Building Accountable Communities

This April we had the exciting opportunity to attend and present at the first ever Building Accountable Communities Conference co-sponsored by Project NIA and Barnard Center for Research on Women. The conference was exploring the topic of accountability including discussions and presentations from practitioners of Transformative Justice (TJ), Community Accountability (CA), and Restorative Justice (RJ). The event was led by Mariame Kaba of Project NIA and the creator of an incredible resource center for everything about TJ, CA, RJ, and prison abolition.

I will share more of our journey at the conference and practitioner skillshare below, but first I wanted to share the webinar we did with Mariame this October to share some of the core ideas and lessons from the convening. Together we discussed:

  • What do we mean when we talk about transformative justice and accountability?

  • What does a survivor-centered response look like in practice?

  • How can we support those who have caused harm without defaulting to punishment?

  • What does real accountability look like?

  • What has worked, and what obstacles have organizers and community members faced in building this difficult and necessary practice?

Online discussion with Stas Schmiedt, Lea Roth, and Mariame Kaba. Transcript available at Additional videos and info are available at This conversation is part of the Building Accountable Communities Project, and references these four videos released a few weeks in advance: What are Obstacles to Accountability?

In this webinar we reference our Patreon a few times because that is where you can get copies of tools we use as well as join us for a monthly conversation about these topics. When you join now you can download our Transformative Justice Toolkit and depending on what level you join at we will mail you a copy of our Consent Workbook and book Millennial Sex Education.

Some highlights from our conversation in case you don’t have the time to watch the whole video include:

"The distinction between hurt and harm is about accountability. The question is how did you get that cut in the first place? What happened and how much hurt came from before? Am I intentionally activating a trigger?" - Stas

"I've been concerned about the liberal use of abuse. Abuse is a pattern and it's deliberate. We need to understand the differences in order to deal with accountability." - Mariame

"We're living in a world where harmful things are normalized and we need conflict to change things. In an ideal world, there would be no harm and abuse but a lot of conflict." - Stas

"Listen to your body and emotions. Your body wants boundaries to keep yourself safe. When boundaries are about what other people should do, that's when it gets tricky." - Lea

"This person who has done harm is much more likely to learn and be accountable while in community than feeling that the community abandoned them. But you can still ask for boundaries and express concerns and needs." - Stas

"You need to actually have conversations and determine what's important to you in your individual relationships. We can't make assumptions about the entire community. Get specific and less vague." - Stas

"Transformative justice is not an alternative to incarceration. It's its own framework. It's not a catch-all like prisons. We can't dismantle the prison system with processes. It transforms our relationships." - Mariame

"A circle is not what an accountability process is. Also people need time to transform. 80% is the personal work and you can't do the work for them. There are tools for that process but realistically there are no alternative to months of work." - Stas

"There's always going to be mistakes. We just hope there will be different mistakes. We all make mistakes and we're all going to be human in this process." - Stas

"Anything that we can do to shift the normalization of violence. The more that we can do to be resilient and prevent things that harm us. We can do transformative organizing which is included under transformative justice framework." - Stas

"It's so empowering for everyone to know that there are ways to behave without doing harm on other people. In empowering education spaces, people won't be as defensive." - Lea

"What does remorse mean? I want to be the kind of person who understands not to do it again and do what it takes to repair. Focus less on why, more validating it, not wanting to do that again, and show what they'll do so doesn't happen again, thats the main pieces." - Stas

"We can't hold people accountable. People take accountability." - Mariame

"Be visionary. Go deep into your imagination. Do a 20 year visioning for the society you want to live in. Do transformative visioning and find ways within your locus of control to make that happen." - Lea

"Cite practitioners in academic work!" - Stas

"What we think of harm and what triggers us is not the same. The spectrum of harm is wide and vast." - Mariame

"All groups have unhealthy behaviors, that's normal. Find what you can live with and make sure it's reciprocal, which can change at times. But at a certain time, you have to ask yourself what's best for you." - Lea

"What gives people power in this community? There's always a dark side to that. What are the ways people enforce 'you are less powerful'? In activist spaces, there's a power in the role of victim, but we can create power in working through pain." - Stas

"Part of what we're doing is that we also harm people. We have to hold both things with intention in how to create a culture where's it's the norm to take accountability." - Mariame

Lea, Sonya, Stas, Nuri

Lea, Sonya, Stas, Nuri

The Conference

We landed in NYC for the conference and immediately upon arriving at the hotel we ran into two of our favorite humans and RJ practitioners from the Ahimsa Collective - Sonya Shah & Nuri Nusrat. We knew we were in the right place and couldn’t wait to meet more amazing people and learn from their experiences.

Before the conference officially started many of us who currently practice conflict intervention and harm response came together for a day of sharing tools and discussing strategies. This was like a dream come true for Lea and I (Stas) because we were able to meet or reconnect with many facilitators from organizations we are inspired by and authors of essays and toolkits we use in our practice - like Mimi Kim of Creative Interventions, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha, adrienne maree brown, Mia Mingus, Dean Spade, Ann Russo and so many more. Topics we learned about include conflict communication styles and strategies to work with them; disability justice and care labor; locating your work within geographic knowledge; when not to do an accountability process; and incorporating restorative practices in organizations.

Participants in practitioner skillshare

Participants in practitioner skillshare

Lea, Stas, and adrienne maree brown

Lea, Stas, and adrienne maree brown

The conference itself was a wealth of information in addition to plenaries on “What is Accountability?” and “Addressing Harm” there were dozens of workshops - up to 10 at a time making it almost impossible to choose which one to attend! Our workshop was on how to integrate consent education into TJ processes, including our unique approach to power mapping and analyzing fictional scenarios to identify choice points and strategies for intervention. April was also when we launched our Consent Workbook so we were able to share that with participants in our workshop as well as other practitioners we connected with throughout the weekend and activities.

While we were there Mariame informed us that the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) was making a video series with the presenters. With the event being sold out this (as well as the webinar we featured above) was a strategy to make information and resources from this unique event more accessible to folks who were interested. We were happy to support! We loved meeting Hope from BCRW and really enjoyed filming the interview. The videos from that interview series are included below - more should be coming out in the coming months, so sign up for our newsletter to hear when they are released!

IMG_7349 (1).JPG

While we were in NYC we also got to facilitate two trainings with Girls for Gender Equity. Our first training was with the staff on best practices to integrate trans* and nonbinary youth into programs originally designed for girls. Our second training was a story based training on navigating power dynamics in relationships with their Sisters in Strength program.

