SExT is thrilled to be partnering with Ophea to deliver FREE theatre performances created and performed by youth for youth for GTA secondary schools connecting to H&PE, Drama and Language studies! Performances run May 10 – 26 at the Factory Theatre and a stipend is available to support transportation costs.
Limited spots still available! Sign your school group up now: https://www.ophea.net/node/6846
Valentine's Day is a sham. If you are not in a loving relationship on Feburary 14th, all you are left with is a whopping amount of Seasonal Affective Disorder and that dreaded feeling of utter singlehood. Sure, being single has its perks (that empowering sense of individuality and freedom, that beauty of unattachment and self-discovery, and the fact that you don't have time to date because you're too busy doing more important things like making a difference in the world), but being in love is the whole reason why we make art and why movies are so damn good. I can be the happiest single girl in the world and Valentines Day can make it all come crashing down.
So here's a video to make you chuckle or maybe even cry in self pity because the person you love doesn't love you back. This is a song I wrote with spoken word artist, Leonard Cervantes, about unrequited love called "I Hate Earl".
Don't forget that the best part of Valentines Day is that you can call up your best friend and laugh about how ridiculous relationships can be. And you can treat yourself to something you like because you deserve it. And while that relationship didn't happen like you wanted it to, the right relationship is still out there. So don't spend your time worrying about when you'll have it. Spend this time eating ice cream on the couch and wallowing with your best friend. This is the one day a year you're allowed to complain and there's nothing wrong with it.
Relationships are heart-breaking and hilarious. With time comes context and perspective. I'd love to hear your poems, songs, stories about heartbreak. Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put it up on our blog!
Happy freaking Valentine's Day.
- Post by Elena Juatco, SExT Creative Facilitator
We here at SExT love supporting similar-minded projects that aim to spark dialogue about sexual health and healthy relationships within the community. Nuance is a project by NU which strives to create a space for diverse stories (blogs, art, poetry) about sex and sexual health that bring in cultural and religious perspectives from Newcomer, Immigrant and Second Generation Youth (NISY).
Starting in Toronto and the GTA, NU wants to connect individuals with relevant resources to make navigating our sometimes complex health system easier. Ultimately, NU aims to operate at the intersection of what it means to be NISY, Canadian and sexual health-focused.
If you identify as a Newcomer, Immigrant, and/or Second Generation Canadian, submit your story to Nuance and you could win $200 worth of cash and prizes! Deadline to submit is February 28, 2017.
You can make your submissions and learn more about NU at www.nuhere.org/share-your-story
SExT is proud to be the keynote performance at the 2017 Youth Sexual Health Research Symposium: Fight Forward, Fight Back. The symposium aims to bring together youth and university students to share their research and artistic pieces on youth sexual health.
Youth Sexual Health Research Symposium: Fight Forward, Fight Back
Thursday March 16th, 2017
9:30 AM - 4:30 PM
William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks Street, Toronto, ON
This is a FREE and PUBLIC symposium!
For directions and the full conference program, see utgaap.com and/or RSVP on the official Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/589830597887357/
For registration and other inquiries, please email: email@example.com
We hope you are able to join us! :)
Your disadvantages and shortcomings can be used to turn the tables. With a little bit of reframing, you can actually turn what makes you feel insecure into an advantage.
I have three stories to share with you: one fictional story (100% made by me, pinky promise), a fable about marsupial evolution and a true story. All these stories have one thing in common. In each of them, the main character turns their flaw into an edge, an edge that proves vital to their success.
Ollie the Overthinker
Ollie was a kid, who suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). There are many variations of this mental illness because it manifests differently for everyone. For Ollie, OCD made him overthink everything and I mean literally everything.
Should I eat the lettuce? What if it tastes bad? Okay so I won't eat it, but if I don't eat it my mom will get mad, and if my mom gets mad she will fight with dad, and then they will get a freaking DIVORCE AHHHH! But what if this lettuce has a flesh-eating bacteria?'
Years of therapy, positive thinking and resilience helped Ollie manage his OCD to a point where it didn’t prevent him from enjoying his life. Ollie always wanted to be a pilot, ever since his day pretend co-piloting his uncle. Flying high and looking down the clouds was an amazing feeling. That feeling was an escape from his constant nag in his head. It was his solace in a life of agony.
He enrolled himself to flight school. He did well in all of his examinations. He graduated with high distinctions. His career as a pilot was going smoothly, until his 67th flight.
