As with discussions about race and gender in the United States, talking about sex, even sex education, are still often taboo in the supposed land of the free. Enter Jimanekia Eborn, MS, and her vast array of knowledge on the subject and its intersections with race and gender.
Jimanekia is known for centering QTBIPOC (Queer Trans Black Indigenous People of Color) in her sex education work and also advocates for them to care for themselves during the “active trauma state” we are living through, which has been triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and civil uprisings caused by racist police violence.
The intersections of race, gender, identity, and sex are more visible these days, thanks to the work of people like Jimanekia Eborn, and they influence the spaces of interpersonal relationships. Even in a growing gender fluid world, these intersections can still seem like a novelty with few spaces in mainstream media that reflect the lived experiences of QTBIPOC individuals.
As the world asks for more attention to and justice for Black lives, Scarleteen engaged in an interview via email with the self-proclaimed Trauma Queen, who’s been a mental health professional for the last 12 years and has a Master’s in Health Psychology, to talk about her sex ed and trauma work that centers QTBIPOC communities.
Scarleteen (ST): You’ve been working in sexual education for 12 years now, and focusing on trauma. What are the differences from when you started to now?
Jimanekia Eborn, MS (JE): What I see is that the conversations are changing. I believe that there will always be folks that are going to push back on this information. The fact that it is being talked about and the fact that they have never dealt with their own issues is an entirely different thing. I also see that the youth are tired of not being heard. Which I love!
They are advocating for themselves, for their future selves, and even for us now. They are tired of being told half-tales, want the full information, and push for deserved knowledge. Laws are changing slowly, but surely things won’t change overnight. Especially because there are people that are uncomfortable or very much religious and believe that the best education is forcing abstinence information on folks.
ST: You have a Masters in Health Psychology. What’s health psychology? How did that education and training change your work in sex education?
JE: Wikipedia defines health psychology as the study of psychological and behavioral processes in health, illness, and healthcare. It is concerned with understanding how psychological, behavioral, and cultural factors contribute to physical health and illness. Psychological factors can affect health directly.
When I went back to school, I wanted to seek out something that was covering more than just medical folks or just brain-focused. In working with survivors and sexuality education, I want to always show up to support the entire person.
What I have learned has allowed me to continue looking at the full story, the full body. More than just what is being told verbally, because our bodies can hold onto such a story. I believe that what I have learned, as well as what I will continue learning, is that we need to ask more questions to really understand what folks are struggling with, instead of listening to one thing and then running with it and/or equating their struggle with someone else’s. Everyone’s body is different and things show up differently.
ST: How can affirming sex ed for, in and by QTBIPOC communities help them evolve in their personal lives and with the greater world?
JE: There is just something about seeing someone who looks like you that gives you hope. Having teachers that look and identify in similar fashions to you is healing and allows you to let your guard down to receive the information that is being shared. Which can allow these folks to explore and learn in a safe space, versus the trial and error that can lead to injury and/or further trauma.
Sex ed historically is very cisgender-focused and heterosexual. I’m not sure why folks thought that there was just one way to have sex. Just like history class, there is much to learn hence we grow up going to multiple classes… because there is a lot to learn. Sex ed is the same; there is much to learn and much to consume. The ceilings are being broken; the eyes are being opened.
ST: Can you talk some about the racial and social uprisings in the world right now? How can we best use them as dialogues with QTBIPOC issues?
JE: When I look outside my walls and see what is happening in the racial and social spaces, I am exhausted honestly. Being a Black queer woman has really always been a lot, and the outside world is adding to this immensely. I have seen and been a part of many conversations about how what is going on in the macro world is affecting the micro world, and the conversations have been really interesting.
It is hard for folks to see others that look like them being murdered and overlooked every day. What I continue to remind folks is that we are currently living in an active trauma state. It is really disheartening that folks think you have to separate your identities to be seen during this trauma state. We need to use these times to recognize that we are whole people.
Those of us that identify within the QTBIPOC community cannot take off our skin the same way we cannot remove our gender and/or our sexuality. We have to continue to have conversations about all of the disparities that are going on. There is not just one way we are affected.
Honestly, I wish people would work on their own biases. We have to continue to have hard conversations, we have to continue using our allies and our accomplices to push the narrative forward. Sometimes it takes folks who look like each other having hard conversations with each other so they can understand others. It is shitty, and really hard but it is so needed.
ST: How can everyone best manage any trauma they are experiencing with the events and loss of life at the root of the uprisings, with participation within them or observation of them? How can we best manage our hopes and fears around them?
JE: Whew, I think we have to do a lot of our own unlearning while we are living in this active trauma state. That is to say, we have to give ourselves more permission to rest, drink water, eat food, detach from social media. Things will still be going on outside without us. As cheesy as it sounds, I often say we cannot pour from an empty cup. There are many ways to show up and participate.
If marching and protesting is not what works for you, or does not feel safe for you, that is okay! There are plenty of people that are doing it. Using your voice, using your connections, if you have a bit of money that you can donate — those things can also be really helpful and important.
Listen to your body.
Checking in with our bodies is even more imperative right now. Our bodies are beacons of what is going on with us and around us. I want folks to know that, again, we are all living in a traumatic time and it is going to affect everyone totally differently. So, however you need to take care of yourself, do it. Hopefully whoever reads this receives this reminder: you matter, you need to rest, and it will be there tomorrow!
ST: From your point of view, what kind of relationship changes or self-love can best help raise self-esteem and support for each other in this moment and in general?
JE: Honestly, I do not think there is just one best way to help folks right now. We are all raging in different ways; a lot of folks are having past traumas pop up and it is really throwing everything off kilter.
I will say that doing body scans can be really helpful, to just find where you are holding tension in your body or where you are in pain. Due to everything going on, a lot of folks are having lots of triggers come up as well as lots of numbness. Doing a body scan can be completed by scanning head to toe or toe to head. Sit down in a comfortable spot, take a few deep breaths in and out, focus on which end you would like to start (either your head or your toes), and then scan over each area of your body until you get to the opposite end from where you started. Once you find those areas of tension or pain, you can foam roll them out. You can stretch, you can take a bath. You can journal about them, you can take a shower. There is no wrong way to deal with those tension areas, other than not addressing them.
I think we have to start taking care of ourselves before we look at supporting each other. I often use the following analogy in my classes. When we are on an airplane, they go over all the safety rules and they talk about the oxygen mask falling in an emergency. They say you have to put your mask on first before helping others. I want to affirm that you have to spend time with yourself, check in on yourself, take care of your body, your temple and your home first.
And then you will know a bit more what you need, not by what someone tells you. Also, it is 1000% percent okay to not know what you need and to say that. We can show up for each other by being honest about where we are versus saying we are all okay. Because, honestly, most of us are not doing great. Having that community is also great to know that there is no pressure to measure up to a certain way of being.
We have to be okay with not being okay.
We have to take some of the pressure off of ourselves to be living the same exact lives we had before COVID-19, before everyone started protesting. It can also be helpful to remember that these moments are not permanent.