what people thought. I didn’t know how to respond. Now I just laugh at people’s ignorance. I don’t have time for that nonsense. You go ahead and tell your kids no all he time. I’m going to let mine live their lives.

Wow. Any parent can tell you that making a child be anything is an uphill battle, right? On your blog, you wrote, “At the beginning we were hesitant. We said things like, ‘You’re a boy and boys don’t wear dresses. Be a man! Stop being such a little sissy!’ You know, the normal things you say to a toddler questioning their gender role. But we soon learned his love for all things fancy wasn’t going away. We could either accept him the way he is or we could make his life and our lives miserable. We CHOSE to accept him for who he is. He did not CHOOSE to be this way.” Can you describe your thought process in coming to that realization? I’ve worked with families who flat out refuse to allow their child to express their gender outside societal norms, even when that expression persists for many years. What do you want to say to those parents?

When my kids first started to show an interest in gender non-conforming clothing, I started to research it. The first article I read said that children who struggle with their gender are way more likely than gender conforming kids to commit suicide. That’s all it took. My husband and I discussed and decided we weren’t going to spend one second having them feel bad about who they were. I immediately went to Oldnavy.com and ordered them both new wardrobes. To parents who are struggling I want to say that it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. And the sooner you can accept your child the way they are the happier they will be. An the happier you will be. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace your child just the way they are. Nothing you can say or do will change who they are. Nothing. Not one God damn thing.
Also would you ever try to change your gender conforming child? Would you ever try to convince your heterosexual child that they are homosexual? No, you wouldn’t.

The risk of suicide is extremely serious. Statistics consistently show that children who are gender nonconforming experience a much higher risk of suicide, as well as bullying and violence. Having a supportive family goes a long way toward mitigating those risks. And you are very right that it isn’t feasible to control someone’s gender or sexual orientation. At best, you can temporarily regulate their expression. How do you balance the parental desires to raise independent children, but also keep them safe in a sometimes dangerous world? How do you deal with fear?

We’re lucky that our kids are still little and are being raised in such an amazing community. Our kids are surrounded by family and friends that truly accept them for who they are. They are in a school with 27 cousins. That’s a built in security system. Of course I fear what will happen when they get older, but I’m not going to worry about that now. I learned a long time ago that we have to take it one day at a time.

That’s such good advice, taking things one day at a time. I absolutely loved this statement that you wrote in your blog: “And for any parent out there that doesn’t want their kid playing with our kid because he wears a dress? Joke’s on you. We decided a long time ago that our kids weren’t allowed to play with kids who have closed-minded parents. We’d much rather raise a gender spectacular child than an asshole.” A lot of people feel that the current political climate has shown a spotlight on deep divisions running through the fabric of an increasingly diverse American society. As members of that society, how do you think we should address those divisions, some of which are gender-related, going forward?

I think every person just needs to choose kind. Always remember you never know what another person is going through. If everyone could always do this and treat people with kindness, things would be fine. Also I think that things are so much better now then they were when I was growing up. So I know things will continue to improve. Over the summer I was at the pool and I overheard a convo between a group of people in their 60’s-70’s. They were talking about gender non-conforming children and how they didn’t agree with it. All the while my little boy was swimming right by them in his bikini. It made me happy. Mostly because I knew they’d all be dead soon and I won’t have to worry about them for very long.

What a perfect illustration of how simply living life can be a form of protest and bring about change. Aziz Ansari, one of my favorite comedians, does a bit about interracial sex and says something to the effect of, “Well, you can think it’s wrong, but I’m still going to f*ck white girls and there’s nothing you can actually do about it.” Finally, my favorite question from the French host, Bernard Pivot, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

You’ll eternally be a size two and the wine is unlimited.

LOL. Thank you, Eileen, for your time and your words. Readers, make sure get more of both by following her blog on ChicagoNow, and you can find her on Facebook/Twitter.

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