It was the best flight condition. Clear skies and steady winds, but unfortunately the biggest airplane malfunction in history was about to take place (if you think the story has a happy ending, you haven't watched enough Game of Thrones). Just as the plane reached the optimal altitude for the long flight, there was a BOOM. The plane gave a little shiver. The control panel stopped working. Ollie didn't know how fast or how high the plane was going. More importantly, he had no idea what went wrong. Did they lose the left engine? Did snow clutter their engine? Were they leaking?
His co-pilot, a recent graduate from flight school named Paul, tried to contain himself and contact air traffic control. The radio screeched and stopped working.
"I guess we can't contact air traffic control," Paul said, almost crying. "Things can't get any worse."
Ollie calmly reached into his glove compartment and took out a notebook. It was titled "Over 500 Things That Can Go Wrong In This Plane". He threw the book to Paul and said, "Read scenario 298 on page 345 aloud."
Paul opened the notebook with his trembling hands and realized the book contained nearly 678 emergency scenarios and what to do about them. The flight academy only taught 54 scenarios.
Ollie's OCD made him constantly calculate every negative thing that can happen in a situation, which made his life a living hell, but he used his "disability" to make the most vast list of disaster scenarios and solutions. He was able to think of more ridiculous disaster scenarios than writers of a Michael Bay movie.
Ollie performed each step calmly as Paul read them aloud. First, he turned off the autopilot. He didn't know how high or how low they were, so he pulled the stick to go higher. He cleaned the debris off the cockpit windows with his hand. He figured that he was still near the airport, so using his memory of the building, he maneuvered the plane to line up with the airport landing strip. Ollie couldn't slow the plane down to land, but because he thought about this scenario a million times, he knew exactly what to do. He was going to drift the plane to a stop and that’s exactly what he did. The landing was pretty rough, but everyone survived.
After the landing Paul asked Ollie about his secret of staying so calm. Ollie simply said, "I spent my whole life afraid of everything. I reckon I just got tired of it, really."
The Evolution of a Cute Marsupial
A bear realized he wasn't fast enough to compete with his brothers and sisters for food. They would always eat the best stuff before he could reach it, so he said to himself, Well screw this. I will just eat from the tree that no one touches. So the bear started eating from the poisonous eucalyptus tree even though it made him feel sick. Over time he started enjoying the taste and adapted to digest the leaves properly. He met other bears who couldn't run fast and taught them his ways. Scientists call this family of bear, Phascolarctos Cinereus. You might know them as koalas.
Admiral Horatio Nelson (AKA Most Badass Champion of the Seas)
This name may seem unfamiliar to you if you don't Google pointless military history instead of studying for your finals. Nelson’s name brought shudders to even Emperor Napoleon. Nelson is the most celebrated naval admiral of all time. He kicked major ass in the seas for England during the Napoleonic Era. He was responsible for whooping Napoleon's ships so hard in Egypt, that Napoleon had to cancel dates with some cute pharaohs and retreat all the way back to France. He was also quite the risk taker, and was known as "a win or die guy” (literally). His notoriously risky attitude made him lose an eye and a hand during battle. He also had sea sickness, not the best condition for an aspiring sailor.
Back in those days, Classism was all the rage and it was a disgrace to be seen in public missing a limb. Only poor peasants and crappy soldiers had missing limbs. The press poked fun at Nelson for his appearance and his sea sickness: "Horatio Nelson lost that battle because he couldn't see the enemy approaching ... from his BLIND SIDE! GET IT?! 'CAUSE HE'S BLIND FROM ONE EYE! LOL!".
The press, particularly the press from countries who were enemies of England, tried to get into Nelson's head and ruin his confidence so he would stop being courageous. They failed miserably.
The Battle of Copenhagen. The English forces were outnumbered and outgunned there was no way they could win. The British Admiral Parker (Nelson's superior) signaled a retreat. He wanted Nelson to fall back with his men. Nelson simply ignored the order and attacked the Danish fleet. Obviously he whooped their ass. The press later asked Nelson why he did not follow orders to retreat. Nelson said something like, "I didn't see the retreat flares from the Admiral. It is probably because I have a BLIND SIDE!"(That’s how the phrase "turning a blind eye" came to existence). Not only did Nelson acknowledge his flaw, he owned up to it.
