Posts Tagged ‘feedback’

2009 30 Sep

Hate Mail At Last: a Concerned Parent Writes In about my Sex-Positive Film Series

Hello blogosphere! I know I’ve been scarce of late. My Internet access is limited and when I can get it, there are often problems (for instance, it can be expensive; sex-positive sites may be blocked by overzealous porn filters; etc). I’m settling into my HIV/AIDS work here in Africa and it’s going well, but I’m still parsing out my thoughts about … well, everything. I’ve been working on some written pieces that I definitely intend to post online, but I’m not sure whether they’ll go here on my blog, or elsewhere. Stay tuned — if I post them elsewhere, then I’ll certainly announce it here.

I have, of course, been following the progress of my beloved sex-positive film series as best I could. The final film screening, “We Are Dad” — about gay adoption — is just around the corner on October 13th. That is, the final film in the original program that I curated … but I am thrilled to report that Sex+++ has gathered a crowd of such amazing, dedicated people that it’s likely to continue past my final curation date! I’ve been tracking the dialogue at a distance; there’s a committee working on continuing the series even now, and although my heart breaks to realize that I’ll be missing more incredible films and discussions, I am also so so so very proud that we created something that struck such a chord. (If you’re interested in being in on the continued progress of the series, go ahead and email Lisa Junkin [ ljunkin at uic dot edu ].)

I was always a little surprised that Sex+++ didn’t get more negative attention. When starting it, I was very cautious … I walked on eggshells, really. I believed and continue to believe that comprehensive sex education is necessary for everyone, that adult sex education is a vital step forward, and that sexuality is an important academic topic. But public sexuality is such bitterly contested ground in American culture, I thought for sure that someone would attack a series that’s open, honest and positive about everything from BDSM to sex on videotape.

It took longer than I thought, but it finally happened. A few weeks ago, this arrived in my inbox. It was copied to a number of people at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, the series venue, as well as administrators of the University of Illinois at Chicago (where the museum is located):

Dear UIC and Jane Addams administrators: 

I was appalled when I read about this film series!  How you were able to get approval to show these types of movies is beyond me.  You are doing this on a college campus??? Don’t you care about the minds of the students and general public you claim to be educating? 

The movies you are showing are meant to get people to think about every type of sex scenario.  I don’t see how this could have a positive outcome.  Is our society not perverted enough?  We are all affected by everything we see and hear.  These young people are unfortunately exposed to so much talk, filthy music lyrics, movies, and TV shows that can find nothing to talk about but sex.  They must think that is all adults are supposed to do!  These students have so much pressure on them, so many negative influences, temptation to have sex before they are mentally or physically ready to accept the responsibilities involved.  Why are you adding to that?  Can’t you think of something that would fill their heads with something more appropriate, and keep your pornography to yourselves, if that is your perversion?   

I’m sure you are all intelligent people.  Why don’t you use your intelligence and creativity to make the world a better place?  You can start by canceling this film series.

Thank you for considering my suggestions.

Julie Brown
Concerned UIC Parent

The spectacular Hull-House Education Coordinator, Lisa, immediately went into action. She drafted the following letter and shared it with me; a short version was later sent to Ms. Brown, but Lisa has given me permission to post the original version. It very nearly makes me cry with pride and joy (seriously):

Hi Julie and thanks very much for your email.  I am the person at the museum who runs the SEX+++ Documentary Film Series, and I want respond to your concerns.

To be clear about how the series works:  SEX+++ Documentary Film Series is not a series about porn.  It does show explicit material at times, though not in the majority of the films, not to minors, and not without voluntary consent forms when needed.  We chose each film with the intent of educating audiences and providing discussion points on sex positivity.  The way we define sex positivity is this: there is no “should” or “should not” when it comes to sex, so long as the behavior is safe and among consenting adults.

Sex positive education teaches that sexual behavior is not something to hate or fear, but something to be respected and enjoyed.  This way of thinking about sex is meant to erase harmful stigmas while encouraging open and honest communication among partners.  Importantly, a sex positive attitude includes the idea that abstaining from sex or preferring one behavior (including hetero, monogamous sex) over another is also completely valid, but it does not allow for judgment of other adults who are behaving responsibly (i.e. with the consent of their partners and with everyone’s health/safety in mind).

