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Check Out Sex Ed Is Episode 8! What are college students saying about the impact of  Sex education!


CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, sex, sexuality, body shame
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Description – A bisexual Dominican-American with short black hair, wearing a blue jean button up shirt open with a red shirt underneath.

The impact of learning about straight sex was very informative, just on one aspect, but being a bisexual male I never learned about same sex or even other queer sex and so I feel like I missed out on a lot.


Description: Half-Chinese, half white non binary person with short hair and glasses wearing a grey sweater and denim jacket

So, the impact for me, about learning about sex was really interesting because I didn’t actually have comprehensive sex ed until I was in college and I took a class called Human Sexuality. Um, but, because I had abstinence-only education from the 8th grade onwards but didn’t have any before that, I was just kind of, a lot of shame surrounding sex and I didn’t know really what was going on other than “there is a penis and a vagina involved,” and that was it.


Description – A White Femme Queer with Glasses, Tattoos, Blondish Hair and White and Black Flannel Shirt.

I never had sex education growing up. So not having that really filled me with a lot of shame. Um, both of my parents and my whole family growing up really hid all of the talk on sex, body, gender, identity, all of that from me. And they filled it with words as shame and embarrassment. So even talking about things such as a period, um, that was a conversation that was forbidden to have in my household. So, having the opportunity to, um, find out about sex through a TV show, that was a very different experience. So, not having that sex education when I was young, it really, it brought me into depression and I was definitely ashamed of my body and myself.



Description – The woman is wearing a blue top and has long black hair glasses, and red lipstick.

Um, the impact of learning about sex was just like, it made me really uncomfortable. Because most of the photos that I would see was just a man and a woman, generally they would be in a relationship, they would be, you know, one type of attractiveness. And, it would just make me really uncomfortable thinking, “OK, once you reach this stage of your life, you’re supposed to have sex and I began to question, what if I don’t find partner that’s, you know, whatever they represented in the books. What if I was with someone that’s not a different gender than me.” It just made me question everything.


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Sex (Ed) is: Episode 7

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Check Out Sex Ed Is Episode 7! Hear what college students have to say about comprehensive Sex education!


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Description: The woman is wearing a blue top and has long black hair glasses, and red lipstick.

Comprehensive sex ed to me is being inclusive and creating an environment where people can be heard and made to feel desirable. Because I feel as if a lot of the sex ed that I’ve had were, what little sex ed that I’ve had, just uses this factor where you’re supposed to make us afraid into not having sex and it’s not really teaching us how to protect ourselves. It’s more representing sex in this way that if you have sex at a young age or if you choose to have sex a different way than what media represents it to be, then you should be ashamed of yourself.

Description: Half-Chinese, half white non binary person with short hair and glasses wearing a grey sweater and denim jacket

Comprehensive sex ed to me is mostly teaching people, teaching anyone, about all the different ways people can have sex. And all the different kinds of people who are going to be having sex. And, it’s not just cisgender folks, not just heteresexual focused, so that queer people could actually know what’s going on, especially because there is different types of protection that people with two vaginas would be using, than if it’s someone with a penis and a vagina. And, it’s important because otherwise people aren’t safe if they don’t know.

Description: A White queer identified cisgender woman. She has on a pink shirt, two necklaces, black rimmed glasses, and blondish hair pulled back into a bun.

To me comprehensive sex ed is inclusive of everything that could think of. You know, from trans identities to intersex people. Ways to include all kinds of stuff. And, to have the information that’s necessary, even if it seems embarrassing. To ask, to be able to ask questions, like, how much lube am I supposed to use, or like, how do I actually put on a condom, what’s the difference between internal and external condoms. To have a comprehensive sex education, you need to answer questions, no matter how strange they are, and how much the educators very often don’t want to answer those questions. Uh, you just need to be able to see it from everyone’s point of view and answer the questions that they are going to have, because if those questions don’t get answered, it could be deadly.

Description: A bisexual Dominican-American with short black hair, wearing a blue jean button up shirt open with a red shirt underneath.

Comprehensive sex ed is just normalizing all kinds of sex, whether you are straight, bi, or within the queer spectrum, it doesn’t matter. It’s just making sure that everyone feels comfortable in their own bodies and having sex with other people. And not feeling any negative feelings towards sex.

Description: A White Femme Queer with Glasses, Tattoos, Blondish Hair and White and Black Flannel Shirt.

To me, comprehensive sexual education is being inclusive of all genders, sexualities, and identities. Um, ensuring that we are not just talking about P in V sex. Um, that we are not talking just about cis heteronormative sex. That we are making it inclusive. That we are not just talking about STIs and protection and scare tactics. That we are including conversations on consent and things such as bodies, and things about gender and identities. And making sure that people are having these conversations.


