Sunday, January 31, 2016

So you're trying to figure me out?

I am a divorced pansexual queer femme trauma survivor.
I am a smart successful sensitive spiritual progressive Jew.
I am a caring compassionate anti-racist White feminist.

I am layers of nightmare and daydream and full, raw presence.
I am hope and hurt and growth.
I am sweet caresses and confusion.

I am too much.
I am not enough.
I am busy.
I am deeply connected and loving and open.
I am alone and coping and yearning.

I am vulnerable.
I am incredibly strong.
I am not here to play games.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

“You’ve done everything right up to this point"

The most dominant image I have is me sitting on my couch staring at the ceiling. But really I was luckier than that – it was a beautiful fall, and I spent a lot of time lying in the grass soaking in the sun. In the park down the street… on the field across from the gym… on the hill by my office… resting my concussed brain, trying to cope.

I was coping not only with the concussion, but also with the effect of the concussion on my basic emotion regulation abilities. It was like there’d been a buffer zone around my feelings that had dissolved, dissipated. Hard feelings turned to panic much more easily, with a dangerous intensity. And panicking could only make things worse: spiking my heart rate, sending me down a steep dark spiral, and only aggravating the injury further.

So I had to ground myself. I had to. Feeling the grass underneath each limb, waves of guilt and shame and fear threatening to flood my system for uninterrupted hours in which I was supposed to be recuperating so I could get back to the very limited amount of work time my brain could take. Fear, shame, guilt. Fear, shame, guilt. Regret.

I have done everything right up to this point.

That’s how I would anchor myself.

I am alive, loved, and enrolled (as in, enrolled in grad school, even if I didn’t know when or how I would be able to finish). I have done everything right up to this point.

I would focus on those words, repeating them over and over and over again, for weeks and weeks.

---

Of course, it wasn’t true. I mean, it was true that I was alive, loved, and enrolled. But it wasn’t true that I’d done everything right. How could it be? That’s not a thing.

I said it to myself so much that it became a habit – telling myself I’d done everything right because at least I’d gotten to that point, still in the game, with people in my corner. But those good things can be true even if I haven’t done everything right. And I haven’t. I didn’t do everything right in concussion recovery; I didn’t do everything right in grad school (shh don’t tell!); and I certainly haven’t done everything right by the people who have so valiantly loved me.

Sometimes I’ve messed up and hurt only myself. Sometimes I’ve messed up and really hurt people I care about. Sometimes I’ve messed up in ways that hurt marginalized folks around me and perpetuate the very systems of oppression I’m committed to dismantling.

---

I want to hold these truths. I need a way to be here and to feel them and then to do the repair I can do in/for myself, in/for my relationships, and in/for my communities. Can I tolerate the reality that I have not done everything right, without getting stuck in spirals of regret or shame or self-flagellation?

The first step is feeling the feelings. And then comes speaking back, but not to negate or deny what I’m upset about having done. Not to claim rightness or say it’s okay when it’s not. What can I say instead to speak directly to/with those feelings? I’m gonna play with some ideas here, and I’d love to hear feedback and reflections from you, too!

To regret, I could say: This is how things have happened. I did what I could at the time. This is the only way it’s happened, and this is what I get to live with now.

To shame, I could say: I care about my impact. I want to understand and address the impact I’ve had. Having a negative impact doesn’t negate everything about me. Everything else is still true, too, and I can be complicated.

To self-flagellation, I could say: Actually what I need is the opposite. What I need is self-care. To do better in the world, I need to do better for myself. The more okay I am, more aware of my own feelings and holding more of my own stuff, the more responsibly I’ll behave towards other people and the more I’ll be able to do for/with other people.

Perhaps these thoughts can help me ground myself in the present and future, and engage with the pain and complexity of the past. By paying attention instead of turning away, maybe I will find an opportunity to do repair work, and maybe I can expand my capacity to do differently next time.

