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The first time David, 19, of Jersey City, NJ, was sexually assaulted, he was a high school student minding his own business on a train. A man sat down next to him, showed him nude photos of himself and started touching him inappropriately. A year later, while a senior in high school, David was raped. The following year, while David was traveling abroad, a man sexually assaulted him. David had been having a rough time dealing with his identity as a gay male and blamed himself. “Because I was engaging in sexual behavior, I immediately thought I was at least partially at fault,” he says. After lots of reflection and therapy, he now states with confidence, “If you’ve been assaulted, it’s not your fault.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We recognize this month as a time to have conversations about sexual assault, to educate ourselves and others about how to give and ask for consent and to support survivors of sexual assault. Because sexual assault is such a traumatic event, survivors often need support that can help them heal and regain self-esteem.
Sexual assault had a huge impact on David’s self-worth. “None of my first sexual encounters— consensual or not—were good and that fed into longstanding fears and shame about my sexuality,” he says. As a result, David reflects, “These experiences shook my confidence…and they have also affected the ways with which I handle relationships and sex.”
As a male survivor of sexual assault, David is not alone. According to information from the U.S. Department of Justice and cited by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), there are, on average, 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault annually in the United States, and one out of every 10 of these victims is male. 1in6.org, a website designed to support male survivors of sexual assault and abuse, reports that at least one in six men experience “unwanted sexual experiences” before the age of 18. Despite the significant number of guys who face sexual assault, David has observed that the narrative around it tends to center around women and girls’ experiences. While he recognizes the importance of these stories, David notes that “LGBT+ survivors and men are often shut out.” One important way to support these survivors is to include them in the discussion and validate their stories as much as those of cisgender women and heterosexual people.
Reaching out for support was very difficult for David. He didn’t start going to therapy until he had a breakdown. Now two years into therapy, David is learning that despite the way his experiences colored his view of himself and his relationships, there are plenty of people out there who “respect you, your body and your wants.” Through self-reflection, therapy and support, David has recognized that “fear and guilt, whether well-placed or not, are powerful. But self-forgiveness and inner peace is more powerful. And that’s what I’m working towards.”
Whenever my girlfriend and I go see a movie, we always lock lips when a kissing scene happens. Of course, it’s a way to make the date more intimate, but it’s also our small way of upsetting heterosexual norms. Despite the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. in 2015, as a bisexual person I don’t feel represented on the big screen. Three years later, Love, Simon offers hope that maybe I won’t have to rely on silly fan theories, like the theory that those two background characters from Finding Dory are lesbians, to feel represented in films.
Love, Simon, based on a young adult novel, is a romantic comedy starring Nick Robinson as the title teen, Simon Spier. From the start of the film, Simon states that he is “just like you.” He comes from a good family, has a tight-knit group of friends and loves Hamilton. But behind his perfect life, Simon is hiding in the closet, not sharing that he’s gay with anyone. His secret doesn’t stay with him for long once he starts emailing an anonymous gay student using the alias “Blue.”
Considering the fact that Love, Simon is the first high-profile, gay-centric teen romance to be made by a major film studio and distributed nationwide, there were lots of expectations, pressures and controversy about the movie. From casting a heterosexual actor as the lead to Simon being seen as “too white privilege,” Love, Simon has faced its fair share of critics, even with a 91-percent Rotten Tomatoes score. But for someone that’s recently openly bisexual, this movie hits home for me and my other LGB friends that teared up next to me in the theater. The film packs in lots of laughs and heartfelt moments, with scenes ranging from characters coming out as heterosexual to tearful confessions. The story isn’t anything new but is extremely cute and endearing.
Interestingly enough, the most impactful moment for me wasn’t just from the movie itself. When two boys confessed their love for each other and kissed, cheers throughout the theater erupted, shaking my recliner seat. When my girlfriend and I followed in the lip locking, it felt especially right. Hollywood is finally starting to take a close look at their audience. Now, give me the girl version of this love story!
Ruby, 17, of Takoma Park, MD thought she was in a healthy relationship with her boyfriend of almost two years. Then, she started to pick up on some bad signs. “He got mad when I hung out with my friends,” she says. “I tried to break up with him a few times, and he threatened to hurt himself if I did.”
