Tuesday night, the Consent, Outreach and Relationship Education program in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center welcomed Jari Jones and Corey Kempster to the Michigan League on Tuesday for “Love Beyond Bounds,” a discussion about love and healthy relationships. The event was also hosted by the University of Michigan Spectrum Center and the Center for Education of Women Plus.
Jones and Kempster not only work together as LGBTQ+ activists, but are in a relationship themselves. After meeting in college, the two remained friends for years before eventually entering into a romantic relationship.
“We kind of met through activism,” Jones said. “She had just finished a show … and gay marriage had just passed in New York. She had a castmate who was opposing of it. My lovely partner is an ex-Facebook warrior, so she was she was really digging into him, and I just had the urge to message her ‘I love you’ … That blossomed into this beautiful friendship we had for about five years until we started dating.”
Kempster and Jones began their keynote presentation by discussing what a healthy relationship entails. By reflecting on their own relationship, the two stressed how communication, trust, boundaries and understanding play into a productive and loving relationship.
They then discussed how their identities as trans women impacted their relationship and have forged how they see their individual roles within their relationship.
“Us as trans people is a huge part of our relationship,” Jones said. “I am very comfortable speaking outwardly in public, that’s just part of how I navigate my gender … Corey is a woman with a deeper voice. When we’re in public, I know to step up in that moment … stepping up for our safety is super important to me.”
With Valentine’s Day coming up, Kempster discussed her conflicting views on the holiday. She often sees it as socially problematic, but also recognizes it as an opportunity to celebrate loved ones.
“So much of Valentine’s Day can occasionally be very hurtful,” Kempster said. “It ends up being very heteronormative. It implies that the relationships in your life aren’t important if you don’t have romantic relationships or your romantic dynamics are different than what is celebrated in our society, but I think we can build better views and practices under these days. Any day that gives space for us to celebrate each other and tell someone we love them and share how we’re feeling with them is a beautiful day.”
During a student panel portion of the event, when student couples engaged with Jones and Kempster on ideas surrounding relationships, LSA Junior Mike Zlonchevich discussed how his girlfriend encouraged him to expand who he celebrated on Valentine’s Day.
“She asked me what I was doing for my family on Valentine’s Day…I had never thought of it that way before. Up until that point, it had always been about the person you are with. Now, I’m planning something for my brother…It’s for everyone I love in my life.”
SAPAC volunteer Claire Volkert, an LSA sophomore, told The Daily after the talk that the event was purposefully held close to Valentine’s Day in an effort to open up new avenues of discussion surrounding healthy relationships.
“With the event being around Valentine’s Day, we wanted to escape the heteronormative narrative that normally surrounds the day, and talk about how all different kinds of relationships can be healthy,” Volkert said. “We want to open up conversations to be more inclusive and create an environment where everyone knows that they deserve to have a healthy relationship and can recognize the values that go into that kind of relationship.
Kempster concluded the event with a reflection on what it means to love another. She said to her, Valentine’s Day is about more than romantic love.
“With the falling in love trope, the only harm of it is that we close ourselves off to all the ways that we’re loving people,” Kempster said. “So often, we’re taught that there is one kind of love that must be elevated above all else. Love doesn’t always have to be hierarchical … The more we can love, the better our lives will be.”
LSA sophomore Mikayla Kruse discussed how her women’s studies classes inspired her to learn more about couples that fall outside of heteronormative labels.
“I’ve only really seen heteronormative couples in day-to-day life, so I thought it would be interesting to learn what it’s like to be outside the gender binary and heterosexual assumptions,” Kruse said. “I’ve taken a few women’s studies classes, and you learn that people are outside of the gender binary and most things related to couples are aimed at heterosexual couple … It was interesting and I wanted to learn about what that’s like in real life, on a day-to-day basis.”