The Heart of the Matter: Self-Love, Community-Love & Sexual Health

This is a copy of a blog post written by Faye Estrella on behalf of Jer’s Vision for the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health’s #HeartYourParts Campaign.

When I was a (smaller) kid, I was afraid of a lot of things, some of them hilarious, some of them dire. Here is an abridged list of those fears:

    • Plant poison from rose thorns.
    • Never seeing Bicol, Philippines, again. 
    • Losing all my memories and sanity if I slept with wet hair. 
    • My mother’s cancer. 
    • Santa Claus finding out I’d totally pushed my brother over last week and thus I would be denied the bicycle I had been yearning for. 

But one fear persisted all the way to teenagehood, and even haunts me now. It’s nothing as obvious as the fear of never belonging or never being loved, though just as complex. 

I was/am afraid of mirrors. 

Now maybe some of you are thinking the following: “Yes, yes, Mr. Faye, so you’re some kind of hyper-anxious person who goes around wearing tinfoil hats and knocking on wood all the time. What has this have to do with sexual health? Isn’t this a blog about hearting one’s parts?” 

My fear of mirrors has everything to do with sexual health and this blog post is all about loving one’s body– but sometimes to love one’s body means overcoming fear. Part of society’s stigma on talking about sex and our bodies is that we’re taught only certain kinds of bodies and certain kinds of activities involving those bodies are acceptable. Anything else outside of that, we’re told, is wrong. Sometimes the idea of “wrongness” is equated with the idea of “diseased”, which even confuses things further about what actually is a disease and what isn’t and how you can catch diseases with your body.

Let’s get out of the abstract and into my personal business– this is a blog post after all. 

I have a vagina. I also have a somewhat masculine build. As a child, people couldn’t tell if I was a “boy” or a “girl”, but generally when they figured out my name they assumed “girl” and then assumed that I would eventually want to be sexual with “boys”, and that if I was to be sexual with “girls”, I would be diseased. They also encouraged/badgered/demanded that I lose more weight, get paler skin, and act as if my body was just something I had to deal with and definitely something I shouldn’t touch at night or love unless other people loved it and desired it first. 

We can give that experience a lot of names, like homophobia, transphobia, racism, fatphobia, and sex-negativity. But what it all boils down to is this: 

I didn’t heart my parts. And I was afraid of looking into mirrors.

When people ask me and you and any youth (whether they’re youth by “legal standards” or youth at heart) to love their bodies by taking care of them, either through regular physical maintenance or when folks are engaging in sexual activities, sometimes those doing the asking don’t get that it can be an uphill battle. I’d love to walk towards that mirror and hug that person I see inside, but every day I have to get over this mountain of social programming first before me and the mirror can be friends. Lucky for me, my climb to the mirror is made easier because I’ve got a loving support network and know all the resources of where to go to differentiate what is okay and what isn’t okay with my body and my activities. Not everyone has those resources and those people.

My hope is that the #HeartYourParts Campaign is just one step. Making a video for a contest is awesome– it’ll be a great resource and it’ll be done by great folks. But it has to be more than just the resource, it has to be a philosophy where folks can reach out to each other, without fear, and talk about their bodies and their activities with encouragement and understanding. 

One of the ways I saw that happen was with the Hep C Forum that I helped organize with my work, Jer’s Vision. Youth from all over Canada and from all walks of life were a part of it. Queer or straight, trans or cis, native or settler, white or of colour, able-bodied or disabled, rural or urban, middle class or low income– regardless of how folks could be classified into binaries of privilege, they were asked to learn about sexual health, hepatitis c, and HIV. Not only that, they were asked to continue spreading the message when they left the 4-day leadership retreat. (Check out some of the youth from the Hep C Forum in the attached photo!) Sounds pretty cool, but what really brought me to the kind of happy, over-flowing, teary-eyed state that people come to expect from the big softie that is Mr. Faye is how the youth got to see representations of people like them, of bodies like them. They were given an atmosphere where it was okay to talk about feelings and thoughts, ask tough questions, and get honest answers. Whether it was from our gender neutral washroom signs, our daily smudging for the native youth, our nightly sharing circles, or our totally optional dance parties, in the end, an environment where people could learn, feel accepted, and feel included was fostered.

I want to see more of that. Not all of us are the kind to write TMI blog posts or do workshops at leadership camps. But maybe some of us can wear a button that let’s folks know that we’re somebody that they can talk to. Maybe some of us are the kind of person that will gently correct a friend in private for something they said or did at a party. Maybe some of us are the kind that will remind their best friend or lover or family member about how beautiful they are and that they have our support, always.

That’s the kind of viral video I want to spread in our day to day lives. That’s what #HeartYourParts is all about to me. And when I see folks following that #HeartYourParts philosophy in moments big and small, it’s enough to swallow all the fear in me until there’s nothing left but more hope. 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go hug my mirror.

(The original blog post can be found here.)