Two Articles by Lea Grover

I recently read two wonderful articles by Lea Grover, author of the blog Becoming SuperMommy. Absurdly, both of these articles have been the subject of a great deal of controversy, for the same old reasons that usually come up when children and sexuality are mentioned in the same paragraph. By no means am I interested in taking up those tired arguments. I simply want to say that as someone who has experienced sexuality at its worst, my life could have been incredibly different and less painful if I had received the type of thorough, honest, and sex-positive parenting that Grover describes.

The first is called, “Sex Positive Parenting, or, We Don’t Touch our Vulvas at the Table.”

The second, a follow-up article, is called “Teaching through Trauma: Sexual Violence and Sex Positive Parenting.”

Though I myself am not a parent, and have no intention of becoming one in the near future, my integration process has included an incredible amount of time thinking about parenting, how I hope to do it, and how my own parents did it. I received the basic public-school sex ed, which focused entirely on heterosexual reproduction and never explained why anyone would want to have sex, other than to produce an infant. I also recall a very confusing warning from my parents (bless their hearts) to run, scream, and call the police if any teachers, strangers, or other adults tried to touch certain parts of my body. What nobody told me was that I would someday want to have sex, or feel that I should, though not for the purpose of reproduction. I was not told that it could hurt me in ways other than pregnancy and STDs. Most importantly, nobody told me that it was supposed to feel good.

The media told me that I had to do it to be cool, (but not too much, or else I’d be a slut.) My early boyfriends told me that I had to do it if I wanted to keep them around and that I had to orgasm every time in order to preserve their dignity. Cosmo Magazine told me to do it in a bunch of absurd positions, with strawberries in my mouth. But I don’t recall a single moment prior to my first gender studies class when it occurred to me that my pleasure or my consent were at all relevant to my participation in sex.

As I work to integrate my history of sexual trauma into the future that I envision for myself, I think a great deal about my future children and how I will protect them from the kinds of things that have happened to me. I know I must teach them more thoroughly than I was taught. I know I have to show them that their own voices are the authority on their own bodies. I know I want to be honest about the things that can happen and the ways in which sex can hurt. But how can I tell them the truth without scaring them? How much do I tell them about my own experiences? How will they trust me to protect them when my own parents couldn’t protect me? How can I teach them that their bodies are not shameful, and that it is wonderful to explore one’s own body, without getting a call from the principal saying that my kid was teaching other students how to masturbate?

Thank God for Lea Grover, who seems to have it all figured out. I don’t want to summarize her articles in much detail, because she says it so well herself and you really ought to read it in her words. “We Don’t Touch our Vulvas at the Table” explains how she is working to lay a sex-positive foundation with her young kids, so that when the time comes for the more difficult conversations, the family will be ready and comfortable to have them. “Teaching through Trauma” deals more specifically with how to lay a groundwork for those difficult conversations, especially when you yourself are a survivor.

Please, please, please click over to Becoming SuperMommy, so we can all worship Lea Grover together.

~Girl Integrated


Exile and Pride by Eli Clare

This book is important to me for several reasons. First, it is a beautiful piece of writing, yet seems effortlessly and unpretentiously beautiful, which I think is rare. A mix of theory and personal narrative that often reads like poetry, Eli Clare’s writing is gorgeous, heartwrenching, and disconcertingly insightful.

Its subtitle, “Disability, Queerness, and Liberation,” announces only a fraction of the story that Clare tells. He examines the events, emotions, and abuses that shaped his upbringing in a logging town in rural Oregon, honors the complexity of his relationship to both the land and the logging industry, and reflects on how an urban queer community offered new forms of acceptance, but failed to understand the persistence and value of his rural roots. Throughout the book, Clare reflects on how disability, in his case cerebral palsy, can shape and be shaped by these experiences.

In addition to its sheer beauty, I love this book because it was my first introduction, and an excellent one, to disability studies. Clare’s telling of his own experience, along with an incisive theorization of the literal and symbolic function of the freak show in capitalist society, are executed with vivid clarity, raw passion, and an often unsettling thoroughness. As a reader with no personal experience of disability, I was drawn in by Clare’s concise and intentional language, which paints a clear and haunting picture of his contemporary experience of disability and the historical underpinnings of that experience. Clare’s writing is forward, sometimes addressing the reader directly, even confrontationally. At times it seems deliberately crafted to cause discomfort for an ableist reader. I usually find this kind of writing to be gimmicky and ineffective, but in most instances Clare does it well, making readers aware of their own discomfort and of how this discomfort itself makes us complicit in certain forms of ableist oppression.

This book is important to me furthermore, because of how Clare writes about the effects of sexual trauma. He beautifully describes how trauma lives and flows in the body, and how it becomes present in one’s relationships to gender, nature, other humans, and even economics. On every page, I was moved by the clarity with which Clare explains feelings that have always seemed to me to be too murky or painful for words.

The book and the story it tells feel seamless, because they are seamless. Clare, who has lived disability, queerness, transness, ruralness, and sexual trauma, does not allow readers to be wooed by reductive, though tempting, comparisons. He does not allow us, for instance, to compare disability to queerness, to label recent gay rights work the “new Civil Rights Movement,” or to describe logging as the raping of forests. Such comparisons, he reveals, erase the uniqueness, complexity, and mutually constructive relationships between each of these things:

[I could n]ever grow comfortable with the metaphor of clearcutting as rape, the specificity of both acts too vivid for me to ever compare or conflate them (26). 

This book, perhaps more than any other that I’ve read, cogently examines how disability, queerness, race, gender, ecology, and class inform and define each other, and it does so with language that is crisp, precise, and beautiful. I recommend it to anyone who is ready for a bit of self-questioning and a whole lot of feelings.

~Girl Integrated