Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Soy Poderosa Because I Recognize My Power is Vast & Limitless

Cross-posted in partnership with the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health as part of the 2012 Latina Week of Action.

This profile of Bianca I. Laureano is one of several of powerful Latina women advocates throughout the United States.

I struggled with picking just one (or a few) points that I value and find powerful. It’s taken me a very long time to claim the power I have and why focus on just one way I’m powerful? Here’s a list of a few ways I find and value the power I have today, and hope to maintain, evolve, and transform in the future.

Soy poderosa because:

I ask questions as I center and desire liberation for us all.
  • What does it mean to be free?
  • How do I build with others whose ideas of “freedom” and “liberation” may be drastically different from my own?
  • How can I prepare to live freely without some of my community and/or family?
  • How do we come to respect one another’s goals to live life on our own terms?
  • How do we hold one another accountable in a way that will help us all?

I challenge the dominate stereotype about Latinas.
I choose to be open, honest, and public about my/our healing process because of the dearth of examples available to us.
I value my time.
  • In a society where some folks think my time as a woman of Color, a Caribbean woman, a Latina, means they have all-access, use, on-demand, and can manipulate it however they wish, because they do not value me (or my community); I remember I value myself.
  • In valuing my time I realize I also must respect the time of others and be considerate and thoughtful in what I ask for from them, how we use our time together, and when to say “yes” and when to say “no”.

I mentor.
  • And choose to continue to mentor those interested in the field who are of Color, from working-class backgrounds and queer-identified.

I am a media-maker.
  • Carefully choosing which media outlets to consume and to create that reflect and support my personal visions of liberation is vital to me.
  • Recognizing the media I create does not always have to be centered/using digital media, I realize I was a media maker long before I knew and remind myself to help ground me in mentoring others.
  • My development as a media maker is a process and I will continue to learn new ways and create new spaces as tools and expand and evolve.

I recognize we all have power.
  • And I expect my community to hold me accountable when I may misuse my power over others versus using power with others. This is how I choose to build and maintain community to evolve and create the spaces we need to heal, survive, and live freely.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Is the Brain the Most Sexual Part of Our Bodies?

cross posted from RH Reality Check Being trained to become a sex educator and sexologist in the early 1990s was an experience that I value each day. There are some things I remember very clearly, such as the color-free faculty and mentors available to me at the time, the topics that were not completely discussed or erased, the amazing connections I made, and the communities I’ve built over the past 15+ years. What I did gain was the understanding that I will continually be learning, evolving, and transforming to remain present in the field. Part of this learning and evolving is looking back to and re-examining the perspectives, ideas, research, and topics that I was trained to value. One of these ideas and phrases has come up for me again. I saw this image posted online from Ebony magazine. My immediate reaction was “the most sexual part of the body is the brain” at least that’s what we all agreed on when we were being trained. I remember in my second year of my undergraduate career taking an upper level women’s health course and meeting with the teaching assistant to discuss my grade on the multiple choice midterm exam. There was a group of us to meet for the same thing and we did so communally. We went over each question we got wrong and my question was “what is the most sexual part of a female’s body?” The options were: brain, clitoris, vagina, anus. I had selected the clitoris. It was marked as wrong. I asked why this was incorrect and was told, in a very "matter-of-fact" fashion, “It’s the brain. If your head isn’t into it nothing else will be.” And that was that. I was the only person in the group to get that question “wrong.” This phrase was, and still is, a very common argument about sexuality, pleasure, and the body. I wonder though, may this idea and phrase be ableist? Who is excluded from this type of belief? If I were to see this question on an exam today, or ask this question would I agree with this answer and that the clitoris is the wrong answer? As I learn to evolve within the field and become more committed to including a psychology of liberation and work in an anti-colonial framework within the field many of these questions come up for me. My maternal grandparents died of Alzheimer's and I witnessed their memory loss evolve, and now I’m learning to cope with similar experiences in my immediate family. These questions about how the brain functions, how that’s connected to sexual pleasure, sexual memory, and why this phrase “the most sexual part of the body is the brain” is relevant to me at this moment. I know we do not have a lot of information about the majority of the brain. This is one reason I find this phrase ironic. How can one of the most sexual parts of our body be one part that we know very little about? I know that if the brain is not functioning in the ways our society has deemed “correctly” this does not mean one cannot experience pleasure. What may it mean if one is losing a part of their brain functioning and how may this phrase isolate and ignore people living with certain disabilities? If we were to reexamine this phrase, what parts of our bodies would we deem most sexual? Would there ever be a right or wrong answer? I’m asking more questions than I have answers because I think sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. I am also clear that I don’t know what the right answer would be. I’m more interested in having a dialogue about this topic with folks who have heard the phrase, use it, and are interested in examining it further.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Are We Ready To Trust Black Men?