---

I am alive, loved, and employed. I’ve done a lot right up to this point. But not everything. I’ve messed up in some significant ways.

I did the best I could. I care about my impact. The more I take care of myself, the more I’ll be able to address what I can of what I’ve done, and to do better moving forward.

I hope?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Hopes and Dreams for 2016

  1. Stop saying I “just” moved to NYC
  2. Cook – like, roasted vegetables and soups
  3. More reading and writing
  4. More music and dance and prayer and poetry
  5. Host another dinner party
  6. Go back to not checking email and Facebook on Saturdays
  7. Read/listen/talk more about the impact of white supremacy and structural racism on the work I do and how I do it
  8. Read/listen/talk more about the impact of gentrification and what it means for me to be living where I live
  9. Further systematize my financial contributions to bolster the work of the people most impacted by local and global systems of oppression
  10. Stop getting annoyed when people send me vague text messages… avoid over-interpreting
  11. Open my heart to other humans
  12. Feel as much as possible

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Having Feelings in Public (& Other Themes of 2015)

I didn’t mean to alarm people with my Facebook statuses; I just wanted to share. But perhaps there’s something in the genre of Facebook status writing (and Instagram selfies, apparently) that is not well-suited to the kind of self-expression I’m trying to achieve. I try to invite you into these thoughts and feelings that I’m having, but in a brief status – that you’re reading while scrolling – I can’t show you the whole thing. I can’t show you what it means to me and how I’m holding the experience. Moving to New York has been daunting and exhausting and downright lonely, for sure. But I’m okay with those feelings. I’m having the feelings, but I’m okay. It was going to be hard. Things can be generally good (new job! new friends!) but not always easy. There’s complexity in change and loss and risk. And also, it has been exhilarating and inspiring to experience this city, to connect with people, and to navigate the job that brought me here in the first place.

Meanwhile the world is crumbling and crashing in on itself more and more each month. And I’m engaging with that in new ways, too, as I delve into the world of HIV-prevention with LGBT youth, particularly trying to make the work we’re doing inclusive and affirming for young people who are transgender or gender nonconforming. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role in all that, and what it means for me to be me while doing that work. And I’ve also been yearning for ways to re-engage in other kinds of work I’ve done in the past: sex education, curriculum development, sexual assault prevention, with public schools and college campuses and youth development programs. And blogging! So at least I’m getting back into that – hoping that this makes more sense than a few lines on Facebook.

If 2014 was the year in which my life tore apart at the seams, then 2015 was the year in which I started weaving it back together. I’m weaving something newly livable, something softly familiar yet utterly surprising, at times terrifying and at times glowing with beauty, something to hold onto within an overwhelming whirlwind of opportunity and pain and possibility. In taking the risk of being more connected to my own truths, I’m finding more and more access to authenticity, and I’m finding within that authenticity a kind of vulnerability that feels both scary and strong, and that allows for real closeness with people who care. I’m discovering that people care about me as deeply as I care about them. I deeply, passionately care about them (you). And I can act on those feelings, although there’s risk in that, too. I’m becoming more attuned to the differences between danger and risk, between terror and courage. I’m becoming more attuned to my own needs, including my need for joy. Past numbness is now thawing. I’m trying to weave something that will keep me warm, so I can keep sharing warmth with the world.

In 2015:
·      I defended my dissertation and got my PhD. 
·      I packed up the apartment I’d lived in for five years.
·      I started my post-doc. 
·      I found and set up a new apartment in Harlem. 
·      I turned 30, and I went alone to an awesome Pride dance party in Brooklyn. 
·      I made an OKCupid profile (and used it). 
·      I analyzed data, conducted focus groups and interviews, wrote papers, and planned for grants I want to write. 
·      I nourished new friendships, exploring new ways of connecting and showing up for each other. 
·      I reshaped existing friendships, adjusting to so many changes to find ways to continue to show up and be close.
·      I made time for my own thawing and reflecting, nourishing myself and finding out that I can really show up for myself, too.

