An Interview with Gazan Sex Educator Mohammed Alkrunz
While I was living in Jerusalem and trying to find sexuality-related initiatives in the area (for this zine), I came across the website of an organization called the International Youth Alliance For Family Planning (IYAFP for short). They’re a youth-run (ages 15 to 30) nonprofit that advocates for sex ed and sexual rights around the world.
So, you want to start a sex-positive student group at your school? That's great — here are some tips!
2017 was a tough year for the United States. Like many of you, we here at Pleasure Pie asked ourselves, "WTF should we do?" as things spiraled downward on a national level. Should we drop the sex-positivity stuff and do more direct political engagement? Should we stick to what we know, and push for a culture of consent and healthy sexual expression at a time when the need for this is even more visible than usual (with the "locker room talk" and allegations of sexual assault against so many politicians and celebrities)?
What can we do in response to the Orlando, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and police officer shootings?
Tonight’s Sex Positive Boston discussion was a brainstorming session about what we all can do (individually and/or collectively) in response to Orlando, the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, targetted killings of police officers, other recent incidents of police brutality, and racism and oppression in general. We did our best to think creatively about how we can contribute to positive change in light of these dark circumstances. There is no one right answer, and we are not here to tell you what approach is right for you!
By anonymous Pleasure Pie contributor
I regularly see people proclaim that rape is not sex, and should not be called sex. As someone who has experienced rape, this feels unnecessarily limiting.
I think that this sentiment is coming from a good place. It seems to be a reaction to people trying to make the issue of rape sound less serious than it is. I can absolutely see why, when someone calls rape “non-consensual sex” in that context, people would say, “call it rape!”
However, I want to use whatever words I like when talking about my non-consensual experiences (as long as I’m not being insensitive to struggles that I haven’t experienced myself – in other words, I’m not giving myself permission to use racist slurs or anything).
Times I Want to Call My Rape “Sex”
When first telling a friend or loved one about my rape, I prefer not to lead with the word rape, because it is shocking and scary. Even though my rape was shocking and scary, I prefer to ease into the topic, to prevent the person I’m talking to from being startled (for both our sakes). In these situations, I’ll usually say something along the lines of, “He wanted to have sex; I said no; he didn’t listen to me. We had sex, and I was saying no the whole time.”
It’s helpful for me to feel like I have control over how I phrase my disclosures, and, to some extent, how they play out. Especially because part of the pain of my rape was all the ways in which I felt like I didn’t have control over the situation.
Also, there are times when I want to mention some other part of that encounter, unrelated to it being non-consensual. Sometimes I don’t want to go into the heavy nature of the experience just to talk about another aspect of it, like the dynamic of having sex with someone from a low-income country, etc.
There are plenty of other reasons that I, or other survivors, might want to refer to their rape as sex. While I don’t think that this “rape is not sex” proclamation was meant to be aimed at survivors, I want to point out that the issue of word choice around rape can be complicated. Let's think twice before making blanket statements about how others should speak.
By Nicole Mazzeo
For two months this winter, I took time off from Pleasure Pie projects to reflect and do some self care. I wanted to check in with myself and my community to make sure that my activism (by “activism,” I mean everything I do with Pleasure Pie, including zine making, having events, giving workshops, writing, etc.) is as effective as possible, and that it’s not unintentionally harmful in any way (and if it is, fix that).
I’ve been wrestling with questions like:
When is speaking from my own experience powerful and constructive, and when should I be centering the voices of others (especially people with marginalized experiences/identities that aren’t as prevalent in sex-positive communities)?
How can I tell when my activism is helpful for others, versus when it’s just healing for me (and possibly even harmful to others)? What if it’s helpful to some people, and harmful to others?
Is it realistic for me to hope to be paid for my work as a sex educator/community organizer, or does seeking payment inevitably get in the way of me doing the most constructive and authentic work I can?
My original plan for this break was that I would reflect on these questions, and reflect on some criticisms I’ve received from other activists, and once I figured out what I thought about all of it and how I wanted to move forward with Pleasure Pie, I would start doing activism again. But then two months went by and I was still looking for answers. I started to think that I might not be able to figure it out in a month, or maybe even a year. These might be the kind of questions that I have to feel out and continually reflect on as I try to do my best activism in the meantime. It might be an ongoing, lifelong process. But I think I have something valuable to offer the world (my take on sexuality and oppression, my own experiences and ideas, etc.), and it would be a shame to put that on hold indefinitely until I have stuff all figured out.
Which brings me to my next question:
To what extent do I need to have the answers to these questions figured out for it to be responsible for me to do activism that can affect other people (especially events, which so directly affect the people who are there)?
