SExT was was a hot topic of conversation at the 2018 Power of the Arts National Forum in Montréal this past weekend, where speakers across Canada came together to share on the theme of "The Arts As Tools For Peace". It was here that our very own director and creator, Shira Taylor, was awarded the TD Michaëlle Jean Foundation Bursary, which is given to a young changemaker who has demonstrated excellence in using the Arts to address issues of concern in Canada.
WAY TO GO SHIRA!!!!!!
SExT cast member and assistant stage manager, Michelle Nyamekye, accompanied Shira to the forum where they also presented about SExT on the Arts and Health Panel.
A special surprise came when the former Governor General herself called Michelle up on stage for a impromptu performance at the Opening Ceremony. Like a true rockstar, Michelle dropped the mic with her poem on stereotypes and identity. (If you've seen her do this piece in the show, you can imagine how powerful it was. NBD.)
Shira, we are so proud of you and so grateful for everything you've done to put SExT on the map! It's about time you were recognized for the blood, sweat, and tears you've put into this baby. So well deserved! We love you!!
What an incredible weekend spent at The Art of Changing the World 2017 conference in Ottawa. It was such an exciting experience to present the "Working with Youth in Change Agendas" workshop with our director, Shira Taylor!
If you haven't already, be sure to read my blog for this event that was featured in The Art of Changing the World Blog Series here.
A huge thanks to The International Centre of Art for Social Change for making it possible. Yay youth! Yay SExT!
- Mary Getachew, Assistant to the Production Team & SExT Cast Member
*This blog originally appeared in the #ACW2017 blog series on the Art for Social Change website. Check it out here.
SExT: Sex Education by Theatre came together because of Shira Taylor, a PhD candidate out of the University of Toronto, deciding to focus her thesis on using the arts to give youth the tools, information and voices they need to educate themselves and each other on the various topics of Sex Ed. More importantly, SExT gave my community (Toronto’s Thorncliffe/ Flemingdon Park) the chance to decide what was important to us, and how we wanted to communicate those learnings back to our community.
Before SExT, I was an immigrant whose only access to sex ed was via a volunteer opportunity I had to seek out. I wasn't informed of my rights. I wasn't informed of what consent constitutes or how complex it can be (e.g. when inebriation of any kind is thrown into the mix). I wasn't informed on how to stay safer.
I was young, in high school, and wanted to perform. It's all I've ever wanted to do: be on stage. I didn't have the prerequisites when I got to Canada to join grade 12 drama, so I settled for volunteering and engaging in as many opportunities as I could. Then, along came SExT - this incredible opportunity to perform and incorporate teaching folks all the things I had to work to learn. Joining was so easy and so obvious a choice to me!
I anticipated having fun and giving folks something to think about. What I didn't expect was the response: so many youth and adults had no idea about so much of our content, like the fact that there are 10 steps to putting on a condom, or that people can be in abusive relationships regardless of age, demographics, orientation and/or gender. It showed me that there is so much work to be done, and it showed me how incredible the arts were for facilitating that work.
On a more personal note, I learnt that I could write. I could make art out of my experiences and pain and use it to help others, and myself. I rewrote our original abusive relationships scene to reflect my own experience, and was even helped in creating a song and dance to it (watch “Tunnel Vision” below), to better tell my story as a survivor of domestic abuse. To watch crowd after crowd, adult after adult, and most touchingly, student after student open up to and relate to a piece I thought would never see the light of day? It makes me feel like some nightmares are designed to make your dreams bigger, and purposeful.
I'm stronger, and much more aware of myself and my life and my goals now, and it's in no small part thanks to projects like SExT. I’m very excited to participate, engage with and learn from this Art of Changing the World Gathering; in particular with the Reconciliation and Hope segment. I’m ready to learn what allyship can and should look like from a settler-perspective, and I’m thrilled to be able to do so!
