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Category Archives: Open To Change

An Interview with Karen B. K. Chan

Near the end of 2013, I was honored to attend the Sex Ed Conference in New Jersey and meet the wonderful Karen B. K. Chan. During her panel, she showed us her Jam video, and it blew my mind. Thus, I requested an interview with her, and she accepted.

A: What exactly is a sex educator? What are the most challenging parts of your job? The most rewarding?
K: There are many kinds of sex educators… the kind I mean when I call myself a sex educator is that I facilitate people’s learning (and unlearning) about sex and sexuality.
Information giving is only a small part. The parts that are most important (and rewarding) to me are about self-acceptance and transformation, and walking alongside and witnessing people as they move into (and through) difficult feelings. I also love explaining things that are hard to understand, and telling stories about human sexuality that don’t get told enough.
A: Where did you get the idea for your Jam video?
K: It’s based on a fabulous essay by Thomas MacAulay Millar called “Towards a Performance Model of Sex”, published in “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape” (by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti). For many months, I insisted on reading it, aloud, to friends and lovers. When the commission from Sex Ed: Chapter 1 (an exhibit about arts-based sex ed curated by Liz Slagus and Norene Leddy) came up, I was so happy to get Thomas’ blessings to make a video spin-off from it.
A: What do you feel is the most important component of sex between two partners?
K: There is an infinite number of ways to connect sexually. What’s important depends on what people are seeking, and what parts of themselves they want to reveal or conceal.
But if I had to pick something – I’d say being present. It’s essential for the kind of sex that is transformative and magical (be that something quick and casual, or something intense and profound). But, it isn’t always magical, transcending sex we’re after. Sometimes we just want to get off, and being present matters little. So this is my long way of saying – it depends!
A: In the video, you mention, “Practice makes us less self conscious, more knowledgeable, more skillful and more in the moment.” How would you encourage a person faced with self-shame to engage in a healthy sexual relationship?
K: I would encourage them to figure out what they want. I don’t think everyone needs to be everything. We all have demons, and we choose to live with some of them and tackle others. Noticing one’s shame doesn’t, to me, mean we must get rid of it in a hurry. There’s no shame in shame… so to speak.
But, if someone decides for themselves that the shame is getting in their way, then I’d encourage them to gently head into and befriend the shame. That could be through any number of things: reading, therapy, talking with friends, having sex differently, not having sex at all, telling and hearing stories, masturbating (more/differently/not at all), ritual, movement, song, art, performance, seminars, documentaries, medical interventions, self-medicating, and endlessly on. The modality can be different and multiple; that’s not the key. The key is to find a way to be kind to the parts that are most shameful within ourselves. Often when people notice shame and want to change it, they are doing it out of aversion and disgust. So it can feel counter-intuitive, but I truly believe that the only way to dissolve and transform shame is to love the shit out of it.
A: Do you have any advice to offer to those who have faced abortion and are reluctant or feeling ashamed to have sex again?
K: I really empathize. Many people feel guilty, shameful, self-blaming, “bad”, angry, scared, regretful, or irresponsible after having therapeutic abortions (it is also common to feel relieved, empowered, self-loving, calm, at ease, grateful…). I would encourage folks to talk about their experience, to unpack the meaning of it, to figure out where those meanings come from, to reframe it, and to find a way to forgive themselves (if that’s what’s needed).
Often, people hold onto guilt so that they can punish themselves and not repeat something they deem to have been a mistake (like, not using a condom that one time). In those cases, it can help to mark the “mistake” somehow – through a ritual, storytelling, making art, a tattoo – so that the act of forgiving and forgetting can be separated, and one can happen without the other.