cross posted from my RH Reality Check column New qualitative research has shown that Black gay couples report using condoms more often than racially white gay men in the US, especially for limiting HIV transmission. The study, You & Me, looked at Black and white gay men as well as interracial couples (racially Black and white) and their condom usage. Findings show that white gay couples talk about condom use more often than Black gay men, but that does not translate into practice in the same way it does for Black gay couples. Researchers from the San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) You & Me study presented these findings at the XIX International AIDS Conference this week. Many folks online who are reading this data are questioning the validity of the research. Questions such as what are the ages, location, and identities (i.e. queer, bisexual, pansexual, gay, men who have sex with men (MSM), etc.) of the participants have been asked. I agree these are valid queries and would add other questions: How are they assessing if the men are using the condoms correctly each time? Were Black transgender men not included (as the language used on the You & Me study site reference sex-assigned at birth, i.e. "male")? The You & Me study site indicates they are looking at “same-sex male couples” and use MSM language. What I don’t agree with are folks who claim that qualitative data is not useful because of how some respondents may lie, or may say what they believe researchers want them to say. These are all usual attempts to debunk qualitative data. What I’ve noticed is that many people of Color share information during the collection of qualitative research that humanizes us in a way that is not found in quantitative-based data studies. Yes, quantitative is more about having a larger sample size, however, the information we gather from qualitative data about our communities is often one that demonstrates our strengths, positive, and challenges stereotypes about us. It’s a constant reminder that sharing our stories and narratives are still seen as questionable and not valued. I’m glad to have data like this to use and reference in my work. This data makes me wonder how to use these findings today and in the future. As Chad Campbell, an SFSU researcher shared with ScienceCodex:
“We found that black and white gay men process the information they receive about HIV in different ways, and for black men using condoms is the default choice.... The black gay men we surveyed were aware of the high rates of HIV among their demographic and were taking steps to ensure they don't become another statistic."
The finding that Black gay men use condoms more regularly is a “product of unspoken agreements where it was ‘just understood’ that condom use was non-negotiable” is a strong example of culturally and racially strength-based practices and modes of communication. I believe this means Black gay men define and practice what health and safety mean for them in ways that are comfortable and effective, even if outsiders do not understand or disagree. Often, we assume that if we talk with partners about condom usage (or other barrier methods) that means action will follow. You & Me study findings demonstrate this is not necessarily the case, especially among racially white gay men. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind when reading about You and Me. I also think of how in this situation verbals and non-verbals are not contradicting one another for Black men. The data reminds us that non-verbal communication is essential among many communities of Color. How may this data influence our work with communities of Color? If for Black gay men condom usage is an “unspoken rule,” how may this challenge our understanding of HIV infections among Black gay men of all ages? This is one area where the question of identities is important because the sample included MSM this data could be a useful to challenge ideas that Black women having sex with Black men who are on the “down low” lead to our increased HIV rates today. What do we do with new data that challenges so many of the ways we’ve been told to imagine, work, reach, and interact with certain communities, especially queer communities of Color? When will data like this be enough to change our ideas and practices as providers and educators? When will be finally be able to trust queer communities, communities of Color, and communities that are oppressed that they speak honestly about their sexual lives and experiences?