Palaces of Vulnerabilities

At SERC (Sexuality Education Resource Centre) we use a lot of different words and phrases to describe our work.   Recently, as we have undergone strategic planning, that has been increasingly apparent as we work to construct a more succinct narrative of what it is we do.  I had written about this in the spring when I outlined our strategic directions for the upcoming 3 years (link here).   This week, as our board and staff teams kicked off their fall meetings, we went one step further, adopting a new statement to help us frame our work:

SERC’s intention is to help create safe space for individuals and communities to talk and learn about sexuality and sexual health in an informed and nonjudgmental manner. SERC recognizes that sexuality is complex, diverse, and fluid. Our role is to support the exchange of knowledge and analysis, and development of skills, using best practices that contribute to the overall sexual health and wellness of our communities.  

So what does this really mean?  I think that there are key words and phrases in here that highlight what SERC means for me;  things like safe space, non-judgemental and diverse.  These words remind me that at our core SERC is inclusive, a place where all of us can belong.

If you have ever spent any time with me it is likely you have heard about my book club.  My book club is a fascinating collection of women who meet every month, presumably to discuss books.  I admit at times this could be a little debateable, however, I am enamoured with how often I can relate conversations of my book club back to the work that I do, particularly the experiences of women in a world that, at times, can be almost casually callous and unkind.

On Friday we met to discuss this month’s book, Shrill, by Lindy West.  Some of you may have heard of Lindy West, she is particularly well known for her journalism and social media, and for her very public statements calling out issues like rape culture and fat shaming.  Really, to me, Lindy is like ground zero.  She has been attacked and hated and threatened for being herself, and she has refused to be shamed or make herself smaller, both literally and figuratively.


My beautiful book club comes in various shapes and sizes, but they can all relate to Lindy’s experience.  Sadly, as most women know, we have pretty universally all experienced a time when we felt threatened, when we were shamed for our bodies or our own sexuality, when someone else decided that our bodies were somehow their right to touch, to comment on, to dismiss, or to claim.  We discuss our shared experiences:  when we first felt the fear, and how fear was often passed down from our own mothers, who wanted to protect us from their own experiences, by telling us what to wear, places and people to avoid, how to make ourselves invisible yet pleasing.

There is a sentence that Lindy writes that really speaks to me in terms of the pervasiveness of all we have been taught: “We construct elaborate palaces to hide our vulnerabilities.  Often growing into caricatures of what we fear. The goal is to move through the world without anyone knowing quite where to dig a thumb.  It’s a survival instinct.  When people know how to hurt you, they know how to control you.”  Lindy goes on to talk about how difficult that can be when your vulnerability is so obvious. For her it is her size; for another it may be so many other things, the key being that when your perceived vulnerability is obvious you have to develop creative ways to deal with it. One of those ways is to use your voice.

So, why do we need to support safe non-judgemental spaces to talk about things like our own sexuality? The reality is that sexuality has the potential to be a place of great vulnerability, but it also has the potential to be a place where we come together in a positive, healthy and wonderfully universal way.   I am really hoping for a world where the latter becomes the norm, but we can only get there if each of us commits to treating our own and others bodies as hallowed ground.  It is time to celebrate all of the shared things that make us human, and the diversity that makes us each uniquely beautiful.