12 Ways To Celebrate Trans Day of Visibility Year Round

If you didn’t know, today is Trans Day of Visibility, started in 2010 by Rachel Crandall and now spearheaded by Trans Student Educational Resources. Unlike Trans Day of Remembrance, a day of mourning, this is a date for celebration, recognition, and honoring. 

The Theme For This YeaR’s TranS day of VisibilitY:

trans day of visibility


We need more than representation, more than just people seeing and recognizing trans faces. Show your support for trans people of all stripes year round. Think of how you can be an advocate for trans rights in the day-to-day, especially in alliance with trans folks experiencing the intersections of White supremacy, misogyny, ableism, classism, and other forms of systematic discrimination. How can you interrupt when people misgender your friends, lovers, colleagues, family-members? How can you educate yourself and others about gender identity and expression? How can you support trans people around you in concrete ways? And though this list is, in many ways, written for a cisgender audience, a bunch of the things here also apply in cross-trans-identity solidarity and celebration. So regardless of your identities, I invite you to keep reading.

Here are Twelve Ways You Can Start To work on This:

1. Uplift trans-focused organizations like Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, The Audre Lorde Project, the Transgender Law Center, the TransLatin@ Coalition, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the TransWomen of Color Collective, and many more (including this excellent list of trans Native and two-spirit organizations).

2. Practice using pronouns beyond she/her/hers and he/him/his with this fantastic website. If you’re wondering what you say when you ignore people’s pronouns and don’t respect people’s identities, this comic and this infographic explain it perfectly.

3. Read amazing articles centered on trans experiences and stories, and particularly those written by trans women. I’ve linked to the exceptional work from Autostraddle here, and I also post a bunch of trans-related stuff on my personal Tumblr which you can peek at here.

4. Fight the slew of “bathroom bills” and related legislation that seeks to dehumanize, hurt, endanger, and systematically disadvantage trans people. You can find a recent list of them here. If you live in the following states, there are some bills you should be paying attention to: Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, Washington.

5. Remember LGBTQ history and commit it to memory. Learn the names of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Storme Delarverie, Raymond Castro, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and so many more trailblazing trans people.

6. Support trans people in ways that acknowledge value and experience beyond the label of trans. In other words, if you only care about trans people and talk about trans people in the context of trans-ness, you’re doin’ it wrong. Trans people are rappers, nurse practitionersfilmmakers, attorneys, activists, porn performerspoets, doulas, researchers,  multimedia artists, legislators, schoolteachers, performers, indie game developersnews reporters, authors, mixed martial artistsNavy SEALstattoo artists, sex educators, storytellers, and more. Being trans is part of being a whole complex human with varied identities and experiences, not the totality of what someone is or can offer the world!

7. Buy educational resources like Scenarios USA’s amazing curricula on Black femmes titled “What’s the REAL DEAL about Love and Solidarity?” written by Bianca Laureano, The Gender Book, and The Teaching Transgender Toolkit by Eli R Green and Luca Maurer. These can help you educate yourself and others! You can also consider donating them to local school, libraries, or community centers.

8. Share resources about trans and trans-related identities in other languages and from non-Anglo-U.S.-centric perspectives. I compiled a bunch of resources for Spanish-language trans information, for example.

9. Observe Trans Day of Remembrance, Trans Day of Visibility, Trans Day of Resilience, and other relevant dates and celebrations.

10. Interrupt instances of transphobia, cissexism, and cisnormativity. When people are actively misgendered, when LGBT events don’t actually include trans people, when trans women’s voices are overshadowed (including by trans men), when discussions of police brutality don’t include trans people, when people in positions of power refuse to use someone’s pronouns, when people randomly ask trans folks invasive questions, when trans people are stereotyped in casual conversation, when someone’s trans identity is the butt of a joke, the list goes on. Take action.

11. Soak in the amazing creative work featuring trans people and/or made by trans people. Here are some places you can start: DARKMATTER‘s poetry, the amazing children’s books by Flamingo Rampant Press, “To Survive on This Shore” which focuses on older transgender and gender-variant adults, Micah Banzant’s art for #TransLiberationTuesday, the Trans Day of Resilience Art Project by varied artists, a collaboration between Liz Andrade and Dani Weber on the latter’s “Journey to Femme Power” as a genderqueer person, “Vírgenes de la puerta” showcasing trans women in Peru, the GLAAD trans microaggressions photo project, the “Assigned Male” webcomic,  and so many more I can’t even list them all here.

12. Move beyond thinking of trans people as all being “people born in the wrong body who just want to be like cisgender men and women.” The trans umbrella is way more varied than that. Learn about nonbinary trans people (including the varied celebrities who have described being nonbinary in some way) as well as those fitting other labels within and adjacent to the more “well-known” understandings of transness, such as genderqueer.

The Neverending Story (A.K.A. The Ballad of Margaret Brooks and The CSPH)

I love open letters, especially humorous ones like those I used to read back when I was 13 years old and were aimed at celebrities like Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series—don’t judge me). Coming in close second, my other favorite types of open letters are those that shed light on things that had previously been hidden in the shadows.