I agree with you on several things — especially that there are many negative and harmful portrayals of sex in the media and that young people often feel pressure to engage in sexual behavior.  But this series aims to create a different sort of space — one where healthy sexual behavior and relationships are demonstrated via documentary films, where honest and medically accurate information about sex is made available, where a diverse audience respectfully converses and sometimes disagrees, and where there is no shame in pleasure.

The films that we show are not altogether different than some of the material used in university courses — human sexuality, biology, gender studies — and we treat our series similarly.  The films are meant to expose our audience to other cultures and lifestyles, but we do not promote any given lifestyle — though we do put forth these values: 1) tolerance/acceptance for alternative lifestyles, 2) the importance of healthy, happy relationships, and 3) a belief that honest communication is necessary to healthy relationships.  I would argue that not only are these critically important values for any institution of education to promote, but that they are in line with other efforts at UIC.

I certainly recognize that not everyone’s world view accepts alternative lifestyles, but as an academic professional at a public university, I believe I have an obligation to be nonjudgmental and to provide safe, educational spaces for all types of students.  The SEX+++ Documentary Film Series seeks to do this, and from the feedback I have received, it has been a valuable program for students, staff, faculty, and community members.  The film series is one way that the museum is working to make the world a better, more just, and pleasurable place.

Again, thank you for your email.  I hope that you will consider coming to one of our public programs in the future — we have many opportunities for debate and discussion around important issues.  In addition to the SEX+++ film series, we have a weekly program called Re-thinking Soup, where we discuss issues of food and justice, and we have other lectures, workshops, and events.  Hope to see you in the future.

best regards,

* * *

Lisa has always been way better than I at staying calm, and her response was so eloquent that at first I wasn’t sure there’s anything left for me to say. But I think I just needed time to figure out where to start.

I have done a variety of community work in the USA, and I’m currently accepting an unbelievably low salary to work on HIV/AIDS mitigation in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not just doing it because I’m interested in traveling and learning about other cultures, but because I truly am seeking to — as she says — use my intelligence and creativity to make the world a better place. I poured hundreds of hours of unpaid effort into creating Sex+++ for the same reason.

I am not much older than the students at UIC. I grew up in America, and I felt the same sexual pressures that they do. When I came up with the slogan “Among consenting adults, there is no ‘should’,” I was thinking just as much about all the sex scenarios I don’t want to fulfill — as about the ones I do.

It’s true that this series grew partly out of my own desire to destigmatize almost “every type of sex scenario”. I don’t think people should ever, ever have to face negative judgment for doing consensual things. The complicated thing is that consent is not as simple as it looks, and it gets harder to negotiate and understand consent when the people involved don’t understand their limits or their desires.

When I think about “there is no ‘should’,” I think about all the times I’ve felt pressured to have sex I didn’t want to have. I think about the times I agreed to have sex I wasn’t enthusiastic about. And I think about all the time I spent being confused about my sexuality, wondering what was wrong with me and what was missing, before I finally came into my BDSM identity.

I think about kissing boys I didn’t really want to kiss, because I didn’t know how to turn them down; I think about the way I cried, how my heart shattered and my mind went into turmoil when I confronted how intrinsic pain and power are to my sexuality.

How can anyone think that repressing sex or driving it underground will make it disappear? How can anyone think that it will make it easier to deal with sex? If sexuality had been wrapped in silence my entire life, I would have still kissed boys and craved pain — but I wouldn’t have had the words to describe what I needed or what I was. In that case, I might have been too confused or too nervous to stop kissing when I really, really needed to stop. Or I might still believe that my sexual orientation opposes my feminism, my independence, and my integrity.

I think it makes the world a better place to teach people their limits and their desires. I think that giving people positive sexual representations will help them shoulder their sexual responsibilities. I don’t think anyone deserves to suffer for their sexual desires, and I think that everyone deserves to know about the many ways they could consensually implement their sexual desires.

I think people will have sex no matter what — and that an educator’s most appropriate role is to show them how to do it honorably, creatively, and with joy.