GGE staff training

GGE staff training

GGE staff training

GGE staff training

Michelle Greer of GGE

Michelle Greer of GGE

GGE Sisters in Strength Coordinators

GGE Sisters in Strength Coordinators

Overall, we had a great time in NYC and are happy to share some of what we learned and resources for you to integrate into your practice! Remember to join our Patreon for even more resources and a chance to chat directly with us and other practitioners about these topics and more.

PRIDE: Queer & Trans Resource Guide

In honor of Pride Month 2019, the team at Spring Up, a queer and trans led multimedia artivist collective shifting culture to address/prevent gender based violence through consent education and transformative justice, felt it crucial to create a robust queer and trans specific survival guide to increase accessibility to the tools, resources, and services many in our communities need.

Stas Schmiedt, Co-Founder & Co-Director at Spring Up during our #ConsentAnd Pride episode of our podcast - linked below

Stas Schmiedt, Co-Founder & Co-Director at Spring Up during our #ConsentAnd Pride episode of our podcast - linked below

We know that from birth, queer and trans people are forced into rigid confines of identity, gender, and sex, and are target to violence of many forms when we disrupt societal norms and bravely live out our wholeness and truths. We also know that to maintain a constructed sense of “normalcy” where “women” and “men” are seen as opposite in nature and complementary with each other (heteronormativity), society criminalizes our queer, trans, and non-binary bodies and erases our existence on deeply entrenched systemic scales. As a result, even though we experience violence at higher rates, those who are meant to care for us, support our healing, and facilitate our survival (social service workers, healthcare providers, etc.) rarely have been educated with the knowledge necessary to interact with our bodies in healthy, liberating ways.

For centuries, our transcestors and freedom fighters have struggled to create alternatives to these harmful institutions by building spaces rooted in disruption of society’s traps. They created mutual aid networks, built safe houses, curated pleasure and joy spaces, and actively resisted layered systems of oppression by intentionally connecting across race, gender, class and livelihood. To honor them and the many queer and trans people who’ve lost their lives to violence over the years, we’ve created this guide to uplift the existence of spaces built for us, by us, and with our needs in mind. From resources on how to support incarcerated queer and trans people to finding an LGBTQIA+ affirming health care provider, the guide is a starting point to mapping out the tools necessary for our collective freedoms and survival.  

Alongside the many resources listed in the guide below, our team has curated and embedded a queer and trans safety and self care plan. As queer and trans folks, we’re conditioned to continually violate our sense of self and accomodate the needs of those around us to feel safe and establish a sense of belonging. The safety and self care plan challenges those interacting with it to honor the self with activities to:

  1. Identify one’s internal boundaries (physical, mental, sexual, spiritual etc.) with boundary mapping tools.

  2. Lay out one’s support systems to enhance self and community resiliency.

  3. Identify and honor one’s self-care and healing practices.

  4. Recognize signs of trigger, anxiety, depression, etc. and intentionally surface practices to ground and care for one’s self.




A Space for Dialogue: Our #ConsentAnd Pride Podcast

To hold space for open, vulnerable dialogue exploring how we move to create these healthy, liberating spaces embodiment of a culture of consent rooted in communal agency and commitment to meeting the needs of those most marginalized, we spoke to Helen Pena, founder of (F)empower, and Bernice Mulenga, of PxssyPalace, on our #ConsentAnd Pride podcast episode. Both are femme, queer, and trans-led arrivist collectives raising queer feminist consciousness by creating empowered safe spaces for QTPOC communities to collaborate, learn, unlearn, teach, showcase, and play together. They’ve intentionally created community policies and guidelines to reduce the harm and violence experienced by queer, trans, and non-binary folks of color. Access these guides for ideas on how to curate your own events among the resources listed above and listen to their stories and journey with building spaces embodiment of a culture of harm reduction, safety, and consent at



Identification Changes

Police & Prisons


A Space for Survival and Healing: We first shared our QT Safety & Self Care Plan at the South Florida TransCon hosted by the Aqua Foundation

Over the years, we’ve held space to facilitate trainings, workshops, survivor healing circles, organizational culture shifts, among many other things, for those in communities seeking space to heal from trauma, address harm, and respond to/prevent gender based violence. Earlier this year, we facilitated a workshop on transformative justice and community accountability for the Miami trans and non-binary community at the Aqua Foundation’s annual Transcon. We provided as a resource for the very first time our queer and trans safety and self care plan to intentionally build community support and resiliency. Download it and explore the rest of the resource guide below


Consent Workbook Zine (Set of 5)

Order a pack of zines for you and your friends, colleagues, or students. We choose to sell in sets of five because we want communities to skill up together. If you just want one copy, we will send you one if you subscribe as a $5 or higher patron at

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#CultivateConsent: New Post & New Blog Location

We have migrated the blog to medium! You will get sneak peaks at the posts here and then can click through to read the full story.

We will Inspire people to bond around creating fulfilling relationships more than survivor stories. We will encourage celebration of personal growth and compassionate communication rather than traumatic histories. We will proudly declare ourselves Thrivers rather than Survivors. We will free ourselves from the cage of oppression and create a culture of healthy sexuality in which people of all sexual identities thrive.” — Emilee Coulter-Thompson in Queering Sexual Violence Anthology

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we welcome you to the Spring Up family to join us in imagining, creating, building, and supporting each other in the quest to cultivate a culture of consent and liberty for all! We are a small team of queer and trans anti-violence organizers striving to build community and an alternative culture of being in the world through consent education and transformative justice at the forefront of social justice movements fighting for our collective freedoms and liberation.

As we launch the #CultivateConsent campaign to envision a world where we are in healthier relationships with one another, I find myself reflecting on my own journey with consent and sexual harm over the years. I’m a queer non-binary femme fluid survivor of gender based violence who continues to question what a younger me would’ve needed to feel safe, heard, and held in a world where queer kids are told we don’t belong or deserve a life worth living. So I ask myself, what would I have needed to transform the negative experiences I had with gender identity and sex growing up to be more positive and rooted in mutual respect of boundaries, open communication, and genuine love and curiosity? What would those who harmed me have needed to see and feel clearly why their actions were violent to my body to shift and change their behaviours? What form of support would I have needed to not be complicit in harm against others around me in community, to stand up for those like me and not feel helpless when I saw them being attacked? I’m sure many of you have similar questions and find yourselves here on the quest for answers. That is exactly why we’re embarking on this campaign. We’re raising awareness of the root causes of violence in our communities and increasing accessibility of tools and resources that can equip us to build a new world rooted in love together. But first, before we dive in, here’s a bit of my personal story exploring what brings me to this work:

click here to read the full article

How to Create a Future We Actually Want to Live In

What will it take to save the world? That's the question we set ourselves to in our latest TED talk, which is now finally available to watch online. Because things are not okay. We are storytellers- and that’s why the futures we see depicted in media about the future like Mad Max, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Interstellar concern us even more than what we see scrolling through our social media feeds and inbox every day. Because what we imagine, we are likely to create. And if we don’t imagine futures we are excited to live in, it’s unlikely that things will get better.

