On Monday evening, around 50 students gathered in the School of Social Work to hear LGBTQ activist Ignacio Rivera speak as part of the Spectrum Center’s annual LGBTQ+ Health & Wellness Week. Rivera is the keynote speaker for the week, which includes many other events that highlight issues of health and wellness for members of the LGBTQ+ community. The event covered topics of surviving sexual trauma, intersectionality and sexual liberation with a focus on people of color and those with trans and queer identities.
Mark Chung Kwan Fan, the Spectrum Center assistant director for engagement, said the event could not have happened without their partnerships with various organizations including the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, the Social Work School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion unit, Trotter Multicultural Center, the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and the Coalition for Queer and Trans People of Color.
The purpose of the event was to showcase “what sexual liberation as well health and wellness looks like for queer and trans populations,” Fan said.
LSA senior Kalei Glozier heard about the event through his volunteer work with the Spectrum Center.
“Sexual liberation is very important, especially for health and wellness,” Glozier said. “I actually am studying outness in my sociology thesis so this is really important information for me, too, as a researcher.”
Rivera, a trans and queer activist of color, has more than 20 years of experience in activism, sexual healing and anti-violence work. The theme centered around sexual liberation as a facet of wellness. Rivera began their talk by describing the distinction between health and wellness.
“Health is a state of being,” Rivera said. “Wellness is a state of living a healthy lifestyle. It goes beyond physical health — it encompasses all of these many facets.”
Rivera posed three essential questions at the beginning of each of their talks. The questions center around society’s views of the idea of sexual liberation. Rivera asked the audience to reflect on common societal boundaries and views surrounding sex.
“How did you learn about sex or how does one learn about sex in society?” Rivera said. “What are taboos associated with sex? … Who are those entitled or not entitled to have sex?”
Rivera engaged the crowd through the questions, and after listening to the audience’s answers, they said “sex is absolutely subjective.”
Rivera emphasized that the idea of sexual liberation is different for all people. They argued society has a very cookie-cutter model for what sex is, but the reality is that sex is different for everyone.
“We don’t have an overarching theme of what is sex because what is sex for a heterosexual person might look very different for an intersex person that is queer, so it changes it all the time,” Rivera said.
Rivera also discussed the people and identities society deems as entitled or not entitled to have sex. They highlighted the harm that is inflicted on individuals that are ostracized from society on the basis of their identity or appearance.
“We create and enforce all of the very things that stop us from getting on our paths to sexual liberation and therefore wellness,” they said.
According to Rivera, issues including fear, religion and oppression are obstacles along the path to sexual liberation.
Rivera stressed the importance of communication. They encouraged curiosity and exploration, but stating that information is necessary. Rivera expressed their wish to create a conversation within society about sex and inclusion.
“Communally these conversations have to happen and it has to be just as normal and without shame,” Rivera said. “I like to think of this connection as the present pursuit of consensual pleasure.”
Rivera concluded their talk by describing their experiences of sexual trauma and their path to healing. Rivera has dedicated their life to helping others heal from their sexual traumas and open up a conversation about sex. Their goal is to foster a society that engages in healthy communication when it comes to sexual liberation for people of all identities.
“Doing this work makes me happy,” Rivera said. “It’s crazy to say that, right? Because it’s because of trauma, but I know that I like connecting with other survivors. That’s a part of my healing, too.”
Rivera finished their talk with a reflection on the importance of vulnerability.
“This is not an individual healing process,” they said. “It’s about a community of people really being vulnerable and talking about the trauma that has shifted our lives.”