Abuse in teen relationships is not often discussed, but it’s more common than many people think. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 9.6 percent of high school students who dated in 2014-2015 were physically abused by a partner, and 10.6 percent were sexually abused by a partner. Emotional (also known as psychological) abuse in teen dating relationships is even more common; some studies show it happening at numbers much higher than those for physical or sexual abuse. The CDC says that teens who experience dating violence—whether it be physical, sexual or psychological—are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drug abuse. There’s a lot at stake for teen victims of dating abuse, which is why we recognize Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month during the month of February and start important conversations about how to recognize dating violence and get help if you need it.
There are a lot of signs of psychological abuse, but they can be easy to miss. Safevoices.org, a website that supports victims of domestic violence of all kinds, lists jealousy, isolation, possessiveness and threats as some common signs of psychological abuse. Ruby’s boyfriend’s attempts to prevent her from hanging out with friends, along with his threats of self-harm, were warning signs of abuse.
Ruby stresses that it’s good to know these red flags. Communicating with your partner is key. If you suspect that you’re being abused, Ruby advises being honest. “Don’t be afraid to be like, ‘Hey that’s kind of abusive’…because maybe they don’t realize it. You should be open and communicative,” she says. The exception to this advice is if you are in a situation where you don’t feel safe and comfortable enough to confront your partner. In this case, talking to a doctor, school counselor or trusted family member is best. If you’re unsure if your partner’s behavior is abusive, asking close friends what they think can be helpful. They may have a different perspective on your relationship than you do.
After seeking advice from friends, Ruby decided to break up with her boyfriend. Soon after the breakup, he contacted her often and tried to make her feel guilty for leaving. Ruby says that this was hard for her, but she realized that ending her abusive relationship was the healthiest choice in the long run.
Ruby’s story shows how difficult it can be to recognize and then leave an abusive relationship. If you believe that you are in this situation, tell a trusted adult immediately.
#MeToo, originally coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, has become a rallying call to discuss and prevent sexual assault in many fields, including athletics. Recently in the news were the trials of Larry Nassar, a doctor who worked for U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University for decades. Nassar pled guilty to federal charges of child pornography and state charges of criminal sexual conduct. In one of the trials regarding his extensive sexual abuse of female gymnasts, some of whom went on to the Olympics, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina gave the floor to over 150 victims to speak about their assault by Nassar.
This wasn’t the first time someone spoke up publicly against Nassar. The story first broke in 2016, when Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who is now a lawyer and coach, told The Indianapolis Star that Nassar had molested her. When Denhollander initially filed a police complaint, she was concerned she wouldn’t be listened to—and rightly so, as both she and other gymnasts who had spoken up about the issue previously were not believed or listened to.
It’s not new that people doubt sexual assault accusations. In this case, some of the doubt came from the fact that parents were sometimes present during Nassar’s exams, and given his esteemed reputation as one of the best gymnastic doctors, Nassar was trusted. He made his young patients think he was on their side, and families thought they were lucky to get to see him. One woman recalls that when she tried to discuss her assault, she was told it was a medical procedure and not abuse. The fact that victims are so often questioned or not believed is a main reason why they may not come forward.
What should we take from this story? First, as Judge Aquilina did, we should acknowledge the tremendous courage it takes to come forward after enduring sexual assault. We should listen when people come forward rather than being dismissive of them. Further, one of the great things about the #MeToo movement is that it has showcased the power of people when they come together. One can only hope that survivors of sexual assault will feel less alone and like people will believe them if they come forward.
Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day (despite it being on my birthday). Typically, when you think of Valentine’s Day, you think about romantic love: couples kissing and giving each other gifts, cheesy romantic comedies on television and of course, Hallmark cards and candy. But I’ve also noticed something a bit weird about the holiday. While it’s supposed to be about celebrating love, it seems to alienate one group of people: singles.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, singles are often excluded. If you want an example, just go online. There are plenty of memes about being single on Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of ironic that a holiday all about love can create such self-hatred. So, in the spirit of compassion and caring, I want to ask you to love yourself on the holiday. You might be wondering why.