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Artful Living, or When Objects Dream

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Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Elías Krell. Elías is a queer, trans, latinx, white, and indigenous singer songwriter.


I am filled with gratitude for the work that Ignacio Rivera is doing in and as The HEAL Project, and for the invite to guest blog. It is difficult to address a topic like ending childhood sexual abuse in a blog post, so I am going to talk specifically from my experience about the ways past trauma can reemerge while working as an artist. I hope these ideas are useful for people in and outside the arts and that they contribute to a conversation around sexual violence and performance that I wish were more audible.


I am on the advisory board for the HEAL Project, working toward comprehensive sex education reform that keeps racial, gender, sexual, and other forms of justice front and center. My theorizing on childhood sexual abuse (csa) and how it relates to past and present power inequalities is steeped in and informed by my experience as a young woman of color immigrant, and by the fact that all of the men who were (and still are) sexually inappropriate with me as a young person were hetero/cis/sexual white men who were substantially older than me. CSA has specific consequences for those of us who do art as a daily practice and who choose to share it with others. But many people make a living via their bodies; even the most technological jobs require bodies to do the typing, coding, etc. So art makes visible the ways we all inhabit bodies in ways that other activities do not and in ways that have particular stakes for survivors of sexual trauma.


Neurologists have shown that trauma is stored in our bodies on a physical level and that trauma is passed down generationally. The offspring of mice who experienced externally-imposed pain remembered that trauma in their own lives in ways that were measurable and provable. Colonialisms new and old take place through sexual violence, as Andrea Smith tells us in her book Conquest (2005). That means that if we are survivors of csa and if we are a part of a group that has suffered systemic sexual abuse like colonization or slavery, we carry our own trauma and also that of our ancestors in our bodies. The relationship between my white (German/Irish) dad and brown mom (indigenous, Italian, Spanish) in some ways reproduced the inequities that colonialism wrought in Central and North America–my dad was the one ultimately in charge of the way things went, and we all served his desires or were deemed “bad.” These colonial legacies were also reproduced through the sexual violence that older white men imposed on me, and remaining silent about it was my part of the contract. Part of unlearning violence for me has been to recalibrate love, sex, relationships around race and geography in ways that lift up women, brownness, blackness, and Latinidad. But perhaps the biggest way I have healed and found my own voice amidst these legacies of power that flit about in my bones and sinews of my body is through music and performing my music for others.


But it has been anything but an easy road. Unlike art that happens in the privacy of our own homes or object art that is displayed for folks to see apart from the person(s) who made it, performance often puts our bodies on the line. Music performance in particular, I argue, opens us in a way that other forms of performance do not. The ways that soundwaves via music physically move us can opens us and our audiences in a way that makes us more vulnerable. Audiences pay a high price, literally, for the privilege of being moved in this way. But what if you as an artist are dealing with trauma, especially one that is silenced and covered over, like childhood sexual abuse? Everything from the way I open my mouth when I sing, to a lyric that could be interpreted in any number of ways, all make the body visible and audible in ways I can never totally account for beforehand or after.


As survivors of childhood abuse, we can be “triggered” by an event or person in performance, especially because we are probably handling fear and nervousness related to stage performance anyway. I experience these moments as a freezing of my mind and body. I disassociate, or pop out of my body and life, sometimes for days or weeks after the event. Dissociating is not always bad: for many people who work unstimulating 9 to 5 jobs, putting themselves in another place in their mind is how they stay at their job. For me, it’s not so helpful. I write songs around things I need to say… Sure, I could write all sarcastic campy songs—and I love artists who do that—but it’s not really me. It’s my privilege and my right as an inheritor of the work of queer of color artivists before me to resist being shoe-horned into any aesthetic. Queer artists have made incredible art that challenges the autonomy of authenticity as the only way to make art… but the way I happen to make art is tied to sharing my experience of being alive as honestly as I can.


Being the artist I want to be means being present in my body, wherever I am, whoever I am with. It’s one of the ways creativity is truly healing for me and a lot of folks: it feels so good that it brings us to life in a way that we differs from our everyday lives. As someone who experienced csa, my body went from something very foreign to me to an instrument that I am learning to listen to and move with better and better each day, through musical practice. Other people do this through kink and bdsm, through dance, but it can be anything for which you have so much affinity that you can’t help but want to be absolutely in your body when it happens. I think of performance less as showcasing talent (I don’t personally believe talent is a thing) as allowing people to bear witness to the work I’ve done to be in my body, which is another way of saying of being in my life. (I think it’s also why artists who have never struggled much in their life don’t hold my interest for very long).


So how do we become qtpoc artists in white-dominated fields, especially those of us in rural spaces with a dearth of venues and where interpersonal connections are paramount? How do those of us who want to engage the music industry resist the ways it reproduces modern day colonialism through both sound and visuality? How do I not be triggered by older white men who are inappropriate and the fact that 99% of the people who are in positions of power in the music industry are themselves older white men?


