Conner Habib is presenting CatalystCon Opening Keynote Plenary Address:
Sparking Communication in Sexuality, Activism and Acceptance. Check out Conner’s bio here.
1. How do you see yourself as a catalyst for change?
I’m just someone who’s paying attention to sex and trying to communicate what I observe. Sex is a great mystery. By “mystery,” I mean it’s something that we can always learn more from than about. So I let sex guide me and see what happens. Sex shows up everywhere – in culture, in science, in history and in my own life, of course! So when it shows up, I wonder what it’s doing there and follow its lead. Any change I bring is a result of doing that.
2. Who or what was a catalyst for you?
Studying with the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis for three years. Getting a science education from one of the most thoughtful scientists in history was so huge because it taught me to work with two different gestures of investigation at once – first of all, to listen. To see try to understand whatever I was interacting with in its own context and its own language. And second of all – as a consequence of really listening – to question everything. I really began to not believe in very much; I wanted instead to learn how to experience it. (This questioning of fundamentals, by the way, is especially necessary these days when dealing with what passes for science itself, which has unfortunately gotten watered down into a belief system instead of a process.) It also didn’t hurt that Lynn was constantly writing and thinking about sex at a fundamental level – including how the physical phenomenon of sex emerged in the first place.
3. What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges or concerns facing us in the field of sexuality right now?
There’s the constant war that we’re familiar with: The war to suppress sex, to legislate against it, to erase history, to demonize the body.
But I also think there’s a challenge of complacency amongst well-intentioned people. We’ve come to this place where we’ve chosen our tools in the battle against sexual oppression, which is an urgent battle. But while we’re fighting the good fight, we need, also, to examine our most cherished ideals so that we don’t simply create new problems. Let’s stand back and ask fundamental questions. We say we want to promote sexual health, but what is “sexual” and what is “health”? What, after all, is sex? Is sex positivity always positive? What’s the purpose of having a “sexual identity”? I want to get to the root of these sorts of questions while we’re resisting the ongoing efforts of people and institutions in power to control our sex lives and thoughts.
4. What do you feel are some of the most important/valuable positive changes that have been made in the world of sexuality in the past year?
I think the visibility of sex workers’ lives and the consequent discussion of sex worker rights has been huge. A lot of this has happened through resisting further oppression. That resistance has led to sex worker organization, and has brought the voices of many eloquent sex workers and advocates to cultural consciousness.
I also think the voices of trans* people are being heard more and more, for similar reasons and with positive results. A welcome and beautiful aspect of trans* equality has been the questioning of a purely materialistic view of sexuality, biological sex and gender.
I’ve also noticed that, even as the gay community has become more “mainstreamed” and thus are losing some of their radical power of identity, those very non-normative aspects of the gay cultural history have begun to permeate norms. More and more “straight” people seem willing to think about sexual identity, to try new sexual acts previously thought of as “gay,” and to consider non-monogamous relationships.
Sex workers’ rights: The right to view and engage with sex in an everyday and practical manner (by making sex your job). Trans* rights: The right to express your identity in the face of deeply-engrained and damaging metaphysical views about the body. Gay cultural permeation of norms: A feeling of more freedom when it comes to sexual acts and relationships.
While none of these developments are “complete,” I think that amongst all the suffering that sexual oppression is causing, these are three hopeful flourishes.
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