A: At the Sex Ed Conference, you’d mentioned how to ask for consent over and over. Do have have any advice about different ways to approach this?
K: Asking for consent explicitly can be through questions during sex, or frank conversations not during sex. This is something that gets easier through practice – the awkwardness fades over time. So the advice for that would be simply to do it.
Another piece of the puzzle is to readjust expectations of what sex looks and feels like. Sex is awkward, stilted, messy, goofy, funny; it’s nothing like what we see in movies. So my advice would be to do the best you know how – ask awkward questions; check in with words, gestures, eyebrows, muffled grunts; talk about things before and afterward.
Finally, as much as possible, don’t make assumptions. Feelings and preferences and limits differ from person to person, and changes all the time. Which is not to say you have to check in about everything constantly. Great consent, to me, is a balance between the implicit/intuitive and the explicit, both of which are conscious and thoughtful. Particularly, that whatever you leave to intuition or habit or previous knowledge about someone isn’t out of accident, neglect, or fear.
A: In the video and during your presentation, you’d mentioned that people are not “damaged goods” because they have sex. How can we encourage men and women to realize this?
K: The concept is very gendered. When we talk about damaged goods, almost always we are talking about women. So, to challenge this concept we need to counter some serious, deep-seated sexism. The truth is that, often, when women have sex with men, they don’t enjoy it as much as the men might. The problem, however, is not that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men. This is a pervasive belief that is normalized in all aspects of life. The problem, instead, is that people don’t expect women to feel a lot of desire or pleasure, so no wonder that it doesn’t happen.
What I’m proposing is, countering the assumption that women don’t/can’t enjoy sex counters the assumption that women are used, and somehow ruined, by sex.
If we believe, know, and manifest the reality that there is a lot in it for women during sex, that a woman would logically decide to have sex because she enjoys it, then her body is not simply a consumable object, but a subject with agency. This won’t solve all our problems, but cultivating a society’s belief, trust, and respect for women’s sexuality will change the “damaged goods” situation radically.
A: At the Sex Ed Conference, you touched on the Levels of Nervousness, the Comfort Zone, the Stretch Zone, and the Panic Zone. Can you elaborate on these and what is healthy vs unhealthy in a sexual relationship?
K: This is an excellent model I learned from an organization called Yes! World in California. They put on amazing gatherings (called “Jams”) for people invested in social change.
The model is 3 concentric circles: the innermost is the “Comfort Zone”, the next larger one the “Stretch Zone”, and the final, largest one the “Panic Zone”. The Comfort Zone is, obviously, a place of ease and rejuvenation. Both the Stretch Zone and the Panic Zone are uncomfortable places. The difference is that in Stretch, we are challenged but still engaged. We are wrestling with new information, shifting our points of view, making decisions. In Panic, however, we are beyond our limits and we shut down. Nothing is getting in, nothing is shifting, and we are just surviving.
Ideally, within a sexual (or any) relationship, we can be in the Comfort Zone most of the time, and venture into the Stretch Zone regularly. And both people would know themselves well enough that when they are in the Panic Zone, there is room to scale back into Stretch or Comfort. This can apply to sexual or any other kinds of experiences, or even the exchange of ideas. It’s also important for both people to care for themselves so that they can maintain (or develop) a good-sized Stretch Zone.
A: During your presentation you’d brought up the idea of being able to listen to your partner. Do you have any tips on how to communicate more effectively with your partner?
K: There are many ways to communicate well, and it depends to some degree on the people involved. A great model I like is Non-Violent Communication, which is also called Compassionate Communication. But I’d be a fan of any model that encourages empathy and listening.
A: Anything else you’d like to add?
K: Thanks for asking, AbortionChat! It was a joy to share space and ideas with you!