Today, an open letter went out—from Erin Basler-Francis, one of our champs at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, to Margaret Brooks. (This is not the first time she gets an open letter like this, though the one I wrote years ago was much shorter and crankier). You should click over and read it, stat. Here’s some context:

The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.

Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious. 

We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.

While part of me kind of wants to commend Margaret Brooks for her passion, it’s terribly saddening that it manifests in the ways it does and I cannot in good conscience do so. We shouldn’t stand for the bullying of youth, and we should also not stand for the bullying of adults at the hands of other adults. Obviously, if you’re working toward social justice and not ruffling feathers, you’re not making big enough waves (to, uh, mix some metaphors there), but man—the repercussions aren’t pretty, and we need to change that.

boston snow

Pictured here: the Snowpocalypse that’s as cold as the attitude from Donna Hughes.

It’s not like we haven’t reached out to Ms. Brooks, either. We’ve personally invited her and her crew to our events, and extended olive branches in the spirit of dialogue both online and in person, and none of them have been acknowledged or even accepted. In fact, we’ve been pretty straightforward and transparent in all our dealings. To her credit, I guess, she DID shake my hand once? This is when I was trying to show her I was a real person and not some nameless undergrad she could just bully without having to ever face. That is more than I can say for Donna Hughes (a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island—how appropriate, right?), who very much did not shake my hand when I greeted her and gave me a cold shoulder of Boston weather proportions. It was pretty epic. But I digress.

Margaret Brooks is the same person who (along with Donna Hughes and Melanie Shapiro) tried to get a slew of events (including KFAPVD) I organized at Brown University canceled while I was an undergraduate. This is the cohort that misrepresented SO many things about the work the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and The CSPH were doing. This is the person that sent countless emails to Brown’s administration (including the President) warning them of the “dangers” of these events, blatantly spread inaccurate/misleading information, and wrote bulletins claiming that we were to blame for a spike in young RI men contracting HIV. This is one of the people that made my time at Brown tough for a while, and made me have to watch my back really carefully.

On some level, I’m glad it started early so I could protect myself before things got too serious, and I’m very fortunate to consistently work in spaces that respect my endeavors and where I can be open about who I am and what I do, but many people aren’t as fortunate

This is the person that sent my personal Twitter account to professors and deans before it was something I shared as publicly as I do now. This is the same person that sent critique-laden, alarmist emails to my supervisors at Sojourner House—about my personal life and affiliations to organizations that believe in kink/BDSM education and reproductive justice—trying to possibly get me fired, and definitely trying to put me in hot water and endanger a health fair I was coordinating. Fortunately, I was out about my identities at Sojourner House, because if I hadn’t been, she would have outed me to the director and my supervisor, as well as other colleagues. That is not okay.

I am eternally grateful to all the professors, deans, staff, friends, and colleagues who were and have been supportive, understanding and wonderful throughout all this and its multiple iterations. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and in sexuality education. While Brown is a deeply flawed institution, certainly, I am incredibly proud that they institutionally backed up my right to hold the events I did, and supported my health and dignity during that process. I firmly believe I didn’t bear a bigger burden while I was an undergrad because I was still a student and thus not as “fair game” as professionals in the working world.

You know who was the fairest game of them all, and the original target? Megan Andelloux—one of the best and most hardworking educators in the field today. megan andellouxMargaret Brooks is the person that time and time again contacts places where Megan Andelloux and her close friends/colleagues present with scare tactics in efforts to squash their/our attempts at education. This bullying not only harms the institutions and their populations who are sometimes deprived of accurate sexuality education, but it takes a huge emotional toll on honest, hardworking sexuality educators and advocates who are trying to make the world a better, more sexually literate place. The case with Vanderbilt is not the first time this happens.

This is the cohort of people that tried to stop The CSPH from opening back in 2009/2010. The same cohort of people that have accused my colleagues of pedophilia because they believe in giving kids accurate sexuality information and answering their questions at whatever age they start asking them. This is the cohort that, under the guise of “academic” and/or “professional” writing used blatant inaccuracies and decontextualizations (not to mention shoddy record-keeping and citations) to “make points” about how, basically, we are The Worst.

As far as ethics and academic integrity, I would expect better from a Brown alumna/Economics professor and a Women’s Studies professor.

This needs to stop, and we need people to listen. We will keep doing the work we do because we believe in it, and these things are not going to stop us, but we are not made of steel. We are committed to bringing these issues to light, but remember—all this takes a toll. How are you helping break down this misinformation? How are you supporting the victims of bullying and stalking and professional attacks? If you’re not already, imagine having to watch your back constantly for people like this. Where will they be next? What professional gig will they try to wreck soon? What kind of misinformation will they try to spread? This is why we need to speak up and support each other.

What Happened in 2012?

If you know me in any capacity, you know that while I’m not a mathematician, I’m a huge fan of data and numbers. I like my work, in as much as possible/necessary, to be data-informed…and the idea of spreadsheets, progress reports, and info compilation (while at times tedious) gets me excited. I’m also a huge fan of calendars and productivity apps, so I organize my time with almost religious zeal on things like BusyCal.

