Apr 032017
Speaking at Slut Walk, Guelph, Ontario, 2017

Speaking at Slut Walk, Guelph, Ontario, 2017

I was honoured to be invited to be an opening speaker for Slut Walk Guelph, Ontario, 2017! You can find some pictures and coverage of the event from GuelphToday.com

Here is the transcript of my talk:

I get to talk about sex and gender pretty much every day. When I’m not talking about sex and gender, I’m listening to or reading about others’ thoughts, knowledge, and experiences around sex and gender. And sometimes I’m even getting paid to do it, because I do research, teaching, and outreach in these areas for a living. Yep, I study sex and also trauma, and sometimes how the two of those intersect. I’m pretty much living the dream.

When I am not officially doing work in these areas, I’m still navigating them. As a trans person of the gender-queer non-binary sort, and as a very, very sexually queer person, sex and gender are a constant thing to figure out in my life. And I don’t mean figuring out my own gender and sexuality, because (contrary to many stereotypes about queer people) I figured that shit out long ago, thank you very much. I mean figuring out how to deal with everyone else’s issues. It is figuring out how much risk and how many of my resources I’m willing and able to dedicate to avoid being rendered invisible or silent, to stay safe, and to remain my authentic self and to insist that others put aside their stereotypes to respect me and all of my lovely rainbow demographics.

I have to think about these things all the time because other people don’t.

This is the nature of power. Power, as I define it, is to have higher influence with lower costs or consequences. It’s when someone can ‘forget’ to include queers in their policy making or budget or research study, and they don’t take the hit for it. We do. Power is when an authority figure can blame violent crime on your clothing and assume that’s that. Power is when systems can decide not to investigate homicides of trans people of colour and nobody but their loved ones grieves the injustice of it. Higher influence, lower consequences.

We’re here at slut walk to take back that power. And I hope we’re here at slut walk to remember that it’s not enough for us to seize a bit of that power for just today. It’s not enough to be satisfied with scraps of power. And it’s definitely not enough to be happy when we hold a bit more power than yesterday while ignoring those who do not. When we gain the ability to create change, we look around immediately and use it in the service of those who are still suffering higher consequences. We serve the oppressed among us, or else we serve our oppressors.

Power is the ability to influence things wither fewer consequences. And violence is any action, inaction, words, or silence that support imbalanced power. When we laugh about prison rape jokes we commit violence against the already incarcerated. When we show up to support women’s rights, but fail to demand justice for people of colour, we support violence through racism. When we cheer for gay rights and agree we’ll circle back for trans right later, really, …maybe, we commit violence against all those outside the cis-gender binary. Make no mistake about it: sexism, racism, heteronormativity, transphobia… they’re all intimately intertwined with what brings us here today.

In countless interviews, speeches, and casual conversations I have asserted that one of the most politically powerful acts of resistance that we can engage in is to be ok with who we are, as we are. How will they scare us and what will they sell us if we are happy with ourselves? If we are vibrant in our gender and our sexualities, in our skin and the rest of our bodies, then what else could we put that energy toward accomplishing? It begins there: exploring and finding joy in our honest, real selves. Which is a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. But it still isn’t enough.

How do we ensure that those who suffer the greatest consequences, the greatest oppressions, are the heart of our efforts? The leaders when decisions are made? The most protected and supported among us until we all reach equal footing together?

We’re here and we’re half naked in early April because people keep telling us that sluts deserve to get raped. That it’s ok to rape people. Because people keep telling us that their opinions and interpretations and desires about our gender and sexuality are more important than our safety, freedom, and self determination. We have all been told to ignore and accept this sexism, just as we have been told to ignore and accept racism, ablism, homophobia and transphobia, and all of the other tools and methods of violence.

And we refuse. We are here to refuse ALL of this. We are here to use our bodies and words to change power and burn down oppression on every level.

Thank you.

Mar 312015

Sexually Charged Happy Hour

Come join us at our first monthly Sexually Charged Happy Hour!

When: 7pm until 9pm or later on April 9th

Where: Atmosphere Cafe in downtown Guelph, Ontario (we’ll be at reserved tables in the back). 

Atmosphere Cafe is located on Carden St. and is an accessible venue with multi-gender restrooms. Alcohol and food are both served there.