Karen B. K. Chan is a sex educator, facilitator, speaker and taiko drummer. She is based out of Ontario,Canada.

Recently she hosted a panel at the National Sex Ed Conference in New Jersey. You can find her on twitter: @karenbkchan, or at her website:fluidexchange.org

Adult Sexual Acts

Welcome to 2014! My apologies about the mini December hiatus, but we’re back at it!

Reverend Debra Haffner spoke at the Sex Ed Conference and said many incredibly insightful things. One thing she mentioned is that there are five key components of Adult Sexual Acts. Those are:

~The act is CONSENSUAL
~The act is UNEXPLOITATIVE
~It is HONEST
~It is MUTUALLY PLEASURABLE
~It is PROTECTED

Each of these components will look like different things in each and every relationship. It is important in a healthy relationship to address each of these and make sure each partner is feeling comfortable with how things progress in the sexual relationship.

Consent:
Let’s break this down a bit more. Recently there has been a huge push for what consent is. It means that both parties are willing to participate in the act. Personally, I would encourage first sexual encounters between partners to have each person enthusiastically say a verbal, “Yes.” A quiet, “Maybe” or “I don’t know” should not be mistaken for consent. Yes should be the answer you’re looking for, especially if it’s the first time you have gotten together with this person. If there is apprehension, you can always postpone the activities for another day.
As a sexual relationship progresses however, that verbal Yes may quiet down. You and your partner may know each other well enough that a certain breath, touch, look says, “Yes, let’s do this now.” As long as both parties are still willing, there is no harm in the verbal Yes disappearing. There’s a delicate balance of different ways to ask for consent without continually asking, “Is this okay?” or “Can we do this?”
You and your partner may begin to use safe words–words to be said in moments of unease, apprehension, fear, etc to stop the momentum. It’s okay. Just be aware of how you feel, and how your partner may feel.
Remember that no matter what NO ALWAYS MEANS NO.

Unexploitative:  
Does your partner make you feel like you’re a piece of meat in the room? Have they taken pictures of you when you’ve asked them not to? Have they taken videos?
To me, this goes hand in hand with consent. Some people don’t like to have intercourse with the lights on. Some do. Striking that balance between you and your partner so that neither feels violated is difficult, but healthy. Neither should feel as though they’ve been manipulative, pushed, or used. Remember that.

Honest:
I’m not going to preach to this one. What honest sex looks like to you may be different than what it looks like to me. I want you to take a second, maybe even take that second with your partner and consider what this may mean for your sexual relationship.

Mutually Pleasurable:
A fun fact that Charlie Glickman touched on recently is that in order to have a round of “successful sex” both parties do not have to reach an orgasm. Sex can just feel good. It can make you lose your breath. It can make your heart race.
BUT
You want it to feel good for your partner, too. This isn’t a one person show…
Unless you’re hanging out with your hand.

Protected:
As a sexually active member of society, places like Planned Parenthood help assist people with obtaining birth control. There are condoms available. You don’t want to expose your partner to STI’s, and you don’t want to be exposed to them, either. Protect yourself, your partner, and your future partners. Get tested, use protection.

Protesting, Part II

We got 100+ honks!

Two weeks ago, a group of people stood outside a Crisis Pregnancy Center holding signs that said, “Come Talk to Me!” “Your Body, Your Choice!” “We Support You” and “Honk if You Love Choice!”

Here are their reflections:



What was your objective today? Do you feel like you accomplished it?
Damien: I was there to support women’s rights and my girlfriend, so yes. I think I accomplished those goals.
Jennifer: My objective was to express my feelings about being ProChoice, and I feel like I did accomplish that.
Echo: My objective was to talk to people and give out more information about how crisis centers like the one we were at are giving out false information and lying by omniscient. I feel like we accomplished a lot, we talked to a couple people and got 100+ honks!
Nicholas: See a protest, not really

Was the protest what you expected?
Damien: ::Shrug:: Yes, except we didn’t get that many people to stop talk and talk
Jennifer: The protest was what I thought, except with less people
Echo: Not at all. I thought there were going to be other people there, but I’m glad it was just us. It was a very chill first experience, which was nice.
Nicholas: No there was no one else

When people came up to talk, what was your reaction?
Damien: No one came up to talk to me, I’m not going to lie. When they came up to Nick, I wanted to know what they wanted to find out. I’d go over and listen to everyone else’s opinion. I also wanted to make sure that the people approaching us weren’t going to start a confrontation.
Jennifer: I was surprised that they were all males.
Echo: Nobody directly came to talk to me, which is probably a good thing, but I was glad that people stopped to talk about what we were protesting for.
Nicholas: Hello.

What was your favorite part about the protest?
Damien: Supporting my girlfriend. And all the honks!
Jennifer: Hula hooping! And getting beeps!
Echo: My favorite part was hula hooping, and the woman coming out to talk to us.
Nicholas: Hula hooping


What was your least favorite part?
Damien: People flipping us off.
Jennifer: Standing, and the wind.
Echo: My least favorite thing was the people driving by and saying rude stuff to us.
Nicholas: I forgot deodorant

Do you think you’ll protest again?
Damien: Mmm hmm. (Yes)
Jennifer: Yes!
Echo: I totally want to protest again! Bringing the hula hoops every time!
Nicholas: Depends on the topic

Did anything that happened make you think differently about being ProChoice?
Damien: No.
Jennifer: No.
Echo: Nothing made me think differently about it. I was surprised at how many people honked for us! The ProChoice side isn’t really publicized very much, so I didn’t realize how many people were actually on our side.
Nicholas: No my natural choice is valid and accepted currently


How do you think you can improve the next protest?