Well, as I get older, I notice more and more people feeling down on Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s over the lack of gifts or a lack of attention from someone you care about. Either way, it’s hard to see people hurting over a holiday meant to inspire kindness to others. And in order to be kind to others, it helps to be kind to yourself. I know it sounds cheesy, but self-love (and self-confidence) is important. Instead of moping about being single, go hang out with a friend if you don’t want to be alone on Valentine’s Day. Watch TV, go get snacks. This could be a great way to build a close relationship. Valentine’s Day may be on a Wednesday this year, but you can still go out of your way to have fun.
You could also do something for someone else. Support a local charity. Hand out meals in a soup kitchen, write letters to the elderly or give support to someone in need. It’ll help someone else and also help you feel great.
There’s no shortage of things to help you love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Even though I’m not a fan of the commercial side of the day, I want to encourage people to treat themselves kindly. So today, go out and do something to love yourself and others.
Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo movement has repeatedly demanded justice for victims of sexual harassment and assault. With good reason, you hear about it everywhere: on awards shows, radio, the front page of BuzzFeed. I’ve crossed my fingers some nights, praying that no one I’ve chosen to support with my admiration and hard-earned cash is actually a creep. After all, there’s practically a new headline every week about some celebrity being accused of or confessing to sexual misconduct. Some of these celebrities include James Franco, Matt Lauer and, “Cry Baby” singer and former The Voice contestant, Melanie Martinez.
Martinez’s story doesn’t just stand out to me because I went to one of her concerts two years ago, but also because it’s one of the only widely reported headlines involving a young, upcoming female celebrity allegedly sexually assaulting another female. Timothy Heller, a former friend of Martinez’s, wrote on Twitter that Martinez repeatedly made sexual advances toward her, despite Heller refusing them numerous times. Heller claimed that eventually, Martinez sexually assaulted her. Since the story was posted online, Martinez has made two public statements denying the accusations, saying, “She never said no to what we chose to do together.” More recently, Martinez released a new song entitled “Piggyback,” which appears to throw heavy shade at Heller.
The fan reaction has been mixed. Some made the “#melaniemartinezisover” tag trend in mere hours. Others have remained loyal “Cry Babies” by trying to find any evidence of Martinez’s innocence. The rest have either kept quiet or still don’t know where they stand. I’m in the latter group. After all, there’s no confirmed truth. We weren’t in the room where it happened; no one knows the whole story except them. I had liked Melanie Martinez since she released “Cry Baby” and even bought a cassette version of the album. But Heller’s story is so terrible; it makes me feel ashamed I was ever a fan in the first place.
As more stories come to light, it’s important to remind ourselves that some of these celebrities are truly adored and idolized. Most of us have that one celebrity we love endlessly, and for some, that might have been Martinez. Instead of rubbing it in fans’ faces that they supported a potential rapist, try to be respectful. This is a funeral; they may be mourning the bright image they once had of that person.
December 1st is World AIDS Day. This is a day to remember those around the globe who are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or have lost their lives to complications from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV does not discriminate against sexual orientation, race or gender. Currently, there are approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV. It also doesn’t discriminate by age: a third of new HIV infections in the world are among those 15 to 24 years old, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
When AIDS was first diagnosed in United States, it was briefly called gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) by some. The U.S. government was slow to act and as a result many people died. Instead of waiting for the government to do more, a group of people in New York City created the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (or ACT UP, as it is more widely known) to advocate and lobby for those with HIV/AIDS. From this group came the Treatment Action Group (TAG), which successfully advocated for quicker development of new HIV treatments.
ACT UP is an important and inspiring example of advocacy making an impact. Today, ACT UP continues to advocate for those with HIV/AIDS around the world. In fact, this year marks their 30th anniversary! I didn’t know about ACT UP until two years ago, when I watched a documentary called How to Survive a Plague. After watching it, it became important to me to celebrate those in ACT UP for their actions and beliefs.
The fight to end the spread of HIV is still not over. Globally, one million people died from AIDS in 2016, and some still mistakenly associate HIV with a “gay lifestyle” because they do not know the range of behaviors that can transmit HIV regardless of your sexual orientation. However, with education, we can make strides in ending stigma and ignorance toward those with the virus.