We’ll be discussing anything and everything related to sex, sexuality, and gender in a casual, nerdy atmosphere. The general public is welcome, you need not think of yourself as a sex nerd to join. The only cost is whatever you order at our lovely host restaurant. You are welcomed to toss an extra $5 (beyond your tip) into our jar to recognize our waitstaff for their service while hog the tables all night, but that is strictly optional.

Sexually Charged uses an inclusive definition of sex-positivity that frames our values around being a safe space. Here it is:

The Sex-Positive perspective approaches sexuality and sexual diversity from a strengths-based approach. It sees sexuality and sexual diversity as healthy, normal components of life and identity. It also recognizes sexuality and sexual diversity as one of many sources of health and healing. Many sex-positive folks strive to avoid language that suggests sexism, homophobia, heteronormism, ageism, sizeism, ableism, racism, allosexism, or other forms of harmful sexual norming or degrading. It contrasts traditional medical and pathology-based approaches that consider sexuality and sexual diversity mainly from the perspective of illnesses and the potential for harm, and that try to establish a limited, externally defined standard of sexual and behavioral health and normalcy. The sex-positive approach respects the ability for folks to decide whether or not to engage in sexual activity, and (if so) how and when they wish to. The sex-positive approach respects an unlimited number of reasons for having consensual sex with or without partners, including for fun, romance, profit, healing, pregnancy, intimacy, art, protest, expression, spirituality, personal growth, health, exploration, pleasure and more. It is not necessary to engage in sexual activity at all, much less be a sexual explorer, to be sex-positive. It is only necessary to see sex and sexual diversity as some of the many healthy aspects of life and identity.

We also strive to adhere to the values of the Guelph Sexuality Conference, as the founder of Sexually Charged (me) is also the co-chair of that event.


Aug 062014

This post is in response to the article Colleges Need To Do More To Ensure Rape Survivors’ Grades Don’t Suffer over on Feministing.com


Students of all genders who are struggling after a sexual assault are often also struggling with their grades. The person who assaulted them may be their partner, an ex-partner, a friend or acquaintance, or a stranger. It’s awful no matter who it was. It may have involved physical force, verbal force, or that insidious coercion that our society encourages survivors to shake off as a part of having sex.

As a faculty member I have a great deal of power to be flexible to the needs of individual students. At the same time it also takes a huge amount of empathy, time, and effort to respond to their needs, especially if they are members of giant lecture hall classes.

I also come with a LOT of background expertise on this topic, something most faculty and administration won’t have. Some of my students come right out and tell me all about it, especially after we cover this topic in class. Others opt not to be as direct, but it’s in their eyes and body language when they come to my office. It hurts my heart every darned time…a lot. I cannot imagine what it is like for faculty and admin that don’t have extensive training and experience working with trauma survivors.

And I can only imagine the complexities that happen when a student approaches a faculty or admin member who has their own history of sexually assaulting others (probably without getting caught). After all, there is nothing about faculty and admin that automatically make us safe people who have hurt others less than any other person out there. We just happen to have authority in that time and place, which makes us either helpful allies or formidable foes. And it’s easiest to default into the latter category by either ignoring the request for help or claiming we can do nothing. I cannot tell you how often I have heard horror stories about how other faculty and admin have responded to their pleas for help and understanding. It would be so much easier for me if more of my fellow faculty/admin were on the same page. Instead, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to throw as many life preservers as possible while others are throwing rocks. Sometimes we are on the same page, though, and it’s a beautiful thing when we can create that blanket of support and caring.

Some weeks I have spent more time working to help these students than I did prepping my lecture or writing the quiz for their class of 500. At times my role stretches out for months after the semester has ended. Colleges and universities most certainly need to do more. As do K-12 schools.

Jun 212014


This year’s Guelph Sexuality Conference was absolutely amazing, friends!  If you have never attended, you really must make a point of visiting the lovely University of Guelph for this event next year.  Check out #UoGSexConf and follow @UofGSexConf on Twitter and FaceBook to see many of the highlights and get a taste of the excellent workshops that went down.  And I’ll be sure to let y’all know when we open up for presentation proposals, but you can also find out at both of those accounts.

This was the first conference at which I ever presented (2004 & 2006), and I could have never guessed that one day I would be on the planning committee.  This year not only did I help plan the event, but I also served as the conference’s first (as far as we know) Active Listener.  I was available throughout the event to help folks process, listen, note any concerns, and other similar duties.  It was an honour and privilege to be able to have such important conversations with attendees throughout the event!