Think about it- do you believe our planet and humanity will survive to the year 3000? If not, why? Is it the collapse of civil society, crumbling infrastructure, melting icecaps, accelerating automation, disappearing jobs and economic security, pandemics, extreme weather events, bioweapons, nuclear weapons, rock bottom trust levels in our political system, rising sea levels, unpayable student debt burdens, resource deserts, or the fact that we’ve recently entered the sixth mass extinction? Even if we do figure out how to survive - what will our lives look like? Will they be worth living? It seems like we are living in a dystopia, about to become an apocalyptic horror.

We think that we've found an alternative. In our TED talk, The Millennial Mindset Can Save The World, we present the shifts in values that will allow us to change the course of our future. We call this new paradigm “The Millennial Mindset” both because these values are commonly held among people of our generation and because we believe these are the shifts necessary for us as a planet and human species to make it through the next millennium.

Who are millennials? We argue that anyone shaped by this time of transition with the will and skills to imagine and create the future is a millennial: a person of this still-new millennium, learning from the last one and trying to get us to the next one. The millennial mindset embraces innovation, community-mindedness, and a liberatory frame. It’s not narcissistic or apathetic- it rejects traditions of hierarchy, oppression, stigma, identity politics, corruption, and unsustainable, exploitative strategies of development that will kill us all off long before the year 3000.

The millennial mindset is not impractical or self-indulgent- it is aligned with the economy of the future, in which uniquely human skills will be at a premium in a time of mass automation. In the new, evolving economy, we will all need to be lifelong learners- without going into debilitating debt.

This is why we are launching a new learning platform with the mission of “education for liberation.” Our digital school embraces the millennial mindset, humanities, and liberatory arts, uplifting the voices and important contributions of millennials of many ages and backgrounds to create a space of community wisdom in which to imagine futures we want to live in.

Spring Up School is a versatile learning community for the new millennium.

Our goal is to bring together thought leaders, changemakers, and lifelong learners to catalyze a shift towards a more imaginative and empathetic society.

We believe in the power of the liberatory arts (humanities, arts, social sciences) and use storytelling and dialogue to facilitate personal and collective transformation.

We view education as a mutual process- everyone has wisdom to share and something to learn.

Sign up to learn more about classes and registration at Spring Up School. Contribute. Inspire. Be part of the change necessary to create a future we can thrive in together.

As Einstein said, you can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. We need to use our collective wisdom to solve the enormous problems we face. If we want to get some solutions, we need to lift up and center the voices and perspectives of people who have been marginalized, who have been pushed out of the center of the society of the past, because those living on the margins are closer to stepping over the edge... and leading the way to the future that awaits us on the other side.


Oh... and watch our TED talk to get started in upgrading your millennial mindset:

According to most science fiction, humanity's future is bleak. As storytellers, Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth know that what we imagine we are likely to create, so in this conversational and entertaining talk they share the three components of the millennial mindset we all need to build a future we actually want to live in.

Futures to Watch Out For: 28 of the BEST Sci Fi Movie Trailers

So I (Nastassja) am a huge movie buff - I am particularly obsessed with speculative fiction. Toni Cade Bambara said the purpose of a writer, or storyteller, "is to make revolution irresistible" and  the stories told in speculative fiction often do that by highlighting the potential of the future. The potential isn't always good - more often than not these stories highlight futures to watch out for, and tell the stories of visionaries and leaders trying to right the wrongs of a system meant to erase or squander the beauty and potential of humanity. They often speak to our fears, and mirror or reverse major events from history - whether it is a fear of robotization that highlights our existential fear of limitation & our humanity in a capitalist and production oriented world; or a fear of some foreign species coming out of nowhere, colonizing our lands, committing genocide, and trying to enslave us...hmmm sound familiar? 

Lea Roth and I (partners, storytellers, and founders of Spring Up) open up our TEDxNYU talk with a dramatic poem made up of quotes from science fiction trailers about dystopian & apocalyptic futures. The research and preparation to make that poem was really fun and entertaining so we decided to make a post with most (not all) of the trailers we combed to find these great quotes. Can you tell which lines came from which trailers? Let us know your answers / guesses in the comments below. I've sorted the video's into different types of horrible apocalyptic disturbances like Robots, Global Warming, Zombies, Aliens, etc. I thought it would be a good resource to find out some cool movies, or just trailers, to check out for any movie buffs or just folx who are trying to figure out what to watch next!

Here is our TEDx talk called "The Millennial Mindset Can Save the World" as a reference. 

"According to most science fiction, humanity's future is bleak. As storytellers, Nastassja Schmiedt and Lea Roth know that what we imagine we are likely to create, so in this conversational and entertaining talk they share the three components of the millennial mindset we all need to build a future we actually want to live in."

These are some of my favorite trailers and movies - some are visionary fiction that cause us to reflect on the way we treat others and what we should value within humanity, and others are just plain entertaining.

P.S. I give a brief explanation of each movie here but if you want to just watch the trailers straight through most of them are on our youtube playlist here.


Ex Machina: This film is cray in a very white techy male fears power femme "does she actually care about me or is she just manipulating me to escape imprisonment and torture" kind of way. It definitely links to this issue of like, why do these inventors always use the robots they make for sex? It definitely toys with your emotions, but I think its a really good conversation starter. Plus this trailer has some really great moments. 

Terminator: there are like 5 Terminator movies, so I included the most recent trailer. In the first few movies its so obvious that Arnold is the good/bad guy and the girl he is trying to save is basically oblivious (+ its not really about her anywayz its about saving her unborn son...) but the newest one she looks like a badass so I am optimistic. This is a total classic tho and defo worth it for any scifi fan.

The Matrix: this is also a series / trilogy, so I included the last film trailer that focuses more on the robot world. This is a total masterpiece. Like there have been dissertations written about the depths of this series. I personally make references to it regularly. FYI tho a black woman, Sophia Stewart, claims that the Wachowski sisters (the directors) actually ripped off this idea from her book from the 1980s - you can look into it and decide for yourself (she says the above terminator ripped off her story too). 

IRobot: So you will see that Will Smith is a recurring figure in the dystopian future - maybe the only black person other than Samuel L Jackson who consistently seems to survive lol. This movie is ... a lot. Honestly I went to see it in theaters with my friend and she fell asleep. I still think its worth a watch - and this trailer definitely is.

