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People like me are killed here.

March 13th, 2014

Hi, my name is Karen, and I’m gay and a Texan.

My first girlfriend taught me to notice who was around me before I touched her so that neither of us would be beaten or killed. I thought, ignorantly, that she was being silly. It was 2011 for goodness sake.

But I live in Texas, and Texas is not a friendly place to be gay, particularly if you’re gender ambiguous, which my girlfriend was. This point has recently been driven home. A lesbian couple was killed last Saturday and their bodies left by a dumpster. Two years ago a lesbian was killed and her girlfriend barely survived. There are other stories, but these are enough for me.

I keep hearing the lines from Andrea Gibson’s poem I Do: “People like you aren’t welcome here, people like you cannot work here, people like you cannot adopt.” And they’re all true. Here my home, this place where I was born and raised, this place that runs in my veins, and I am not welcome, I can be fired because of who I am, and I cannot adopt a child out of state custody. I also can’t get married.

And yet, I’m trying to reconcile this in my mind with the recent ruling overturning the ban on gay marriage. I’m trying to reconcile what it means to be a small town preacher talking about sexual orientation from the pulpit.

What is the place I love,
with its rolling hills, forests, vast spaces, beaches,
with its oil, big cities, art everywhere,
with its passion for independence and freedom,
with its stand-your-ground-laws,
with its hatred of me,
with its racism,
with these new cracks in its bigotry
that are making the bigoted corners fight harder, louder, harsher?

I think if I can live through these next few years, this place of mine is going to be a pretty good place for me and people like me. The tide is shifting in the right direction, but it’s knocking people over in the process. This morning my heart hurts for those people. This morning I’m thinking of you, Crystal Jackson and your five year old daughter, whose world was shredded. I’m thinking of you, Britney Cosby.

The bodies of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson were found behind a dumpster in Port Bolivar, Texas early Friday morning March 8, 2014. The couple's car is missing and detective have released a composite of a man in his late 20s or early 30s seen in the silver Kia.

This little thing called rights

February 1st, 2014

Senior PicturePeople often ask me how I got into the field – sex education is a pretty fascinating topic from many angles. I even have an e-book coming out this year that will tell many sex educators’ stories of their entrance into the field. But after a conversation with Heather Corinna yesterday, I wanted to write about how I started working with teenagers.

When I was a teenager I was pretty responsible. Some might have pejoratively  referred to me (and might still…) as a straight edge. I was in the highest level academic classes available, deeply involved in theater, uninterested in drugs or alcohol, and I had a strong relationship with my mother. I knew what I was about, I was busy, and I didn’t have time or attention for bureaucracy (it might be said that I still don’t). My junior year I intended to spend the spring semester in Berlin, but I couldn’t hack it and came home. I spent the majority of that spring and summer teaching myself things, attending classes at my high school in flagrant disregard of school policy, having my first job, and generally attending to a variety of interesting bits and bobs. The return to school the following year – my senior year – was a shock of cold water. I was thoroughly immersed in the bureaucracy, which had decided it had plenty of time for me. (That’s me, on the left, in my senior year picture, which I was forced to take with that stupid black draping for blahblahblah reasons.)

I had always been outspoken about adolescent rights and the ways in which they were ignored. That I was a second class citizen did not go unnoticed and I was vocal about the issue. I wanted to form my professional career around changing this problematic cultural dynamic. I went into education because I thought I could be useful there – but I was so very wrong. So I went back to graduate school, with the hopes of changing the cultural perception of adolescents through research in the same way that John Bowlby had changed the perception of infants. Before Bowlby and Ainsworth’s research and writing on attachment theory, babies were seen as not-quite-people-yet. They were treated horrifically, on a societal scale. The implications for long term emotional health were entirely misunderstood.

I posited that the ways adolescents were treated also had substantial implications for long term emotional health in similarly distancing, infantilizing, and silencing ways as infants prior to the 20th century. I still work from this basic perspective.

