Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Part 2: One Persons “diversity” is Another’s Klan Rally

Go read part one of my adventures in Arizona at the Sex Conference.

Friday had arrived and I was ready to attend the conference. I wore one of my favorite dresses for the warm weather. It is low with a v-neck but conceals my tattoos enough that I’m not stared at even more than I already am. It also allows me the opportunity to wear my favorite liquid silver necklace I got on my first trip to AZ in February.

In the package that I waited a long time for was information on the conference, my nametag and pronoun stickers.

There was a continental breakfast so that saved me money, which I appreciated. The first session I went to began at 8:30 am and focused on female survivors of cancer. The presenter focused on ways that clinicians and physicians can assist survivors in their body image challenges. I learned a lot in this one-hour presentation. The presenter had a UKish accent and was very interactive in her presentation. My only note of how it could have been improved according to the evaluation form was for the presenter to discuss keloids for women, especially women of Color at the site of their incision and surgery.

I chose to wait in line to speak with the presenter but decided against it when I realized there were several of us who wanted to speak with her. I moved onward to my next session in the sea of White bodies. I told myself: “I knew what to expect, I knew there would be limited faces like mine, and I knew to take deep breaths to cope with the space.”

This session was on sexological worldview and how sexologists come to create and utilize a world view. It was at this session that I saw the first men of Color at the conference. This session was very engaging. The presenter was a peer, about my age who had just earned his doctoral degree (EdD) and was sharing part of his finding from his qualitative analysis for his dissertation. The presenter Justin Sitron, is now full time faculty at Widener University, which is one of the only schools on the east coast that provides such higher education training in sexology. I have more to say on this as the facilitator of the session was his mentor and an important figure in the field of psychology and sexuality. Why do women of Color I know not have this same type of support by our women of Color faculty mentors?

He interviewed about 30 sexologists by asking those on the AASECT listserv to meet with him. It was a very colorfree sample with only 5 participants identified as “non-white” (which we know could mean anything). He provided the worldview as a process similar to the process I’ve heard when speaking about cultural competence. He was very receptive to feedback and inquires about his work. I asked him about his sample, reflexivity, how his gender identity and expression may have impacted his sample. I shared how race and class was not ever mentioned in the sample and information presented and how that may speak to where the sexological field in the US is currently. It was this session that I heard a White woman say that this was the “most diverse AASECT conference she has been to in 9 years.” This shocked me. After the session a woman from the SAR came up to me as we exited sharing that I had very good questions.

My next session was on disability. There were several images used that I found encouraging of people with disabilities loving and living. In addition, a conversation about feminist theory, disability theory, and transhuman and embodied theories which I had not been familiar with until I came to this session. I also learned: when people with disabilities adopt children with disabilities they proactively embrace discussions of sexuality, disability, and their children being sexual beings. I don't know many able-bodied parents who do this! In addition, I learned a few new things about Helen Keller: She was an anarchist and had many lovers. Why do they exclude that part of her history in stories about her?

Although lunch was catered I chose to have a quiet lunch in the hotel restaurant. They used real fresh sea salt on their french fries. I sat by myself and admired the older woman across from me who was doing the same thing. The men who were working at the restaurant were pleasant and helpful. It is the south after all, even if it is the southwest. After lunch I decided on my last two sessions, both the only sessions about race that day. The first was on teaching race, class and gender within the context of sexuality and history, the second was about how African American women use e-health to obtain information on sexual health.

I saw some women from the SAR waiting around to attend their next session, which was not the session I was going to. The session on teaching using intersectional frameworks and theories (terminology the presenter never mentioned) was a very 101 level for me. After all, I have taught these subjects for my entire teaching career (over 10 years) simultaneously versus in silos. This is the way I teach. The presenter was an older man who has been in the field for decades and just recently received AASECT certification. This I appreciated hearing him say as it is my situation. He was open to questions during his presentation and I took advantage of that.

Unfortunately, I was worried that his take on history started with exploration, conquest and colonization. When I asked him about this he said he only had 12 days to prepare for his class. The he went to a large corporate bookseller and purchased the first book he saw on sexuality and history (I can only imagine how colorfree the text is). I did not come back and share that I only had two days to put together a similar syllabus and was equally if not more successful in incorporating the themes in various forms. I asked him how/if students responded to him as a White man teaching about race, gender, class and sexuality as my students often say in course evaluations that “this is a class on sexuality not on race” or that in my class there was “too much focus on race.” I take these evaluations to be a compliment on the colorfree education they received and how my teaching challenges that comfort and expectation.

One thing I did appreciate about this session was that I met so many people. There were educators in the room that I met and know I will have in my circle of colleagues for a very long time. One person came to speak with me as her question was about Margaret Sanger and how her students are shocked to learn her role in the Eugenics Movement as this is rarely discussed. I shared with her that my students have the same reaction and we spend a week on the topic and read parts of Jennifer Nelson’s work on nationalist communities in the US working towards reproductive rights in the 1960s and 1970s. She uses the same text and we have the same student reaction. Interesting how one article can trigger such a response in students.

I also met women of Color who were instructors and had the same challenges I did with students claiming they spoke too much about race. We exchanged cards, sat next to one another and prepared for the second session on race, which was in the exact same room. Prior to that session starting I went to sign in and met Judith Steinhart. She came up to me and told me she had heard me at the Guttmacher Exchange and did not have a chance to talk with me after my questions. We swapped information and went to our seats. Judith was sitting in the same session as I was as well.

The final session about African American women was amazing! I thought it could have been two hours versus the one it was given. A presentation filled with examples of media images, how communities access information, how women of Color have multiple messages sent to them, and how we read into them. This was a session I could have been a part of for the entire day. This is where the most women of Color and people of Color were at during the conference and I was there too! I can’t begin to share how rejuvenated I felt. I originally felt hurt, ignored, invisible, exhausted, isolated, and in the wrong space. I left feeling the complete opposite after just 2 hours. If you don’t know of the website Our Health Our Lives you do now.

Having community makes a difference.

Part 3 of the Sex Conference will discuss what has changed, what work is being done and the activism that’s taking place as we speak for diversifying the field of sexology in the US.

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