RoboCop: the original is a classic, but the trailer for the 2014 remake has Samuel L Jackson and some great quotes. This definitely can cause some anxieties about the future of militarized police, and explores the line between man and machine (like all of these). I haven't actually seen this movie but I'm pretty sure I've seen the trailer like 5 times. 

Climate Change & Water / Food Shortages

Mad Max: Fury Road. So people seem to love this movie. The visual effects are AWESOME, and in my opinion totally show up for being based on a graphic novel. It has some pretty feminist themes but I found the story line a bit difficult to follow / slow / not all that much there. Still totally worth the watch, I mean I love absurdist end of the world kind of crazy stuff so I reallllly wanted to love this - you check it out and let me know what you think. It is making some clear references to climate change and water / gas scarcity in the future though.

Interstellar: This movie is MIND-BLOWING! It plays with time in a super innovative way, and honestly blew me away. I think its not super identity conscious, and the idea that we are just leaving the earth behind to colonize the stars kind of rubs me the wrong way but idk I like it when Lauren Olamina says it so...

The Day After Tomorrow: This movie is literally the most. Like I remember seeing it in theaters and being like WTF is this what global warming is gonna be like! Would it really all happen overnight? They successfully convey the urgency that we don't want to wait until it's too late. Its a total classic, and the scenes in the library really stick with you / make you think where would be your safe haven? 

San Andreas: So I haven't actually seen this film but from what I gather... its mostly like this trailer. It explores the idea of the tectonic plates shifting and causing even bigger earthquakes in California... and then the rest of the USA or world? Thank goodness Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson is there to save as many people as possible though - what would we do without him?!

Wall-E: FAV. like literally if you haven't seen it you have to. It is so well done and thought provoking - I wasn't sure if I should include it in this section but it takes place after the Earth is no longer inhabitable so I decided to put it here. It manages to say so much without having all that many words and being a kids movie. My favorite line is pretty far in when one of the humans says "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" - it's totally a moment about humanism and value to life that is super moving. 

Reproductive Changes

Children of Men: ok actually I lied... this is my FAV. If you haven't seen it, close this - no scratch that don't close this you can come back to it after - but open another tab and find this movie and watch it right now. It is SOOOO good. That is all. Go watch now.

Gattaca: Ok so total classic, also a must see. This movie explores self-determination and accessibility and the idea of designer babies. Uma Thurman is great, Jude Law before his hairline started receding so much, a space mission to Mars. Super worth it.

Handmaid's Tale: OK I know its a TV show not a movie but I HAD to. There are a lot of mixed feelings about how the tv show handles race / moves away from the book later in the season, but it was done in partnership with Margaret Atwood and I think is completely worth watching and then having those conversations about race. 


Arrival: so don't kill me but I haven't seen Arrival yet! It looks great and I really want to see it, but I just haven't gotten a chance yet. Let me know what you think though! Yay Amy Adams.

District 9: MUST SEE. Like for real... this movie was on a shockingly low budget for the quality of the effects, it is brilliantly written and directed. Its a bit difficult to watch but ultimately completely worth it. This would definitely be on my top 3 or 5 speculative fiction movies so if you haven't seen it you totally have to. 

Avatar: Avatar is basically a beautiful outer space rendition of Pocahontas. Its about space colonization (No I don't mean that in a good way) - this white dude becomes the savior of this indigenous community in a gorgeous land that he was brought to colonize. That said, I think the effects are literally out of this world, like super good, and I think its worth the watch. I know I wanted to go to Pandora (and now we can since Disney opened up the Pandora park).

Alien: Like Terminator, this is a series that started a long time ago and has a new one coming out soon so I included the new trailer. This series is SO INTENSE. It seriously fucks with you - so if you like that go for it, if not - be prepared. 

Independence Day: the first movie came out in 1996 and a new one came out in 2016, but I decided to include the original, so enjoy this classic trailer! This is another Will Smith moment, the film is kind of kitchy and funny and the trailer does a great job of capturing the tone.... or maybe its just from the 90s?


World War Z: ok I also haven't actually seen this one. I'm not super into zombies - sorry! but I have heard pretty good things about it  & the trailer is pretty sick.

28 Days Later: This is a classic - the creators have made some other awesome trippy movies. Its pretty low budget and avant garde but a really good reference. Also I think relatively realistic of what it would be like if shit hit the fan and everyone really became zombies like a terrible epidemic.

Mental Manipulation

Equilibrium: this movie is totally underrated but awesome. It has Taye Diggs.. the concept is awesome. I'm hoping it will have a come back / moment some time soon. 

Planet of the Apes: This is another epic movie series, because there is the oldie original and then a contemporary trilogy. This one - Rise of the Planet of the Apes is my favorite. It really explores some complex ideas about intelligence, scientific research, and self-determinism. 

The Giver: so I LOVED this book - did you know it is actually a whole series of books? I think they did a good job with the movie (+ there is Meryl Streep). 

Minority Report: They made a TV show of Minority Report recently but I haven't seen it. The movie is a total classic and I think is you know, like any Tom Cruise vs world movie, but in the future and with some really interesting concepts like the precogs and fate / destiny. 

Misc. / Bonus

In Time: so despite a terrible rating on RottonTomatoes, I think this movie is hilarious and awesome. It's a really interesting frame on capitalism with the idea that time is the currency. I mean it is totally scientifically coming from nowhere so a lot of people dislike it, but I genuinely enjoyed it. 

The Hunger Games: I had to include it!! This trilogy is epic and Katniss Everdeen is a badass. This is the trailer for the first film - they are pretty easy to watch and pretty seamless with each other so I would suggest watching them back to back if you have the time / energy. It is kind of a less gory / scary Battle Royale that explores the idea of gladiatorial battles for entertainment / a social scapegoating mechanism and has a really interesting social stratification. The costumes & make ups are awesome. 

Enders Game: ok one more young adult book adaptation. This one is about video games and is still a great watch if you haven't read the books. 

Black Panther -- I couldn't make a list of trailers right now without including it!!! If you haven't sen this trailer WATCH IT NOW! the movie doesn't come out for another year, boo :( but the trailer is awesome for sooo many reasons. I mean the poster of the movie is a reference to Huey Newton of the Black Panthers, allllll the black actors showed up for it, and its a gorgeous take on afrofuturism.

CONGRATS on making it to the end!!!

If you love media, and think it's imperative that we learn from history to live in the present and create a future we actually want to live in, sign up below to hear more about our Wake Up! course on mindful social change through media, creativity, and community building.