- Post by Mary Getachew, Assistant to the Production Team & SExT Cast Member
*This blog originally appeared on www.elenajuatco.ca/blog
I feel like it was just yesterday that I was writing a blog about the exposé on Jian Ghomeshi. I grew obsessed with the case and wondered why a woman like myself, “who is one of the 50% of women in Canada who have never experienced physical or sexual violence”, would be so affected by the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. I felt a deep, visceral connection to the women who stepped forward and I chalked it up to the fact that we, as women, have a shared experience and consciousness in a male-dominated world. And that my empathy towards survivors of sexual violence is because we all share the same pain.
This was all very polite, euphemistic talk for what I really knew to be the truth. By taking myself out of the equation and insisting that I have never been a victim of female-targeted violence, I was hiding my own story and truth. And the truth is I have.
I have experienced physical and sexual violence.
A few years ago I was in a rehearsal hall with a male director who wanted to show the women what it meant to be degraded and humiliated. Apparently, we didn’t “get it”. There was no stage manager in the room; just me, the other women in the cast, and this man. He wanted us to sell our bodies to him. He lined us up facing the wall and we took turns grabbing our body parts as he slowly looked each of us up and down. It was very quiet in that room. I got angry. I was the only person who told stage management about what happened. I was told no one else would go with me because “they were comfortable with their bodies”. I felt betrayed. Some people made sarcastic comments about how much I hate him. And they are right. I do hate him.
I’ve had a sexual encounter go too far, too fast. I expressed my hesitations and then I had to say “stop”. Thankfully he did. But then he was angry with me. I felt bad.
I was 16 when I saw a man on my roof, peering into my bedroom as I got ready for bed. I got in trouble for not drawing the blinds at night. I felt like it was my fault.
I was 14 when a man groped my and my friends’ behinds in a video store. I told my mom, who told the video store, who called the police. Then my mom called my friends’ moms and told them what happened. The next day at school, my friends told me that my mom was making a big deal out of nothing. I felt embarrassed. I was scared they wouldn’t want to come over anymore. My parents told me I should have said something the first time he groped me instead of waiting until the second time. I felt ashamed.
I was in grade school when I got into a physical fight with a boy in class. He was a kid that radiated with anger and was always looking to pick a fight. I think I looked at him the wrong way that day. When he threw me to the ground, I got angry because I had to admit that he was stronger than me, even when I was fighting with everything I had. A hall monitor asked us what happened and our stories didn’t match. The monitor let us go back to class and nothing else happened. I felt from that moment on that it would always be my word against someone else’s. My defense mechanisms went up. I think that’s why I get that evil look in my eyes when I get cat-called or whistled at or groped on the street, or when I get yelled at for not wanting to talk to men. My walls are up and after reading all the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, now I’m just pissed. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t know why. Because I do.
I love men. I’m about to marry one of the best men I’ve ever known. I know men who stand up for me and other women, and who treat me with mutual kindness and respect. These men in my life make my light shine beautifully and confidently. I would do anything for them.
And there are men that I hate. Men who get away with so much shit. Men who abuse women for decades because they are powerful and because they can. One of them was elected the president of the most powerful country in the world.
I could have easily been any of these women targeted by Harvey Weinstein. That trauma would have affected me for the rest of my life and since I have an enormous ego, I don’t know if I would have it in me to come forward. I hope that I would be brave enough to do so, but I cannot say for certain. And that makes me angry too.
There are people who operate under the delusion that violating women is ok. Part of that delusion is also our failure to admit that we are part of this story. We pretend that we exist in the blank spaces between these stories because the stories that we see on the news have nothing to do with us. Violence towards women and the LGBT, the persecution of ethnic minorities, the hatred of one another which is based on nothing but fear: these are stories that we live in and that we contribute to, and we need to look within ourselves and admit that. Then we need to challenge others. And speak up against this bullshit. Because if we do not, we risk living in a Margaret Atwood dystopian nightmare, a world that feels eerily close to home.