Thus, it must come as no surprise that I usually try to do “retrospective” posts every year in some way, to prepare for my New Year’s Resolutions and to figure out the bigger picture of the work I’ve done…so here we go!

The first bit of this year, I finished up working at the senior center doing digital literacy instruction. I kept working with The CSPH and Sojourner House, and remained involved with things like ONARIASLSHEEC, and a bunch of coalitions. At the end of the year, I was brought on as an off-site sex educator for Good Vibrations and as one of the folks who will be doing work with Partners in Sex Ed in 2013.

So what are some of the numerical breakdowns of my constant running around?

  • 20 conferences/summits (some of which I presented at)
  • 4 organizational retreats
  • 3 concerts
  • 9 states/territories/districts (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Louisiana)

Teaching-wise, what does that look like for 2012?

  • 3 four-session educational groups–one at an adult learning facility and two at a mental health and substance abuse center. (I also did drop-in presentations about sexual health at ongoing support groups for domestic violence issues, including one specifically centered on Native American women).
  • 34 presentations with a total around 885 faces at them (not counting the aforementioned groups or my work with digital literacy, though, because I didn’t want to be bothered to pull those numbers).

I spoke at high-schools about sexuality, orientation, safer sex, healthy relationships, and dating. I went to a senior citizen housing complex to talk about sexual health and relationships. I spoke at universities about sex toys + technology, anal pleasure, and eco-sexuality + green sex toys. I spoke to professionals at other organizations/conferences about domestic violence issues and taught them how to acknowledge and incorporate pleasure into their work, how to reduce sexual stigma, and how to make the connection between prevention of HIV and domestic violence.

Finally, aside from formal conferences/summits, I testified at the statehouse on reproductive health bills, spoke on a panel at Libertalia about uniting the feminist and queer liberation struggles, co-coordinated an event for community dialogue on racism/art (that brought in like 75 people!), and spoke at an Occupy Sexism rally on gender/activism issues. I can’t even begin to count how many trainings/educational events I attended, or how many events I participated in and/or tabled at…

Some firsts/other awesome things?

  • Got certified as a qualified HIV test counselor in the state of Rhode Island
  • Bought an iPad
  • Was appointed co-chair of Healthy Youth RI
  • Got frisky with a Loki cosplayer at a conference
  • Did my first teleclass about Sex Week with Reid, Megan, and Courtney
  • Was interviewed on the radio on the Laura Ingraham show so I could debate the merits of Sex Weeks on college campuses
  • Visited the Museum of Sex in New York
  • Made Hulk-inspired pasties at The CSPH
  • Got quoted in The New York Times talking about Sex Week
  • Went river-tubing with friends on the Farmington River in CT near a place called Satan’s Kingdom Recreation Area
  • Wrote a pamphlet on the connection between sexual health and domestic violence
  • Ran a wellness fair for National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
  • Coordinated a contest for high-schoolers to get their communities talking about dating violence and relationships
  • Was interviewed on Huffington Post Live to talk about polyamory (also on the show: the guy from Modern Poly, Ian, Reid, and Allison Moon)
  • Went to Wakefield, stayed at a waterfront cabin with friends/partners, and visited the AWESOME Crazy Burger in South County
  • Consumed EVERY episode I could find of Glee, Mad Men, and Once Upon a Time.
  • Got trained on the super secret Wyman TOP curriculum

And even with all that, I also managed to spend time with many loved ones, watch a ton of movies, and get some semblance of sleep. I wonder what 2013 will bring!

My 7th Grade Class Helped Me Define My Relationships

I remember learning about elements and electron-shell diagrams in my 7th grade science class. Who would’ve thought that that same model I saw on the whiteboard would be the key to explaining what the heck I was doing with my relationships years later?

Please scroll to the bottom for a 2016 update/note!

Fluorine has 2 electrons on
the first shell and 7 on the
second shell.

Unless you count a torrid online romance with a guy from Canada when I was 14, at the age of 19 I’d never been in a relationship. All my knowledge of the mechanics of sex and intimacy were purely theoretical, and then I suddenly launched into something with a married polyamorous man with a Ph.D who was almost 10 years my senior. Oh, and did I mention he also had another girlfriend in addition to his wife? Though precocious and definitely interested in alternative sexuality since before high-school, nothing had prepared me for this relationship model.

So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I researched! I devoured everything I could find online about non-monogamy (and polyamory especially), spending hours upon hours reading personal accounts, advice columns, informational websites, and research papers. I had to unlearn a lot of things and reprogram my brain to understand this new model of relationship. In that process, I had to interrogate the metaphors I used to describe my love-life, what visual representations I used to talk about significant others, and what kind of language in general I used to describe my intimacy and the people involved.


If “Lithium” actually just meant
“Aida,” this diagram would say that
I have 2 primaries and 1 secondary!