One thing I learned this year, especially this fall, is that I cannot repair the world in isolation. My self care and my connection with community are what allow me to invest in my work as an activist, to build relationships that will facilitate and propel change in my own life and in the systems in which I work. I can't do it alone. I can barely do anything alone. Isolation is the opposite of social justice. We need each other, to build together the world we need, the world as we want it to be. We need each other radically and holistically, not just for call-outs and accountability, but for hope and healing and joy and wonder. We need each other so we can hold complexity together and make space for all that we're feeling. This is hard to do in a big city where it takes a lot of effort and coordination to just physically put ourselves in the same place. But it's something I'm really committed to. Showing up, to talk and feel and sing and dance. To care and question. So hard but so needed. 

I will keep seeking community, I will keep hosting events at my place, and I will even keep going to Brooklyn to see what people are building there. Let me know your other ideas, hopes, dreams, visions, suggestions, etc. I’m in it with you!

You. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my village this year. Family of origin and family of choice. Best friends, old friends, new friends, people who weren’t yet my friends but welcomed me with warmth anyway. You are the reason I can do anything, you are the reason I could write my dissertation and finish school and get a job and move to New York. You are the reason I could start a new job and take on new projects and set up a new life. You are the reason I have hope for myself, and you are the reason I have hope for the world.

Sending you warmth this winter, with so much hope and so many wishes for care and love and justice in the coming year.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teaching Consent: Coverage from Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

This article is cross-posted with permission from Tufts University. Jane Carter, Communications Specialist for the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, interviewed me and generously wrote this profile, posted here with an original illustration by Laura Dozer.


Mimi Arbeit, a recent graduate of the Applied Child Development Ph.D. program within the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, centers her work on a very specific yet complex topic: adolescent sexuality development.
"So often, development is heard as meaning 'child development,' but in fact we continue to develop as human beings throughout all of life, there is great diversity and plasticity in how we learn to be people," says Arbeit. She has taken frameworks commonly used to understand adolescent development and explores how to use them in classrooms to promote positive sexual health and development.
"Sex education [in the context of health education] is going in the direction of teaching children skills in addition to knowledge," says Arbeit. She defines skills as a coordinated set of behaviors: "emotional, social, cognitive, personal, interpersonal… the capacity to act in an organized way," which is needed in addition to understanding the basics of human anatomy and safer sex practices. In 2014, she published a paper in the journal Human Development that presents a skills-based model for promoting positive adolescent sexuality development.
While at Tufts, Arbeit engaged in applied work in the city of Boston and beyond. She served on the AIDS Advisory Panel, the sexual health education advisory board for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She has also worked with The Fenway Institute on a project funded by the National Institute for Health called "Connect to Protect," a nation-wide effort to prevent HIV transmission among young people. "Our Boston site is focused on young black men who have sex with men, and black transgender youth," says Arbeit. She facilitated a subcommittee focused on sex education and school-based policy.
Arbeit's work in Boston, and her publication of a skills-based model for sexuality development, laid the foundation for her dissertation research, which applied that framework to preventing sexual violence and understanding sexual consent.
Part of her dissertation research included an independent study with Nancy Bauer, philosophy professor and Dean of Academic Affairs for the School of Arts and Sciences, to examine theories on sexual consent. Dean Bauer is familiar with the academic approaches to sexual topics—her recently published book, How to Do Things With Pornography (Harvard University Press, 2015), explores new feminist frameworks for philosophical methodologies.