So now that I’ve shared my story about how I’ve been the subject of violence due to my sex, do I now have to get up and sit at a different table labeled “victim”? Nope. It’s the opposite in fact. Admitting this makes me just like everyone else.
- Post by Elena Juatco, SExT Creative Facilitator
I (Aleef) and Shira (Director of SExT and mother of 13 kids) attended the UJA (United Jewish Appeal) Federation’s first ever Mental Health Empowerment Day on September 17th on a Sunday. Yes, Sunday morning at 9 am 🙂
I usually don't go to an event that forces me to wake up at 8am on a Sunday, but this event was important. It was about mental health. Something nobody talks about enough even though 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their life.
The event featured three amazing speakers. First speaker was Ryan Holt. He talked about how one moment of courage opened up his life to thousands of others. He was just like any kid. Enjoying his life, reading memes and making cringe-worthy jokes, but one month it all changed. He became moody, sad, confused and depressed. He didn't know what was going on but he took a massive courageous step. He told everything to his mom and fortunately his mom was very supportive and sent Ryan to get some help. A lot of people with mental illness never speak up. They keep it as a secret because they are ashamed of it. They think it's their own personal failure that they have mental illness.
Studies have proven that mental illness is not the fault of the person having it. It's nobody's fault. It's mother nature screwing with us like always. Nobody blames someone if they get cancer, so we shouldn't blame someone if they have mental illness. The person already blames themselves for having it. Let's take some pressure off and support them to get some help. It's hard to open up to someone, but once you actually do it, it feels like a huge burden is off your shoulders. Take the burden off. Tell your close friend, tell your parent, tell a stranger it doesn't matter. Just tell someone. You don't have to fight this alone. You will be surprised how many people will come to your aid.
The second Speaker was Dr. Mark Sinyor. He taught us how Harry Potter actually teaches us about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It was really interesting. He talked about how teaching children about mental health actually improves their mental health. Kids usually don't like learning about a bunch of cognitive behaviour therapy techniques, but they do like learning about it if it's in a really cool story format. I think this applies to adults too. I want to learn cognitive behaviour therapy using the Harry Potter books too!
The third speaker was Dr. Ari Zaretsky. He spoke about how far mental illness treatments have come. He mentioned that the most effective way to treat depression and other mental illnesses was CBT and drug therapy used together. He also mentioned that our current school systems don't have adequate mental health staff to accommodate all the students who need help.
After the speakers, I went to have French toast with a lovely family. Who talked a lot. A lot of the talk was about some dog. A lot of the other talk was about some other dog. The rest of the conversation was about what happened during the day. We talk so much with each other every day. Maybe we should also talk about how we feel. About how we really feel deep inside ourselves. It's not done often, but it should. Just tell your whole family about how you have OCD and it's really tearing you apart and you'd be surprised by how much support you'd get. "Hey guys I got some mental illness I want to talk about" might not be the most entertaining conversation to have, but not everything in life needs to be entertaining. This isn't a comedy movie. It's your life. In life there are awkward moments. My grandfather always said, "Extremely important moments in life ain't really dramatic. Just kinda awkward to be honest."
Learn more about Mental Health Empowerment Day on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mental-Health-Empowerment-Day-1892965480936870/
- Post by Aleef K., SExT Cast Member & Resident Blogger
In ancient times, rites of passage meant more than just getting your freak on at your best friend’s barmitzvah. They were downright horrid traditions that were meant to push you out of your comfort zone. In order to become a man from a boy or woman from a girl, you had to go through one of the most dreadful experiences in your whole life.
A Spartan boy would be forced to abandon his family for Agoge (rigorous training till the age of 18). After the age of 18, the boy would then be instructed to kill a random ass slave (poor bloke) and return in one piece. Here is the twist: if he was detected, he would probably be executed. If he succeeded, he would become a warrior.
The Nootka natives of the Vancouver Islands would take a girl who just had her first period into the furthest reaches of the sea and push her off the boat. The girl then had to swim all the way back to the island on her own. As if bleeding from your genitals for the first time wasn’t horrifying enough.