Even though Nelson suffered from sea sickness and a missing limb, he did not let his impairment hinder his success. He threw up every now and then and still managed to be one of the finest Admirals of all time because his love for the sea surpassed his hate for his sickness. He also died in the most heroic way possible. After defeating the joined Spanish and French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar, an enemy sniper shot him right on the chest. Before his death he said, "I have done my duty, farewell." When the king heard of his death he said "We certainly lost more than we won."
All of us have some type of flaw, disadvantage or shortcoming. Do these things have to hinder us from being successful? Absolutely not. Nelson was poised by sea sickness, literally the worst condition an aspiring sailor could have, but he did not let that stop him from achieving what he wanted. It doesn't matter how disadvantaged you are. If your love for what you want to achieve is huge, nothing can stop you. So go to the audition that says "Seeking 6 foot tall actors" when you are only 5' 10. Attempt to write articles even if you suck at Grammar *wink*. Go try singing even if you suck. You can do anything you want. No one can stop you other than yourself.
Embrace your flaws and wear it as a badge of honor like Nelson did. He showed off the fact that he lost his arm and eye. He used to say, "I am the real Lord Nelson. Look, I have the fin." Try to change what you can, but own up to what you can't change and accept it like your height. Instead of being that short guy who broods a lot, you can change your attitude towards your height. You can be that short guy who has a positively cheerful attitude! Who wouldn't want to hang out with that cool short guy?
Look at your disadvantage from another perspective like how Ollie turned his OCD into a supercomputer to generate disaster scenarios. Try looking at your disadvantage in a different light. They can be reframed as an advantage if you look at it from the right perspective.
Ollie's experience with OCD made him literally immune to fear. When the plane was crashing, his calm and collective demeanor saved his life. If you have been a victim of a horrible incident, try to see what that incident taught you. Did a bad break up teach you who to trust? Did a traumatic incident teach you how to help someone going through the same thing? Did a bad parent teach you what not to do to your future children?
Creative Desperation is a term coined by Adryan De Groot. It’s when someone is forced to take an unorthodox approach to solve a problem. In other words: Make way out of no way. What did the Koala do to avoid walking around a lot? He took the unorthodox approach by adapting to eat from that poisonous tree no one touches. Desperation isn't always a bad thing, it forces us to be more creative.
Who says we need to turn the tables? We can just flip them!
- Post by Aleef Khan, SExT Cast Member & Resident Blog Contributor
We know what social media is saying: 2016 was a bad year. We lost music legends and film stars, mourned victims of war, political unrest and hate crimes, and there has been an increase in violence and hate speech. Even The Walking Dead is bringing us down to emotional depths we've never experienced before (DAMN YOU NEGAN).
Perhaps SExT came out when the world needed hope the most, because 2016 was by far our strongest year. In 2016 SExT grew from a get-together in a small room at the the Flemingdon Health Centre to a semi-private show at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute that sparked a passionate debate about consent among the students, to a critically-acclaimed Toronto Fringe and Summerworks phenomenon. The grants we received from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council enabled us to grow as a production and enlist the help of several local professionals to put on a show that received a "NNNN" review and Critic's Pick from NOW Magazine and a Best Ensemble recognition from The Torontoist. We performed for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne whose emotional response to the show left us validated and inspired to continue our work to reach ever larger audiences. Recently, Toronto Mayor John Tory dropped by our rehearsal to pump us up for our performance at the Willowdale Winter Fest.
SExT began three years ago as a dialogue among high school students who wanted to talk about sexuality as it related to them and their communities. When creator Shira Taylor first came to Marc Garneau Collegiate, she was told that she would have a hard time amassing a group of students who would be interested in this project. Now the SExT family is stronger than ever and after our most exciting year yet, we are ready for more exciting ventures to continue in 2017. Stay tuned! And Happy New Year! :)
- Post by Elena Juatco, SExT Creative Facilitator
Google defines “self-esteem” as "confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect."
I do kind of agree with this definition, but I don't think it’s totally complete. As someone who has struggled with self-esteem myself, I decided to dedicate the last 8 months to researching as much as I could about this topic.
Self-esteem is confidence in one's competence in dealing with life in general. It is measured by how much we think we deserve happiness and respect. It also correlates with how much we love ourselves. Someone with high self esteem usually loves themselves a lot.