Illustration by Laura Dozor
Understanding the philosophy behind consent, in addition to the developmental realities of the adolescent experience, was very important to Arbeit's process. In order to understand consent, Arbeit and Bauer explored the areas where consent is in use. "I call them personal transformation, institutional transformation, and political transformation," says Arbeit. "For personal transformation, we are talking about consent as a skill," or how the message of consent is taught through interactions with other people.
Institutional transformation has to do with how consent is handled within legal frameworks ranging from the American legal system to an educational institution's own policies. Arbeit says that as a result of Title IX, "educational institutions, places like Tufts, are responsible for asking themselves, what is our policy? What are our responses?"
The third transformation, political, examines the aspects of our historical and present social structures that led us to our current consent issues. "This is where we look at discussions of rape culture," says Arbeit, "histories of sexism, histories of the use of sexual violence to perpetuate other forms of violence, racism, colonialism, heterosexism, heteronormativity, the pressure to marry, the shame of virginity, the shame of losing virginity, all the different pieces of our historical and present social system that are part of why we have a rape problem."
When it comes to teaching consent skills, these three transformations help explain why it is so difficult to reach a consensus on the definition of consent, and yet, the concept is so fundamentally important to healthy relationships and promoting nonviolence. "I think it is really important to continue examining how we conceptualize sexual violence from a legal standpoint, however, I think it is also important to have high personal and institutional standards for how we interact with people and negotiate consent," says Arbeit.
Arbeit has been examining these frameworks in the field through her work at Tufts Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development led by Professor Richard Lerner. Professor Lerner, Arbeit's graduate advisor, focuses on positive youth development and character development. One of his projects is a collaboration with the United States Military Academy at West Point. As a result, Arbeit's dissertation addressed sexuality in this distinct environment.
"At West Point, they have a specific commitment to addressing sexual assault and sexual harassment, which are behaviors that we want to prevent," says Arbeit. But, she points out; they are also dedicated to developing leaders of character. For her dissertation, she takes values such as respect, humility, honor, and courage, and examines what it means to apply them to the domain of sexuality.
Building on these positive attributes is part of the mission of Lerner's lab. "In a lot of health and youth development contexts, there's a desire to prevent the negative outcomes, and I have been trained at Tufts to ask, what is going right in the lives of youth?" says Arbeit.
West Point is a great place to start when thinking about promoting skills and preventing sexual violence, but Arbeit notes that they have a more structured character model than most educational institutions. "There is a lot of opportunity for parallel work with universities that are addressing sexual violence and promoting sexuality skills for college students," says Arbeit.
Theoretical frameworks, skill sets, and models of transformation can be difficult to navigate in any context, but Arbeit notes that it all comes down to humanity. "Once you acknowledge the complexity, that's where the humanity comes in," says Arbeit. "Sexism is a system of trauma—where our humanity gets separated from us or we don't have access to our humanity. We need to do a lot of work on emotionally reconnecting to ourselves and to the people we are in relationships with and our community in order to feel our way through all of these complexities, and start developing skills to enact our values."
Mimi Arbeit spoke at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Doctoral Hooding Ceremony on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Her speech, "What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism," is available on her blog,Sex Ed Transforms.
Arbeit is now a Postdoctoral Fellow and Program Administrator at the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University. She is working on a grant from the National Institute on Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD) on Ethics in HIV Prevention Research Involving LGBT Youth (1R01MD009561-01). Learn more >

Monday, May 18, 2015

What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism


I graduated from Tufts University this weekend, with a Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development. I was honored to be the student speaker for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Doctoral Hooding Ceremony. Here is what I said.






As the non-indictment verdict arrived, I was working on my dissertation. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, will have no trial. The people of Ferguson protest: Black Lives Matter. They call for an end to business as usual, but my business as usual was just getting good. I wanted to write my dissertation and I really, really wanted this degree.

And I was tired. Business as usual is exhausting and there’s no energy left for protests and movement building and solidarity.

Abigail Ortiz taught me that solidarity means sharing risk. I ask myself what risks I am willing to share as a white person in solidarity with people of color: Am I willing to risk arrest? Injury? Reputation? Career?


The system is built to maintain itself.


In the first month of 2015, four black trans women were murdered. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. The intersectionality of oppression is life and death.

“Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.

Support for trans women dwindles when we are still alive… It points to who is valuable and who is disposable. If you’re not a trans woman… think long and hard about the ways that you’re supporting trans women in your community. Do you see trans women in public community spaces? How are your actions pushing them out? 