With increased hands-on experience (wink wink, nudge nudge) in non-monogamous living came more “opportunities” to describe my situation, both to potential partners and the general public.

One of the hurdles in explaining my relationship configuration was discussing how I could have two super important partners at the same time. I’m a pretty visual person, and non-monogamy sometimes necessitates a lot of diagramming, so I needed something I could draw for people. At some point along the way, my brain cycled back to my 7th grade science class and the electron-shell diagrams seemed to resonate.

So how does this work for me (and how might it work for you)? Read on, look at the Lithium diagram to the right, and keep the following in mind:

  • The big, red circle is the nucleus (made up of protons and neutrons), and that is the self (me!)
  • The little gray circles are electrons, and those are other people
  • The shells/rings are levels of commitment/closeness

1: There can be more than one electron/person on each shell (which goes against the ideas of “only one soulmate” in the monogamy model and against the “only one primary” notion in some polyamorous communities). The electrons don’t occupy the same exact space on the shell (read: the electrons are not on top of each other, ), but they ARE on the same shell, so it embodies how multiple primary partners are on the same general level of importance but are still fulfilling in different aspects.

2: Up to a certain point, the further a shell is from the nucleus, the higher the maximum number of electrons allowed on it. (For example: the first shell can hold a max. of 2 electrons, the second shell can hold a max. of 8, and the third shell can hold a max. of 18.) In relationship-talk, that means that I have a maximum number of people that I can pay attention to at a given time on a given rung, and I could have bigger numbers of lower-investment relationships than higher-investment relationships*. The maximum of two on the innermost shell is also probably accurate; I don’t think I could ever handle more than 2 primaries!

3 (not tied to the shell diagram, but just general atomic knowledge I wanted to include)While the electrons affect the charge of an atom, an element is identified by the number of protons in the nucleus. This jives well with the idea that while relationships might change me (and, heh, make me more positive or negative), I’m my own person and I have a recognizable identity outside of whomever I am partners with at a particular time.

4: Finally, just because a shell has a maximum number of electron spots available, it doesn’t mean  I HAVE to try to get that shell full of electrons or that bed full of people just because I can.

*Still, the model isn’t perfect. Number of partners on each “commitment rung” don’t have to follow the “filling” patterns of atoms. For example, in Real Science, each shell can only hold a particular maximum number of electrons (2, 8, 18, 32 for the first four shells) and shells get filled from the inside out, so I wouldn’t have an element/relationship with 2 electrons/people on the first shell, 4 in the second, and then 9 in the third. In my love life, however, I could totally have 5 casual partners and no primary, or perhaps I could have 2 primaries, 1 secondary, and 12 tertiaries. And actually, according to the Madelung Energy Ordering Rule, there are certain atoms who have “partially-filled” outer rings, so straying from the 2, 8, 18, 32 pattern is possible, but not the rule by any means.

07/30/16 — Edited to add: How I personally arrange my relationships and what words I use for them has changed considerably throughout the years! It’s important to clarify that the way I describe relationship arrangements here follows (or can follow) a fairly hierarchical model (though different from the “only one primary” idea, and without the problematic “only primaries matter” mentality). This electron shell model is useful for some but certainly not exhaustive, and there are tons of layers of nuance we can/should layer on top of it. This shell model can help with broad explanations and debunking some common misconceptions, but it doesn’t say anything about kinds of commitment, what names and partnerships in these “relationship rungs” look like, or anything like that. Intimacy and commitment are rarely so easily categorizable, so please keep that in mind when perusing. For some food for thought on polyamory, hierarchy, and more, check this and this out.

A Paragraph on Sex-Positivity: GO!

At its core, sex-positive individuals like myself see sexuality as a potentially joyful and productive aspect of human life, one that should not be rooted in shame and relegated to whispered conversations. I find it such an important and boundary-breaking way of looking at the world because it doesn’t dictate specific courses of action so much as it promotes comprehensive education and the availability of options for people to make their own decisions. Thus, there is no “one correct” way of experiencing pleasure and/or expressing one’s sexuality, but instead plenty of room for nuance, fluidity, and difference. For me particularly, sex positivity is deeply tied to ideas about feminism, anti-oppression work, and notions of intersectionality; it’s about the individual, but also the community. Bringing a sex positive attitude into practice means striving for the liberation of individuals from structural forms of oppressive control—recognizing that these don’t play out in the same ways for everyone—and asserting the right of people to pursue their sexual pleasure in ways that feel right for them, as long as they do so in a consensual, informed manner.

Get To Know Your Body: Part II (How to be a Better Patient)

As a follow-up from my last article, discussing the importance of knowing one’s body and being more educated regarding health, here I bring you a list of tips and advice regarding how to interact with the medical establishment as it relates to one’s own body/health:

Follow doctor’s orders, but if you choose to disregard/modify them, make sure you’re taking informed risks. It’s foolish to assume all patients follow all directions ALL THE TIME. Assess your risks if you’re going to disregard a rule so you can make a truly informed opinion. Don’t believe everything you read online, though the ‘net can be a terrific resource. Trust articles in peer-reviewed journals more than random websites. To be a better consumer of information, you’ll need to up your media literacy skills (but that’s another post entirely). Regardless, as much as you can manage, follow your doctor’s orders!

