Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Melissa Tapper Goldman!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
My work in the field of sexuality is primarily through media-making and writing. I created a documentary called Subjectified: Nine Young Women Talk about Sex, which captures real stories of women’s personal experiences across the U.S.
2. Where are you based out of?
I live and work in Brooklyn, NY.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
Right now I am trying to get Subjectified into the hands of people around the country who could benefit from a more open and honest dialogue about sexuality (that’s most of us). What that means is finding and inventing the avenues to reach people who are underserved by mainstream media (that’s most of us, also).
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
My focus is on the power of storytelling and the compassion that it creates in people. I see my work as facilitating storytelling, both inviting people to share their experiences, and creating spaces for good listening. Subjectified is a compilation of women’s personal narratives, but it also inspires people to begin their own conversations.
Empathy isn’t the end goal for activism around sexuality, but it’s a key foundation for work in policy and education, which are currently dominated by mistrust and contempt for sexuality (particularly sexuality expressed by women and GLBTQ individuals). Storytelling is a powerful tool for addressing this challenge.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
It’s a hard area to work in. Like many people in this field, I feel like it chose me. Some close friendships taught me the consciousness-building power of supportive spaces, and of storytelling. Driving home from work one day, it struck me how even in our hyper-sexualized mass media, women’s real, authentic voices were entirely absent. Once I became sensitive to that absence, and the suffering that it causes, I began to see it everywhere. I felt like I could help.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
My formal training is not in this field. I have a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University, and studied liberal arts as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. It may sound unrelated, but doing research and applying rigorous critical thinking gave me fantastic tools for media activism. In our “internet age,” we need to be able to teach ourselves new skills all the time, and to map out new territories of thought. Anyone who works with issues of sexuality has had to face rethinking our received assumptions and thought processes.
School taught me important methodologies. The content I had to learn on my own through reading, personal relationships, and studying the professionals I admire. Then again, it’s also important to learn when to break the rules. School doesn’t teach you that.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
You can watch trailers and read about Subjectified on our website. I try to aggregate good content on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and will be doing more relevant writing in the upcoming months. I also write for various internet outlets and academic journals. The best way to keep up with me and my projects is by joining Subjectified’s email list.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
Since I’m not a sexologist or educator, I’ll give some overall advice. Generally, assume that things are possible, believe in what’s important to you and don’t be afraid to prioritize it in your life, be always trying to grow, be willing to take criticism, listen well, and value your own contribution.
And seek out good friends who challenge you and make you feel like you can be your best self. I recently heard a fantastic presentation by Rinku Sen of Colorlines talking about the importance of friends and personal support networks. Working in the field of sexuality requires honest and ongoing internal work. You’ll need help. No shame in that.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
I’ve always been a pretty open person, but for a long time I didn’t like having to use the words “sex” or “sexuality” when introducing myself to strangers (or telling my family what I was working on). It was instructive for me to be put in this situation over and over, to get used to it, and to understand that it was up to me to model the behavior of being comfortable talking about sexuality. As a woman whose partner is a man, I had to recognize that I’m in a position of privilege where I don’t ever have to acknowledge sexuality as part of my identity. Realizing that there were lots of other people who don’t have that choice (and who are often at direct risk on account of their identities) put my feelings in perspective.
The other challenge that I want to mention is funding. It is very hard to get monetary support for controversial issues, especially as a young professional. I could say a lot more about this. It dramatically narrows the range of viewpoints that get airtime. I was extremely lucky that I could afford to cut my work down to part-time while producing Subjectified. The landscape has shifted a bit with crowdfunding becoming viable for some people. All that acknowledged, I think you have to have a DIY approach and an entrepreneurial spirit to want to work in this field.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
That’s tough! The previous Hump Day Heroes have mentioned some fantastic resources. I’m going to suggest a book called Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom, which is more of a health reference than something you read cover to cover. It’s old school in some ways, but this book really got me thinking about how I approach my health, how I talk about sexuality as part of health, and how to begin thinking of myself as the author of my wellness (important for anyone in a medically-underserved segment of the population, like women). Like any advice book, it’s just one perspective so take it with a grain of salt! But the storytelling activist in me loves how Dr. Northrup encourages us to see our stories as assets to our health.
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