I learned to do academic work that could inform advocacy. I wrote a guide for youth development programs about queer-inclusivity, racial justice, and trauma-informed practice. What is life anyway but one giant youth development program? These principles can guide both the work we do and how we run our workplaces.


But these systems are built to maintain themselves.


As PhDs, we are pronounced producers of knowledge. We can use our position within the system – and the peer-reviewed knowledge that we produce – to advocate for change. That’s our professional work; activism is the personal work. But activism, solidarity, is risky. I want a job, tenure, grants, clout. I want those things for myself and for my advocacy – I am building power and building knowledge with hope that I can leverage my power and my knowledge to make a difference.

Can I continue working on that, while also working to break down the systems that grant me this power?


These systems are built to maintain themselves. And I am a part of that.


But these systems are not okay. We need an end to business as usual, and we all need to commit to that end, as knowledge-producers and as human beings, each situated at various sites of power, within White Capitalist Heteropatriarchy.


So now that our degrees are not on the line anymore, what are we ready to risk?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Publication Alert: A Skills-Based Model for Promoting Adolescent Sexuality Development

I published a theory paper in the journal Human Development. In the paper, I present a model for thinking about adolescent sexuality in terms of skills – what young people know how to do and how young people act, in and through sexuality. The model explains the following skills…
  • Sexual Selfhood: Desire, Ethics, and Identity
  • Sexual Agency
  • Sexual Negotiation: Consent, Protection, Pleasure
  • Sexual Intimacy
  • Sexual Empowerment: Boundaries, Coping, Analysis
  • Sexual Advocacy


Emphasizing sexuality skills over specific sexual behaviors allows us to remove “intercourse” from the center of a research agenda on adolescent sexuality development. In this way, I decenter concepts such as virginity, marriage, and heterosexuality from how we think and talk about young people and about sex overall. Focusing on skills raises questions about how to facilitate skill development for all young people, whether they are sexually active in particular ways or not.


I am honored to have this article published in Human Development. I am also honored that the journal elicited commentary from two renowned scholars in the field, both of whom expressed support for the model and provided me with inspiring feedback.


  • The need for a cumulative life span approach
  • Expanding the focus on biological processes
  • Grappling with gender variation
  • Gender as a product of sexuality
  • Greater attention to sexual-minority development
  • The meaning of meaning-making



I am particularly moved by Diamond’s suggestions for how to use this model push the interrogation of gender, sexism, and sexual orientation in the study of adolescent sexuality. She writes about the need to research the “interplay between gender and sexual questioning,” particularly for transgender and gender non-conforming youth, saying that the model “provides a framework for reconceptualizing gender questioning as adaptive and even normative” (p. 298). In addition, she suggests attending to the role of binary gender socialization (differential systems of expectations and rewards for men and women) in shaping young people’s skills for sexual negotiation and, in turn, how their experiences of sexual negotiation may shape their sense of their own gender. Furthermore, she provides several examples of how the model can be applied to supporting sexual minority youth not only in their sexual identity but also in being sexual and acting upon their sexual feelings.


  • Developmental change
  • Relational developmental systems
  • Promoting adolescent sexuality development
  • Promoting sexuality development beyond adolescence



Specifically, Moshman discussed the value of the model for expanding the notion of sexuality education, given that “secondary schools can and should contribute to sexuality development” (p. 290). Moshman also asserts that the model can be applied to colleges and universities addressing sexual assault, in order to not only respond to sexual assaults as they occur, but also “to reconcile such responsibilities with the responsibility to educate and promote development” (p. 291). Sex ed in schools and campus sexual violence prevention have long been personal and professional interests of mine, and I am excited to apply the skills-based model to these pursuits.


Here is the Table of Contents for this issue, which contains my article as well the two commentaries. Please contact me if you have any questions, or if you have trouble finding the full text article.