Be honest with your practitioners. Don’t hide things from them because you’re ashamed or think they might judge you. Whatever the awkwardness, it’s more important to tell them the truth because that information is what will help them take care of you.

If you don’t like your doctor, get a new one. However, don’t confuse “don’t like because they’re incompetent or they make me uncomfortable” for “they sometimes tell me things I don’t want to hear and might be more strict than I want them to be.” Feel free, though, to shop around for a doctor that resonates with you, your personality, and your particular budget/insurance.

Don’t assume “no news is good news.” Doctor’s offices are often swamped, and it’s your responsibility to remember when to get (or at least ask for) your test results.

Before going in for a procedure, look online and talk to your doctor to learn what to expect. This is especially helpful when dealing with first time exams, particularly pelvic and prostate exams. It will help you know the timeline and what will happen, so it might help assuage stress. It can also help you catch if something’s missing! Did the doctor forget to give you something or do a certain procedure? Politely ask them about it, and why they chose not to do it. If you approach it tactfully and not in a condescending or impatient manner, it can be a way to show you’re invested in your health and have done your homework.

Give more information, rather than less. This doesn’t mean bore your doctor with the minutiae of your life, certainly, but that doctors sometimes need more information than we give them. If you think it MIGHT be related to your health, mention it just in case (for example, if you’re taking up a new intense sport, a friend passed away, you’re starting a new diet, etc.). You should also try to be concise, but not at the expense of important details. This is a process of trial and error, and the more you learn about how your body relates to your health and daily activities, the better equipped you’ll be to make these decisions about what’s relevant in the future.

Inspect your body and get in touch with it (literally and figuratively). I’m not saying you need massage oils, Celtic music, and a warm bath (though those can be lovely); I’m just saying pay attention to your body, feel it out, and look for changes. You can only tell when something is deviating from its normal state if you KNOW that normal state is in the first place. Don’t be afraid to touch yourself (again, literally and figuratively); consider it an investment in your health and future.

If you feel strange or develop a lump, a body of symptoms, pains, etc., WRITE IT DOWN. Keep a log of what you’re feeling and when it started, so when (and if) you have to talk to your doctor, you can give them a better picture of what’s going on and how long it has been a certain way.

Be potentially willing to educate your doctor. Though doctors receive a LOT of schooling, there’s a lot of information they still need. Especially when it comes to “alternative lifestyles” or structurally-oppressed groups/minorities, many doctors don’t have the skills and knowledge to treat them in sensitive, aware ways. Not everyone has the privilege/luxury to pick whatever doctor they want or see a doctor that fits their particular needs, so they’ll be in a position in which they need to deal with the hand they’re dealt and educate their practitioner. There are many online and print resources that you can make available to them, so you don’t have to harness all this knowledge on your own! It’s an unfortunate situation, especially for those who are usually placed in a position where they have to educate people around them regarding their identities/lifestyles, but until the structures that build these conditions are addressed and changed, it’s either a choice between educating a doctor or receiving sub-par and potentially inadequate care.

Be aware of language differences and particularly loaded terms. If a doctor asks if you’ve engaged in “risky behavior,” ask what they mean. If a doctor asks if you’ve “used protection during sex,” ask what they mean. These are vague questions loaded with assumptions and, not only is that problematic in itself, it can lead to misinterpreting the question and answering in a way that might sound/feel truthful, but doesn’t get at the meat of the discussion. Know that words you use might not be interpreted in the same way by doctors (especially when it comes to sexual health and sexual activities!).

Check on your family medical history. This is especially helpful when assessing risk factors and patterns of disease! If you are in touch with your biological parents or biological relatives, ask them for their medical history (or records, if they have them). If you’re not in touch with your biological family, start keeping records of your own; these can benefit potential future generations.

Voice your concerns and ask questions. Doctors aren’t mind-readers. If there’s something making you uncomfortable, tell your doctor. If you need to think about it and organize your thoughts beforehand, that’s fine, but make sure to let them know at SOME point. Like any other relationship, a doctor/patient one needs communication, especially because your health depends on it!

Remember what you discussed during the visit. Either ask them to write it down for you or bring a little notepad (or whatever writing device is useful for you). If you have issue with your sight or just prefer things that are audible, bring a small tape-recorder or something like it.

Educate yourself regarding STI-testing. Again, many doctors generally have a limited background in sexual health, so make sure to educate yourself, especially regarding new technologies, tests, and research. “Recommended” tests are based on statistics and population analyses regarding infection rates, but you should ask for tests based on your own sexual history and level of risk/concern, so look up information about those before going into the office. This is crucial for those who are non-monogamous (whether openly or clandestinely) and those who are LGBTQ, since doctors sometimes operate under a model that assumes heterosexuality and monogamy. As I mentioned earlier, language is also important, so make sure you and your provider are very clear about what you’re discussing (e.g. “sex” might mean “penis-in-vagina intercourse” to some people, while it may be a broader category for others).