One solution I have found after years of struggling with this is that I have decided to avoid spaces that make me feel bad so that I can shore up my energy for the challenges further ahead that I want to approach with an open mind and heart. I decided that what was bad for me was also bad for my art. These people couldn’t have my heart and soul via my art and then disrespect my body and person week after week.


Artists who are in a marginalized position with respect to cis hetero white supremacist ableist patriarchy are, in a sense, making ourselves vulnerable to power on purpose. Because of that, perhaps, it can take a while for us to remember that we do have agency. One of the things I did recently was I decided to stop attending an open mic that was bringing up my trauma on a weekly basis and getting incrementally worse. In one evening alone, I counted eight much older white men who overtly hit on me. One man who was at least eighty years old came and sat next to me one evening and it didn’t even occur to me he was hitting on me until a far piece into the conversation. Because I didn’t act on his interest (but I continued to chat in a friendly way–which is part of my *job* as a musician, so it inherently puts me in an awkward position to be sexualized in this way), he spread a rumor that I was a lesbian. Projects like HEAL help me think about the power dynamics that have been curated throughout history that enable a person over the age of 80 to feel so entitled to a 30-something year old (and I often pass for younger) that he felt justified to make up a lie to explain why I wasn’t interested. The fact that he needed an explanation is power.


Another time, an older white man I had never seen or talked with came up to me and put his hands on my shoulders and started moving them in circles. He told me there was something in my face that he liked. He said some other inappropriate things, and what amazes me in all these interactions is how siloed the rest of the world feels in those moments. I’m surrounded by people I consider friends, and yet they have no idea what is going on. I wish all community spaces were feminist and anti-racist. Without those frames, I risk looking like someone who is ruining the “vibe” of the place if I say anything, which really goes to show how most ostensibly progressive spaces are really only liberatory for certain people in them (in this case white straight men). Many open mics use a welcoming rhetoric. However, this rhetoric is sometimes undercut by coded language and the behavior of attendees. For example, one open mic I attended recently had, “no the spoken word” written in their promotional materials. While this could simply be read as disallowing anything other than music, the genre of spoken word often codes as Black (rather than simply saying “music only”). I have found the proscription against spoken word to be the only regularly disallowed form of performance in open mic settings in New England and I believe it is a way to signal anti-Blackness while purporting to be inclusive. Sexual harassment of queer people of color is another example of how open mic spaces are exclusive.


A friend helped me frame my experiences by (flatteringly) saying that this is what everyone who gets famous has to deal with. But, and I started thinking about how messed up it is that celebrities deal with harassment of all kinds and no one calls it out. Selena Quintanilla was shot by an adoring fan, Sinéad O’Connor gets called crazy for having “daddy issues” without anyone thinking about what her dad did to create those issues. I want to be heard, like anyone, and, I am going to do my best to become the best songwriter I can. If I achieve recognition for this work, is this what I have to look forward to as a queer person of color who moves through the world identified as female?


I have only a partial answer: part of the work of being an artist means trusting that the work will attract the audiences that it speaks to. I look forward to finding audiences who feel sustained by my work, while learning how to not have them feed off my body as sexual object. But one of the most healing aspects of performance is that, as we create our art, we potentially find new communities.


José Muñoz’s talked about the world-making power of performance. Art can create new worlds or speak to one that exists already but is silenced (or both). The best I can hope for, maybe, is to meet my audience while I am still alive, to keep trying to generate the world I want to see through my performance, and to keep connecting with other artists for whom achieving individual recognition is inseparable from community-centered movements toward social justice. I’m always amazed by how many people are covert artists: How many times have you discovered a friend makes art that you didn’t know about? Let’s talk about and celebrate art as a critical and crucial way to heal from trauma. Let’s prove the scientists wrong.


I want to thanks Hyunhee, a new friend who I just found out is also a musician, who proofed this post and offered a lot of really helpful feedback. Thanks to Hyunhee, and Ignacio, and to you for reading. Comments/questions welcome.


Thank you Elías for this thoughtful piece and your contribution in understanding the many ways CSA affects us.

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The Journey: Shame, Sex, & Sexuality

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Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Walter Castaneda.

Walter Castaneda, age 28 is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that lasted over a decade. He’s an El Salvadoran-American, Latino, student, bisexual, and community organizer living in San Diego, California. As an advisory board member for the Heal Project, Walter brings his personal experiences to the table to offer better solutions for all survivors, especially men because of a lack of resources he’s faced. He believes that everyone plays a role to protect the lives of innocent children, encourage male survivors to thrive in their healing journey, and shift society’s narrative of sexual violence against men, especially those within our LGBTQ community. He is currently working on organizing a support group for gay, bisexual, and transgender male sexual violence survivors with folks and support from the San Diego LGBT Center, Centers for Community Solutions, and San Diego Pride.


