As I decompress from my weekend at AASECT, I find myself faced with an interesting yes/and moment. This past weekend was a transformational experience for me, both personally and professionally. At the same time, concerns have been raised about AASECT's commitment not only to diversity, but fostering an environment that is open and welcoming to people of color.
The members of the Women of Color Sexual Health Network lay out their objections to the book award recipients in this statement. While I can't claim to know anything about the inner workings of AASECT, and I did see a number of classes and workshops on sexual, racial, and cultural diversity, I agree that AASECT still has a way to go. I did not feel that I could, in good conscience, share my experiences without also acknowledging WOCSHN's very real concerns about the organization. I do not think that my experience with AASECT negates or invalidates these issues. The field of sexual health sits at a precarious crossroads of vulnerability and privilege. I believe it is our responsibility to adopt an "all ships rise" mentality when it comes to including voices of the marginalized and vulnerable.
While I can't ignore the fact that AASECT is not without its issues, I was really grateful to have attended and presented this year. I didn't get to go to as many sessions as I would have liked, as I was laid up with a cold for most of Saturday, but the talks I saw were really solid. I went to a discussion/pseudo-debate between Dr. David Ley and Robert Weiss on whether sexual addiction is really a thing. The focus of the panel was more on the points of agreement than contention, since sex addiction has become a hotly contested concept amongst sexual health professionals. I admit that I'm more in Dr. Ley's camp than Mr. Weiss' camp. But then, I've mostly seen the sex addiction label be applied in ways that have been harmful and stigmatizing. While the panel may not have changed my mind about the sex addiction model, it did give me some food for thought.
My clinical presentation seems to have been very well received, and I got some very useful feedback on my presentation. It's sometimes very affirming to get external validation from a group of seasoned professionals. There seems to be a real need for an open conversation around addressing abuse within kink for both community members and the professionals who treat them.
Esther Perel's plenary talk on her conception of infidelity absolutely blew me away. I have the biggest brain crush on her now. Here's her TED talk on the subject, to give you an idea.
Her conceptualization of relationships and infidelity is compassionate, empathetic, non-stigmatizing of non monogamy, and just bloody brilliant. I found myself wanting to stand up and clap a number of times during her plenary talk.
As great as the talks and presenters were, what was most amazing to me were the people I had the chance to connect with. Buck Angel joined a bunch of us for lunch on Friday, and just hung out. Where else does that just happen? (He also happens to be really grounded and awesome guy, so there's that.) The impact of these connections didn't fully hit me until the end of the convention, when I shared a train ride to the airport with a few clinicians I'd met earlier in the day. We were sharing stories about our lives and how we came into this field. The commonalities were more than a little striking. We all seem to have felt out of place in our homes of origin. We had all been expected to fit in various boxes of behavior and identity that never quite seemed to fit. So, we created identity containers from whole cloth (I decorated mine with glitter). Finding folks who have gone through that process and created professional lives that not only accommodated but leveraged their unique identity containers felt healing and empowering. I met friends and colleagues who felt to me like tribe, and that is what made my experience AASECT so fundamentally transformative.
And so, for now, I sit in a wash of con-drop and gratitude.