I look forward to drawing upon this article in my future research and applied work, as I enthusiastically explore the implications of this work for understanding and addressing sexism; for supporting both gender and sexual exploration for queer, trans, and questioning youth; and for transforming the ways in which educational institutions constrain and facilitate the sexuality development of the young people in their care.


References

Arbeit, M. R. (2014). What does healthy sex look like among youth? Towards a skills-based model for promoting adolescent sexuality development. Human Development, 57(5), 259-286.

Diamond, L. M. (2014). Expanding the scope of a dynamic perspective on positive adolescent sexual development. Human Development, 57(5), 292-304.

Moshman, D. (2014). Sexuality development in adolescence and beyond. Human Development, 57(5), 287-291.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Publication Alert!

I published original empirical research, as a first author!

I am currently a PhD Candidate in Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University. Throughout my time here, I have worked as a research assistant at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development. One of our flagship projects is the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. I recently used data from 6th through 12th grade participants in this study to assess the relationship between potentially problematic behaviors and indicators of positive development.

You can find the article here, or email me if you’re having trouble.

Here is a passage in which we discuss our findings related to sexual activity:
“We found a distinction between youth who had sex with protection and youth who had unprotected sex: members of the Low Risk group were increasingly likely to engage in protected sex as they got older, but had a very low probability of engaging in unprotected sex; in contrast, members of the High Risk group were likely to engage in unprotected sex but not protected sex. Other research has shown that two-thirds of adolescents will have sex before they are 18 years old, making sexual activity a normative behavior during adolescence (Crockett et al. 2006). Unprotected and/or unwanted sex is problematic, but sexual activity per se is not always linked to negative outcomes” (p. 987).

In simple terms, when we talk about teenagers having sex, let’s focus on what goes on in the sexual activity, for example, whether or not they are using protection. Sex itself, particularly sexual activity characterized by positive attributes such as the use of protection, can be part of overall positive development for young people. But it depends what happens and how it is experienced.

However, this study only differentiated between protected sex and unprotected sex. I would advocate for additional research that assesses the degree and kind of consent involved in a sexual encounter, in conjunction with other variables and other aspects of the process. I hope to design and implement such research myself, in the future.


Arbeit, M. R., Johnson, S. K., Champine, R. B., Greenman, K. G., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2014). Risk in Many Shapes and Sizes: Profiles of Potentially Problematic Behaviors across Adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(6), 971-990.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

“Benign” Rape

Warning – this story contains explicit descriptions of sexual violence.


The writer of this piece wishes to remain anonymous. She sent her story to me to share publicly in case her reflections can help someone else. I’m sharing an edited version in my weekly column, The Debrief, as part of a series for April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The editors of that site requested that I remove the explicit details before posting it there. To remain true to the story as the writer wanted it told, I am posting the full piece below.


I thought after my first experience that it would be over. That I would be smart enough to not put myself in those situations again. I would no longer be naïve; I would no longer be desperate. I would no longer be that girl. Yet, as I have grown older, as I became less desperate and less naïve, it still happened.

I was 20 the first time. It was Halloween and I dressed up as Loki from Dogma with one of my best friends as Bartleby. It was actually a pretty good costume. We went to a party hosted by friends of friends, and I met him. He had longer hair than I would have preferred, but he wasn’t unattractive, and I liked the attention at the moment. We talked, invited him to the Rocky Horror Show event that I managed at college, and things kind of moved forward after that. I cannot actually remember if we ever went on any dates, but at one point I went over to his apartment for dinner and a double date with his roommate.

As the night drew to a close, we went into his bedroom. Clothes came off, things started to happen. Then the question came. “Are you ready? Do you want to do it?” My body was telling me yes, my heart and head were screaming, “Is this the man I want to lose it to?” I said yes. He went into the bathroom to get a condom and while he was gone, I realized that I wasn’t ready. That he wasn’t the one I wanted to lose it to and basically: what the fuck am I doing here. When he came back from the bathroom I told him that I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I’m not ready and you could tell—at least I thought you could tell—that I was freaking out a bit. He told me it was okay, and we started making out again.

