Queer-Centered Workshop Focuses on Challenging Dominant Narratives Around Sexuality

6 mins read
Image courtesy of Swarthmore Sexual Health Advocates.

On Monday, April 4, approximately twenty college community members participated in a workshop titled “Beyond the Binary: Queer and Trans Pleasure 101” held in the Science Center’s Cunniff Lecture Hall. 

The workshop was independently organized through the efforts of several of the college’s Sexual Health Advocates (SHAs), a cohort of students who help promote healthy relationships and safe sex on campus. 

Leading the workshop was Jamie Joy, a self-described “queer, Jewish, sex educator” who has been involved in sexual health education for over a decade. 

Nina Robinson ’23, a SHA, said she reached out to see if Joy would be interested in leading a series of workshops at the college after discovering them online. Joy leads weekly virtual collaboratives and workshops on topics like “playing with pain” and “switching it up: playing with power.” 

“I was originally going to host a kink workshop, but as I talked to Jamie, I realized that doing a series of events would be super fun,” said Robinson. “I didn’t necessarily go to Jamie looking for them to run this particular workshop. It sort of blossomed as we spoke over Zoom and realized that there was so much more we could do together than talk about kink, and realized that there was a lot of space at Swat to host queer- and trans-centered events.”

Joy began the event by encouraging groups of attendees to read aloud and reflect on the poem “How to Make Love to a Trans Person” by writer and disability justice advocate Gabe Moses. The poem challenges heteronormative language around sexual activity and expression.

“Sex is often thought of as a very binary thing — even when people think about gay/queer sex we still tend to think about mostly binary cis bodies, which is a problem because it erases trans and non-binary people from media and conversations about healthy sex and pleasure,” said Robinson. “This leads to a lack of information and resources that center, normalize, or even apply those experiences at all, which can be really alienating.”

Joy also led attendees in an activity aimed at redefining the language used to describe bodies. Students were encouraged to call out alternative words to describe sexual organs beyond “penis” and “vagina.” Joy emphasized how thinking about and using these labels could help foster more inclusion. 

Ben Rotko ’25 explained that he chose to attend Monday’s workshop because he thought it could benefit his own exploration around gender identity and expression. 

“I found the parts of the workshop that dealt with “preparation” (like, communication before sexual activity) to be the most beneficial to me personally,” he said. “I would love to have future events like this — I think it’s really important for people to have some knowledge that isn’t just based on personal experience.”

Joy also underscored the importance of building trust in queer and trans relationships and emphasized how gender-affirming sex can be healing.

They shared a range of sexual best practices — including recommending that trans and queer individuals reflect on and prepare lists of what sexual acts or body parts they feel comfortable engaging with before beginning sexual activity. Joy also underlined the importance of asking questions, engaging in listening, and checking in — practices which can help to combat some of the dissociative feelings that trans people sometimes may experience in intimate contexts. 

The event concluded with attendees having the opportunity to ask Joy questions and reflect on what they learned. 

“My hope is that everyone came away feeling welcomed and comfortable within the space, and that they felt more empowered and informed on how to create whatever kinds of affirming sexual experiences they want for themselves,” said Ray Craig ’24, who collaborated with Robinson on organizing the event. “For attendees who aren’t trans or aren’t interested in sex, I hope they still learned something new and came away benefiting from the queer centering of the space.”

Rotko said he hopes the college will host similar workshops in the future. 

“This workshop in particular should absolutely be held again. I think it’s great for trans people, but it’s also really important for cis people to learn about these things,” he said. 

Both Craig and Robinson confirmed that they are actively planning more queer-centered events which they hope will challenge dominant perspectives about sex and sexuality.

“We believe everyone has a right to pleasure and to empowering and uplifting sexual experiences, should they desire so, “said Craig. “We want our programming to reflect our values, so we planned a series of workshops dedicated to all things fun and pleasurable.”

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