My entrance into sexuality education specifically has its own stories, but this is how I started working with adolescents. The drive for young people to have the space and support to be their own people is, of course, intrinsic to my work with the young people themselves. However, it informs my work with adults more radically. Parents and teachers need help bucking the ideological trend that we adults have the right – the authority – the obligation – to monitor and restrict young people in certain ways. It’s just not true. What we do have is the responsibility to support young people in becoming themselves. It is a far more sacred trust than monitoring and restricting and what adults and youth both get from this other process is far more beautiful.

So I am not doing research in the footprints of giants like Bowlby and Ainsworth. I am changing the world in different ways, practically speaking, but my end goal has not shifted from my own teenage years.

I am a youth ally and I feel very lucky to be here. Youth rights are misunderstood and ignored. We have these magical ages at which rights are suddenly conferred (16, 18, 21) and far too often cognitive and emotional developmental trajectory, decision making skills, individual variance, and so much more are just ignored. Far too often adults believe that love of young people is best expressed as a paternalistic care-taking rather than that safe base that Ainsworth demonstrated that infants need so desperately.

Properly caring for children and teenagers is not doing things or making decisions for them – it is, in fact, the exact opposite.

Life and family are both negotiating tables – and young people have a right to be there with us.

Sex Ed In A Bag!

December 11th, 2013

This week I am premiering my brand new Sex Ed In A Bag activities! I’m giving one away to every attendee at the conference and I am also selling them! These are activities that range in length and content, but they are all fun and engaging. Each bag comes with some of the items need to run the activities. Here are the activities I currently have for sale:


You can order the activities by e-mail me at karen@karenrayne.com.

Sex Ed In A Bag are $7 each or $25 for all five.

Upcoming changes at KarenRayne.com will include a sales page for my activities – these five and more!

Website upgrades coming soon!

December 11th, 2013

under-construction-iconActually, given that I’m currently running the National Sex Ed Conference, it might be a few weeks into 2014 before things really get started here, but changes are coming and I am very excited about them.

The changes you’ll see at KarenRayne.com in the coming months will be focused on a shift away from the focus on a blog format for parents that I’ve been using for the last six years. You can find my new and ongoing blog for parents at www.unhushed.net/blog. Unhushed will, from this point onward, function as my interface with parents. I have classes for middle school students, high school students, and parents through Unhushed. Coming in 2014 I will also be providing comprehensive sexuality education classes for adults. Feel like you missed out as a teenager or young adult? My adult classes will be a place to come and ask all those questions you never had answered from contraception to communication to sexual arousal, pleasure, and technique. They will also be BYOB!

At KarenRayne.com, on the other hand, you’ll find my interactions with other sexuality educators, with schools, with non-profits, and with other groups who are interested in bringing me in to write curriculum, train educators, speak to groups, and things of this nature.

In addition to my websites, you can also keep up with me through Facebook or Twitter. (Disclaimer: I currently Facebook more than I tweet!)

I’m very excited about the coming changes! I hope you are too!

Grief and Sentencing in India

September 14th, 2013

griefWhen the news was announced yesterday that four men in India would be hanged for the brutal rape of a young woman there were intense responses from all over the world. But far too many of them – because even one would be too many – were cheering for the capital sentence these young men received.

I am not writing against a death penalty for these men. Indeed, I am highly conflicted on the matter and don’t feel like I have an answer to that question. Can these men be taught, coaxed, into to being gentle, caring members of society? If that’s too high a bar, can they be even brought to a place where they don’t harm others? I couldn’t say. Rehabilitation is not my area of psychology. But it clearly isn’t the prison system’s area of expertise either, at least here in the US. I don’t have much faith that the Indian prison system would be much better, so I just don’t have an answer on the question of what to do with them. It seems unlikely that they will actually be executed in any event.

I am writing because the degree of pain involved in this case – and in so many cases that go unpublicised, untried – is so extreme that there is not a “right” answer. Given the graphic and physical and invasive nature of the pain she suffered, there is nothing that can be done to right these wrongs. There is nothing that can be done to these men that will alleviate the pain of this woman. The grief that I feel for her is overwhelming.

