2020 In Review: You Were The Worst, But At Least We Did Okay
It feels a fitting start to open this by telling you that in the most 2020 way possible, we -- including me, the founder of this place, who first launched it frozen in my basement apartment with the entirely unuseful radiator in the ceiling -- forgot our 22nd anniversary earlier this month.
I managed to remember my own 50th birthday this spring and even then it was utterly forgettable, as were so many of our pandemic birthdays, so I’m hardly surprised I forgot this one. But it’s not like keeping Scarleteen going has ever been easy, least of all during a year like this. That graphic there, borrowed from a piece Jacob wrote this year, sums up the least of the worst of so much of the last year for so many of us all too well.
So, happy belated pandemic birthday to us. We did survive it, and that’s truly not a minor achievement for anyone in this terrible year.
Anyway, 20 effing 20. Only one more day. Finally. Thank Fiona.
Like so many, our team has had to deal with a great deal of hardship.
Members of our team this year have lost parents, beloved animal companions, and cherished relationships; living situations and work, potential citizenship, expected benefits or helps. On top of the terrible and unforgivable losses of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others lost to racism and other institutionalized inhumanity, losses of land, of rights, and the millions of lives lost — and the millions more challenged and ever changed — around the world to the pandemic, we also lost some who the field we work in wouldn’t have been the same without, particularly researcher Shere Hite and author, artist, activist and educator Betty Dodson. I couldn’t have even envisioned a place for someone like me in this field at all if it hadn’t been for both of them. It won’t be the same without them, as it will ever be different because of them.
Everyone’s spirits here have been frayed. Everyone’s energy has been sapped. I had my own menopausal mayhem and a new book to write in the middle of all this mess, and a giant eldercare crisis and then the unexpected addition of two adolescents full-time to our small household, which meant that I was often less available to the team than usual, on top of everything else.
Despite all of that, and in partnership with our incredible group of freelance writers, this amazing little team that could still managed to do so much in this epically awful year. That our staff and volunteers still showed up for our users, for Scarleteen as an organization, and for each other is a testament to the fantastic people they are, and everyone's deep dedication to this work and to one another as a community. I’m so proud of them; of us. Particularly in a year full of so, so much that’s been so painful, so horrible, so bleak and so awful, I’d like to take a little time to shout out some of the work and other good stuff that happened here that was anything but.
The Good Stuff.
Between the end of 2019 and early 2020, with help from the deeply excellent Chitra Panjabi and a dedicated small group (including my sweetheart: thanks, pal), and thanks to funding from the Tikkun Olam foundation, we were able to hire Rachel Ronquillo Gray as our first People Manager. For the first time ever, we now have someone solely dedicated to managing our staff and volunteer team as well as to helping mediate with any user conflicts or issues if and when that’s needed. Rachel’s worked hard in her first year to get us all in better communication and coordination, and, with the help of some others on our existing team, is about to get started training in a new cohort of amazing volunteers from around the world we’re all super excited to have on board.
In January, we rolled out F*ck Me! a print and interactive digital zine by Scarleteen volunteer Al Washburn with illustration from Archie Bongiovanni. Like Yes/No/Maybe lists, it's a way to figure out, take, and potentially share, a kind of sexuality inventory when it comes to what you (or whoever is using it) want and need, what works for you and doesn't, what your unique body, mind, and other parts of yourself are like in ways it's important for sexual partners to know about. It’s free for all, like nearly everything we do, and if you haven’t checked it out and used it before, it might be a great start for the new year.
Before, during and after COVID, we continued to provide the kind of diverse, inclusive, informative, wide-reaching and comprehensive content we’re known for here at Scarleteen.
That included articles on sexual healthcare and access like:
- Do You Need a Pelvic Exam? Maybe…Or Maybe Not (Alexa Karczmar)
- Getting Birth Control May Be Easier Than You Think (Paige Alexandria)
- How Can I Access Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in the UK? (Dr. Sarah Borg)
- A Guide to Accessing Abortion in South Africa (Alice Draper)
- Our newly updated primer on STI testing, Testing, Testing: All About Getting Tested for STIs (Sam Wall)\
- And Meira Harris’ two amazing pieces on self-managed medical abortion: The World Needs Safe, Self-Managed Abortion: Here’s Why and How to Access a safe, Self-Managed Medical Abortion
- Lisa Laman’s dating advice by and for Autistic people, including The Unholy Din of First Dates for Someone with Autism (and How to Avoid It) and How Do I Tell If Someone Is Into Me?
