March 27, 2015

APANO Member Spotlight: Emily Lai on Body Image and Sexualities

I am not shy when it comes to discussions about sex, intimate relationships, gender, and reproductive health. I am very open about the fact that I live with a sexually transmitted disease, that I haven't always been informed or in control of my reproductive health, and that I haven't always behaved respectfully and responsibly in my sexual relationships. I have made mistakes. I embrace that and try my best to learn from my mistakes. I speak openly and honestly because I refuse to live in secrecy and shame. I refuse to treat sex as a taboo subject.

In my experience, our families are often both a source of strength and stress. My father discouraged me from being physically active because, according to him, "women with big calves are not attractive." My mother often shamed me and regulated my diet not only because she wanted me to be thinner than I was but also because she had a strict definition of "healthy". She couldn't see how food like bubble tea and french fries -while "unhealthy" can bring us immense comfort and pleasure, and that is a form of health. When we are told what to do with our bodies, we are in essence being told we do not have control over our own lives. I realize now that my parents shamed and controlled my body because they received the same treatment growing up. I have not been able to express my differing opinions to my parents but I now spend a lot of my time wholeheartedly enjoying bubble tea and happily making my calves bigger through exercising.

So many of our experiences with reproductive health care are dictated by fear: the fear of becoming pregnant, the fear of contracting a STD, the fear of not being able to afford health care, the fear of being rejected by our families and loved ones. Much of what define our fear of pregnancy is a culture that shames women for being sexually active, the inhumane notion that "only bad girls get pregnant", and a political and health care system that tampers with the affordability and accessibility of reproductive health care. The burden of a women's happen chance ability to create life is tremendous. It is womens’ bodies that conceive, carry, deliver, and care for children. And yet, women have been denied the ability and resources to make decisions for ourselves. I am passionate about reproductive justice because I want to change the policies and cultures that make women prove time and time again the necessity of having autonomy over our own bodies and having affordable and accessible sexual health care.

What brought me to APANO was their commitment to reproductive and gender justice. APANO is working to create opportunities and spaces for people who want to make reproductive health accessible and affordable to everyone, people who want queer and transgendered peoples’ lives to be respected and included in conversations and policies, and pop culture, people who want to work on the prevention of rape and the destruction of rape culture, people who want their communities’ to better support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Reproductive justice concerns everyone, and APANO is working to create opportunities for our communities to share their stories so policies impacting our bodies, sexualities, and families better reflect and support our needs.

I invite you all to join us on Saturday, April 4th, at APANO’s Community Health Forum. This year, APANO’s Community Health Forum’s theme is Stronger Families, Stronger Communities. We will focus on the strengths and diversity of our families by creating a space to understand and highlight our values, beliefs, and experiences around sex, sexualities, gender, and bodies. Through this forum we will also cultivate and mobilize our leadership, community organizing, and policy advocacy skills and efforts for health equity issues: including reproductive health care access. There will be delicious food, wonderful company, inspiring speakers and community leaders, and comedic performances from local API women. And most importantly, let’s talk about sex!