The abuse lasted for a little over a decade, from the time I was 6 years old. The experience, in many ways, has hindered who I’ve always been. It’s stopped me from seeing and embracing my full identity. Before I began to take care and love myself, there was confusion, blame, guilt, shame. The shame I felt and continue to feel makes me want to hide or disappear. It was so severe that I attempted suicide twice when I was younger.


I felt responsible for his sexual advances because I got hard, and I orgasmed every time he touched me inappropriately. My body was just responding physically…emotionally I was in a different place. The years of abuse stunted my emotional growth and created confusion for me on many levels.


At the same time that the abuse was happening, I was growing up following the example of and advice of my father — a very traditional man. His idea of what it means to be man was steeped in machismo. As a young Latino boy I received messages like I wasn’t allowed to show emotion or express myself. I was to be the “man” of the house. That I had a role to play as provider and protector and decision-maker. I was taught in the form of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. All for “good” reason, to teach me how to be tough and survive in the real world. Instead, it provoked chaos. Deep inside, I was learning how to compartmentalize the pain from the sexual abuse and cope with it – on my own as a 6, 10, 14, and 17-year old boy. Overtime, I began to internalize and develop a persistent negative perception of myself. It created confusion and feelings of disappointment for letting my family down.


When I started having sex with other men that were not my abuser, I was forced to come to terms with my sexual orientation. I’m bisexual. However, I didn’t know right away. Some time went by where I believed that I was gay. I came out as a gay man. I believed that if a person had sex with the same-sex that they were gay. Not long after, I acknowledged that my attraction and feelings for women hadn’t left and was equally as important to me as those for men. After doing some research on my own, I came to a conclusion that I was bisexual. But it wasn’t always easy, I felt shameful anytime I had a sexual experience with another man. The feeling hasn’t completely gone away.


I have mixed feelings about sexual experiences. There’s the feeling of happiness. There’s also the feeling of shame. A painful feeling of humiliation. It’s caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. I’d experience this every time I orgasmed while being abused. Actually, I’d mix these two feelings up. It felt great, but it felt wrong. It felt wrong for one reason: because it was a sexual experience imposed on me, forced on me. It also didn’t help that my sixth grade sexual education class was taught from a heteronormative perspective. It caused so much confusion. I began to have a negative association with my sexual experiences – especially gay experiences outside from the abuse.


For a long period of time, I thought my sexual orientation was highly influenced by my experience of sexual abuse. While there is research that links childhood sexual abuse and internalized shame, there is no evidence to support the misconception that I am bisexual because I was abused. A model of comprehensive sex education that includes sexual orientation in grade school would have been beneficial — a resource to turn to. It would have helped me understand that my same-sex exploration wasn’t because of the abuse. It may have helped me understand sex without feeling a sense of shame.


Up until a few years ago, it was tough for me to understand my sexual orientation. Undergoing sexual abuse made me feel like I wasn’t man enough because I enjoy same-sex sexual experiences. I’ve overcome that thought. I’ve learned that sexuality is fluid. I didn’t know the abuse was a bad thing because I was too young to understand that part. I enjoyed the experience because it was a form of exploration and curiosity as a child. Now, I understand the long-term effects that I experienced because of the abuse and why I enjoyed it. Understanding why I enjoyed the feeling of an orgasm, when my body was responding physically, has helped me understand why I’m not responsible for the abuse. It’s allowed me to talk about my experience in a very open way. I’ve let go of most of the shame. Each day, is an opportunity for me to emotionally evolve and grow.


Every morning, I look in the mirror and see myself. My whole self. Over the course of four years, I’ve learned to take better care of myself in ways that benefit my mental health and overall happiness. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve continuously asked myself hard questions. As a result, it’s been rewarding in the fact that I learn a little more about the person I am today. I share my story with others to inspire and encourage, not just survivors, but everyone to practice self-care. I’m learning how to love my whole self and disassemble the negative perception I developed as a young boy.


We all face struggles with our identities. Through some raw, honest, and difficult conversations with amazing people, it’s inspired me to take leaps of faith and work through these struggles. Healing is a journey. It’s not a race to see who gets to the finish line fastest. It takes time and patience. It takes going back to those dark places, somewhere in the very back of my brain – to face them with courage, strength, faith, and hope.  


Sex is positive. I understand that, but I struggle learning how to embrace it.


Societal norms have also reinforced these feelings of shame. Stopped me from embracing sex. I ask myself, “Why am I afraid of sex, although I enjoy it?”, “Why must I be drunk to let loose?” and “Would I be bisexual today if I wasn’t sexually abused?”.  


