Surrounded by mismatched mugs half-filled with tea, seven of us are sitting in the Sarah Doyle lounge and we have just taken the final vote to approve changing the name of FemSex. After months of discussions and weekly frustrations at our facilitator meetings, we finally agree that it is time for FemSex to take lasting steps to change our organization.
Providence FemSex will now be the Gender, Power and Sexuality Workshop (GPS), in an attempt to reflect and maintain our mission statement. The mission statement is as follows: “We envision a world where people of all identities have agency in defining their gender, sexuality, body, life, and communities free from oppression.” Our organization is committed to this mission. We feel that it is time that we publicly take responsibility for creating a harmful climate of complacency. This complacency has maintained a space dominated by whiteness and cisgender-privilege. We changed our name because we believed the name “FemSex” excluded people who did not identify with cis-femininity.
Although we have always been open to all races, gender identities, class identities, and sexual orientations, our workshop is primarily made up of white, straight, cis-women of middle and upper-middle class backgrounds. It is time that we change our structure to accommodate and truly include all identities. It is not enough to read Audre Lorde and call it good. Rather, our structure needs to be better reflective of the anti-oppressive space we envision.
Many sections created an atmosphere that deemed itself “safe.” But for whom? One of our past facilitators and coordinators, who participated in the spring of 2012, distinctly remembers the menstruation section:
I was encouraged in the weekly email from facilitators to come to this section in either red, brown, or anything comfortable. We brought food (largely chocolate or what might be considered comfort food) and moved to a room with couches, pillows and a red blanket. While I’m always a fan of food and comfort, I find it disturbing in retrospect that this section so easily and unwittingly fostered transphobia as well as a myth of shared experience around menstruation. In the attempt to remove stigma around this topic and promote body positivity, it presumed that everyone in our group menstruated and pushed us to celebrate that with the undertones that it was an inherently “female” and “woman’s” experience.
So why haven’t we moved forward?
Facilitators and coordinators read the likes of the Combahee River Statement Collective and bell hooks. Yet while it is one thing to understand ideas of intersectionality and pillars of oppression, it is another to actually implement non-hierarchical and anti-oppressive ideals. Facilitators and coordinators can shield themselves “from accusations of racial exclusivity and sexism by gesturing toward the inclusion of authors such as Anzaldua, Smith, Moraga, Roberts, Collins, and hooks—even as the workings of the workshop itself continue to assert whiteness and belie an intersectional analysis,” writes Darcy Pinkerton, former facilitator and coordinator.
We do not want to shield ourselves any longer. We want to admit that we have been creating oppressive spaces and take action accordingly.
This fall, we want to use this article as a public acknowledgement of our more conscious and holistic effort to create spaces that are truly inclusive and diverse. We are asking readers to hold us accountable. We are doing so because we firmly believe GPS has the potential to do a very unique kind of social justice work—one that exists on an interpersonal level. Our curriculum uses processes of unlearning and destigmatizing to encourage each participant to think critically about oppressive structures and sex education. We facilitate the learning and use of anti-oppressive, non-violent language and operate using a consent-based form of communication. We work through this material using a collaborative, peer-led model of facilitation to challenge hierarchical education and promote participatory learning. This work is rooted in our belief that in order to see social change on a macro scale, we must start on a micro level.
We are working to re-center our curriculum to be more reflective of a reproductive justice framework. We want to prioritize a space for traditionally marginalized identities.
We have been called out, and we are responding. We apologize that our space has been a site of exclusion and oppression. We apologize to any person who felt there was not a space for them in our workshop. We appreciate those who have held us accountable. What we want now is to move toward an inclusive and anti-oppressive workshop where all identities will feel welcomed.
The Gender, Power, and Sexuality workshop (formerly called FemSex) has been offering discussion-based comprehensive sex education workshops in Providence, RI since 2003. For more information visit http://www.genderpowersexuality.org/.