Self-esteem defines our thought patterns and feelings. It can have an extremely positive effect or an extremely negative effect on us. While almost everyone agrees that high self esteem is a good thing, people don't always see it as a necessity. Rest assured that high self-esteem is not only "a good thing", but crucial to our well-being and happiness.
If someone with low self-esteem is happy, they feel and act like they don't even deserve it. Our self-esteem is like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think you are good, you will be. If you think you are shit, you will be.
Here are some examples of how someone with high self-esteem and someone with low self-esteem react to the exact same situation:
Situation: Romantic Rejection
High Self-Esteem Joe: I will find someone else, maybe even better. I am a pretty cool person, so it won't be hard.
Low Self-Esteem Joe: What did I even expect, a piece of shit like me would obviously get rejected. Why do I even try?
Situation: Job Performance
High Self-Esteem Joe: I think I am doing a pretty good job. My boss and coworkers said I am doing well, so it must be true.
Low Self-Esteem Joe: My boss said I was doing good? He is probably just mocking me, my last article was such garbage, like everything I do.
High Self-Esteem Joe: I can do this! Even though it’s tough, I am tougher.
Low Self-Esteem Joe: I can't do this, I suck at basically everything. It’s too hard.
High Self-Esteem Joe: Big whoop, lets try again. I am better equipped with the lessons I learned from this failure.
Low Self-Esteem Joe: Well shit! I am a failure, and I suck at everything I do. WHY DO I EVEN TRY? Might as well give up.
But I was always a low self-esteem person from childhood! How can I change?! Well, it’s not impossible. HARD, but totally possible. Nothing is set in stone. Your brain is capable of massive change, but only if you commit to changing it.
Let’s start with some solid advice!
#1. Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
John was born into a poor family located in the "bad" part of town. John's parents were alcoholics and constantly abused him. John also had a learning disability that hindered his studies. This made him give up on high school and drop out. Then one boring Tuesday afternoon, John read an article called "How To Improve Self Esteem and End Up Winning Every Time". This changed his mindset and he went back to high school. After graduating, he got into Ryerson and then got a job as a bank analyst. He made good money and couldn't be happier.
One day, he went to his local tennis club and met Eric. When he got home, he found Eric on Facebook and like everyone else in the world, he started stalking his life like a creep. He noticed that Eric went to Harvard and worked for NASA. Eric also had a pretty nice looking girlfriend and an amazing house in America. This made John feel like a failure. John thought, "We are the same age and from the same city, and Eric has achieved so much more than me. He became an astronaut and I just became a banker from Ryerson." John ate some ice cream, cried a little, then went to bed.
Was it stupid for John to compare himself to Eric? Yes. Eric was born in a "good" part of town into a loving and supportive family. Eric didn't suffer from any learning disorders. His military father instilled a strong sense of discipline and a tireless work ethic in Eric, which helped him get into Harvard and succeed. John got dealt a bad deck of cards in life, but he still turned the situation around even though the odds were against him. Eric got dealt an amazing deck of cards in his life, and his life seemed to be a breeze. Life deals each one of us a deck of cards. Some people get the good ones and some people get the bad ones. No one chooses their decks, but if you play them right you can still win even with crappy deck. So it's unfair, stupid, unscientific and ridiculous to compare ourselves to other people.
The story is not yet finished, because Eric didn't actually have the amazing life John thought he did!
Eric's girlfriend constantly made him feel horrible about himself. Eric went to NASA to be an astronaut but instead got the job of a mechanic. Eric hates his job in NASA because it makes him miserable. He thought NASA would be more exciting. Eric has no idea how he is going to pay for that expensive house he just bought.
John made another mistake. He compared his life to Eric's highlight reel. He conjured up an idea of Eric from what he saw on Facebook. Would Eric really post his struggles in life on Facebook? No, he would only post the good parts. So don't make the mistake of comparing people's "good parts" with your life as a whole. You don't know what's going on behind the scenes.
Also if you start comparing yourself to others, you will find that there will always be someone who is better looking, taller, smarter, has better WiFi connection, etc. You will never win if you start playing that game.
So what should we do instead? As Ernest Hemingway said: "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
He is right, we should only compare ourselves to our former selves and see how far we have come. The only fair comparison is when you compare yourself with someone who was dealt the same cards in life as you. YOU.
So John, I hope you realize how far you have come given the circumstances and that you give yourself a pat in the back, because you deserve it.
#2. Accept compliments.
