Eastlands in Nairobi, Kenya

Bianca is back from Kenya!

One of the things we were told about study abroad semesters is that the hardest part is often re-integration into your old society, your “normal” life, and the habits, obligations, and tedium that comes with it. Personally, I’ve found it tricky to adjust to certain elements of simplicity: the store is open when I need it to be, the phone number on the website is correct, the person I am meeting shows up on time and has the information I need.

But there’s a significantly scarier aspect of returning: the future. In Nairobi, I rarely had to worry beyond the next two weeks. If I could get through these small hurdles, make it back to the US where I was on familiar ground, everything would work itself out. But now that I’m here, I have to deal with the fact that I don’t have a plan.

My semester abroad has, in short, nearly shattered my belief that international development groups can do any good, and it has certainly destroyed the illusion that such work can dramatically change the world we live in. I’ve been mourning this loss of optimism for a while, and I know I still have a long way to go towards understanding it.

The larger question relative to this problem is where I go from here. I still feel very strongly that, in whatever small way, I want to be changing the status quo in our society; I want to be improving the lives of others. My primary medium for this has fallen through. I have contemplated many times the possibilities for going into some line of work with sex-positive advocacy, which falls in line with this blog, my interests, and my desire to see healthier, less shame-filled world. But at the same time, I question: Is that enough? Which is why Midori’s article, “Teaching Blowjobs and Bondage in Disastrous Times” hit home for me. Midori is a blogger, activist, and community sex-educator (as well as published author and bondage expert) who’s home country of Japan was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami that hit during my time in Kenya. Her conflict between doing the work that she loves in the sex-positive community contrasts sharply with a feeling of helplessness, loss of direction in the face of such overwhelming tragedies.

“The world is falling apart and I’m teaching fine cock sucking. Am I just playing in the band as the Titanic sinks? My birth nation is having a nuclear meltdown, and I’m carrying on teaching blowjobs and bondage, while fundraising for HIV.”

And yet her conclusion is positive and affirming of the life she lives:
“I cannot do anything to undo the disaster personally. I convince myself that moving forward is the only productive things I can do right now. I persuade myself that even the smallest act of ethical citizenship is better than blind panic. “

I like Midori, and I’m happy for the pride she had in her work, for the sureness with which she faces uncertainty, and for the way she can keep perspective on the micro-successes in a world of macro-failures.

But it is from that frame that I draw questions. Can I, who have always dreamed big, reconcile my desire for “regime shift” in a world of small changes? If so, can I still do development work, in some way, in the US? I know for certain that I am unable to affect the change I desire internationally, but do I have the strength and focus to do so here at home? If not, how would sex-positive work be different? Moreover, when disaster strikes and the world seems to fall in upon itself—when catastrophe makes my own individual contributions look foolishly small—how do I proceed? What, at the end of the day, will allow me to rest, knowing that I have done all I could for the world?

If these seem like lofty questions, then you understand some of what I’ve been dealing with the past 4 months, and, to an extent, for years previous.

The small correlation I’ve found, which gives me some comfort as I contemplate all of this, is a short article by The Sexademic, a great new blog I’ve started following. The article, “No Pleasure in the Ghetto” gives the short and dirty of how sex-positive messages are stifled from reaching lower-income and ethnic minority populations:

“There is a sharp contrast between sex education for the socially privileged and sex education for the socially disadvantaged. In my time as a sex educator, I’ve worked with a broad range of populations and anytime I work with minorities, youth or poor people, the only things the organizations want me to talk about are STIs and condoms.”

This is a legitimate concern, and one that is especially relevant in the oreo city that is Washington, DC. Our population is over 50% African-American, with strong presents of Hispanics, and other minority populations. These groups are not getting the information they need to live healthier sex-positive lives.

[But the choice to wear a condom] “is informed by far more than having a condom or not having a condom. That choice is informed by social messages, by power dynamics, by understanding risk, by a personal sense of agency. If you don’t address these issues, you can’t expect someone to practice safer sex.”

Potentially, I see a place for myself here, filling an educational gap, getting out much-needed information to people who are neglected by the system. But the question I will probably never be able to answer, at least until I start working is this: is it ENOUGH?