Who am I? Why am I here?
This is the standing title for my introduction slides when I'm teaching. Let's answer in reverse:
- because I have a lot of knowledge stored up and want a place to put it.
- because the knowledge is specialized at some typically overlooked intersections - sex, disability, trauma, and identity-based violence.
- because my brain has a terrible built-in organization system and I have finally found a way to back it up. (Seriously, Notion has been life-changing for me in the realm of organization and general functioning. Can we please talk about it?)
- a sexuality educator
- chronically ill headed toward disabled
- neurodivergent and still learning how that impacts (and has impacted) my life
- GNC - specifically androgyne. I use she/they pronouns
- an obnoxious cat human with an adorable fur gremlin named Nini.
- too old and too tired for devil's advocates and debating for argument sake
- a jack of all trades, master of a few
- a collection of ridiculous stories, factoids, and incredulity.
I have moved through several industries: disability services, sexuality education, violence prevention, higher education, throughout my career. Since my first unsuccessful round of college, I have worked in areas adjacent to human development and education. One commonality across them? Silos.
I started in the field of intellectual and developmental disability services in 2006, got involved in human rights advocacy shortly thereafter, and became a sexuality educator - specialized in sex education for people with IDD in 2008 by training with Pat Carney and joining the DDS Sexuality Educator Network. I worked in a number of group homes where folks could have benefitted from ANY kind of education about sexuality, but felt invalidated by a system that seemed to value credentials over experience and skill. I saw (and still see) my colleagues in Network have sexuality added to their “regular” job duties - an already substantial set of tasks.
So, in 2010, I decided to get credentials. I finished my undergrad at UMASS, looking at disability policy and education access around sexuality - paid for largely by my State Employee tuition remission benefits. I was fortunate to be able to start graduate school the academic year after my graduation. I completed my Masters in Education focused in Human Sexuality from Widener University in 2014, again focused in sexuality education and access for people with IDD.
Prior to graduation in 2014, I began working as the Intern and Volunteer Manager at the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health - an organization based in the ideals that all people have a right to pleasure and the information they need to access it. I was offered the position through connections from Widener.
In 2016, I joined the education team at New Hope, a domestic and sexual violence (DSV) service agency, and transferred into the position of Disability Outreach Coordinator in early 2017. In this position, funded by the Office of Violence Against Women, I worked with my counterpart at the Arc of Bristol County to makes both of our agencies better at serving folks with IDD who have also experienced domestic and sexual violence.
In late 2019, I started working in higher education at the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention & Response, where I provide education and do community outreach to the campus community. In typical times, this looks like: running workshops and events throughout the academic year; providing orientation information about consent & healthy relationships, resources on campus, and supporting friends through disclosures; and collaborating with other offices to support sensitive programming.
Over my career, I’ve been privileged to meet many folks in different segments of many fields that relate to the sexuality, DSV, disability advocacy, trauma care, education, and policy development fields. This includes advocates with and without disabilities, academics, sex workers, community educators, therapists, writers, designers, bloggers, thought leaders, industry rebels and everything between...multiple communities of diverse folks, each doing amazing work to make sexuality and healing more accessible. Very few of the people in each industry were connected to one another - or had even heard of some of the work being done in other facets of our community.
Because of my history and connections, I end up on a lot of “short lists” in the sex and disability scene, especially in New England and sex ed circles. In 2018, I was invited to participate in two projects with large agencies interested in doing important, impactful work around sexuality education for folks with IDD (read more in my Portfolio). (Disclosure: I was paid to participate in different capacities for each). Each organization held a convening of professionals with a vested interest in access to sexuality education for people with IDD. The first convening was a learning day with guided discussion and was mostly attended by people involved in various aspects of the education and disability services fields. The second was a day of guided conversation and topic exploration with people from the public health spheres of education. Both events were productive, informational, and, minus a few of us “regulars” who had been invited to both, completely separate from the work the other organization was doing. These convening were held in the span of six months. Both events over represented the "professionals" and had very few community members involved.
The silos we work in - be they based on industry, professional cred, identity - are keeping us from making meaningful system wide change. They are also keeping us from building on each others’ effort to find practices that bridge across our industries. Think about this:
- How many of us have run into a “unique” case that we don’t know how to approach?
- How many have been tasked with coming up with guidelines, policy, or tools and had to build them from scratch because of lack of examples or resources?
- For those of us straddling industries, how many times have you translated an acronym-related concept into another field...to be met with the corresponding jargon (example: Self-determination versus Empowerment)?
- How many times have you learned about a resource that is commonly known in one field that would have been super useful before you learned about it in yours?
The first few times one of these happens, we use it as an opportunity to expand our own knowledge. After the tenth time, it becomes frustrating. I describe myself professionally as existing the middle of very specialized Venn diagram - with experience in many of the fields this community aims to connect. Putting what I know out there and connecting with others is my alternative to screaming into my loofah.
I'm motivated to continue crossing silos because I can and because I need to. While I would love to describe myself as patient zero in the disease spread model of this project, it is probably more apt to think of myself as the regional direct sales team manager. I know the people I know, who will tell their friends, who will tell their friends...and so on. Rather than brokering in money or supplements, we are using the currencies of information and experience.
I need to work on this project because lack of connection inhibits our ability to accomplish change. We are all living in interesting times right now. One positive aspect of the general public unrest going on in North America (and the world) is that public opinion is galvanized to support change, particularly as it applies to sexuality. We are at a moment of critical support for making sweeping change across our fields and agencies. And we are all going to succeed really well at one, maybe two of those changes that could be implemented if we work separately. We will make a difference in our agency, industry, or field. However, if we combine that effort, we might be able to change the systems.
I want to be clear that I have some ideas about what could be done, but I don’t have THE ideas, or definitive answers. My agenda isn’t to push my own ideals, but to provide perspective and information about potential solutions to big system-wide issues that can’t be fixed one by one industry.