LET'S TALK ABOUT SEX: Erica Laue, J. Mason and Saida Agostini (L-R) co-run The Attic's new workshop.
[ workshop/lgbtq ]
Some are questioning their gender. Others are coming out or dealing with sexual abuse. But there’s a shared thread for each person who attends the new poetry workshops at The Attic Youth Center’s common space — a room strewn with colorful gay-positive posters and invites to study hall and the upcoming dance party. They’re all LGBTQ-identified women, ages 14 through 23, meeting in a much-needed safe haven to talk about sex.
“We focus on when to be sexual — talking about consent between partners, self-image, gender’s relationship to our sexuality and healing after trauma,” says J. Mason, the center’s education specialist and coordinator of the workshop series. “It’s really more about getting to know ourselves before we engage in sexual or romantic relationships.”
Mason says the workshops aren’t designed to produce erotica, but to help participants work through issues using writing techniques. Attendees as young as 14 are not required to get parental permission to participate — in Pennsylvania, it’s legal for anyone 14 and older to take part in such educational workshops — but talking about sex with young people still makes plenty of people nervous. It’s why Mason launched the workshop in the first place in conjunction with Bryson Institute, an educational outreach organization at The Attic.
“We’re getting young people — queer folks — more comfortable talking about their sexuality in a positive way,” Mason says. About 80 percent of The Attic’s attendees are male-identified; this is one of the few events geared specifically toward those who identify as women, including transgender and questioning youth.
Sakhara, 20, is one of the workshop regulars. She was invited by a friend and had never been to The Attic before. “I really felt a connection with the people,” says Sakhara, who’s written two poems.
The first time Sakhara participated, she contributed to a public writing project. “Each person had to write who they are on a sheet of paper hanging up in the front of the room,” she says. “Everyone got a general idea of what we’re struggling with.”
Mason says because many of the participants have experienced serious issues, the writing provides a platform for open and honest discussion. “People who have experienced sexual trauma don’t always know how to discuss it,” she says. “We want to give them a voice and empower them through art and poetry.”
Sakhara says the first poem she wrote confronted feelings about family, as well as how people define themselves. “I had been going through a lot of personal issues,” she says, “being accepted for who I am. I wrote about that. I’ve gained a higher self-esteem.”
When the workshops first began before the new year, only four or five would-be bards showed up. Now there are more than 20 teens and early twentysomethings attending each Saturday. “People are creating works — brilliant stuff.
“People are nervous talking to young people about sex,” she says, “but this is where they can talk freely and not worry about being judged. I think the youth are getting some good stuff out of it.”
Every Sat., 3-7 p.m., free, The Attic Youth Center, 255 S. 16th St., 215-545-4331, atticyouthcenter.org.