When someone gives you a compliment, what do you think a low self esteem person says in return? They say, "Oh no, I look ugly" or "Oh no, my story was lame". We can make the mistake of seeing this as being humble or not braggadocious but in reality, when someone brushes off a compliment like that, that person is rejecting the "good" people see in her. Why? Because the person does not see herself as pretty or smart.
We can change that, let's flip the script by using two simple words. When someone gives you a compliment, look them in their eyes and say, "Thank you!" Accept your goodness and realize that everybody around you does not think the negative things about you that you think about yourself. If they had a look into your mind they would laugh at the criticisms that you make about yourself.
I have a friend who is pretty, cool, smart and kind. Unfortunately she doesn't see herself as these things. She told me that she was insecure about her breast size. Obviously to me and all my other friends this seemed so bloody ridiculous we started laughing. We honestly never noticed her "small breasts" (according to her), because we were too busy noticing the amazing things about her. Besides, who doesn't love small boobs?
We are our own worst critic. Before you start freaking about that pimple on the cheek before a date, try to imagine your date having a pimple on his or her cheek. Would it really matter to you? No, because everyone gets pimples here and there so you wouldn't think someone as lesser for having one. There is a lot more to you than your FLAWLESS FACE! Who cares if you have a pimple? Does your pimple downplay how funny you are? Does it downplay how intelligent you are? Does it downplay how generous you are? No, it does not. Stop defining yourself with one good thing about yourself. Try to realize that you are a sum of good things.
#3. Associate with supportive people and support them in return.
When I first started highschool I had no friends. Being an immigrant with no prior connections to the area didn't help. I was sad, confused and lonely. I ate my lunches in abandoned hallways because I didn't like sitting alone in the cafeteria. A teacher caught me and asked me why I was sitting there. I said, "I don't like feeling alone when everyone else has friends." I burst out crying after saying that. The teacher took me to the cafeteria and forced a group of people to sit with me. They became my "friends". I would sit with them at lunch, carry their books, do small chores for them, be a target practice for them. Oh they also constantly called me ugly and stupid. Such good "friends" they were. I didn't leave them because I thought being alone was the worst thing ever.
One day I couldn't take it anymore. I sat next to some other people in class, whom I didn't know. There I met my current best friend, who introduced me to my other current best friends. Life with the new group of friends was way better. They laughed at my jokes, they didn't treat me like a slave, and they were actually nice to me.
We all have a bad habit of being with people that put us down because we feel like we have no other choice. It is actually better to ditch those people and be alone than be called a potato every single day. We also should refrain from calling our friends potatoes, even in a joking way because maybe they think they actually look like potatoes. We should make a habit of boosting their self-esteems by telling them nice things. It feels great to give and receive compliments, so it's basically a win-win situation.
Aleef K out. I will return with Part 2 soon, stay tuned :)
- Post by Aleef Khan, SExT Cast Member & Regular Blog Contributor
Have you missed us? We miss you! We are performing at the World AIDS Day event at the William Doo Auditorium on the U of T campus tonight (Monday, November 28th). Come by and say hi!
Hosted by The Gendering Adolescent AIDS Project (GAAP), The Empower Peer Youth HIV Mentorship Program, New College and the University of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Institute, World AIDS Day is back.
World AIDS Day is an opportunity to mark the history of HIV/AIDS as an epidemic as well as a cultural marker. This event will feature an arts based HIV workshop from the Empower youth, as well as a community arts fair featuring several different local grass roots arts education focused HIV education organizations each offering a mini-arts workshop.
Empower Youth HIV Workshop: 5-6:30
Community Art Fest: 6:00 - 8:00
Light refreshments will be provided. Registration is needed either through the eventbrite, or by messaging the event host to confirm. Please specify if you will be attending the workshop, the arts fest, or both. Spaces are limited.
The William Doo Auditorium is at 45 Willcocks Street, in the basement of the New College Residence. Enter the William Doo Auditorium through the door at the Southeast corner of Willcocks Street & Spadina Avenue. It is accessible by elevator.
*This blog was originally posted at http://thereckoner.ca/op-ed-more-than-just-a-name/
There has been a lot of stigma associated with the feminist movement. With supporters being coined “feminazis,” the movement has received copious amounts of negative attention. Women, too, have started denouncing the term, opting for more neutral titles, such as “egalitarians” or “equalists.” What these women don’t realize is that they are actually all feminists—and we should all be feminists, too.