Peaceful Protest


Damien: Try to get more people, both to protest and to approach us. I’d also like to give more of my opinion.
Jennifer: Better signs, and wind holes so it doesn’t feel like the signs are going to get ripped out of our hands.
Echo: I think making more signs would probably be a good idea, but overall I think we did awesome!
Nicholas: BBQ

What did you learn from today’s protest?
Damien: Not everyone supports our beliefs. I mean, I already knew it, but people flipping us off, shaking their heads no for holding a sign saying, “Your Body, Your Choice,” it’s kind of messed up.
Jennifer: I learned that people actually care. And that you should make wind holes in your signs so they don’t try to bubble up.
Echo: I learned that people are a lot more open minded than I thought.
Nicholas: Do what thou wilt

Do you think the protest made anyone think differently? Did you help make change today?
Damien: I don’t know, maybe not think differently but shed some light on people supporting women’s rights. Maybe it brightened the women’s days who drove by us. 
Jennifer: YES! I feel like we helped make change today.
Echo: There was one guy and his daughter that Lynne talked to for awhile. I hope she (Lynne) opened his mind to different options. I helped Jen hula hoop, so that was my contribution!
Nicholas: Yes i made a pretty funny video on the way, and got some great giggles out of it. Highlight of my trip.

Why I Value Life by Laura Karr

My heart breaks when I hear stories of abortions. It breaks for the precious life that was ended before it ever was given a chance to behold the wonders of this Earth. It breaks for the mother who, through whatever circumstances she must have endured – whether painful or selfish, has chosen to end a life. It breaks for a world whose heart has become so hardened that it feels nothing when it hears these stories.

The 3 “Plus Signs” that changed my life

When I was in high school, I was a very judgmental person. It was not until I grew much older and wiser that I realized that I have no justification for judging others – as I myself am far from perfect. I remember a conversation I had with my best friend one day on the way to a track meet. We were sitting in the back of the bus having our normal conversations about life, boys, running – all the things that were important to us then – when she told me how she read that if you were to get pregnant, you could make yourself abort the baby by using a coat hanger. I was appalled by this suggestion and I told her, in my most judgmental and vindictive voice, that I could never forgive her if she had an abortion. Today, I am still a little horrified. I am horrified that a woman would ever have to feel so desperate that she would risk her very life to end a pregnancy in such a dangerous way. Most of all, though, I am ashamed and discouraged by the arrogance and foolishness that led me to believe that forgiveness was mine to give or withhold.

Today, I believe myself to be a very open-minded and inquisitive individual. When I say I have an open mind, understand this: My mind is not easily changed. Rather, it is like a room with wide open doors. The doors are left open so that ideas can flow into them freely, easily heard and seriously considered. The doors remain open so that ideas that pass serious inspection may remain but ideas that do not carry their own weight with the tests I put them up against can be rejected. When I say that I am open minded, I am not saying that I am easily swayed, but instead, that I am willing to hear the stories, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs of others and give them serious consideration. Because of this, I have, over the past few years, been privileged to be part of many educational conversations with friends and family who pose clear opposition to my own beliefs.

In one such conversation, I was told that until I could imagine a situation in which I

A love letter filled with grace, love and peace – where I gather wisdom

would choose to have an abortion, I could never understand why another woman might. At this moment in time, I cannot imagine a situation where that would be my choice. That being said: I have never been raped. I have never been a victim of incest. I have never been alone and pregnant – scared, depressed, anxious and without anybody to turn to. I have never been carrying a child with a congenital disease that might cause them to die in the womb or, possibly even worse yet, after living a short but very painful life outside the womb. I have never been faced with the possibility of my own death if I were to proceed with a pregnancy, whether through physical complications or emotional ones. I have never faced anything but joyful anticipation of the precious life I was carrying. I do not know what makes a woman choose an abortion. I do not know the pain she may feel before and/or after her decision. I do not know anything about her or her choice. I cannot judge her for the decision she will make.