At the same time, I also hold an overwhelming grief for the men. What level of disconnection, what level of pain, must a human being be in so that they are able to inflict such damage on another? They clearly suffer too, although they lash out in their suffering and harm others – because surely she was not the only one. We cannot right their wrong by killing them, but maybe that’s the only response available to us in our limited human capacities.

Our world does not naturally breed connection, compassion, and relationships among its inhabitants. This case is a clear example of that dramatic and painful lacking. So regardless of the outcome, there is nothing worth cheering for here.  And I grieve for all of the victims of violence, for all of the perpetrators of violence, for the entire world.

I am reminded of the deep sense of grief and sadness in this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh (thank you for the recent reminder of it, Ruth).

In My Two Hands

I hold my face
in my two hands
No I am not crying
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep my loneliness warm
to cradle my hunger
shelter my heart
from the rain and the thunder
Two hands protecting
Two hands nourishing
Two hands preventing
my soul from flying
in anger.

I hold my face
in my two hands
My hands cupped
to catch what might fall
from within me
Deeper than crying
no, I am not crying
I am in my two hands.

Why I love the National Sex Ed Conference

August 27th, 2013

2013logoThis year I have been working closely with a number of wonderful colleagues to put together the National Sex Ed Conference. (Which will be held December 11 – 13 at the Meadowlands Sheraton in New Jersey.) This morning there was a great phone call with the whole planning team and I am just SO excited about everything we have planned!

I was considering a few things about this conference. First, why it’s important enough to me to spend an insane (really, it’s insane) number of hours working on it and then donating financially to it. Second, what it is about the conference itself that makes me jump up and down a little when I look at the conference schedule.

So here goes:

This conference holds a place near and dear to my heart. This feels a bit odd to say, since I’ve never been to it before. (Yep, I’m co-chairing a conference I’ve never actually attended. Because that is, apparently, how I role.) There is something so very unique and beautiful about sexuality educators coming together as colleagues that I can never get enough of. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m here, cast out, into the Bible Belt, away from 97% of all sex educators, but I just love it. And this is, indeed, the conference of all conferences for sex educators!

And as for the conference schedule… Well, working Cat Dukes, Bill Taverner, and Jeff Anthony to create the schedule itself was an entire boatload of fun, I’m honored to be on the schedule as a workshop presenter on LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraception), and to be honest I want to attend almost every session. Because that just wasn’t possible, I managed to pick a few choice ones and arrange the schedule so I could attend them. (One of the biggest perks of being a co-chair of the conference!)

The long and short of it is: GO TO THIS CONFERENCE! Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a counselor, or any other person who has any reason to talk with children or teenagers (ever!) or adults about sexual issues, you will benefit from participating. Plus you’ll be able to see me live, in person, and probably running around like a chicken with its head cut off making sure everything else is running smoothly. And who wouldn’t want to see that?

A granddaughter, daughter, mother, and future grandmother’s thoughts on abortion

June 26th, 2013

I have been in Germany for the past month, wandering through Amsterdam’s red light district, seeing condom ads plastered across public walls in Germany, generally enjoying myself. I spent most of my time with my mother and my daughters. Immersing myself amongst the females in my family was well-timed. I returned just a bit before midnight last night to a state where Wendy Davis and hundreds of protesters kept draconian abortion legislation from becoming law in Texas. I flew through a dark cloud, and while I am so proud of Senator Davis and all of my fellow Texas women for standing up for what is right, I am also worried and scared about what is to come.

My daughters’ rights are being chipped away, slowly – their rights to make their own decisions about their own bodies, their own reproduction. About whether to have my grandchildren.

When my first daughter was a baby, my grandmother asked me if my experience mothering made me realize that abortion should be banned. No…if anything, it made me feel more strongly in favor of ensuring every woman has access to legal and safe abortion. Being pregnant and giving birth were exhausting work – but nothing compared to being a mother. Only women who are passionately committed to, who actively want children should do it.