I’m in a different place in my life than I was six years ago. I look back and smile proudly with gratitude because I’ve traveled on this journey with my therapist, friends, and family. Nonetheless, I still have healing to do. April shines a light on sexual violence. I see so many organizations, activists, and survivors use their voices to create awareness. It gives me the motivation to continue to use a negative experience and turn it into something positive. It gives me the strength to continue to advocate for survivors and to heal. Finally, it gives me the faith that gives me the ability to believe that it gets better. Will you join me today by subscribing to The Heal Project, like us on Facebook, and help create awareness, not just during April, but year-around? Your support is important to me and survivors across the world.


Thanks so much Walter for your honesty, vulnerability and advocacy.


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Support Pure Love —Next episode airing May 17, 2017

PTSP: Post Traumatic Super Powers

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Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Hyunhee Shin

Hyunhee is a queer survivor of child sexual abuse, family violence, and sexual assault. As a person with psychiatric disabilities and the child of working class, Korean immigrant parents in rural Pennsylvania, Hyunhee brings to this work her personal experiences of violence in the context of intersecting issues of race, class, immigration, gender, sexual identity, and disability.


TW/CW: child sexual, physical, emotional Abuse/ PTSD


When I started learning about child sexual abuse four years ago, I was working at a feminist foundation fresh out of college. I didn’t realize I was a survivor of CSA at the time, but I did hold onto other childhood traumas — physical and emotional abuse from my father, the pain of growing up poor immigrants in rural Pennsylvania, navigating mental illness.


I didn’t know at first, but as I delved deeper into the subject matter, I was being triggered just by doing my job. I knew I was a survivor of abuse and that I identified on a deep level with the survivors I was reading about. It wasn’t until half a year in, my memory as a child of being sexually assaulted by a group of neighborhood teens surfaced and I realized that what happened to me was child sexual abuse.


One of the fascinating things I learned about the brain is that one of the ways it protects you from trauma is to hide those memories away. That sometimes, despite your brain’s best efforts to keep them concealed, a steady hammer of triggers can break the walls down and reveal your past trauma to your conscious mind for the first time.


Reeling from this repositioning of memory in this new context, I waded through the mud and haze of PTSD in the months that followed. I navigated coming out as a survivor to my employer while struggling to focus on a project that had me immersed in readings and research looking for practical tips on preventing CSA. My supervisor was warm and supportive and patient. I couldn’t have asked for a better support while working full time on an issue area I didn’t realize would trigger me.


I went back to therapy and worked hard to get a baseline handle on my wellness. I sought support from a tiny handful of friends I trusted — it felt too soon to talk about the abuse in more than a whisper to many others. Once I felt confident that I wouldn’t stomp all over professional boundaries, I slowly started reaching out to survivors I knew in the field. Learning with them and diving deep into the ways trauma impacted my life was incredibly transformative.


In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about trauma and how it affects my life. There were the obvious things, like classic PTSD symptoms — avoidance, hyperarousal, anger, guilt, insomnia. There were the ways in which my PTSD made best friends with my bipolar disorder and sought to pull the rug out from under me whenever possible. There were the myriad distortions I believed about myself and how I related to other people that I could now trace back to childhood trauma. One of the many things I’m grateful for is the realization that I was not an inherently shitty, mean, and unfeeling person.


Trauma threw my heart in a thick glass box and gave me a toothpick to chisel it out. It’s not that I lacked empathy because I was some sort of sociopath. I just had a harder time accessing those feelings largely because of what happened to me. Once I cracked the code of my emotional inner life, I started working hard to chisel out of the glass trauma box. I explored vulnerability with my therapist and tried connecting with emotions beyond rage and despair. I started dismantling bolt by bolt the iron fortress around me that I deluded myself into thinking protected me. I stopped seeing myself as an island, an independent person who could help and support others with their needs, but never needed help myself. I started to understand that acknowledging that I needed help and reaching out for support from loved ones isn’t a sign of weakness, but is a source of strength.


Over time and with the help of survivors in solidarity and loved ones, I developed my emotional intelligence and empathy. In holding space for myself, I learned how to hold space for others who were navigating similar journeys. I tapped into those particular feelings in my body and heart that helped me build trust and hold space with other survivors. I realized how powerful deep empathy can be in helping ourselves and each other heal. I took stock of all the times someone has said to me that they felt safe and deeply understood when we talked, or when complete strangers have opened up to me, or anytime someone shares something with me they’ve never shared with anyone else. It’s a power I’m learning to tap into and harness to help pay my healing forward.


Survivors of child sexual abuse are forced to bear the burden of violent experiences early in life. Post traumatic stress is well documented and researched. How might we build power together if we spent just as much time understanding post traumatic growth? And not in a way that undermines or diminishes the pain we suffer in the aftermath of violence. Just in a way that also uplifts those survival strategies that become great gifts. Survivors have a remarkable ability to take the pain that we’ve been forced to hold and forge it into an inner light that heals ourselves and those around us.