More specifically, related to certain practices/tests:

  • Don’t go to the OBGYN while you’re menstruating. It makes it much harder and messier to do proper check-ups.
  • If you’re going to get a pap-smear, refrain from intercourse for at least 24 hours.
  • If you’re getting a physical, try to schedule it during NON-winter months, since by then, doctor’s offices are full of flu-ridden people. Read: they’re busier and you’re more likely to get sick, too.

Get To Know Your Body: Part I

No, really. Get to know it.

I feel everyone should be in touch with their body. Many individuals hand over their health to a practitioner and don’t really check to see what they’re being given and/or told (which can be a problem if the doctor filled out the wrong prescription or didn’t know something integral about the patient’s health that could affect their care). I find it terribly unfortunate that so many people don’t know what’s going on inside them and lay their lives fully in health-care providers’ hands. Not to say we shouldn’t trust doctors, but to trust them blindly is a mistake. Healthcare is a two-way street and I think patients definitely have responsibilities to ensure that they’re getting the best care possible, partially because they have insider knowledge about their bodies/ailments AND because doctors aren’t perfect (did you know many of them receive less than one week of sex-ed as part of their professional training regimen?).

Patients need to know their bodies to better assist clinicians in collecting data to inform decisions about how to proceed in a medical setting AND they also need to educate themselves about the medical processes that are affecting them or COULD affect them (due to risk level, heredity, etc.). However, while I feel it’s somewhat irresponsible to just go to a doctor without knowing anything about one’s body or the medical care one is receiving (or hopes to potentially receive), I must acknowledge that not everyone has access to this sort of information. Heck, not everyone has access to the conversations that would even bring up the need for this type of preparation, never mind the actual information that would aid in it! For that reason, we need to not only urge people to get to know their bodies, but help provide systems that encourage it. We need an approach that deals with the individual, but also the structural issues that create (or help) body shame/fear/ignorance flourish.

With that said, it’s my hope that by personally promoting body-knowledge in certain circles and classes, it will become a more normalized practice and thus spread. Furthermore, there are many different levels of knowledge and awareness about these issues, so while not everyone has to have a PhD, we should all strive to cover as many bases as we can with the backgrounds and life situations in which we are enmeshed.

But back to the point: know your body.

Why? If a patient is unaware of what standard procedures are, what to look for in a provider, how to recognize warning signs for specific illnesses, how could they advocate for themselves and ask for what they need? How could they tell if their doctor forgot something, or if their doctor is incompetent (or, vice-versa, amazing)?

The reason I bring this up is because I’ve gone through some interesting patient/doctor interactions and I’ve reaped the benefits of my preparation. For example, I went to the OB-GYN a few years back and she was very impressed by my knowledge concerning HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), Gardasil (an FDA-approved vaccine that protects against certain strains of HPV), blood-work, and urinalyses. She repeatedly said how amazed she was that I understood all these terms and knew what was going on. I explained that I like knowing what I put in my body and understanding the things I’m told, so whenever I get a lab result, vaccination, or prescription, I look up information about it. For example, when we did my check-up, I talked about how I’d had my Gardasil shots and so I felt I wasn’t super at risk for genital warts, but that I knew the vaccine only protected against certain strains–16, 18, 6, 11–though not all of them, BUT that 2 of those it covered were the ones that caused 90% of genital warts and the other 2 were the ones that caused 70% of cervical cancer. I also discussed that I was skeptical about having a UTI (which parts of my urinalysis seemed to point to) and we both concurred that it was probably just a contaminated sample, citing the number of bacteria and squamous epithelial cells as proof.

Because of this research and knowledge, I was able to ask things and explain some of my concerns while simultaneously pulling in facts to substantiate my questions and comments. I think this was the biggest thing for me, honestly; being informed helped me articulate better what I needed, thought, and was afraid of in a language that was meaningful and appropriate for the setting. Furthermore, it helped me realize when I was later dealing with an incompetent doctor!

Next: how to prepare to be a better-educated patient!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

For Immediate Release
Sexuality educators set the record straight: “Talking about sexuality does not increase sexually transmitted infections” despite what non-experts report.

Megan Andelloux

Contact: Aida Manduley

In yet another attempt to shut down access to quality sex education, South-Eastern New England conservative advocates hit the sex panic button in a multi-state, email and phone campaign to colleges all over New England last week.

On February 3rd and 4th , certified sexuality educator and sexologist Megan Andelloux (AASECT, ACS) received word that numerous colleges and university faculty received a document stating that colleges who brought sex educators such as Ms. Andelloux onto their campuses were linked to the increasing rate of transmission of HIV in RI. Furthermore, among other misleading “facts” that were “cited,” the author of this bulletin claimed that Brown University was facing an HIV crisis, which is false.