These rites of passage were meant to push people way out of their comfort zones and teach them that becoming an adult is no child’s play. After the rites of passages were over, the elders would always tell the newly initiated, “This is only the beginning my sweet summer child. Now the true passage starts." This meant that their lives would become more difficult now because they were now full-fledged adults. In other words, a rite of passage was only a trailer for what was to come. These passages were quite common in the ancient times, because the societies that did not engage in these activities died off. The societies that practiced these strict rites of passage were more tenacious and stress-tolerant, hence making them more prone to survive the harsh conditions they faced.
Our current western society doesn’t practise this anymore. It could be argued that going to college, moving out of your parents’ house, losing your virginity, or having your first drink is pretty stressful for a lot of people; but it’s not as stressful and horrific as getting your ass abandoned in a random part of the sea and swimming back to shore without a compass whilst bleeding out of your vagina for the first time. Some people can argue that moving out or losing their virginity isn’t even that big of a deal.
So are we really being pushed out of our comfort zones? Obviously I don’t endorse murder or putting someone in a life threatening situation for the purposes of pushing them out of their comfort zones. But I also don’t endorse putting college students in “safe zones” to protect them from the opinions of different ideologies. College is where you are supposed to challenge your current beliefs in order to change or even improve them by taking knowledge from different angles. Sometimes these angles are from ideologies you might not agree with. If you don’t doubt your own current beliefs here and there, how will you ever improve? It’s uncomfortable to go to a Trudeau speech if you are a Conservative, but you must go there and listen to the points he is making to increase your knowledge. Life isn't black or white. How will you grow if you are always stuck in the same echo chamber all your life?
Stepping out of your comfort zone is painfully difficult. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to go to a therapist (basically a stranger) and tell them your whole life story and about your depression. It's uncomfortable to try out different strategies to kick your procrastination problem. It's uncomfortable to start telling the truth when you been lying your whole life. It's uncomfortable to ask out that cute guy in class. But it needs to be done in order to grow and become stronger than before. These incidents could be our own rites of passages. Every one of us has our own different unique lives filled with these little rites of passages. In order to improve our lives and mental wellbeing we must go through them.
So what makes you uncomfortable? What is your rite of passage?
- Post by Aleef Khan, SExT Cast Member and Resident Blog Contributor
Some in-depth discussion and perspectives from our SExT cast about mental illness are in the inaugural publication of Be Scene Magazine! Pick up your copy now! bescenemag.wordpress.com/
On June 3rd SExT had the pleasure of performing for Jane Street Hub as part of their Community Info Fair, highlighting sexual health as well as health and wellness in the African, Caribbean, Black, and Latino communities. The event included resources, community services, workshops, counsellors, performances (wink-wink), and anonymous testing for STIs. Having a safe space for conversations on these stigmatized topics such as STIs and mental health, and having it be accessible to everyone, is so incredibly important. I would like to thank the organizers for this.
Performing a poem on stereotypes, rapping about cultural identity, and talking about consent and STI testing (among other things) is always very powerful in itself, but having people come up to us afterwards sharing how they relate to our show is absolutely amazing. People wanting us to perform at more community events and speaking up about these issues is liberating and a great reminder of why we at SExT are all so passionate about our message of inclusivity and acceptance.
Our group also attended a session on stigma, and let me tell you, I could never get tired of listening to my peers share their stories about stigma. One cast member shared his account of navigating his mental health with his father, who at first didn’t understand, and is now the one to advocate to his own friends about mental health resources. As I listened to the people in the room open up, the air got lighter with each person’s story being told. Seeing this kind of environment being fostered gives me hope that one day everyone can find comfort and liberation in being able to share their own experiences.
