We need to talk

(It’s about sex. It’s okay. It’s not awful.)

This past month has been incredibly emotional, to say the least. I walked through my childhood home for the first time in a few years to find my mother’s sexual abuse mural beacons ripped down, stack after stack of kinky-er images across the walls, and an open, public denial of all of it smack dab in the middle of a quiet dining room. I’m close to tears at the moment. I’m deeply saddened by the seriousness of this topic, and particularly the lack of significant, real-world campaigning and prevention, and of education around what behavior is and isn’t appropriate. And I’m infuriated by the whole thing.

I was so glad to be able to plan an outing for my female friends and family for a weekend that coincided with Valentine’s Day, but sure felt like I missed an opportunity to really talk about my experience, about what would be appropriate — even rewarding — to talk about with friends and family, and to share with discussions of sex and sexuality. Part of me wants to speak up. One of the main reasons I wanted to do this was to create space for the people who’ve been close but only felt safe in private, sometimes unknown, spaces.

I know I asked for the date, and no one said no.

I know that, for the most part, I’ve been accepting. Part of me felt weird, as if at some point I’d crossed over from “ooh, I can only talk about this when I’m with my partner” to “oh no, aren’t you afraid this might be anyone’s mom’s shame?” I’m sure I did. But the reality is that I’ve conducted 2 totally non-confrontational conversations with people that they’ve been traumatized by, discussed my most embarrassing personal moments, and know better (some of them) than to judge people. That there are a lot of moms who have no clue, or haven’t used what they’ve been taught to reconnect with and support their daughters, is hot. So are the scenes of women laughing as they sit across the table from each other, and being incredibly comfortable with each other.

I want to be very clear that I’m not for condemning, judging, or punishing anyone for their private sexual desires (and yes, in one outing, there was a surprising amount of yelling, but no one got physically assaulted). There is repercussions to not talking about sexual abuse in the community; for example, if private sexual conversations are not openly discussed, it’s significantly less likely that people (including children, caregivers, siblings, friends, etc.) will come to those conversations. Equally, sex can be repressed and or minimized completely. I realize sexuality is not the only factor in sexual abuse, but sex and gaze are eternal. Tit STDs, being exposed from an early age, etc. That is the reality of sexual abuse, so the reality of abuse can’t be solved with “hey, talk about it if you’re not okay with spilling your beans … not now, don’t talk about it of if you’re not OK with it…” Nope, that’s not what this was about. This was about bringing conversations into the sunlight and expanding them into conversations that include ALL folks.

And beyond that, pretending that one thing alone stops sexual abuse and intervention — which is basically the argument made by some of the crying women in the truck (with less crying)? That it’s not the majority of people in the community who take it seriously? Really? Not just for us? I’ve spoken with women wandering AIDS-stricken gay clubs throughout the U.S. about the experience of staying quiet, and they have no idea how to trust, let alone initiate conversations with oncoming communities about consent, responsibility, and the importance of speaking up (as if a person totally under their radar is a dangerous character, and has a “right” to creep in their space, presumably with impunity, for some time, unbeknownst to them).

As a result, I think discussing our own sexual experience as it relates to similar conversations is 1) normal, and 2) important for nurturing those conversations (and yes, consent, consent, consent often comes in difficult ways that do NOT involve hugs on the chops of the person concerned). As a queer activist in our home since age 13, I was always taught that we could talk about such things. I think that “being authentic” is often thrown out there in discussions to provoke a reaction, or to “justify” some past behavior, or to motivate a person to change. And yet most of us don’t know (or are too afraid) that the rules regarding sex and sexuality get breaking down a lot faster, often in ways that aren’t acceptable to our own families.