But before all of that, I helped wrap up the opening plenary panel with a personal story and reflections on coming out as being poly.  While this hasn’t exactly been a secret within certain social circles of mine, I wasn’t just reflecting on being non-monogamous.  I was coming out on the professional level right then and there, with friends, coworkers, and my boss in the audience.  Plus I also included my gender and sex queer identities.   The many levels of coming out never stop for some of us, eh?

The entire panel was excellent and it was thrilling to be among such amazing speakers and professionals.  Thankfully, it was taped and will be placed on the Guelph Sexuality Conference website once it’s edited and uploaded.  Until then, here is my transcript.


In 2005 I married my partner of 4 years in Vermont, one of only 2 or 3 places in the USSat the time where queer people could get married.  We were unwilling to get married anywhere with heteronormist marriage laws; this was important to us.  I had proposed to him 4 months earlier, and we had our homemade ceremony by a big rock in the woods with a justice of the peace, and our parents and step-parents.  We used a poem from Virginia Satir for our vows, and I thought you might enjoy it if I read it to you:

How I want to meet you

I want to love you without clutching,
Appreciate you without judging,
Join you without invading,
Invite you without demanding,
Leave you without guilt,
Criticize you without blaming,
And help you without insulting.

If I can have
the same from you,
then we can truly meet and
enrich each other.

That relationship remains the best commitment I ever made. 

The second best happened 7 years later. At the end of 2012 I realized a lifelong dream by moving here, to Canada, to work for the University of Guelph and teach student-therapists learning Couple and Family Therapy.  The transition has been both beautiful and challenging, and over time the beautiful parts have become the majority.  My friends, family, and coworkers knew such a transition would be hard at times, and often asked how I was doing.  The one thing I didn’t feel I could confide was what it was like to grieve leaving behind every intimate partner save my spouse.  Few people are ready to hear a very happily married person talk about how much they miss their lovers.  

When I do mention it outside of certain circles, I’ve learned to do my best to make it comfortable for others.  I keep it short of details; it’s too real if I mention their names much less how much I miss her no-nonsense way of flirting or how he was able to connect more deeply with me when he finally fell in love …with someone else.  I rarely say exactly when we saw each other, or if we ever will again.  That also makes it too real.  And I definitely don’t talk about how deeper emotional and physical intimacy with others has made both my spouse, who I call my primary, and I much happier, healthier, more whole people in our relationship with each other.  It’s not that it becomes too real then, it’s that the listener begins to look at me with pity in their eyes.  Clearly my 9 years of marriage, which is 13 years if you count dating, is a sham and I just can’t admit it yet.  There is either monogamy or there is cheating and breaking up, according to that world view. 

 I’ve been told by folks who assume we are monogamous that I have the kind of marriage that some of my friends dream about, and for us it takes a community to raise a relationship.

Last year I slipped up during a grant writing meeting, and instead of saying “my partner” I said “my primary.”  I tried to play it cool for the rest of the meeting, as though I had not just breached the carefully maintained division between my work life and a very select social circle within my personal life. But I was scared for weeks.  What will people think knowing that someone who teaches and researchers in a field dedicated to romantic dyads feels closest to the main love of her life when they’re sharing what they are learning from being in additional relationships?  Did I just lose their respect, professionally and personally?  I didn’t dare ask them.  I just waited and enjoyed the sweet surprise of nothing changing.  And so I allowed the word to slip two or three more times just to see what would happen.  To my relief I have found myself in the very privileged position of still being ok…for now…a far as I can tell.  

And when someone asked if anyone knew of a member of a poly relationship that was established and going strong, I volunteered for this panel.

I guess I will know if this was a good risk to take one soon enough as my boss is in this audience today. I hope my bet pays off that it’s better to say it here and now than to worry about what would happen if I didn’t.

Families take a multitude of shapes and forms.  When it comes to intimacy, both emotional and physical, there are far more options than monogamy and cheating.  For us, my primary and I, we do not expect to be each other’s everything.  Sometimes in some ways, we aren’t even each other’s favorite thing.  And that allows us to relax and rejoice in the ways in which we are perfect together, without fretting so much about the ways in which we are fantastic yet very different.  

