December 3, 2012

Let’s Talk About How We’re Talking About Sex

 This blog post was written by a SASC volunteer
Last month I attended one of the first year residence’s “Sex with Your Advisors” events at UBC-Vancouver, a Q&A event that invites (almost) any and all questions from the audience which are submitted via anonymous notes. 

As a queer female bodied person attending this event, I was expecting to be immensely disappointed. I was actually quite surprised by the efforts made to be inclusive and make space within the event. However, I would like to put forward a few observations around how saying you’re inclusive is different from building inclusive spaces and ways of speaking.  It’s one thing to say that queer questions are welcome and that some panel members are queer. It’s entirely another for queerness to take up space in the conversation and be held in mind.

I want to raise some questions, suggested by why I felt not entirely welcome in an event that was trying to make queer people feel included, despite the aspects of it that were very successful. Even if the audience as a whole didn’t need feel excluded in anyway, changing how we talk about sex and how we approach the topic is a powerful way to begin to move past our assumptions. This is even more important here, when a panel for first years represents the UBC-Vancouver residence community. It might show who is supported in the community and who is the outsider that needs to be included.

A list of questions for examining how the outsider is being constructed in sex education spaces

How are we talking about sex?

Are we assuming sex is penetrative vaginal sex? Are we assuming people on the panel and people writing in questions are heterosexual and cisgender until proven otherwise? Are we reasserting a hierarchy of sexual activities? Are personal preferences and interests being generalized to the audience?

What is our language saying?

Are we gendering actions and body parts? Is the language utilized in answers reasserting a binary of bodies and genders? Are acts assumed to be for a specific gender to receive? How careful are we being about word choice and the assumptions embedded within it? Are we stating that advice can only apply to one specific group?

Who has the most space?

            Who is talking the most and about which kinds of experiences? Are some experiences portrayed as more sexy than others? Are potentially queer experiences being desexualized or othered? Which cases are the special cases? Which questions merit ‘expert knowledge’? Are queer interests only an add-on to the main show?

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