As we were making out, with him on top of me, he started trying to have sex with me. I remember trying to push him away and of course not succeeding. This man had way more power than I did. All of a sudden he pushed in. But I realized he pushed in a different spot. He raped me anally. Now I didn’t scream, I didn’t push him off me, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even sink my teeth in somewhere to get him off me. No, instead, my mind left my body. I was in so much pain, I was crying and all I could think of were shining rainbows and bunnies. I kept thinking to myself: “find your happy place”.

He finished. Got off me and went to the bathroom. I just laid there. My eyes had no more life. I felt like my spirit was gone. It was as if not just my body was raped, not just me as a person, but also my soul. He came back from the bathroom to tell me the condom had broken and that he would pray for me. All I could think was, “Jewish people don’t say that, and I’m Jewish.”

For six weeks after that, I stuck with it. Having him force me to have sex every night he came over, finding ways to push him physically off me even though he was stronger than me. Trying to deny and deny what was happening to me. Until finally he put my head against the dashboard and stood up, stuck his penis in my mouth and made me give him a blow job. Suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I tried to get him off me, and all he wanted was to finish. I finally realized: “Who am I? This isn’t me. I am not that girl who gets sexually abused.” Soon the flashes of reality came back to me, the choking, the helplessness as he holds down my arms and my only weapon are my legs, my fear, it just kept hitting me. Finally he came, I started chocking, and I kicked him out. Told him to get out of my life.

I felt like I learned my lesson, and I would never let that happen again. I would be stronger, no more fear. I would stand up for myself.

Well that turned out to be true bullshit. Things kept happening. Men forcing sex on me, men forcing their penis inside the ass when I didn’t want it. I would repeatedly say no, no, I don’t want it… and then my favorite line: “Oh honey, you know you’ll like it. How do you know unless you try it?” Then of course lube is on and it’s in. As they grunt and move back and forth, I am again in excruciating pain, almost in tears. They can’t understand why I bleed so profusely during and after.

When I explained my rape to someone they said: “Oh, so it was a benign rape.” Why was it benign? Because my clothes weren’t ripped off? Because I didn’t kick and scream at the top of my lungs? Because I did not tear my nails in his skin while running to the cops?

No, I didn’t report my rape or my abuse. No, I haven’t reported anything I have gone through with these men. 

There is nothing about my rape that is benign. Benign rape is just as bad as “bad” rape. If that is even a term.

Questions run rampant: Can I ever find a relationship that is normal? A relationship that is healthy? A man who won’t force anything? Someone who will respect me? Give me the love that I deserve?

I don’t know the answers. But I am tired of these situations. I am tired of constantly feeling like maybe it will be all right in the end. It’s not all right.  None of this is okay.


The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center provides free and confidential services to victims of sexual assault, survivors of sexual assault, and their friends and family. The hotline is a 24-hour service provided to help anyone affected by sexual assault: (800) 841-8371.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Testimony for An Act Relative to Healthy Youth


JOINT COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION

***Testimony of Miriam R. Arbeit, M.A. in support of***
***H. 450/S. 209 An Act Relative to Healthy Youth***
May 14, 2013

Chairwoman Chang-Diaz, Chairwoman Peisch, and members of the Joint Committee on Education, I, Miriam R. Arbeit, am pleased to offer this testimony in support of H. 450/S. 209, An Act Relative to Healthy Youth.

I am a third-year doctoral student working on my Ph.D. in Child Development at Tufts University. As a youth development researcher, I enthusiastically commend the beneficial impact this bill would have on the youth and families of the Commonwealth.

An Act Relative to Healthy Youth is a critical legislative initiative that will help more young people have access to comprehensive, medically accurate, and age-appropriate sexual health education. It will also ensure that no young people are shamed or taught lies about their bodies and their choices while in public school.