Citizens Against Trafficking, the face behind the fear-mongering, spammed numerous local institutions from a University of Rhode Island account with its latest malicious missive that targeted specific individuals as well as Brown University. The author of the letter, Margaret Brooks, an Economics Professor at Bridgewater State, suggested that colleges and universities that host sexuality speakers, including those who are professionally accredited, are partly to blame for the four new cases of HIV which have been diagnosed amongst RI college students this year.

Ms. Andelloux states: “My heart goes out to those students who have recently tested positive for HIV. However, there is no evidence of any link between campus presentations on sexual issues and the spike in HIV cases. Rather, I would suggest that this demonstrates a need for more high-quality sex education to college students.“ It is unclear why people at URI or Citizens Against Trafficking, a coalition to combat all forms of human trafficking, is attempting to stop adults from accessing sexual information from qualified, trained educators. What is certain however, is that this Professor of Economics miscalculated her suggestion that a correlation exists between increased HIV rates in Rhode Island and the type of sex education these speakers provided at Brown University: one that emphasized accurate information, risk-reduction, pleasure, and health.

Barrier methods have been shown by the CDC to reduce the transmission of HIV and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). Research has shown that when individuals have access to medically accurate information, are aware of sexual risk reduction methods, and have access to learn about sexual health, the number of infections and transmission of STIs decreases, pain during sex decreases, and condom use increases. The CAT circulated bulletin is blatantly misleading about many issues, and often omits information that is crucial to understanding the full picture of sex education at Brown and in Rhode Island.

When individuals who do not hold any background in sexuality education speak out in opposition because of their fear or prejudice, society becomes rooted in outdated beliefs and pseudo-science that do injustice to people everywhere. Furthermore, when those individuals personally and publicly attack those devoted to providing sex education with false and misinformed accusations, it not only hurts those who are defamed, but also the community at large.

We ask for an immediate retraction of the vilifying and inaccurate statements made by Ms. Margaret Brooks and Citizens Against Trafficking in their latest newsletter. We also ask that esteemed local universities such as URI and Bridgewater State continue to hold their employees to ethical standards of normal scientific inquiry and require that their faculty hold some modicum of expertise in a field of education before raising the public level of panic over it.

Megan Andelloux is available to answer any questions the press, Margaret Brooks, University of Rhode Island or Citizens Against Trafficking holds. Aida Manduley, the Chair of Brown University’s Sexual Health Education and Empowerment Council and Brown University’s is available to discuss the upcoming Sex Week and sexuality workshops held at Brown University.

Megan Andelloux
Shanna Katz
Reid Mihalko
Aida Manduley


Last-Minute Uninvitation: Shame on OSU

For those of you who haven’t heard, Tristan Taormino (of sex-ed, puckerup.com, and feminist porn fame), booked to give the keynote speech at the Oregon State University Modern Sex conference (scheduled for February 15th and 16th), has been UNINVITED from the event. The university representative who uninvited her cited her “résumé and website” as the reason.


You read right folks. A speaker who was booked to give the KEYNOTE talk at a conference was uninvited for the very body of work that made her worthy of being invited in the first place. But it gets messier. Read on for the story:

On October 28, 2010, organizers of the OSU Modern Sex conference booked Taormino to give the keynote talk; they confirmed the date and agreed to fees, and Tristan’s management received a first draft of the contract on November 1. That contract was incomplete and sent back to OSU for revisions. As with many negotiations, the contract was pending as all the paperwork got done, but in late December, OSU again confirmed Tristan’s appearance and conference organizers told her manager to purchase airline tickets, for which OSU would reimburse her.

On Tuesday, January 18, 2011, Steven Leider, Director of the Office of LGBT Outreach and Services contacted Colten Tognazzini, Tristan Taormino’s manager, to say that the conference had come up short on funding. Tognazzini told him that since the travel was booked and the time reserved, they could work with whatever budget they did have. Leider said that would not be possible: “We have to cancel Ms. Taormino’s appearance due to a lack of funding. It has been decided that OSU cannot pay Ms. Taormino with general fee dollars, because of the content of her resume and website.” At OSU, ‘general fee dollars’ include taxpayer dollars given to the University by the Oregon State Legislature to defray various costs. They differ from ‘student activity dollars,’ which are part of every student’s tuition and help fund student groups and activities.

Tognazzini spoke to a source at OSU who speculated that the University feared that when it went before the legislature in regards to future funding, legislators would use OSU’s funding of a “pornographer” on campus as ammunition to further cut budgets. This source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Tognazzini, “I think they’re uninviting Tristan because they don’t want to have to defend her appearance to conservative legislators.”

Now, I won’t talk about the politics of caving here and why it’s a messed up situation from an ethical or sex-positive standpoint. Instead, I want to talk about this issue from the perspective of a student event-organizer at a university; I want to touch upon the process of organizing events and what that entails. Bringing in speakers isn’t easy, especially if you’re at state-sponsored institutions and trying to book people who are in some way “radical” or just not mainstream. I’m privileged because I attend a private institution that, in many ways, is very pro-student and fiercely + eloquently defends our freedom of expression and education (if the way administrators handled last year’s KinkForAll Providence, Get Your Heart On: Sex Educator Showdown, and Sex Week 2010 issues with cranky conservative critics is representative of this). For those reasons, and because of my passion for quality sexual education & frank discussion about these things, I use that privilege to the best of my ability. I organize dozens of events for my campus and the community at large (I aim to make all the events I coordinate open to the public), but I couldn’t do as much if I didn’t have the support of my peers and University.