After the session on stigma, we listened to a panel of five brave individuals speak about being HIV positive. Let’s just say it got real deep. Hearing the personal accounts of a young woman born with HIV, a gay man having to keep his sexuality a secret, and a trans woman’s story about accepting her HIV, is so inspiring. Hearing their accounts of the stigma they have experienced and their journeys overcoming it, is so freaking inspiring. One of the women on the panel even took an HIV test in front of us to demonstrate how easy the process is and to encourage others to take charge of their health and get tested. She encouraged others to reclaim their power, to be knowledgeable about their sexual health, and not to stay hidden in shame. I was able to witness the stories of those who suffered in secret, now opening themselves up to a room of strangers. I don’t know how on earth they did it, but I’m so happy they did. I know many people in the room found hope from hearing these stories coming from people sitting right in front of them, smiling and proud of who they have become.
As the discussion of stigma continued, I got to hear more cast members open up. One person spoke of his experience about being gay and adopted. Another shared her story of having depression and trying to understand why her mom doesn’t understand. Her mother grew up in a different country in a different time, and might have even dealt with mental illness herself not knowing what it was. More people opened up about a great range of stigma they have faced, and hearing that everyone has a story is a forceful truth. Some people cried, because it was moving, you know? It was helpful to see people who had overcome stigma now living life on their own terms. Everyone on the panel agreed they are living better by not caring what others say about who they are, by not giving in to the stigma, and by speaking out about their experiences.
The host also shared a story about the stigma surrounding her hair. She explained how she had been wearing straight hair since she was 12 years old. She spent a lot of time growing it out, and the day came when she said, “Okay, I’m going to do my hair today”. She spent over a day on it, and looked in the bathroom mirror feeling fabulous. She came out of the bathroom and her boyfriend said, “Oh, I thought you were going to do your hair.” Everyone in the room gasped and I saw slacked jaws, in utter shock. The host just laughed and said all that was needed was to have a discussion about it, and it was a very good discussion. She learned that his mom never wore her hair natural, his sister always had straight hair, and all his girlfriends wore their hair straight. The point is that some people don’t even know they are perpetuating stigma. We just need to educate them.
I feel like this is where SExT can come in. The reason I love our show so much is because it is not our place to judge, but to educate using our stories and allow people to be free to choose as they wish. As our director Shira always says: If everyone agreed on everything, our program wouldn’t need to exist.
When it comes to stigma, we can all do our best to not perpetuate it and to educate ourselves. Hearing everyone's stories at Jane Street Hub is an experience I will hold close to my heart, and I will always remember moments like this when we were able to discuss stigmatized topics such as sexual health in a safe space. Respectful discussion really is that powerful. I know I talked about some “heavier” topics, but the event was really fun as well! Although there were some tears, there was lots of laughter as well and great energy. Being able to express ourselves and having people support it means everything in the world.
Anyone in any group can experience stigma, and it is important that we do not give in to stigma and rise above it. I know, so mushy, but it’s true. When we all come together and have a respectful discussion without shutting down opposing views and instead giving everyone a voice, that is when real change happens. That is what I hope we can accomplish with SExT.
- Post by Emma Wheaton, Assistant Director & SExT Cast Member
Over two weeks last May, SExT partnered with OPHEA Canada to provide free shows to highschools in the GTA at downtown Toronto's Factory Theatre. We performed for over 1000 students and we want to thank every single person that came to our show and shared your energy and enthusiasm with us! Let's take a look back to that amazing time with another behind-the-scenes look from our resident vlogger extraordinare: Thuriga Bala. Enjoy!
Our show has officially opened at the Factory Theatre and we would like to give special shout outs to John Polanyi Collegiate, Louise Arbour Secondary School, and Central Technical School for coming this week!
Our Resident Vlogger and SExT Cast member Thuriga Bala has created a vlog that gives you a behind the scenes look into our rehearsal process. Enjoy!
Welcome to the SExT blog!
This is where we share our insights and stories about sex, healthy relationships, and getting our show from the rehearsal hall to opening night. Contributors include SExT collaborators and cast members.
We want YOU to contribute!
Have a great idea for a blog post? We want to hear from you! Email us here!