2009 26 Apr

Heartbreaking but inspiring

I was sorting my email and came upon this letter, which I received soon after starting the Sex+++ documentary film series.

Posted with permission:

Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network (GLN) forwarded your email about the sex-positive film series at Hull-House and the discussions afterward. I am a member of GLN and, although not gay, have lots of kinky needs (e.g. infantilism, BDSM, crossdressing) that I have largely kept closeted for most of my life.

I am sixty-three years old, have written pornography on the latter themes in my retirement, and have determined in the last years of my life to see what I can do about affirming these sexual aspects that have been almost exclusively a source of shame and self-loathing for so long. The film series and especially the opportunity for discussion afterward seem an ideal venue to explore this possibility. I am intrigued by this project, especially the sex-positive nature of it given my history of shame.

I try to imagine what it would have been like to go through sixty years suppressing my most driving sexual needs. More than twice my lifespan spent forcing myself not to explore my “darker” desires; forcing myself to believe that I’m a shameful pervert just for having such thoughts. Electing to run from my sexuality rather than seeking to adjust to it, own it, love it.

It hurts.

It’s not that I don’t think people can have fulfilling lives without exploring sexuality in detail. People are different; people have different desires, needs, priorities; and those desires change over time. And our options are limited by our environment — the places we live, the people we meet, etc. There have been and there will be times in my life where I don’t spend as much time on exploring sexuality as I do right now, and of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Sex comprises only a few threads in the tapestry of an awesome life.

But it still hurts to know just how many people are out there who can’t even begin to acknowledge their sexuality. Indeed, it hurts every time I find another instance of shame about my own sexuality (and of course I struggle with sexual shame; we all do; no one’s so enlightened as to be completely free; all we can do is our best). The sex drive, which can be so many things — from simple pleasure to dark catharsis to deep expression of intimacy — I wish everyone could have complete access to it. That’s not possible, I guess, but at least … even (perhaps especially) with sexual approaches that don’t include what society traditionally thinks of as “sex” — if it’s masturbation, if it’s fantasy, even if it’s not having sex at all — I want everyone to feel comfortable getting in touch with their sexual needs.

It’s not that people can’t have fulfilling lives without having sex — or even without thinking about sex. But it hurts to think that anyone would believe they have to.

It hurts to think about someone, at age sixty-three, feeling like they spent most of their life “closeted”.

Still, at the same time, it makes me feel so much better to know that I’m helping create the space to venture out.

2009 25 Mar

[storytime/advice] On Collars

I received a lot of really great positive feedback after I gave my BDSM Overview presentation at the Museum of Sex. One of my favorite letters was this one. I swear, I should start an advice column ….

Her letter (posted with permission):

Hello Clarisse,

I attended your lecture at the Museum of Sex on Friday and I just wanted to say that it was very helpful for me. I’m very new to the BDSM scene and I guess I’m being mentored by a dominant who I am dating. He’s very patient and understanding with me, but I’ve had quite a difficult time accepting even the fact that I am submissive. As I once told him, to me submissive equates weak and helpless. I’ve always wanted to think of myself as a strong, independent, feminist woman so I am having a hard time with this. It definitely made me feel better to hear you talk about your similar struggle. I am not being coerced, or lured into anything I don’t want — I am definitely submissive and interested in BDSM and exploring that whole path — but it took me a while to accept that I am submissive, and I do have issues with it a little still. I just want to make sure you understand that it’s not an issue of being forced or asked to do anything I don’t want to do.

But I did want to ask about the use of collars. I don’t know if this is more of a personal preference, but he is interested in buying me a collar and I just can’t shake the association with pets, slaves, a.k.a. degradation! He is the most charming man I know and treats me better than any “vanilla” boyfriend I’ve had, so I know he would never want to degrade me, but I just can’t shake those associations and a collar means a lot to him. Do you have any advice?

I answered:

Of course I can’t tell you whether it’s right for you to let your boyfriend collar you. Of course only you can make that decision. You already know those things, I hope! What I can tell you is about my own experience.

First, though, a side note. You might consider trying to find a different mentor, rather than relying on someone you’re romantically involved with. I mean, you might want to have this man stay your lover, but find a separate person who can mentor you.