What would respectful affirmation look like? An end to the million everyday ways in which 2 is considered better than 1 or 3, 4, 5, or more. No more forms with spots for only 2 partners of certain genders, no more doctors who assume that married people shouldn’t need STI testing. There would be more room to see more than two people holding hands, perhaps with babies in the middle.  There would be permission to love and love and love and be healthy and full of joy with so much love that it spills out of each relationship and fills the others with excitement and laughter and wholeness.

 There would be permission to find and create what really makes a person their healthiest and happiest, instead of complying to what is supposed to work for everyone.  In that desire to cherish our authentic selves within a supportive and kind environment, I suspect we all have a great deal in common in this room.  I don’t want you to be poly any more than I want you to be monogamous or single.  I just want you to be able to be happy being you, while I am happy being me, and while we are happy for each other.

But I also encourage us to consider the value of being unhappy about falling on our faces, the importance of trying something that doesn’t work, things that hurt when they work, and how we can support each other in that.  

Let me be clear in saying that I cannot possibly represent or speak for all of the many ways in which relationships can be open. I’m only speaking for me, and a little for my primary, with their permission.  It saddens me greatly when I overhear conversations about how only monogamy can work, because a poly relationship (or one part of a poly relationship) ended in a breakup.  By this definition of success, we would have no relationship options or even singlehood as an option. But thank goodness relationships end!  Think of the first person you ever dated – was that person the best relationship decision you ever made?  Mine, for the record, is now a catholic priest, so I’m probably safe in saying that they wanted to go in a different direction than I did.  

I started this talk by saying the safe things: I’ve been with my primary for a long time and I love love.  But what if our relationship ended?   Did that mean we made a mistake?  That I was a fool?  What if one of us left the other for one of our other partners? Did we ask for heartbreak? 

Most break-ups are tough, but as one of my girlfriends used to say: there are only 3 options. You break up, you’re together forever, or somebody ceases to be.  Thank goodness for the first option!  If my relationship with my sweetie ended it would hurt very much, but I suspect I would eventually see that as part of my journey as a poly person.  I hope others would feel the same about my path.

And what of jealousy and pain? Is it ok to hurt like that in a relationship, in a way that  is related to a partner?  Again, I can only speak for myself.  Yes, we both feel pain around facing jealousy, fears, doubts, and more.  I would be worried if we didn’t.  But I learned over time that there is a difference between hurt and harm.  I gave up my fantasies of being someone’s everything, of having some kind of assumed ownership of their body and of someone owning my rights to mine.  I shrugged off my romanticized notion that only one person can make me truly happy, and that I must figure out how to do the same for them in every possible way.  I learned that I can build a stable home without giving up the connection I seek with more than one. I learned that a relationship can be based on, and defined by, things more complex than sexual exclusivity. I learned that jealousy is often a sign of a place in my life where I can grow, learn to communicate better, or discover what I need to be my best me.  I learned how important is to keep figuring out what I need to function and feel best, how to communicate that, and how to nurture it in a multitude of ways without necessarily holding one person accountable for giving it to me.

For me, monogamy is too closed, too tight, too restrictive, too presumptive.  For others, being open is too frightening, too risky, too loose, too devil-may-care, too hedonistic.  There is room for both those views and many more.  But neither of us is proving our way wrong if we break up with somebody, or stay single, or hurt in healthy ways.  Sometimes growing is hard. Neither open relationships nor closed are easy.

But there is an especially political, activist aspect to being open, whether I like it or not.  It is an undeniably powerful statement in our culture when a fat, nerdy, gender and sex queer, married person is having a lot of great sex with a lot of great people and decides mention it into a microphone.  Hello!  While that edginess  is sometimes exciting, I look forward to a day when just being me isn’t such a political act.  And if I feel exhausted by the political nature of being me, with all of my privileges, then there is a huge amount of work for all of us to do before we even get around to how tired I am.

Perhaps a helpful step is questioning what we have learned about what is normal and healthy, and what we have learned about our roles in determining and enforcing that.  In a recent conversation with Charlie Glickman, he brought up a great point that I would like to share with his permission. As helping, healing, and health professionals we use our informed intuition as one of our most valuable tools.  However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between something that set off that informed intuition and something that has triggered a bias, especially around delicate topics such as bodies, sex, relationships, and gender.  How can we make better distinctions between our biases and  intuition, and how might that change us both personally and professionally?

Thank you.


As a follow-up, many friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and people I was just meeting came up to thank me for my vulnerability during my talk.

And my boss gave me a hug.