Free Mindful Relationships Summit

The Mindful Relationship Free Online Summit: May 17-21

Nastassja & Lea will be hosting a session about choosing your story, creativity in the healing process, and growing together in relationship on Day 3 (Friday) of this fantastic event!! Their talk will be available for free for 48 hours. 

Join this free online summit and learn what top psychologists, relationship experts, and mindfulness teachers have to say about modern relationships, communication, and staying in love.

You’ll learn from over 20 renowned teachers including Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Dr. Rick Hanson, Sharon Salzberg, Acharya Fleet Maull, Susan Piver, Dr. Kristin Neff, Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, Rev. angel Kyodo Williams, Dr. Stan Tatkin, Lodro Rinzler, Danielle LaPorte, and many more.

Over the course of five days, the Summit will explore insights and practical tools for building healthy relationships with ourselves, others, and our world.

Day One: Mindful Relationships
Day Two: Falling in Love
Day Three: Growing in Love and Losing Love
Day Four: Standing in Love and Staying in Love
Day Five: Love as a Spiritual Path

Register for free by clicking here and get access to all 20 summit sessions and guided meditations from May 17-21. ((the content will be available as a resource package for sale after the 5 days of the event))

Watch & Share our TEDx Talk: Cultivating a Culture of Consent

We had the honor of presenting a TEDx talk last October in New York City. The event was about "practicing change" and was focused on how our inner work can shape and improve the work we do in the world. We decided to talk about our path of healing from trauma into writing our book, Millennial Sex (Education). The video was just posted on TEDx's official youtube, so you can see it below! 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and we are grateful to have this opportunity to share a message of healing, love, & consent during this time. Please help us get this message to those who need it! We created shareable images and tweets to make it easier for you to spread the word (those are also included below).

here are some shareable images :)

here are some tweets you can use!

relevant hashtags: #cultivateconsent #millennialsexeducation #nastassjalea #timetospringup

short link:

To end rape culture & anti-queerness, we have 2 start w/ the ways we internalized these beliefs #cultivateconsent

I am loved just because I exist, I don’t need to become anyone other than who I am to deserve love #cultivateconsent

Learning to love each other no matter what was the silver bullet to the shame we held from our trauma

Sex education should prepare people to develop healthy sexual & gender expression #millennialsexeducation

Sex Ed in the US has been motivated by goals of abstinence & heterosexuality - not wellness #millennialsexeducation

American sex ed has used shame & scare tactics to try to limit & control youth sexuality #millennialsexeducation

Demonizing queerness & presenting sex as dangerous leads to shame, victimblaming. This is the core of #rapeculture

We use storytelling to inspire sharing & authentic dialogue, dissolving the stigma & shame enabling rape culture.

Access to information we need to make choices about our bodies & futures is a human right #millennialsexeducation

When anyone’s story is erased, when ways of being are lost, we end entire worlds #nastassjalea #cultivateconsent

The stories erased from society are the missing link to understanding our collective challenges. #timetospringup

Practicing consent is choosing to see humanity in others, especially when challenged #cultivateconsent

A culture of consent is one of unconditional love, empathy, and listening to each other’s stories #cultivateconsent

Nastassja Reads "Consent" Monologue from Millennial Sex Education at SHEroes No Fly On The Wall

We had the amazing opportunity to read from Millennial Sex Education at a local black women's event in London. 

Nastassja Schmiedt, co-author of Millennial Sex Education and co-founder of Spring Up, reads a monologue about consent at the SHEroes event hosted by No Fly on the Wall in London on March 24, 2016. Millennial Sex Education is available for free download at www.timetospring.up/millennialsexeducation

Thanksgiving: A Story of Solidarity

"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." -Marcus Garvey

This Thanksgiving, with such horrible things happening to our First Nations siblings, I found a story that brings me hope, reminds us of our history of solidarity and fighting for liberation, the land, and what is right. This is the story of the first attempted European colony on contemporary US land. It's a surprising story about solidarity that places Black and Indigenous people at the root of what it means to be American.

Give thanks as a verb and support Standing Rock this Thanksgiving:

StartingBloc: NOLA '16

I want to take some space to explain what StartingBloc is, and what our experience at the New Orleans Institute this year was like. The experience will be outlined over the next couple of posts.

StartingBloc is a global Fellowship for social impact change makers. The StartingBloc Institute is a dynamic 5-day conference where Fellows learn from proven change-makers, are pushed to take bigger risks, and find life-long allies. Once the conference is over, you are part of the global fellowship which consists of 2,500 change makers passionate leaders  in 56 different countries who have each others’ backs. Learn more here!


we actually won the pitch competition!

we actually won the pitch competition!

Road Trip to New Orleans!

We drove 900 miles from Miami to get to New Orleans by May 19th for the Starting Bloc Institute for Social Innovation. The institute brings together fellows from all over the world for a series of workshops and activities designed to inspire, instruct, and stretch our limits.
We had the wonderful opportunity to attend the institute thanks to Starting Bloc for a partial scholarship, 54 generous donors who helped us raise $2,240 to cover the rest of our tuition and transportation, and to Danielle Dirks and Caroline Heldman for hosting us in Orlando (on the way) and in New Orleans.


On Learning to Code Switch and Falling In-between Identities

**This post was originally published in Blavity**

It has been such a journey figuring out how to convey who and "what" I am. I was born on November 25th during an 'American Thanksgiving Party' in Florence, Italy to an African-American mother and Italian father. As a baby, I had very light skin, blue eyes and patches of straight blonde hair. My mother says that even Italian people thought I was German or Nordic, and my Nonna felt disappointed that I wasn't the "chocolate treat" she was hoping for. Sooner or later, my melanin kicked inmy hair started to curl and Nonna got her wish.

My parents decided to move to the USA for more opportunities and a better education for me. My mother had gone to an HBCU and felt it was important for me, as a black person, to be educated in the U.S. It was always important to her that I understood I was black and Italian, even though I had light eyes and hair, spoke English and lived in Miami, FL now.

Translating my identity to the people around me, however, proved to be more difficult.

People often asked "What are you?" or tried to guess—

"Umm, are you Brazilian? Moroccan? No, wait, don't tell me... Dominican?"

When I said "Italian" — I was born there, after all — I only got dumbfounded looks.

"No... I mean... you have to be mixed with something, right?"

"My mother is African American."

"Ooh. I thought it was more exotic."

Exotic. I got that one a lot. I think that's part of the reason my mom tried so hard to remind me of my heritage. No matter who I was speaking to, the assumption was always that I was different from them; an apparition from some distant place where the people are beautiful and seduce you in a foreign tongue. I started modeling at six months old, and some of my earliest memories are of being marketed as exotic. As I got older, my 'mom-ager' saw this as an opportunity. I would show up to all the casting calls. Looking for a black child? Sign me up. A Latino child? That's me, too.