I value life – all life. I value the life of every woman who has ever stared at that powerful piece of plastic that can change the whole world with a simple plus sign. I value her life whether she has stared at it with joy or with fear, dread, or anger. She is no less important than the child that she is carrying. She is also no more important than the child she is carrying. I value the unborn child.

After carrying three precious lives into this world, I can honestly say that I believe that what is inside a pregnant woman is not a simple “lump of cells,” but a child. Some may say that I am biased in my opinion because I allowed those cells to form into the precious children I hold in my arms. They may be right – but more likely, they are wrong. Each of my children has proven to be very different – both since their birth and during their development before birth. One child would roll, one would kick, and the first one hardly did much of anything at all unless I prompted her by pushing on one side or the other of my belly. They haven’t changed much since then. My son is a wild child – kicking, climbing, and tackling life however he sees fit. My second daughter can hardly sit still, wallowing around the room – on the couch, off the couch, on the chair, back to the floor – whenever we sit down to watch a movie. But my first child – she could sit for what seems like forever just observing clouds or flowers. From long before they took their first breath on their own, I knew them. They were somebody then, and they are somebody now.

I have spent much time thinking about a situation where I might choose an abortion – and I can only come up with one. That one situation is this: I would have to give up faith in my God. This is not because I believe that if I chose an abortion He would turn His back on me. No, it is quite the opposite. In fact, were I to ever choose an abortion, it would have to be because I turned my back on Him. In my faith, I believe that there is nothing too big for my God to handle and there is nothing set in stone that He cannot change. I value life, because my God values life – all life. He values our lives so much that He would die for us, and forgive us for everything we have done. When I said it is not my place to judge or to forgive, that is because I have finally learned that I cannot even touch the extent to which God loves Life. There are those who would claim that they are acting in the name of God when they attack abortion clinics. They are liars. Every life is valuable.

As to the fight for “Women’s Rights” – I do not know what the solution is. I want to live in a world without abortions, but I do not want to live in a world where, out of desperation, women are dying from botched attempts at abortions in their own homes or illegal, back-alley clinics. I do not know what will solve this problem.

Raising our children to scream, “Murderer” in the faces of those who would support abortions will not solve this problem. Maybe the best way to find a solution would be to stop all of the screaming, to sit down as women and start supporting each other. We should be helping each other through the difficult times – through the fears, the anxieties. We should be listening to each other’s stories with open minds. I have been told before, “if you don’t support abortions, then just don’t get one.” While that seems like a valid point, think of it like this: If people had stood by with that same mentality during the years of slavery, there never would have been the abolition. You would not stand by and watch an infant be brutalized, so if you are asking “pro-lifers” to back off and do nothing about abortion – because we believe with all our hearts that a “fetus” is a child – you are asking us to do just that. Often, though, I do not agree with the approaches taken by those who oppose abortion. We become so focused on the life of that child, that we forget how precious the life of its mother is as well. We must find a way to support each other so that abortion, while still a choice (because whether it is legal or illegal, it has always been and always will be an option) is the last option that a woman would ever need to consider.

Laura Karr is the mother of three amazing children. She is an aspiring poet with dreams of writing a novel but has taken a brief hiatus in order to write silly songs and crazy bedtime stories. She considers this to be a time of research as she re-examines life through the eyes of a child, but with the complex understanding of an adult.

She intends to spend the next few years of her life remembering her dreams and working towards them, but putting most of her focus on raising brilliant and loving children who will make a positive impact on their world.

Confessions of a Pro-Life Convert by Alex Ruiz

At the age of one, I was baptized Catholic. At eight, I did confession, took communion, and (by cheating the system—thanks, Mom!) was confirmed Catholic. And nine years later, I privately gave up my faith for a lot of reasons that I won’t delve into here. Intriguingly, though, a few Catholic sensibilities still lingered in my personal morality, the weirdest among these to my non-religious and fellow-liberal compatriots was being Pro-Life.