Mar 142014

There is a thing going around Facebook asking why people don’t buy books for girls instead of drinks when said people are out trying to get laid. Since everyone seems to be voicing their preference about this, I will also put mine on the public record.

There is a sense of obligation that comes with receiving a gift, and a sense of impaired decision making the comes with accepting a drink. Lets not start on that foot.

Don’t buy me anything, please. I got this, financially speaking. Introduce yourself politely, briefly state why you were interested in chatting and ask if you can join me.  Maybe that reason will involve your thought that we might share a common interest or value, and that it would nice to discuss that together.  If I say no, be polite and smile as you leave. I will remember that next time I see you. If I say yes, begin with a genuine but not overly personal conversation starter. Maybe it will be about the drink or book I bought myself. Strive to nurture feelings of safety, respect, and genuine (but not overly intense) interest in my happiness and well-being as a fellow human. If I’m interested in you I will ask you plenty of questions, do not use that as an opportunity to dominate the conversation. I will strive to remember that advice, too. Maybe, down the line, we’ll co-create a relationship where we both buy each other drinks and books. But not right now.

Interesting research suggests that women are more open to casual sexual intimacy when they feel safe and as though they are likely to find the experience pleasurable.  Most often, women do not get a sense of both of those things and thus turn down the invitations.  When a rejected suitor replies with vitriol, she walks away from the encounter knowing that she made the right decision.  Having taught and spent time at some very special sex-positive events where women seem more likely to engage in casual sex than in the rest of their lives, these results sound like they have merit to me.  Perhaps we can reblog these basic values around respect, safety, and mutual pleasure until they become a culture norm?

As the FB blurb about books concludes “there is a lot better chance of that working out in [your] favour.”


Nov 192013

A young girl with long, dark hair writes a letter using pen and paper.

Today an interviewer asked me to share something I, as a sex educator, wish I had known when I was in high school or undergrad.  Once I started writing I couldn’t stop, so I’m sure I gave her much more than she can include in her article.  I thought I might like to share the whole list with you, and I hope you will consider sharing your own list in response!

If I could write a letter to my young adult self, I would include things like this:

– There is no such thing as “wasting” your sexuality or “losing” a part of your sexual self or your identity as a sexual person. Life includes an ongoing process of claiming, reclaiming, exploring, learning, growing, and processing all aspects of our sexualities. Experiences, events, and people can impact that process but they can’t take it away from you.

– Everyone has a right to pleasure and joy, as well as the responsibility to pursue it in ways that don’t inflict negativity on others. And that means that we each have the right to expect others not to hurt us as part of their own pursuits.

– There are a lot of rules and stereotypes about gender out there, but just because they are popular doesn’t make them true. And it also doesn’t make them true just because there are some examples out there that seem to support those rules and stereotypes. We can each define gender for ourselves, and should respect others’ definitions of how they wish to live their own genders.

– It feels easy and natural to say “girls are like this” or “boys should be like that.” It’s so important to resist those kinds of beliefs, as they hurt and limit all genders.

– One of the most powerful and controversial acts of protest we can engage in is simply to be happy with ourselves just the way we are, and to support each other in that effort.

– Virginity can’t be lost because it doesn’t even exist. Try thinking of it all as a natural, normal process of human sexual development that includes many different experiences with ourselves and with partners over time.

– Good sex takes practice, both alone and with others.

– Don’t expect your partner to read your mind and magically provide the kind of pleasure you want. And also, don’t suffer silently if it isn’t working for you! Seek out partners who want to support you in feeling good (and who you want to support that way) and make it an enjoyable team effort with lots of communication.

– If anyone involved is not ready or able to openly and honestly discuss their needs, joys, and limits around sex then you’re not ready for each other yet. And, by the way, this is a conversation that can continue throughout your time together!

– Very few people will be a good fit for a longterm relationship with you, and that’s ok. Enjoy yourselves and grow during the time you have together, then part ways as positively as possible when the natural end of the relationship happens. Try to leave each other better than you found each other, if at all possible. Don’t cling to a relationship that met its natural end already.

– Don’t worry about what culture tells you is sexy and attractive. People have very diverse tastes and you’ll meet plenty of people who lust you just the way you are! You weren’t put on this earth to conform, anyway.

Dr. Ruthie

PS. I thought about adding something about queerness, but I don’t think I was ready to hear what I needed most back then.  And that’s ok!