To start off: What is a feminist? At its core definition, a feminist is an individual who believes men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. No more, no less. Women can be feminists. Men can be feminists. Anyone can be feminist. All that is required is a belief in gender equality. There is no question that most people in developed countries do believe in gender equality, so why is there so much resistance to the feminist movement?
Many dislike the name of the movement itself. They argue that a movement which so blatantly alludes to only one gender is inherently sexist. If the end goal of the cause is gender equality, wouldn’t a term such as “equalist” or “humanist” be better suited? It is true that a more gender-neutral, inclusive term would be met with less disapproval, and garner more support. But is it time for the movement to be rebranded?
The simple answer is no. Rebranding is not necessary. Doing so would disregard feminism’s remarkable history and origins. The movement has value in its roots; since it was first coined in the late 1800s, feminism has gone through many waves, representing everything from women being allowed in the workforce, to suffragettes, to the inception of services like Planned Parenthood . The word “feminism” pays tribute to the past struggles of people that overcame great difficulty to fight for the same values, albeit in far more oppressive societies. We cannot disregard its historical significance, or discount the movement’s many past achievements.
Moreover, there is a good reason for the movement’s name. “Feminism” is used to address gender inequality because it is the female gender that is currently underprivileged, and to attain gender equality, we must advocate for the rights of the underprivileged gender. Truly, feminism is the perfect word for the movement.
Proposing less assertive terms such as “humanist” is akin to replacing the Black Lives Matter movement with the very racist “All Lives Matter” brand . In both cases, choosing other terms to describe the movements completely circumvents the issues faced by the disadvantaged groups. By giving the movements prettier, less assertive names, the proverbial elephant in the room is not acknowledged, and the very purpose of the movement is defeated.
Furthermore, the issue does not lie with the name of the movement itself, but rather with misinformation amongst the masses. It is a great misconception that feminism is synonymous with misandry, or man-hating. In believing this, many men feel alienated, and many women worry that they will be judged for supporting it. However, the truth is that feminism benefits both women and men, by deconstructing harmful gender norms and denouncing the machismo male stereotype. It is a movement that fights for all people .
While it is arguable that white, middle-class women in the Western world enjoy many of the same privileges as men, being a feminist is about acknowledging that there are many other women in the world that cannot say the same, and fighting for their rights as well. This is what sets today’s feminism, fourth wave feminism, apart from the movement’s previous three waves. Modern feminism is centered around intersectionality, the belief that systemic oppression of all types—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.—are interconnected, and must be examined together in their entirety. Intersectionality realizes that it is impossible to tear apart the various forms of oppression people are experiencing. Due to its holistic nature, it is the best way to work towards societal progress.
Feminism is all-encompassing, and the name of the movement should not discourage anyone from supporting it. Instead, focus should be placed on what the movement stands for: Equal rights and opportunity for both women and men, of all marginalized groups. It is important to realize that feminists are not suggesting that men’s rights are inconsequential. Rather, they are highlighting the specific problems being faced by women and other minorities, which are not being faced by men. The term “feminism” cuts straight to the point, and directly addresses the issue at hand. This is key when trying to effect true change.
I am a feminist—not a humanist, not an equalist, but a feminist. Are you?
- Post by Parnika Godkhindi - Editor in Chief of The Reckoner of Marc Garneau C.I.
Nearly three years ago, I walked into one of Toronto’s most diverse and populated high schools with the crazy idea of making sex education more comprehensive, relevant, and impactful, by finding a group of youth willing to sing and dance about it. Last month, I sat next to the Premier of Ontario as we watched a group of the bravest and most dedicated humans I know sing and dance a packed house through everything from periods to chlamydia and homophobia to multiculturalism, eliciting belly laughs and quiet tears.
It is challenging to adequately articulate what the experience of creating and sharing SExT: Sex Education by Theatre has meant to me and the youth involved.
I could tell you about my first visit to Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, located in an immigration destination of Toronto. How I asked a young male student what he thought of my idea and how he responded that no girl in this religious community would be willing to talk about sex. How his comment led me to a girls’ gym class where a young girl interrupted my spiel by shooting her hand up to say that she wanted in. How her enthusiasm spread throughout the class and how I filled every scrap of paper in my purse with the contact information of young women craving a space to talk openly about these issues, and maybe even sing about them. I could try to describe the feeling of seeing that same girl lighting up the stage three years later, confidently and poetically speaking her truths on mental health, racism, and challenging stereotypes.