I’m one of the 2/3 of women who has never had an abortion – and as a lesbian, it’s likely that I won’t ever find myself in need. Years ago, though, things were different for me. There was one day, when I was 19 and dating a boy, that I had a pregnancy scare. The boy I was dating apparently didn’t think I should have a choice about whether or not to have an abortion. Even though I had made my thoughts on the matter quite clear – he was unwilling to consider any option other than abortion. He didn’t think I should have a choice.

I left him shortly thereafter, grateful to be alone, not alone and pregnant.

Because I did have a choice – I had the ability to choose whether or not to bare and birth a baby. And I am adamant that my daughters have the same choice.

The political motion in the United States to reduce a woman’s access to birth control and abortion a movement to reduce women’s ability to be their truest and most authentic selves. It is an attempt to reduce me, my mother, my daughters, to our biology. It is an attempt to punish us for our sexuality.

It is my life’s work to make sure that this anti-women political movement will not succeed. We are, each of us, so much more than our sexuality. A million times more. Every person holds an astounding level of beauty and uniqueness. To deny it for anyone based on gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, or reproductive capacity, is an attack on basic human rights. Everybody is somebody. Full stop.


Thank you, A Mighty Girl, for this image. Love it.

Can we learn from a place of power?

February 26th, 2013

This weekend I had a conversation about education and classroom dynamics. In it, I said:

We need to remember that students will have a wide range of reactions to any curricula or activities we bring to the classroom. There will always be some who are not drawn into an activity and others who love it. As teachers, we must be attentive to this dynamic. Attentiveness is particularly important because the position of the learner is not a position of power.

I felt like a bomb went off in my head as I said the last line. The conversation continued around me as though I hadn’t said anything momentous, but I stopped attending to the flow.

It is common to reference teacher-student relationships as ones where a power dynamic is in play, which is probably why no one reacted strongly to my statement. But what does it mean to be learning when you are in a place of weakness? What does it mean to lack authority in a situation where you are trying to integrate new information and skills on a topic as deeply personal as sex and sexuality?

We talk about the need for equal power dynamics in relationships because it lends itself to all parties being able to state what they need. Why do we assume it okay for the power balance to be so dramatically different in the classroom environment? The power dynamics in a classroom are often conceived in terms of the relationship between the teacher and the student. But the relationship between the content and the student is also very important. Students need to feel ownership of the content, they need to have autonomy over themselves and they need to gain autonomy over the content. This may be particularly true in classrooms that address topics of sexuality.

What about your classrooms? Do you think your students feel that sense of power that autonomy can yield? Are they able to gain authority over the material in such a way that it feels like it belongs to them?

My new website!

February 20th, 2013

I am so excited to announce the launch of new website:


If you are receiving this via e-mail or a reader, please register to receive my blog posts via Unhushed. I will be moving much of the content from here to there over the next few months and re-organizing this space to be focused on speaking and writing.

Come read my latest Unhushed blog post on gender!

Parents: Children’s Primary Sexual (Violence) Educators

January 15th, 2013

coverI recently wrote an article for Partners in Social Change, the publication from the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs that addresses how parents can most effectively talk with their youth about sexual violence. Here is a clip from my article:

“Parents have a unique position in their teenagers’ lives. They have daily access to the dating relationships and associated emotions that young people live through. This provides parents with a front row seat to be aware of issues in relationships and potential warning signs of violence. Nevertheless, without a strong conversational relationship – one that includes topics of sex, sexuality, and violence – parents are likely to miss important signs that would allow them to support their teenager.

It is never too late to start conversations about sexual (and relationship-based) violence. Opening up a new area of conversation between two people is often awkward, regardless of what the relationship is. However, these initially awkward topics can evolve into the most important and relationship strengthening lines of communication.”

I include an elaboration on my ten tips for parents to talk with their kids about sex that addresses how the tips apply in the situation of sexual violence.

You can download the magazine, including my article, in PDF form.