When I think of my favorite fictional characters, like Harry Potter or Avatar Korra, they were all kids who harnessed great power from the pain and violence they suffered. Our superhero origin stories stem from a root trauma. They grapple with the relationship they have with their power and the origin of it. These stories sound not so different from ours. We are the heroes we’ve been waiting for.


What’s your post traumatic super power?


Thanks so much Hyunhee for your bravery and superpowers!

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Sex (ED) IS: Episode 6

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Check out our latest edition of Sex (Ed) Is where people respond to the prompt, “The Impact of Sex Ed…”

[Content Warning- sexuality, sexual violence, child sexual abuse]

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Description: Mid/late twenties, Femme POC trans person wearing a button-down long sleeve blue and burgundy floral shirt. He has a thin hoop septum and nose ring/piercing. He also has a small stud lip piercing. He has a beard and mustache and tied-up wavey hair up-top and is shaved on the sides. Wearing dark rimmed glasses, he is sitting in front of grey curtains and wood panel wall, speaking to audience/camera.


The impact of my sex education, or really lack thereof because I didn’t have any. It furthered my curiosity but it also meant that I was doing things that were, could have been dangerous to my health or somebody else’s health. And really putting, and not just my physical health, but my emotional and psychological health, and the same for the people that I was interacting with. It meant that I had to find all the answers on my own and sometimes, that meant asking people who weren’t safe people to be asking. And it meant that I really had an incomplete picture of where my body and my gender and myself and my sexuality actually fit in my tiny world but also in the world out at large. It also meant that when people who shouldn’t be accepting consent from me chose to I wasn’t even in a position to understand why that could have been a problem.



Description: Black Femme woman with short dark curly hair. She is wearing a denim colored tank top, hanging round earrings and a neckless that says “No.” She is sitting in front of a white concrete wall speaking to audience/camera.


The impact of learning about sex ed has been really powerful, was powerful. Before I had sex ed in school, I knew about, I knew what heterosexual sex was. I knew about what sexual intercourse was, I knew about penises and vaginas, I knew about menstruation, fallopian tubes, I knew all of that. So I remember like by the time I think we were taught health which was in high school, which was crazy, I was already well aware. What I didn’t know was about queer sexuality and so that was I think, kind of very detrimental, because I am queer. So but in terms of heterosexual sex ed, I knew, I was very informed and I think that, I felt empowered knowing that. But when I started struggling and coming out, struggling with coming out and understanding my sexuality to not be heterosexual, I didn’t have any information.


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How ending childhood sexual abuse is a cornerstone to Black liberation

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Welcome guest blogger and one of The HEAL Project’s Advisory Board Members, Hari Ziyad 

Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose, and writer for AFROPUNK. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.


TW/CW: Child Sexual Abuse, Survivor, Racism

As a writer who constantly deals with the question of Black liberation in my work, I’m often asked, “What does a free future for Black people look like?” I never quite know how to answer. Any response would posit to be the solution to a problem over 400 years old, and any answer less than a book’s length couldn’t possibly address all of the complexities that have festered in the bloody cracks of those broken centuries.


I usually reframe it as a question of what liberation would feel like, and somehow words are able to come to me a little more quickly then. Perhaps it’s that I am so used to my eyes playing tricks on me–claiming there is so much color in a world that feels more Black and white (violence) by the day–that I trust them much less than the rest of my body. My body has always seemed to know when things weren’t right, even when I hadn’t the sense or maturity to listen.


The way I think about the sexual violence that happened to me as a child has had many iterations over time. When I was younger, I convinced myself that my body was wrong, and that what had happened to me wasn’t that big of a deal. At the time, I thought I was only convincing myself that I was misreading the way my body collapsed into its center at every sight of him, or the way my memory began to fog the nights in question over until the details suffocated underneath the clouds. I was creating a new truth–it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.


But I think now I was also convincing myself that I was misreading how my body gave itself to him. I was telling myself that my erection, probably one of the first I’d ever had, asked for what the rest of me soon after received. And that was what I meant by “It wasn’t as bad as it seemed.” If I were old enough to want it, at the cusp of my first decade, I was old enough to get it.


The thing about bodies is that they won’t let you stick with a lie for too long. They will slowly unravel, and I eventually came undone. My body both craved unsolicited touch from strangers and would react with extreme violence to the same, with no understanding of the line separating the two responses. The longer I stuck with the story that my body was malfunctioning, the more and more violent error messages it gave to me and the rest of the world also lying to it about what it experienced as Black, nonbinary, and queer, too.


My harm-doer is dead now, and, after lots of work, so are many of the things keeping me from listening to my body today. With him, however, I lost something that I still cannot see or name, much like that free future people keep asking me about. A free past, maybe. But I did not lose this feeling, of being forever altered before I even had an original self to be. Of knowing something was mine before the world that sold my ancestors into slavery took it from me. Again.