I don’t have a concrete answer for that one either, but I’ve come up with a few questions that I think can be helpful in feeling it out: Do I know what I’m doing, and understand the topic/issue enough, to do right by it? If not, is there someone who does that would want to collaborate on this? Is there a way that this project could negatively affect the people involved (i.e. the participants if it’s an event, or the readers if it’s a zine, etc.)? What might happen that could be bad? How can I prevent that from happening?
In addition to those questions, it’s always really important to me to seek out and listen to other people’s perspectives, especially people who have all sorts of different identities than me, so that I’m not coming up with ideas and making decisions in a like-minded, like-experienced bubble.
My approach to activism is a work in progress. If you have any thoughts you want to add, or ways of addressing these questions (or other relevant questions) that you recommend, please feel free to comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks! :)
If your creations are physical items (zines, books, illustrations, art pieces, worksheets, stickers, etc.)
By Nicole Mazzeo
You, too can put on a workshop! You don’t need to be an official “educator” or have certification (or even a college degree).
You do need passion for the subject and willingness to put time and effort into it. And you should know a good amount about the topic you’re going to cover. I recommend reading things on the internet (or, you know, books) – and fact checking anything you want to use. You can do it!
Steps for making your workshop happen:
1. Come up with a concept for your workshop.
What are you interested in talking about and/or exploring with a group of people? What are you excited about right now?
2. Come up with a name for your workshop, and write a brief description of what it’s about.
What’s the point? What will participants get out of it? Come up with one or more concrete goals for the workshop.
3. Find somewhere that you can reserve space affordably (ideally for free).
If you’re in Boston, this list of supportive venues will seriously help you out. One approach is to email places, include the workshop name and description in your email, and ask if they will let you use their space for your workshop.
4. Set a date and time with the venue.
5. Tell people about your workshop!
6. Make an outline of your workshop.
7. Make handouts.
Make some resource lists, zines, a print out of a relevant blog post you wrote, etc. to pass out. Optional, but it’s nice to give people something to look at and take home.
8. Show up and make it happen!
Be friendly, actually listen to people, and have fun. It’s okay if everything doesn’t go perfectly.
I hope this is helpful! Also, for lots more tips and resources on organizing sexuality events, including free sexuality graphics, discussion outlines, good places to find sexuality info, check out the Resources for Sexuality Educators & Activists page on our website.
By Nicole Mazzeo
[This article was originally published on Fabulously Feminist. You can see the original post here.]
[The “Sparknotes” version is at the bottom, for people with limited time/attention spans.]
I’m not talking about respect for a person’s right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy, or respect for a fetus’s right to life (no comment on either of those right now). I’m talking about respect for people who you disagree with. Your “opponents.”
Have you ever heard a pro-choice advocate talk about “pro-lifers”? Or a pro-life advocate talk about … “pro-abortion-ers”? (Or whatever anti-abortion people call pro-choice people.)
If so, it’s likely that you’ve heard this done in a way that paints the disagreeing party as bumbling idiots. Not just bumbling idiots, but conniving, deceitful, bumbling idiots with really bad intentions.
Yes, it can be hard to respect a person when you disagree so deeply on an issue that could directly affect your life in a huge way.
And sometimes people actually do have bad intentions. Sometimes people are dishonest with themselves and with others. Sometimes people jump to conclusions.
But there’s often a lot more to people than that.
Beyond Hating On the “Opposition”
It’s possible to have deeply held beliefs and convictions without vilifying people with opposing beliefs.
It’s possible to be pro-choice without viewing people who are anti-abortion as raging idiots. And vice-versa.
Not only is it possible, but it may be a more constructive approach.
That’s why The Public Conversations Project brought together a small group of prominent pro-choice and pro-life advocates to have an intimate five-year-long dialogue on their differing beliefs.
When John Salvi shot and killed two people (and injured five) in two abortion-providing health clinics in Brookline, MA back in 1994, the people at Public Conversations Project came up with a plan for a dialogue to prevent future violence and hate.
This dialogue happened between 1994 and 1999, but – hear me out – when I saw the follow up video (below), I found it to be one of the most relevant commentaries on the current abortion debate that I’ve ever seen.
[Article continued below.]
3 Quick Sentences to Explain What The Public Conversations Project Is
The whole idea behind The Public Conversations Project (based in Watertown, MA) is that building relationships and collaboration across polarized groups can help solve many of today’s biggest issues. They’ve worked on lots of controversial issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, immigration, same-sex marriage, gun control, and diversity. They believe that if people are able to fully see each other as human beings – relatable, empathetic, and imperfect – resolution and peace often become attainable.