This December 1st (and everyday), think about those who have lost their lives, but also think about those who have survived and those who have made great strides by advocating for a cure and treatment. There is hope that we can end AIDS.
Luis Miguel Bermúdez first began teaching sex education at one of Colombia’s biggest public schools in 2010. Located in the city of Bogotá, the school had some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country at the time—and Colombia has one of the highest rates in Latin America.
To tackle this problem, Bermúdez took a different stance from the religious-based teachings that Colombian schools typically provide. He worked with parents, teachers, council officials and—most importantly—students to create a sex ed program that was built around an open attitude toward sexuality. The course covers topics like sexual diversity, human rights and desire.
Now, just over five years after the program started, the school’s pregnancy rate has gone from around 70 per year to zero!
Perhaps the class was a great success because students could talk in a safe space about sexuality, LGBTQ rights and sex. Although Colombian law states that girls age 14 and older can seek sexual health advice without parental consent, girls in the class said they were shunned and rejected when they sought reliable information from professionals.
Success like this has not been seen anywhere else in Bogotá, but Bermúdez is determined to help bring the program to the rest of Colombia and the world. We can be hopeful that rather than scaring teenagers, more educators across the globe will take the approach that Bermúdez did when teaching teens about sexual health.
Considering I was still in utero at the turn of the millennium, it feels strange for me to say, “When I was a kid…” about anything. But I could finish that sentence with “We didn’t have YouTube” or “iPhones weren’t a thing” or even “Same-sex couples couldn’t get married.” Now, all of these things feel commonplace, if not outdated. The world has changed so rapidly, sometimes I forget how lucky I am to have these rights: same-sex couples can legally get married, adopt children and have the same future that my cisgender, heterosexual peers never have to think twice about.
That’s the thing about having “straight privilege”; it isn’t so much what you have, but rather, what you don’t have to think twice about. You’ll never have to live a secret double life, stuck halfway between in and out of the closet. You don’t have to worry about erasing the pronouns from your love poems for writing class. You don’t have to fear your family will stop loving you if they see you holding hands with the person you love.
And thankfully I don’t have to worry or fear any of these things either because I have friends and family who accept me as part of the LGBTQ community.
Around Thanksgiving, I remind myself to be thankful I have someone to go home to for the holidays. I’m thankful for the laws that protect me from homophobic harassment at school, a protection not all states have. I’m thankful I get to grow up in a time where I can dream of having my own family one day, even as a gay person. I am incredibly lucky.
During this time of year, I think about those who may have lost family, safety or stability when they came out. If you or anyone you know is at risk because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, there are resources to help, such as The Trevor Project, which has a 24/7 hotline available for LGBTQ youth in crisis. You can also reach out to friends, find an online support group or join the gay-straight alliance at your school (if there is one).
No one deserves to be alone because of their LGBTQ identity. And thankfully, with so many accessible tools connecting us to one another, no one ever really is.
It’s that time of year again. Time for yet another sexy Halloween costume article. Sexy Halloween costumes are a strange element of the season, with plenty of examples to choose from, like for instance—bees.
Above we have a bee costume. Let’s stop for a second and ask ourselves a few questions: Why do sexy bee costumes exist? What’s wrong with dressing like an actual bee, not a sexualized insect? What possessed a costume designer to create a sexual bee costume?
While dressing up and looking sexy on Halloween can be fun for some, the lack of choices for girls who don’t want to dress that way is not. Bees are just the tip of the iceberg; there are numerous examples both online and in stores of Halloween costumes that are unnecessarily sexualized.
Halloween is that special holiday where anyone can transform into whoever or whatever they please. Whether that means letting some skin show or covering up from head to toe, people have the right to dress in whatever they feel best in. After all, holidays are all about having a good time.
If you feel like no costumes are calling your name, a nice alternative is making your own costume! It can be challenging and intricate, like making a suit of armor, or something simple and sweet like a t-shirt that says “ERROR 404 CAN’T FIND COSTUME.” It can be whatever you want it to be! So don’t be afraid to embrace the zaniness and imagination of Halloween this season. And ask yourself, “to bee or not to bee” when it comes to strangely sexual costumes. Should it or should it not be sexualized?