Mind you, when I say support, I don’t mean Brown condones or accepts the things my speakers talk about, necessarily, but the University actively supports their RIGHT to say them and the importance of having a dialogue on campus–of showing different, empowering, and educational perspectives (many of which are also fun and very engaging, not just academic). Brown supports my rights as a student to be an activist, to fight for what I believe in, and to shape campus in various ways. For that, I am thankful. At the same time, I’m saddened that not everyone is in such a position. We see a case of this lack of support at OSU. From what I can see (and what I deduce), the organizers for the conference aren’t the ones who decided to last-minute cancel on Tristan; the decision came from higher-ups who feared retaliation from those who control their funds. It is this fear that drives many decisions regarding comprehensive sex-education, and while it’s a shame (and something I endeavor to help change), I can understand it. The job of a university administrator isn’t easy, and we must understand why sometimes they’re put in double-binds that force them to take actions like this one.

HOWEVER, organizers shouldn’t confirm events or speakers for which they do not have funds definitely secured (or means for securing them), especially in cases like this. Furthermore, event-planners should have enough self-awareness and knowledge of their institution’s policies to understand which speakers might be deemed “controversial” or “problematic,” know what the system could do to them (e.g. cancel an event) & why they would have reason to, and have plans to handle situations if they arise. In those cases where one is attempting to bring someone who could be criticized by the opposition and cause problems, it’s important to speak with university administrators and see what their stance is (ideally in writing!), so the ball doesn’t get rolling on something that will have to be canceled at the last minute. Still, shit happens, and sometimes universities cave, stomping all over students’ most carefully laid out plans in the process. In those situations, however, organizations (and universities) should be prepared to do SOME form of damage-control.

Honestly, my first question here would be “well, why were they planning on using the general fee dollars in the first place instead of the student activity dollars?”

While I’m not going to bash OSU for the decision to cancel Tristan’s talk (though I don’t agree with it, of course), I think it’s shameful that they’re not going to reimburse Tristan for the costs she has already incurred. While they hadn’t signed a contract, they had been in negotiations and told her everything was set, and to reserve her plane tickets. If OSU is going to uninvite her, the least the could do is reimburse her. That would at least leave them with some amount of grace and dignity; as it stands, however, OSU’s position is not one I can respect. Honestly, it’s clumsy and unprofessional. I only hope that they rethink this and make the right decision, or at least one that’s better than this one. While they may not be able to use general funds, there are many other ways to raise money, and the bodies responsible for booking Tristan should be responsible for figuring out a way to make this situation right.

Check out Tristan’s full press-release here.

Note from Tristan:
Don’t Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU’s decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support —Tristan

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: larry.roper@oregonstate.edu

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
email: deanofstudents@oregonstate.edu
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: pres.office@oregonstate.edu

Talking About The Taboo – Conference 10/10

Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health to hold its 2nd Annual Conference,
“Talking about the Taboo”.
Pawtucket, RI September 20th, 2010 –
The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) will be holding its second annual conference titled “Talking about the Taboo: Discussing Difficult Issues in Human Sexuality” on October 10th at 1:00 pm at its location in the historic Grant building in downtown Pawtucket, RI. The CSPH is the first sexuality resource and information center on the East Coast.
What: This conference represents the outcome of a battle to open the CSPH dating back to September of 2009. The CSPH was originally denied permission to open after a controversial zoning decision made by the Pawtucket City council, stating that the Grant building was not zoned to allow businesses of and educational nature. After a media frenzy and intervention from the ACLU, the city reversed their decision and allowed the CSPH to open in February of the following year. The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will be the first legal event the CSPH will hold in Pawtucket.
Through this conference the CSPH will provide sexuality education to adults in a safe and open environment. By bringing together sexuality and the pleasure, education, advocacy and medical worlds, the CSPH will take subjects that are traditionally “taboo” and illuminate them, showing that exploring taboo topics is necessary for providing basic education, and can be discussed in thought-provoking ways.
When: October 10th, from 1:00pm-5:00pm.
Where: 250 Main Street, The Grant Building, Pawtucket, RI 02860
Who: The “Talking about the Taboo” conference will include panels with sexuality specialists such as Dr. Charlie Glickman and Dr. Logan Levkoff, alongside nationally known authors and bloggers such as Sinclair Sexsmith and Audacia Ray. There will also be vendors and local- and national-level community organizations exhibiting 100% safer sex products to conference attendees.
Why: The CSPH is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Beginning with this conference the CSPH will offer educational discussion groups, conduct sexuality studies, and hold classes both for professionals and for the general public.

For more information, please visit the CSPH’s website at http://thecsph.org or contact Ms. Andelloux by phone at 401-345-8685 or email at thecsph@gmail.com