I think Black liberation feels like that thing lost–like having a self, an innocence that is undamaged. Of not always being wrong before you even open your mouth. Of not always being criminalized before the crime. Of not always having your body turn into a cage, or a cage surrounding your body. Of having pathways to redress. Of mattering.


It feels like the joys of childhood, before that is taken away from you. And it starts with children, Black children, the world having not yet been able to completely take them from themselves, even though it has always already began hunting them. This is why I center Black children and ending childhood sexual violence in everything that I do. If we could protect this thing I cannot name, but that Black children feel–unbridled Black joys and rages and everything that comes with being fully alive–then perhaps we will finally see what that future might look like.


Thank you Hari for your time, energy and forethought.

If you are interested in being a guest blogger, check out our guidelines here


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Digging for Truth

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Welcome guest blogger J’aime Grant 

Dr. Jaime M. Grant, author of Great Sex: Mapping Your Desire, is a sex coach, researcher and writer who has been active in LGBTQ, women’s and racial justice movements since the late 80s.

Recently, she has served as principal investigator for the National LGTQ Task Force’s ground-breaking reports on aging, Outing Age 2010 and transgender discrimination, Injustice at Every Turn (2011). A recent Huffington Post editorial on college policy and rape on campus, “Sexual Assault on Campus:  College Policies Support Rape Cultures,” appeared in May 2015.  Her forthcoming anthology, Friendship as Social Justice Activism (University of Chicago Press), is co-edited with Rohit Dasgupta, Niharika Banerjee, and Debanuj DasGupta.

A feminist, sex activist and a clean and sober mother of two, Jaime lives and practices in Washington, DC.


TW/CW: sexual assault, addiction, depression, emotional and physical abuse

I am not a survivor of child sexual abuse.  No one in my family ever touched me inappropriately.  No one used me to gratify themselves sexually – not even once.  However, and unfortunately, I am a survivor of sexual assault. In my journey to heal from the trauma, I found myself in a treatment setting for addiction, food issues or depression.  All of the helping professionals – from the therapists to the psychiatrists to the medical doctors – all of them suggested that I dig deeper into my history of sexual violence


I spent a good part of my twenties and thirties in weekly therapy trying to address the outcomes of emotional and physical abuse as a child.  My compulsions had compulsions.  When I wasn’t drinking, I was bulimic.  When I didn’t have my head in a toilet, I was getting high.  When I was out of drugs, I dosed myself with sugar.  Then I’d throw up.  I did rehab and got sober at 29; I had great therapists for a decade and I often found myself searching for something to help me understand all that had happened to me.


Being among the loving and generous people involved in The HEAL  Project has helped me understand that I already know my story, and that the daily conditions of my childhood combined with white supremacy and sexism colluded to make me extremely vulnerable to sexual predators in my youth and adult life.  It’s clear to me now that a major risk factor in my abuse was a sexist framework of my ‘worth’ as a white woman and a failure to provide me with any resources or tools toward sexual self-determination.


Mostly, my childhood was filled with silences and horrible caveats about sex.  My mother often told me that she would ‘snap my spine’ if I had sex outside of monogamous marriage.  And that sex ‘was not all that it what was cracked up to be.’  The only other ‘education’ I received was a confusing book that explained pollination in great detail but explained human reproduction in only the vaguest of terms.  There was nothing in the book about pleasure, about playfulness, about intimacy or connection – about the incredible gift our sexuality presents to us.


Alongside this lack of education and violent messages around abstinence, there were what I think of as amplified messages about me personally, about my body, my worth as a white girl, and coaching about how to act to be ‘appropriate’.  Everyone in my family told me that I was the ‘beauty.’  I had long blonde hair that drew white cis boys and men to me in droves.  People touched my hair all the time.  Strangers congratulated my parents on my attractiveness, older men were full of comments that my family received as ‘compliments’.  The only problem was: I was too loud and too ambitious.  My mother told me that if she had looked like me as a young girl, she never would have spoken a word, and that I should ‘just sit there’ and let all the treasures of blonde and blue-eyed femininity come to me.  My weight was another major drawback.  If only I’d lose some, and have more self-control, then I’d have it all.  My brother’s nickname for me in 6th grade was Thunder Thighs.  When I was in 7th grade, I went on Weight Watchers and the whole family would wait for me to come out of the meeting and tell them how much weight I’d lost.  Everyone would cheer.  Finally, I was on a winning team!  I lost 25 pounds that summer, but gained it all back in short order when the internal chaos of being ‘hot’, 14, and resisting sexism didn’t evaporate with the weight.  My only relief from yo-yo dieting would come my freshman year of college, when in a support group around food addictions, I discovered bulimia.