- A Brief Guide to Consenting With a Nonverbal Partner (Eva Sweeney)
- Body Talk: Listening To and Learning from Your Chronic Pain (Amanda Lehr)
- The Lowdown on Low-Dose Testosterone (Lane Lewis)
- Late Bloomer: A Guide to Orgasm After Rape (Christina Elia)
- Music With Lyrics: Finding Your Way Back to Yourself After Sexual Assault (E.M.)
- Staying Seen: Being Bi in Relationships With Straight People (Adam Englund)
- A Series of Letters I Wish I Could Send to My Younger Queer Self (Mo Ranyart)
- A complete Spanish-language translation of our comprehensive Trans Summer school series by s.e. smith thanks to the generous organizing efforts of Zoe Mendelson and donated translation skills of Alexis Rojas, Fanito Rodriguez, Dulce Contreras, Osiris Mejía, Claudia Gutiérrez Montaño, Abraham López, Nancy Yomalhi Torres Flores, Anahi Monge Davila, Oscar Mondragón, Alexis González, Mariana Rodríguez, Susana R. Díaz, León Castillo y Andrea Güitrón, Georgia Alcaide , Laura Pablos, and Martha L Castro
: ¡Bienvenidx a la Escuela de Verano Trans!
We provided an array of international, intergenerational and other diverse perspectives like:
- Gabriel Leão’s incredible interviews, including A Matter of Foreign Policy and Human Rights: How the Global Gag Rule Invades Kenyan Women, Bodies and Families, an Interview with Melvine Ouyo, and Machismo: How Toxic Masculinity Harms Latinx People — An Interview with Journalist Laura Carlsen
- Scarleteen team member Alice O’s in-depth porn literacy series (with illustration by Archie Bongiovanni): Bare Bodies and Sex on Screen
- Learning How to Love Through Friendships (Alice Draper)
- A Sexual Miseducation (Hannah Malina)
- How to Have Your First Orgasm: A Primer for Cisgender Women (Suzannah Weiss)
- What I Didn't Know About Having a Queer Daughter (Deb Levine)
- Hell Is in Poland (Ida Kovčin)
And then came COVID.
One of the best things about being wholly independent media is that we aren’t obligated to provide a particular kind of content or focus to anyone: not funders, not a publisher, not advertisers. What we create and publish, what topics we focus on, have always been based in our user’s expressed needs and the world we’re all living in, a world that sometimes changes radically and quickly.
When the pandemic began, we had already had practice making big swerves in content production fast before, and we'd obviously already had over two decades of experience providing education and information online. Our autonomy gave us the freedom to continue to do our best to provide our readers and users with information, help and other content relevant to their actual circumstances, rather than having to stick to topics or content that weren’t as relevant post-pandemic, social distance, or lockdown as they may have been before.
Since the spring, our team of staff, volunteers and freelance writers* has quickly created incredible and uncommon of-the-moment resources like:
- Coping During COVID-19 (all staff collaboration)
- Support Across Social Distance (Sam Wall)
- Self-Care and Social Distance (Mary Maxfield Brave)
- Protest in the Age of COVID-19 (Tasha Fierce)
- Parenting in a Pandemic: Strategies and Support for Young Mamas (Logan Levkoff, Ph.D.)