For one thing, it’s a really good idea to have a mentor who is of your “type” — so for instance, as a bottom, I’d advise you to find a mentor who has experience bottoming. For another thing, it’s a good idea in any relationship to make sure that you have resources for advice and assistance other than your partner. And this is especially true of fledgling BDSM relationships, where there’s so much new to learn and understand! Of course, part of seeking an outside advisor is that you want to feel sure that you’re getting unbiased input. But it’s also worth noting that it can put a lot of strain on your relationship for your boyfriend to be, not just your lover, but your major source of BDSM information and understanding. That’s a lot of roles for one person to fill. That might feel okay now — it sounds like it’s a new relationship and you’re both excited — but after a while, being so dependent on one person could become a real problem for one or both of you. Or it might not. Again, I don’t know what’s right for you. This is just some general tried-and-true advice from mentoring groups I’ve encountered.

On to your actual question! There are lots of different feelings on collars, in general. There are people in the BDSM community who simply use collars to demarcate temporary roles. A while ago, I played with a man where we agreed that once he put the collar on me, I would obey him unquestioningly for the evening; then, at the end of the evening, he took it off and the encounter was over. That was just for one night, and in that case, the collar might be considered like a symbol, or a costume — putting us in a certain kind of space together for that time. But collars are also sometimes seen as a deep sign of love and commitment. I know people who consider collars to be as strong a statement as a wedding ring. They wouldn’t even think about wearing a collar just for one night, or for someone they met recently.

Personally, I have evolved a bit on my preferences, and collars mean something different for me from what they meant several years ago. When I first came into BDSM, I was very uncomfortable with it; I needed to take small steps to keep myself comfortable. Also, I was doing BDSM with a man whom I felt emotionally uncomfortable with — I think that I wanted to distance myself from him emotionally whenever we did BDSM. As a result, I believed (that is, I told myself) that I was only interested in the physical sensation: pain. I said that I wanted nothing to do with submission or ownership. I remember that I even told one friend, very emphatically, that I’d never ever wear a collar! Never!

Later, when I had my first BDSM-flavored relationship with someone I loved and trusted, I realized that I did want to wear his collar. I wanted to feel like he owned me and could do whatever he wanted with me. I started to understand that I did want aspects of ownership in my BDSM — I recognize now that I even want aspects of degradation. But I had to come into that slowly, because those things were emotionally very hard to accept for an independent, rational feminist such as myself. And it can be confusing to work out in practice, too, because I don’t want those things from everyone! For instance, I’m willing to do some BDSM with people I don’t know very well — but I need to trust someone a lot before I can enjoy a degradation scene with them. And obviously, since I top sometimes, there are some BDSM partners where it wouldn’t even enter my head to wear a collar. Every relationship has its own texture.

As for the statement, “You own me” — I don’t say that to someone unless I’m totally into them. It feels dark and a little scary, but it also feels real and important. It feels like I’m saying something even stronger than, “I love you.” If I were with a man who wanted to put a collar on me, and if putting a collar on me meant saying to him — whether aloud or silent — “You own me,” then I would have to be totally in love with him to do it.

Desires change over time. Sometimes people don’t like things that they’ll like later. Sometimes people stop liking things. But of course, sometimes people always like certain things … or never like certain things. Maybe someday I’ll wear collars casually. Maybe someday I’ll decide never to wear a collar again! Maybe I’ll even get bored of collars and wear them as nothing more than jewelry!

So maybe you’ll never want to wear a collar, and that’s fine. Just work on it slowly. Don’t rush. Certainly, if wearing a collar feels like degradation to you — and you don’t want to be degraded — then don’t do it! I know you don’t want to ignore your lover’s needs, though. So if this is so important to him, try asking him why it’s important. Does he want to degrade you? Or does he want to feel like he owns you? Or does he just want some kind of mark on you? Or does he just want you to carry a symbol of his? Once you know why he wants to collar you, maybe that’ll help you work out a compromise. For instance, if what he really wants is for you be marked by him or carrying a symbol, then he could give you another piece of jewelry that you always wear.

Hope this is helpful, or at least illuminating!