I could tell you about the first application I read, written by a girl who spoke of an intense passion for dance, but a lack of access to training - a common issue in the community. How she wrote of teaching herself to dance and offering free dance lessons to other youth at the library. I could describe the joy in the room this summer, when a dancer from the Toronto Raptors came in as a guest artist. How that same girl took the lead on choreographing a cultural dance scene, created to showcase the beauty of diversity and the struggle of identity.
I could tell you how in one of our first workshops, I made the mistake of giving the teens free reign to create a scene on pregnancy options. How this error led me to develop a new, more structured drama exercise, challenging the youth to put themselves in the shoes of a pregnant teen, her mom, and boyfriend. How one charismatic boy volunteered to play the pregnant girl. How after that exercise, the students expressed new understandings and empathy for the perspectives of teen mothers and their parents.
I could tell you about the day every student insisted on staying late to ask as many questions as they could of the opposite gender. How I laughed to myself as I recalled the resistance I had encountered in insisting this program be open to all genders.
I could tell you about that week back in July 2014 when we pulled together our first performance. How I had been advised to expect a high drop-out rate and to accept 15 students into the program if I wanted a cast of 10. How I finished the school-year 19 students strong. How half of youth participants got full time jobs or enrolled in summer school, but not one dropped out. How one group would rehearse from 9 to 5, and the other group would come straight from a full day of work/school to rehearse into the late hours of the evening. How some students chose to stay for 12 hour days. How many of the youth were fasting at this time in observing Ramadan. How we lacked access to rehearsal space over the weekend, so the youth insisted on meeting in valleys and parking lots to rehearse, even in the pouring rain.
I could tell you about the message I received during frosh week from a young man saying that he “didn’t get laid” because of our consent scene. How his experience developing that scene gave him pause when it came to an encounter with a girl too intoxicated to consent. How the program played a role in helping another cast member leave a dangerous situation. How that same cast member insisted on courageously and safely channeling her experience into a song that, when performed at her high school, led another young girl in the audience to come forward to her teacher about an abusive situation.
I could tell you that I secretly shared the youth performers’ insecurities regarding how our performance would be received at their high school, among peers who didn’t choose to attend. How I watched as an audience of high school students laughed hysterically as Captain Condom and Hipster Herpes took the stage, muttered with recognition as a scene on homophobia at home was performed partially in Urdu, and debated passionately after a court case scene tackling consent was left open-ended. How a number of youth reported that this performance changed their views on gay and trans people and sexual assault. How all of this took place steps away from the hub of the protests opposing sex education reform in the wake of the first curriculum update in Ontario since 1998.
I could tell you about the feeling of having our show accepted into the Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks, two of Canada’s largest performance festivals. About finding out that I had been selected to receive a TD Michaëlle Jean Foundation Bursary to continue this work. How we received project funding from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils. How this funding provided the opportunity to expose the youth to a number of guest artists to enrich their development. How our little show took the big festival stage by storm, receiving rave reviews from established theatre critics (4 stars, Critic’s Pick, Best Ensemble - NOW Magazine; Exceptional Ensemble - The Torontoist) and was commended for bringing diversity to the Toronto stage and showing what young people are capable of. How the youth eloquently shared intimate insights into their personal challenges and triumphs with entire audiences in our post-performance question and answer periods. How a number of audience members reached out to express that the show “restored their faith in humanity” and “gave them hope” at a difficult time in our world. How one guy in the cast texted me to say thank you for “helping me do something that I am actually proud of.”
I could tell you how even after all of these experiences, our post-show celebration after the Premier’s attendance last month turned into an impromptu workshop. How one cast member hugged another as she described the homophobia she faces at home. How one-by-one, cast members at the table opened up about insecurities and romantic struggles. How each person’s story was met with support and advice from members of the SExT family we have now become, thanks to the power of art and open minds.
I could describe all of these experiences in detail. Maybe one day I’ll write a book…or better yet, actually write my PhD dissertation. But for now, I will leave you with this selfie of an inspired and empowered group of young people with Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, taken seconds after our youngest cast member almost knocked the Premier over with her condom hat, and minutes after the Premier addressed the entire audience, exclaiming through tears that she agrees every student should experience this.
- Post by Shira Taylor, SExT Creator and Director
*This post was originally posted on Art For Social Change.
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