What The HEAL Project has taught me is this:  our families don’t need to intend to harm us to do harm.  My brother didn’t have sex with me, but he did tell me that I should forgive my college boyfriend for sexually assaulting me, because he had done similar things to girls during college, and it was just a part of growing up.  When my mother met this ex — randomly, on campus as I moved in for my sophomore year – I was clearly shaken and she said:  I think I could forgive him for just about anything.  Certainly, in observing my mother’s life with my father, I had learned that it was a woman’s job to forgive and move on.  That in fact, this was the glue that held any family together.


I’ve had suspicions that my mom was a survivor.  She grew up an only child with two alcoholic parents and a half dozen doting, alcoholic aunts and uncles.  She had a lot of attention and love, and from the little bits of her story that have either been leaked or momentarily exposed — two raging, difficult parents.  She definitely had no education about sex, about anything other than moving from being a good virginal daughter to a happy productive wife and mother.  One story that has been told with great hilarity about my mother is that in her early 20s, she asked her parents if she could move into the city with a girlfriend to be closer to her job as a legal secretary.  Her father didn’t speak to her for three solid weeks, and that was that.  She lived with her parents until she married my father at 26.  One night, on a break from college, my father told me (after a six pack) that my generation had the right idea about sex because the women in his generation were told: ‘sex is dirty, sex is awful, sex is something you should never do.’  And then when they got married, it was supposed to be this wonderful culmination of their path as good, chaste women.  He said:  For a lot of women, it was a terrible shock.


That terrible shock was a crater of grief and depression that undergirded my entire childhood.  It led my mother to repeat the mistakes of her parent’s generation – out of fear and out of love for me.  I never went on a single sleepover as a child.  I thought my mother was being horribly mean.  Now I can see that she was trying to protect me by keeping me in her sights.  This is another ‘clue’ I have around sexual violence in her story.  My entire life with my mother, she never apologized for anything, but on her deathbed, she sincerely apologized for telling me to forgive my college perpetrator.  I only wish she were here now, so that I could hold her and tell her that I understand, that we were both casualties to a construction of ‘normative’ womanhood that set us up for sexual violence throughout our lives.


Today, the process of digging deeper into my story has had many rewards — both personally and in the larger work for sexual liberation.  I’m a long-time pro-sex organizer and coach.  I’ve created a tool for sexual liberation, Desire Mapping, that I present via workshops all over the world — many CSA survivors discover or come to better understand their abuse histories in these workshops.  I’ve written a funny and (I hope) deeply engaging sex book.  I am in a vibrant and ongoing talk about sex with my two children – my white 18- year-old queer son, and my mixed-race 9-year-old bi-identified daughter.  Everyday acts of sexual education and liberation fuel my recovery.  Being on The HEAL Project advisory board has been a big part of that healing.  It has put me in the company of brave fellow travelers who are also digging at their sex stories and, in doing so, learning new and more powerful ways to share them as a force for ending sexual violence.


Thank you for your words and work J’aime!

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Aishah on Outing CSA

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CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: Child sexual abuse, survivor, rape

—(To see this and other video(s) go to—

Description: Black Femme woman with short dark curly hair. She is wearing a denim colored tank top, hanging round earrings and a neckless that says “No.” She is sitting in front of a white concrete wall speaking to audience/camera. 

—Transcription of video—

My name is Aishah Shahidah Simmons.

I’m a documentary filmmaker and a an AfroLez®femcentric cultural worker.

I am 47 years old.

I am black.

I am woman and a proud femme.

My pronouns are she and her.

My sexual orientation is dyke, lesbian, queer.

I live on the East Coast.

I’m a Vipassana meditator.

…and I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse and adult rape.  


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10 ways you can support The HEAL Project

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The HEAL Project— is a project that aims to prevent and end CSA by making visible the hidden tools used to guilt, shame, coerce and inflict violence onto children. The primary strategies are: Building community, critical analysis, social media campaign, mobilization and education.

Will you support?

Here are 10 things you can do to support the work 

1. Repost Facebook page posts–

2. Subscribe to The HEAL blog and encourage others to do so (main page of website and to the right)

3. Be a guest blogger or pass on info about guest blogging to someone you know

4. Encourage parents/caregivers/guardians to take the parent poll

5. Repost information about our  social media campaigns

6. If you or anyone is an out survivor of CSA, consider submitting an OutingCSA video

7. Consider submitting a Sex(Ed) is video about your connection to sex ed

8. If you are a caregiver parent, guardian, grandparent, aunt/uncle, foster parent, etc consider submitting to the Toolkit

9. Support our new online talk show Pure Love by reposting, sending in your questions and hosting one of
our episodes on your site for a month

10. If you or anyone you know is Baltimore based, spread the word about or join” The Fall of The Secret Keepers”– a group of survivors of CSA, gathering for support, breaking bread and art healing.

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