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.

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

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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.

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.”

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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!

Oct 112013
 
Women are listening to what we say about their bodies when we discuss this shirt.

Women are listening to what we say about their bodies when we discuss this shirt.

When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas.  We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair.  And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; our words are impacting everyone who listens.

__________________

I will begin by getting the distracting things out of the way.  I am not a fan of American Apparel’s advertising, and often times not a fan of the company itself.  I’m especially pissed about their approach to fat potential customers.  I hate that their t-shirt sizes run really small compared to other companies, and that the fabric is cheap and disposable.  There, now that we have that out of the way lets refuse to be distracted by our thoughts on this this company so we can focus on this t-shirt, ok?

Recently American Apparel started selling this t-shirt, and the internet and news media went into their predictable meltdown as though this were bigger than global warming, international conflict, and the US government shutdown all rolled into one.  What was the outcry?  I won’t include links because these folks are getting enough press already.  The summary: the shirt is disgusting because (1) it’s a big naked vulva (2) it’s not naked/young enough; it has pubes (3) it’s menstruating.  For much of the mainstream media it was just too taboo to include (4) the vulva is being pleasured by a hand on the clit.

Whether you or I would wear a shirt like this doesn’t matter to me one bit (spoiler: I would), nor does it matter to this discussion.  What I care about is what we’re saying to each other and the world when we comment on this shirt.  When we talk about this shirt, we’re talking about vulvas.  We’re talking about our culture’s values around vulvas, masturbation, and pubic hair.  And the things we say not only reveal our internalized issues with those natural things; they are impacting everyone who listens.

This is a line drawing of a real vulva, drawn from a vulva selfie taken by one of the artists who created this image.  (The blood was added later, if you’re curious.)  If you’re interested in learning more about the artists and their thoughts on the brewhaha about the shirt, this is a great interview.  Although every vulva is different, there are plenty of vulvas out there that look like this one.  The simplicity of the line drawing means it can represent a particularly wide variety of vulvas, to boot.  When we say nasty things about this vulva, we’re disparaging a real person’s vulva and we’re saying awful things about the vulvas of many people.  By labeling certain things that nearly every vulva was born to have (pubic hair, menstrual blood, labia, masturbatory pleasure) as disgusting in this image, we are enforcing the idea that vulvas and sexual pleasure are something to get all “ew, gross” about.

A happy vulva is a fucking gorgeous vulva, with or without hair, with or without blood.  That includes mine, yours, hers, theirs, his (genitals do not equal gender), and that one over there.  If we’re gonna get our collective undies in a twist over the need for more positive body images, then lets start with our own language right here and now.  I surely hope none of us would turn to our child, sibling, parent, best friend, our partners, or ourself and say “your vulva is nasty.”  When we put down the image on this shirt, that is one of the messages we’re sending, whether intentional or not.

The vulva in this picture is lovely.  

The pubic hair is natural and attractive.  

The fact that the person in the image is pleasuring themself suggests that they and their vulva are happy together, and that’s fantastic.  

I love this vulva.

I love that it is proudly displayed on a shirt.  

And I adore your vulva even more.  I hope you do, too.

Nov 072012
 

Dear US friends:

Please look out for each other today and for the next few weeks. Some folks are quite angry over the election results and there are pledges of violence against our most vulnerable communities. This is especially true in red states and counties. If you are in a privileged group, please turn to those peers (whether you like them or not) and make it clear that verbal, social, financial, and physical violence are not acceptable responses to political disappointment. It’s the job of folks with privilege to use that status to monitor and hold accountable within our own group. It is NOT the job of those at risk to try to make us behave like reasonable humans.

If you, like me, have some undue privilege that you can safely leverage, here are a few places to start:

  • Take some time to do your own research on what vulnerable communities in your neighborhood could use from you. Don’t tell them what you can do, ask them what you can do. Ensure you are doing more listening than talking.
  • Use a firm, concise voice to point out that violent humor is neither acceptable nor humorous.
  • Model nonviolent conversation and behavior in public, especially in front of children in your care. This is even more important around topics where the election didn’t go the way you/they hoped for.
  • Ensure that you are aligning yourself with political and religious groups/activities that are nonviolent in their work. If your group/s have some questionable aspects, either work to change them from the inside or withdraw your participation and support.
  • If you know of individuals or groups that are planning violence, document and report it. Raise the alert with the folks they’re targeting. Do not allow it to happen by remaining silent.

It can be uncomfortable to do these things, and you may lose some priveleged friends. That probably means you’re doing it right. Remember that folks with undue privilege have much less at risk here, even if it is an unpleasant experience.

These are tips taken from my work around community prevention of domestic violence that cross over into other areas of community violence prevention. I would appreciate any other suggestions or feedback!