Look at him…God, he’s so punchable

It was always easy to explain: my cursory knowledge of biology (influenced by a Florida public school education, I now realize, and not my former religion) told me life began at conception, and therefore killing in-utero babies was murder. I didn’t think of exceptions for rape and incest, though could be persuaded when the life of the mother was at stake—after all, logic dictates ensuring one life, rather than risking both. These were the lines within which I smugly watched the world. For the sake of a well-rounded picture, I should mention that at this point, I also insisted on only wearing synthetic leather shoes and belts because murdering cows for anything but food was inhumane and unnatural, that total pacifism in both the international and personal altercations was always and eternally not just the best but onlymorally-sound response, and that Van Halen didn’t suck. You can see what kind of insufferable creature eighteen-year-old me could be.

Then the even-more-unthinkable-than-unthinkable happened: I had a pregnancy faked on me. The faking I didn’t actually figure out until some time later upon a closer inspection of details—we had always used protection, she danced around symptom descriptions, and relayed the details of her “miscarriage” in a way that I later learned would make even an introductory med-school student scream with laughter. What was really important was the moment in which she said to me that she believed herself to be pregnant: faced with the (false) reality of what she was saying, all of the moral and logistical reasoning that I had used to formulate my every view on abortion shattered like so many dreams.

All I wanted was for her to get it taken care of, a truth which I actually kept to myself for the most part—I think there was the sly inclusion of the question to see how she’d react, and (of course) she wouldn’t hear of it. I kept pestering her to take a pregnancy test so that we could know conclusively and start reacting—after a few days, she claimed she had taken one with questionable results and then threw away because she didn’t think I’d care to see it—and a week or two later professed that she’d “lost the baby” (which she was absolutely sure had been the girl I’d always wanted).


Her name is Adelina: Here she is
with her first rattle.

While the entire situation was doubly much ado about nothing, in the aftermath I faced my own hypocrisy towards the abortion option. It’s indelibly easy to posture and stake out a moral claim, especially when it hasn’t applied to one personally. And I won’t insult Pro-Life readers here by stating they only believe as they do because they have yet to encounter these situations, though I know this is a distinct possibility, especially for men. I did it, in my youth and my arrogance, and I was humbled. I sought a new perspective on the issue and eventually arrived at a funny mix: I don’t really think about whether or not life begins at conception—I subscribe to the medical community standard regarding first breath and add the George Carlin addendum of if a fetus is really aperson, we would mourn miscarriages with funerals and couples would say “wehave two children” instead of “two and one on the way” (skip to for the particular citation, but this entire bit actually did a lot to inform my new logic).

Some years later, my best friend and his girlfriend accidentally got pregnant with my goddaughter. At the time, they were under twenty, under-educated, and under-employed. I told them they had my support whatever they decided to do. Despite what I privately believed was their best course of action, she was born in October of 2009.


Alex and Adelina
A couple months ago

Since she was born and I’ve related the story of her circumstances, I’ve been asked why I’m still Pro-Choice, why I didn’t switch back after beholding this beautiful little creature for whom I would give pretty much anything in the world. In truth, I treat it as I do religion: reveling in the discussion and debate, but not pushing anything on anyone unless they ask for my opinion. With Adelina and her parents, I was honest when they asked, and was there for them all the way, even being present in the delivery room. I’m very glad that they made the decision that they did, but having been in that same situation (or thinking that I had been), I know that I could never make that decision for anyone.


So I stand Pro-Choice, a supporter of rights to a safe medical procedure that should be openly available to all women and couples. And it isn’t logic or a traumatic experience that drives me there, at least not alone. It’s plain empathy. I’ve felt the claustrophobia of an unwanted pregnancy and I’ve witnessed the splendor that can come out of it as well. What I take away from both is simply a respect for the situation and an understanding of the difficulty of the decision: either way, all that is needed is some simple support, education, and maybe a little humility.


Alex Ruiz is a freelancer, poet, and fiction writer. He is a graduate of the English and Theater programs at Rollins College, and currently teaches in Orlando, FL. He is at work on his grad school applications, his first novel, and his first half-marathon.

Apart from these exploits, Alex enjoys Irish whiskeys, lifting heavy metal objects, and yelling at 24-hour news channels like they’re sporting events. Please follow him on Twitter @A_X_Ruiz where he’ll be happy to argue with you about way more than just abortion.