Queer Health & Relational Healing

Larissa Little (center) at a button-making event promoting the “Queering Community Health Podcast”. Photo by Sarah Whiting

The sex education that youth are typically taught in schools is not comprehensive. It often focuses on abstinence only, which does not include information on birth control methods, consent, or how to safely have sex with people of the same sex.

I consider myself lucky to have had access at my school to educators from Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council. I learned from people my age about birth control, sexually transmitted infections (STI), healthy relationships, and reproductive anatomy. I decided to become a teen educator myself, which involved weekly conversations after school about gender and sexuality. The group was a safe place for me to ask questions without shame. It helped me gain the vocabulary and understanding I needed to come out as bisexual and nonbinary.

Seven years after that experience, the COVID-19 pandemic had me feeling isolated from the LGBTQ+ community. Last September, I got involved with a new “Queering Community Health” podcast, which focuses on educating queer youth in the Twin Cities. Topics we have covered so far include basic needs for queer youth, dealing with the pandemic, and racism in the gay community. We explore how society and material conditions, such as housing and income, can affect our physical and mental well-being.

Many queer people have specific health needs, such as hormone replacement therapy or questions when it comes to STI prevention and safe sex. Queer folks may not regularly see a physician, however, for fear of being misgendered based on a doctor’s assumptions, a lack of access to money or health insurance, or the extra barrier of having to explain their gender and sexuality before receiving care.

The podcast is a way to reconstruct narratives around queer health. It can be difficult to find queer history since a lot of LGBTQ+ people have been excluded from mainstream media. Partially because of this, oral storytelling has shaped queer history and filled in the blanks.

When I think of storytelling, I think of the things one learns from talking and experiencing life with other community members. I think of drag shows, ballroom culture, and gay bars where queer people meet and create community spaces. Many modern storytelling projects, such as the one I am involved with, have been conducted to record and immortalize real stories about queer people, by queer people.

Sex and Healing

Queer people are intimately aware that this society was not created for us. It affects every aspect of our lives, including our sex lives. This trauma can give us feelings of shame and guilt, which can make us put up emotional walls.

In the podcast episode I helped create with my co-host Xochitl, called “s{EX},” we explore how sexual health, body positivity, and trauma relate to our queer identities.

We interviewed Carise Rotach, a marriage and family therapist; Logan Sand, a sex educator and sexologist; and Lark Lekat, a sex worker and educator — all experts on how sex can intersect with being queer.

Sand spoke about the struggles of teaching comprehensive sex ed in schools.

Lekat talked about the taboo of sex in U.S. culture and how they find their work to be rewarding and affirming of their queer and nonbinary identity. Lekat provided huge insight on their journey of body positivity and how they used to feel shameful about their size as a “small fat” person, but evolved to be able to embrace their body for what it is. They discussed how they felt empowered by doing burlesque and enjoyed when cisgender and straight men were confused and intrigued by how they expressed their gender identity.

Rotach was able to give us insights on how trauma can make people feel guilty for having or not having sex, and how sex can help us heal from trauma.

“In my world, the enemy of sexual health and wellness is shame,” Rotach says. These words resonate with me because often people are taught that you should feel shameful about your body and sex. Another layer of this kind of shame is added when queer people are taught they should also feel shame for having same-gender attraction.

When people are in the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode (fawn meaning immediately trying to please a person to avoid conflict) — which is a trauma response — we are not able to fully connect with what is happening, Rotach says. To really connect with each other and provide full consent, we need to be out of that mindset, which means we need to work to heal our traumas. “Become the author of your own pleasure,” Rotach says.

Relational healing is powerful, she continues, and should be discussed more in families, friend groups, therapy, and health care. There is a lot of healing one can do alone, but humans cannot survive without community. We need each other, and together we can heal.

Larissa Little (they/them) is a podcaster with ShiftMN who is working to share the community health stories of queer youth. The Queering Community Health “s{EX}” episode will air in June at shiftmn.org/podcast

The Minnesota Legislature is addressing the state’s sexual education standards: tinyurl.com/Minnesotasexed