In my research institute at Tufts, we study Positive Youth Development in diverse adolescents across the country, which means we see young people as resources to be developed, not as problems to be managed1. This approach makes a vital difference when it comes to supporting adolescent health. For all of us – youth and adults – sex is an area of our lives that can be both positive and challenging – and, yes, even risky2.  The best way to promote sexual health and address sexual risk is to talk about it. Sex education is a perfect opportunity for youth to develop skills like communication, healthy relationships, decision-making, planning, and critical thinking3. Such life skills can contribute to their positive development throughout adolescence and into adulthood4.

The power of this bill is that it sets meaningful standards for our schools. We don’t have to tell districts that they must include algebra in their math curricula, or that they cannot say triangles have five sides. But, unfortunately, we very much need to send these messages to districts regarding sex education: they cannot spread lies and they cannot omit vital information.

I used to be a health teacher in a Massachusetts school district. The health curriculum explicitly included sex ed and it was my job to teach HIV prevention to all of my students. But I was warned NOT to teach about homosexuality, condoms, or birth control, and not to discuss oral or anal sex.

How is anyone supposed to teach HIV prevention without discussing the life-saving potential of a correctly-used latex condom? How is anyone supposed to teach pregnancy prevention without discussing safe hormonal birth control methods and other medically available options? How is anyone supposed to promote sexual health without acknowledging the sexual world students already observe in the media every day5,6?

I made a worksheet on the concept of consent. The goal was to establish the standard that when two people kiss each other or engage in other activities, it must be something they both want and agree to do.

I was reprimanded for making this worksheet and prohibited from discussing it with my students.

In 2011, 84% of high school students in the Commonwealth said they learned about HIV/AIDS in school and 49% said they learned how to use a condom7. That means that over one-third of our high school students learned about HIV without learning how to use condoms. What were they learning? There was nothing in place to protect those young people from the lies and shame that are too frequently invoked in the name of prevention. Such an approach leaves young people vulnerable to sexual coercion and more likely to have sex without protection8,9.

It does not have to be this way. If schools provide sex education, we must require them to do it well.

We all agree that young people need quality education. And quality education includes medically-accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health information. An Act Relative to Healthy Youth is one important step towards promoting the positive development of young people and helping them thrive in all areas of their lives.

Please Give a Favorable Report to An Act Relative to Healthy Youth
(H. 450/S. 209)

References

1. Lerner RM, Lerner JV, von Eye A, Bowers EP, Lewin-Bizan S. Individual and contextual bases of thriving in adolescence: a view of the issues. Journal of adolescence. 2011;34(6):1107–14. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22056088. Accessed June 13, 2012.
2. Tolman DL, McClelland SI. Normative Sexuality Development in Adolescence: A Decade in Review, 2000-2009. Journal of Research on Adolescence. 2011;21(1):242–255. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00726.x. Accessed March 8, 2013.
3. Kirby D. Emerging Answers 2007: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; 2007:72–81. Available at: http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/EA2007/EA2007_full.pdf.
4. Lerner RM. Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among American youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications; 2004.
5. Kim JL, Sorsoli CL, Collins K, et al. From sex to sexuality: exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of sex research. 2007;44(2):145–57. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17599272.
6. Ward LM. Understanding the role of entertainment media in the sexual socialization of American youth: A review of empirical research. Developmental Review. 2003;23(3):347–388. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0273229703000133. Accessed February 28, 2013.
7. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Health and Risk Behaviors of Massachusetts Youth. 2012;(May). Available at: http://www.doe.mass.edu/cnp/hprograms/yrbs/2011Report.pdf.
8. Fine MM, McClelland SI. Still Missing after All These Years. Harvard Educational Review. 2006;76(3):297–338.
9. Santelli J, Ott MA, Lyon M, et al. Abstinence and abstinence-only education: a review of U.S. policies and programs. The Journal of Adolescent Health. 2006;38(1):72–81. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16387256. Accessed July 24, 2012.