- This Isn’t Going to Be Your Forever: Tips for Queer Youth Stuck at Home With Trans- and Homophobic Parents (Ellen Friedrichs)
- What’s Harm Reduction? (LaSara Firefox Allen)
- Libido and Lockdown (Sara Brezinski)
- How to Actually Date Yourself (Cass Ball)
- Being Single During Lockdown: A Surprisingly Empowering Experience (Kathleen Farmilo)
- This Guide to Sexual Grooming Can Protect You and Your Friends From Online Abusers (Josie Gleave)
- Seven Things to Do If You’re Alone During COVID-19 (LaSara Firefox Allen)
- Deep Cover: Tips For Managing Anxiety or Privacy Worries When Masturbating at Home (Teresa Tak)
- Dating During the Pandemic: Tips for Young People Who Are Living at Home (Ellen Friedrichs)
- Sex and Love in Times of Peril: An interview with Dr. Lexx Brown-James (Gabriel Leão)
- The Struggle to Access Medical Abortion in Northern Ireland During the Pandemic: An Interview with Alliance for Choice’s Naomi Connor (Gabriel Leão)
- Hookup Culture and the Impact of COVID-19: An Interview with Lisa Wade, Ph.D. (Gabriel Leão)
- We Are Currently Living In an Active Trauma State: An Interview with Jimanekia Eborn (Gabriel Leão)
- Everything Sucks: It’s Time to Be Negative (Jacob Mirzaian)
- How to Make New Relationships, Add New People to Pods, and Have Sex More Safely During the Pandemic (Ruby Seago, Sam Wall and me)
We even — thanks in large part to our assistant director and frequently willing experimenter Sam Wall — managed to figure out how to throw a little Pride celebration in spite of COVID. We had all-day programming across our social media channels, and even a little drag storytime for our inner (or actual!) wee ones. Speaking of Pride, Sam and I also took part in Models of Pride this year on behalf of Scarleteen, providing a virtual workshop in providing quality peer-to-peer sex advice. (Sam also worked with the California Science Center on Scarleteen's behalf to help develop reproduction/sexual health/puberty exhibits, which I think is maybe the coolest thing ever.)
While most of our work is done online, we usually do some in-person outreach through Scarleteen, most often in shelters and schools. The pandemic meant we had to look for some different avenues to find ways to reach people outside our website this year. In case it isn’t already obvious from the Pride she organized, Sam is our resident outreach opportunity whiz, and that’s who took the reins and started up our now-ongoing video Instagram Q&A segments (with help from some furry friends) and, in July, our new sub-reddit, which you can check out and follow over here, if you aren’t already.
Throughout the year, our staff and volunteers also of course continued to work directly with some of Scarleteen’s readers and with our direct service users. That included advice answers like:
- If I only want to have sex with women, but not date them, am I bisexual? and I'm a lesbian and my now-boyfriend recently came out and socially transitioned, and I don't feel comfortable dating him anymore. and Should I consider myself ace/aro, or keep holding out for attraction? (answered by Mo)
- How do I cope with loneliness and depression during COVID-19? and How can I ask someone out if social distancing rules are in place? and I feel sexually frustrated all the time. What do I do? and How do I deal with my overprotective parents? and (answered by Sam)
- No sexual sensitivity? and The Great Arousal Mismatch: When Bodies and Brains Don't Line Up (answered by Amanda)
- My Best Friend Just Told Me That He Loves Me, But I Don't Even Know If I'm Straight. Help! (answered by Siân)
- How do I make my siblings understand? and Sex after rape. Where do I begin? (answered by me)
That direct work also included our usual, every day help for users and their families on our message boards, through our text/SMS service, in our live chat, and in the ways we do through our social media channels. As always, we intend to keep on doing all of this work and more, so if you’re able and into making one more donation as the year winds down to an end, we’d certainly be grateful for any financial support you can give. If not, we are also always equally grateful and glad for high-fives, thanks and pictures of cute animals of all varieties, even the ones other people don’t think are cute (bring us your Proboscis, your star-nosed moles and your warthogs: we’re weird-cute here, too, we get it).
Like literally everyone, we’re very happy this year is over, and we’re really, really hoping the next brings better things.
In the event any of you are not so completely exhausted you actually manage to stay up not only for the next few hours, but long enough to see the dawn of 2021 as it begins, please make big wishes on it for all of us. May 2021 bring us all more of the justice, care, well-being, and safety; the autonomy, interdependence and community; the sustainability, liberation and wholeness we all so deeply need as a people.