*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
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.
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