Here I am modeling for a German catalogue.

I remember going in to meet with clients and they would ask, as usual, "So, what are you?"

I responded, as rehearsed, "What are you looking for?"

They would usually chuckle — what a precocious child —- and insist, "No, really sweetie, where are you from?"

"I can be whatever you want me to be. I bet you couldn't guess where I'm from, and neither will the customer."

I was very successful. Hiring me checked most of the boxes, made your brand seem inclusive and relatable to the 'other.'

Photoshoot with Bruce Weber for spread in W magazine in 2004

This was my childhood. I was a shapeshifter, hyper-aware of the way identity was constructed through performance. Outside of modeling, I went to a Jewish elementary school and thought kosher meant 'healthy' (kind of like organic), until I transferred to an all-girls Catholic school; meanwhile, I lived on and off with my two best friends (and fellow child-models) who were Taiwanese, so I started learning Mandarin, Mahjong and Buddhist practices. People often tell children "You can be anything!" I don't think they usually mean it literally.

As an adult, I think back on this time and recognize my privilege. I'm reminded of who wasn't chosen for the job when I'm outraged to see Zoe Saldana chosen to play Nina Simone. Joseph Fiennes cast as Michael Jackson. How much was I appropriating other people's identities for financial means? Was it my choice? Did I even understand why they cast me? I was immersed in so many cultures, it often did seem as easy as putting on a costume, doing my makeup a bit different and adapting my dialect. There were layers and layers of code-switching.

I also remember what effect this had on me, as a child just beginning to understand who I was; what it meant to be everything and nothing at the same time. How my 'exoticism' caused me to be sexualized even as a young child. I still flinch thinking about how many older men leered at me asking when I would turn 18, even when I was pre-pubescent. And then I remember that Zoe Saldana has played multiple types of "sexy aliens" as well. The fetishization of the other is encoded in my unfamiliar features.

Photo by John Fisher in 2005

Outside of 'work,' it was important to me to create and express my own identity. I identified as a tomboy, although I loved bright colors and patterns, psychedelic '70s style (especially bellbottom jumpsuits), costumes and make-up. I remember going to South Beach for Halloween and seeing drag queens in the most amazing clothes I had ever seen. I loved it immediately.

I got my own first dose of drag in a photoshoot for Tommy HIlfiger when one of the boy models didn't show up. The producers were angry and didn't know what to do with the shots they had planned for him. I knew this was my opportunity and I offered to take his spot. This opened up a whole new set of castings I could show up for.

In this context the code-switch felt more subversive. I looked up to my mom's friend Nicole (a beautiful, talented, unashamed drag queen) who inspired me to see genderbending as liberatory and radical. For a female person to successfully perform masculinity and a male person to intentionally choose to embody femininity is a spit in the face to patriarchy. What I didn't know how to integrate was how much of my masculinity was a performance and how much of it was what made me feel more comfortable. My masculinity was often dismissed because of my love for the flamboyant and femme, but as a genderqueer adult I reject the fact that as a female-bodied person I have to only perform traditional masculinity for it to be recognized as legitimate.

I prided myself on my ability to become what other people were looking for. But as I grew older it got harder and harder to distinguish between what was the performance and what was me. Slipping between the lines gave me the opportunity to fit anywhere; on the other hand, it also meant the real me often fell between the cracks. I remember friends telling me I wasn't black because I was Italian, and being othered as the black American cousin when I visited family in Italy; casting directors telling me I didn't 'sound black,' and school bullies calling me n****r as they pulled on my afro.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was black Italian, but when that was so consistently erased by my surroundings, did my opinion count? If race is performative, then did my self-identity mean anything if it was not mirrored and recognized within my performance? Every person of color I know has had to learn to code-switch. And the reality is that performance is incentivized. If I put on the right costume, dialect, and respond with the right scripts for the gender and race I am expected to perform there are financial and social benefits. I learned this at a very young age, which sometimes causes me to blame myself these days for the social and financial repercussions of choosing to subvert these expectations in favor of a more accurate performance of self.

In a society that chants "Be you! Be unique!" it can be really hard to figure out what that means. What is 'me' when there have been so many iterations of my self?

Modeling as a child was an eye-opening experience. I learned that race and gender are performative, as well as what types of performances are incentivized and when. I learned to code-switch, but I also learned how successful code-switching can create a mask for the self in exchange for affirmation. I got to see behind the scenes of the construction of a narrative meant to sell a product through the commodification of the other. I became that other.

At the same time, I missed many of those developmental benchmarks, the moments when you come to understand yourself and share that realization with friends going through a similar experience. Being grounded in who you are is fundamental to living in a coercive and oppressive society that often makes people of color, gender non-conforming people, and really anyone who is outside of the norm feel less than, while still chanting praises for the unique and telling you to "be yourself!"

For so long I felt I could be anything, but didn't know who I actually was. What does it mean to just be myself? How much of identity is predetermined and unchanging and how much of it is chosen? How much of identity is performance and does that performance have to be seen for it to be real? How much of code-switching is a natural response to changing environments and how much of it is redefining the self for social affirmation and survival? I'm still working on figuring out the answers.

Standing With Lady Gaga as a Queer, Black Survivor Activist at the Academy Awards

**this post was originally published on huffingtonpost on March 7, 2016**

I was finally in bed at 3 a.m. trying to fall asleep when I got the email:


I opened it immediately.

“Exciting news! Lady Gaga has invited you all to join her on-stage at the Academy Awards to stand together as she performs her Academy Award-nominated song ‘Til It Happens to You.’”

I was invited to participate because the documentary The Hunting Ground — for which the song was written — had featured my activism and personal experience with sexual assault. I was overwhelmed with emotions:

1. It had been a dream of mine since I was a child to attend the Academy Awards. I was a child actor, joined the Screen Actors Guild around age four, and watched the Oscars every year. Although this was not how I imagined it happening, this was a dream come true.

2. I have been a huge fan of Lady Gaga since 2008 when her music first came out and I dressed up as her for Halloween.

Nastassja dressed as Gaga in 2009

Nastassja dressed as Gaga in 2009

3. All I have been hearing about the Academy Awards is #Oscarssowhite; in fact I have participated in tweeting and tumbling about #Oscarssowhite since one of the things that infuriates me the most as an independent media creator is the way the media celebrates hetero-white mediocrity while erasing or tokenizing the rest of us.

4. While The Hunting Ground brought a lot of attention to the issue of sexual assault, its depictions of survivors’ stories felt tokenizing and upheld stereotypes of rape that alienate many survivors. How would this performance be any different?