Okay, So Back to Abortion
As someone who is very much on the pro-choice side of things, it worries me that some of the people in charge of abortion rights organizations think of pro-life people as idiots.*
Melissa Kogut, former executive director of Mass NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) reflects on her experience with being part of the Public Conversations abortion dialogue:
“I … was surprised. I had my own preconceptions of what … the pro-life women were like, and they were completely dashed. … They’re smart. They have full, interesting lives. … That was all surprising to me. I know that sounds really judgmental, but that was surprising to me.”
I know what Kogut is talking about. Based on my personal experience, it is a pretty common perspective in progressive circles.
The Dangers of Dehumanizing the Other Side
Why might it be harmful to think of people we disagree with this way?
Here are 3 reasons:
1. Anytime we stop seeing another person as a full, complex, human being with legitimate feelings and a meaningful existence, we miss out on so much.
“I did not know my opposition except as they were portrayed in the media. And I was terrified of the hostility that I was going to meet when I sat down to talk with these people. … But very early on in the dialogue, I realized that I could like these people – really! These people were as committed to their position as I to mine. … We could develop a relationship, and we did. We came to love each other, in spite of the fact that neither one of us changed our opinion in the least.”
2. It’s often this kind of dehumanization that enables people to be cruel and sometimes even violent to other people.
3. Dehumanizing a person also makes it easy to completely write off everything they say. When it’s us vs. them, we can avoid critically thinking about the places where an issue is unclear or difficult.
“We never talk on our side about the shades of gray. When you’re involved in a political movement like we are, we are focused on mobilizing the troops. The way you do that is you paint things in the starkest possible terms so that people are moved to act, so that they know what to do. We don’t have conversations about the things that we have doubts about, or that are more murky.”
I’m not saying that you should take everyone’s opinion to heart all of the time, because that can be exhausting and emotionally painful, but it may be worthwhile to hear people out most of the time, and try to understand what they believe and why.
The Difference Between Anger and Disrespect
For a lot of people, anger is a natural response to disagreement – and that’s okay. There are lots of legitimate things to be angry about in the abortion debate. But there is a big difference between being angry at someone (or a group of people) and losing all respect for them as fellow humans.
Anger is an emotion, which may be justified – and regardless of whether it’s justified, it may be beyond your control in the way that emotions often are. There are healthy ways to deal with anger.
Disrespect, on the other hand, often means losing esteem for a person’s entire being.
Maybe it’s appropriate to lose all respect for some people in some circumstances (I’m not sure about this one), but I think at the very least, we should be very hesitant and deliberate about taking the leap into disrespect.
Also: Don’t Be Classist About It!
We live in a society where people who identify as pro-life are more likely to have a lower income and lower level of education. Because of this class divide, it’s crucial that pro-choice people think about classism when we consider how we’re going to think about, talk about, and interact with people who identify as pro-life. Tip: Avoid personal attacks/criticisms of people’s intelligence, etc., as opposed to criticisms of their arguments.
Let’s make sure that our arguments against anti-abortion-rights advocacy aren’t coming from a place of class-based prejudice, because that is shitty.
Let’s put seeing everyone as a full human being, and having compassion for everyone, at the center of our feminism/anti-oppression work.
Including the people we disagree with.
*While I think many of us can do a better job of being respectful of people we disagree with, I also want to note that I am deeply grateful for the people who have worked hard to make abortion legal in the U.S. Thank you.
The Sparknotes Version of This Article
• Pro-choice people often think of pro-life people as being stupid, and vice versa.
• It’s possible to have deeply held beliefs without vilifying people who disagree with you.
• The Public Conversations Project of Watertown, MA had a 5-year-long dialogue in the 90’s where leading pro-life advocates and pro-choice advocates got together to have a conversation and learn to respect each other as fellow human beings, which I thought was really cool.
• It worries me that some heads of pro-choice organizations think of pro-life people as idiots.
• It’s harmful to dehumanize people we disagree with because:
1. We miss out on people’s richness.
2. It may enable us to be cruel and/or violent toward them.
3. It may enable us to completely ignore them and pretend the issue is simple.
• Being angry at someone (or a group of people) isn’t the same as not respecting them. Let’s be deliberate about which one of these (if either) we choose.
• Pro-life people are more likely to have a lower income and lower level of education. it’s crucial that pro-choice people think about classism when we consider how we’re going to think about, talk about, and interact with people who identify as pro-life. Tip for making sure you’re not being classist: Avoid personal attacks/criticisms of people’s intelligence, etc., as opposed to criticisms of their arguments.
• Let’s put seeing everyone as a full human being, and having compassion for everyone, at the center of our feminism/anti-oppression work.