I debated whether or not I should go; whether my appearance within this performance would also be tokenizing and uphold the idea that the Oscars and media depictions of rape are “more diverse” than they often are. My parents told me I was being ridiculous; obviously I had to go. And the reality is that I wanted to give myself this experience, but not to let my expectations get too high. I was excited that my fiancee was also invited to attend and thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have together.

Nastassja and fiancée Lea Roth at the Academy Awards

Nastassja and fiancée Lea Roth at the Academy Awards

Upon arriving at Dolby Theater a few days before the show for our first rehearsal, I saw a large crowd of people, and found out there would be 51 of us participating. I saw friends, people I knew online but had never met in person, activists and artists I had admired from afar, and friendly strangers. There were men, women, genderqueer and trans* people of many races. I was shocked. It wasn’t until we were all in one room waiting for rehearsal that it really hit me that this was the largest group of survivors I had ever been around. Our backgrounds and experiences were diverse in a way that felt authentic and pluralistic, not tokenizing. Yet there was almost an immediate sense of understanding.

As I got to know the different survivors I was astounded by their passion, empathy and brilliance. What united us all were experiences of violation and the willingness to speak up about it. What was most powerful was that we made few assumptions about anyone else’s experience. The context and unique betrayals surrounding each survivor’s experience are their own, but the themes of trauma, and trust; healing and the many forms of activism were where we found plenty of common ground. I didn’t feel judged, or questioned. And that means a lot. Multiple people asked me what gender pronouns I go by (they, them, theirs by the way). To me, meeting these survivor activists, getting to know them, and bonding (including getting matching tattoos!) was the highlight of my weekend.

Nastassja pictured back left, with Lady Gaga and the other survivors from the performance

Nastassja pictured back left, with Lady Gaga and the other survivors from the performance

There were also moments of tension, like the numerous times people working on the performance or the show referred to the group as “ladies” or “girls” despite our continued protest that these labels did not represent us as a group, and honestly made many of us uncomfortable. I don’t think people even realized what they were saying, and although some tried to shift their language, it was obviously awkward and unnatural. They were very affirming and supportive of us (much more so than many administrators at our universities), but I bring this up to say that this language is the norm when discussing sexual assault. With this, a crime of power implicitly becomes a “women’s issue.” This contradiction manifested in my life when I started doing activism around sexual assault, and another black campus activist confronted me saying I was dealing with a “white woman’s issue” despite the fact that women of color are twice as likely to be assaulted. Even when Vice President Joe Biden made his speech and spoke to us afterward he continued to use this gendered language, as well as implying that all perpetrators are men. That “boys” and “guys” take advantage of “girls” and “ladies.” But both my partner and I were assaulted by women. And while I think an analysis of masculinity is necessary in discussing rape culture, I think simplifying language that implies one universal rape narrative distances far more survivors than it unifies.

Nastassja on stage at the Academy Awards

Nastassja on stage at the Academy Awards

LGBTQ students are twice as likely to experience sexual violence than heterosexual students. Rates of domestic violence are also higher within the LGBT community, but less reported. Narrow legal definitions used in some universities and states make it particularly difficult for queer and gender non-conforming survivors to seek justice; from defining only vaginal penetration as rape to directly excluding same sex assault. This is why the gendered language was so triggering as it was used over and over again. It is this framework that makes it harder for us to come forward or be believed.

Historically, sexual violence has also been used as a widespread tool of power and genocide against people of color as well as queer people, so the dueling activist narratives of sexual assault awareness, LGBT visibility, and #oscarssowhite around the Oscars also left me as a queer person of color with the feeling that some potential to name the huge ways these issues overlap was being missed. It’s time to stop siloing our movements; to develop a language and framework to name the ways violence operates interpersonally and structurally along the lines of identity and power in society. Yes, #oscarssowhite. Yes, #oscarssostraight. Yes, #itsonus, and yes #tilithappenstoyou, you won’t know how it feels. But some of us- many of us- are affected by all of these issues and are tired of having to pick a single issue on any given day depending on what’s trending.

Rape Education

**This post was originally published on huffingtonpost March 18, 2016**

Two weeks ago, millions of people watched as 51 survivors - including myself and my fiancée- standing alongside Lady Gaga delivered an unforgettable performance of “Til it Happens to You,” an original song from the campus rape documentary The Hunting Ground. Introducing the performance, Vice President Joe Biden made a powerful statement against victim blaming, inviting viewers to join him and student activists in pledging to change the culture surrounding campus sexual violence. The Hunting Ground was just made available for streaming on Netflix, so people who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the film- which screened on CNN last November and has been screened at over 1,000 colleges and universities in the last year- will be able to see it and learn more about the issue. I challenge anyone to watch the film, or Lady Gaga’s performance, and not come away sharing the Vice President’s belief that something, something needs to change.

Survivors on stage with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards on February 28th, 2016

Survivors on stage with Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards on February 28th, 2016

So what is that something?

It’s tempting- and perhaps just- when we hear about the rape epidemic on campuses to want to focus on finding and punishing the perpetrators. A bill proposed last fall, the so-called “Safe Campus Act”- sought to address this problem by instituting “mandatory reporting”- demanding that if survivors turn to their school for support, they must also go through with filing a formal report to the police. Dubbed the “(Un)Safe Campus Act” by activists, dialogue over the bill showed that focusing on prosecution and punishment rather than support and healing raises questions of believability and probability of conviction for all survivors, who are held up to the myth of the “perfect victim” and are often re-traumatized in the process.

A side effect is that this focus on prosecution and “justice” causes us to minimize the vast majority of rape and sexual assault cases that do not result in conviction and punishment of a “bad guy,” asking survivors, “Well, did you report? Were they found guilty?” If not, doubt emerges. Legally, every perpetrator deserves due process. But every survivor deserves to be believed. The two are not in conflict if our response to hearing about rape does not require that we go out and find “the bad guy,” but instead, that we support the survivor in their healing process. The truth is that “solutions” to domestic and sexual violence do not occur in a vacuum, and can cause more harm if they do not account for the real root causes of violence.

My professor once told a story about prevention that I think is applicable here. She said, “if you were standing next to a river, and saw someone in the water, drowning, you would help that person. But if another person, and another, and 10, then 100 more appeared, you would no longer be able to help them all. And after a while, you would ask why all these people were in the river, drowning. If you asked them, and they told you that someone just upstream was pushing them it, you’d solve the problem not by finding a way to rescue them all, but by stopping the person pushing them in.”

How can we prevent rape, not just prosecute and punish those responsible? One policy change that has resulted from lobbying to address this issue is “Bystander Intervention” in which students are trained to intervene in situations that look “risky.” This runs the risk of confirming stereotypes about what assault looks like, and ignores the fact that over 60-80% of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows- a friend, or a dating partner. Someone who doesn’t look ‘suspicious’- someone the victim trusts.

“Yes Means Yes” chalked on the sidewalk at University of Michigan

“Yes Means Yes” chalked on the sidewalk at University of Michigan

Many activists would point to Affirmative Consent legislation, which was signed into law by the California legislature in 2014 and is becoming the standard policy on many college campuses. Just like the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign, affirmative consent and “Consent Education” inform students of a shifting standard from “no means no,” to “yes means yes,” which means “If you don’t get affirmative and ongoing consent, it’s rape.” Sex is pretty complicated, though, and ‘doing it’ right- consensually, pleasurably- requires some pretty advanced communication and an understanding of issues from consent to anatomy, power dynamics to protection. Yes means yes... but yes to what? Anyone who’s had sex will tell you that “yes” is where the conversation begins- not where it ends.

These interventions are trying to resolve a symptom, without looking deep enough into the cause.They presume that it’s rapists who are pushing all these survivors in, and administrators and law enforcement who are neglecting their duties to identify and remove these perpetrators from campus. Or the government failing to enforce equal access legislation. Or careless students failing to look out for one another. All these may play a part in the problem- but to truly prevent this epidemic, we need to look at where young people- perpetrators and survivors alike- are learning about sex.

An “It’s On Us” commercial I’ve been seeing a lot of lately involves a variety of celebrities informing me, “There’s one thing you can’t have sex without- and that’s consent. Without consent, it’s not sex. It’s rape.” We are learning more and more about rape, but where are young people learning about sex? Primarily abstinence only educational programs that encourage students to “just say no,” to wait for marriage (even though 95% of Americans don’t)- and then engage scare tactics, or share medically inaccurate information. Meanwhile there is no shortage of sexual content in the media, never mind what young people can find on the internet. Beyond the movement to address sexual violence, other millennial feminists are raising awareness of a “bad sex” culture- in which hook ups look more like conquests, and intimacy and mutual pleasure are rare.

Me (on the right) with my fiancée/co-author, Nastassja Schmiedt, and Vice President Joe Biden holding our book Millennial Sex Education at the Academy Awards

Me (on the right) with my fiancée/co-author, Nastassja Schmiedt, and Vice President Joe Biden holding our book Millennial Sex Education at the Academy Awards

Legislation in Virginia last week mandated education about healthy relationships and consent at the high school level. After talking to young people and activists on campuses around the country, we believe that the best intervention to prevent rape is not just more education about rape- it’s comprehensive and inclusive sexual education. Without it, there is no way for young people to communicate and tell the difference between good sex, bad sex, and rape. We need to have conversations about what rape looks like and how to support survivors, but also conversations about how to have sexThat’s why my partner and I wrote a curriculum- entitled Millennial Sex Education- that models fictional stories about people engaging with the sexual culture with questions for reflection and dialogue. And that’s why we’re making an ebook of the curriculum available for free download on our website. Join us in this movement for comprehensive, inclusive sex education- and let’s end rape culture together.

Bagnos of Marina di Pietrasanta

The Tuscans have the faculty of making much of common things and converting small occasions into great pleasures.

-Henry James-

With this post, we invite you along with us to explore the idyllic Tuscan seaside area of Marina di Pietrasanta. Here, there are summer months of long days spent bronzing in the golden sun, playing in the soft sand, and cooling off in the salty Mediterranean. Life has a slower pace, a savory taste of fresh food and freedom from all external constraint.


Back to Europe

Knowmad (n): a nomadic knowledge and innovation worker; a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can ‘work’/[create] with almost anybody, anytime, anywhere. (john moravec: knowmad society. 2013)


We ( Nastassja Schmiedt & Lea Roth ) are knowmads who work locally & globally online through our social enterprise We’d been based in Miami for a while, and just published our first book ( Millennial Sex ) in August, so when we were invited to travel with Nastassja’s dad to Tuscany to spend September with their family there, we were super excited! With this post, we invite you to come along with us…

Good, Queer, Feminist Millennial Sex

**This post was originally posted on Feministing**

The following is the preface to the collection of short stories MILLENNIAL SEX: I’ve Never Done this Before. The book is available in erotic or educational (16+) editions, and explores themes of consent, desire and millennial sexuality through the experiences of six fictional narrators of different identities engaging in the sexual culture. This is the authors’ imaginative attempt at inclusive, comprehensive sexual education. Let us know what you think in the comments!

“At your age, you’re going to have a lot of urges. You’re going to want to take off your clothes, and touch each other. But if you do touch each other, you *will* get chlamydia… and die.”

Coach Carr teaches Sex Ed, Mean Girls (2004)

Millennial sexuality is a two-sided coin, subject to much speculation and titillation from the arbiters of media and culture. On one hand, we millennials were raised in a hyper-sexualized culture saturated with explicit media from the time we were young children. Yet we were also raised in a culture grappling with the internalized shadow of Puritanical sexual shame. In the height of the culture wars of the 1980s & ‘90s, we were the children whose innocence & sexual purity were defended. When it came to sex education, Coach Carr’s iconic message was echoed in the hushed voices of our shame-based caregivers and peers:

“Nobody needs to see that.”

“Don’t have sex until you’re married.”

“Don’t have sex with the wrong person.”

“Don’t have sex with too many people.”

“Don’t be a slut.”

“Don’t be a prude.”

“Your virginity is like a new car; if you dent up your sexuality, no one will want to marry you.

This advice has not served us well. The effects of our sex-negative acculturation include a legacy of sexual illiteracy, unsafe sex, and what the authors would argue is an intensification of the rape culture older generations also passed down to us. In a perverse twist on previous generations’ aims to “protect our children,” nowhere is this rape culture more evident than in our schools, a new shocking story of egregious violation, of sexual betrayal and the complicity of relevant authority figures emerging each week, each day as the movement to end sexual violence, bullying, and harassment grows.

Where did our young people learn to do these things to each other? In a sex-negative culture saturated with extremely graphic and accessible sexual material. No, porn didn’t make them do it. But their attitudes of sexual entitlement, their willingness to dehumanize and objectify the bodies of those they deem vulnerable came from the unexamined legacies of a history of patriarchal colonization put into a crucible of sexual shame.

We have a serious vacuum when it comes to sexual education in American culture, and yet we know so much—too much—of the sexual status quo, of the racialized fetishization and conquest mentality celebrated in our mainstream media. We know too little of consent, of sexual intimacy, of shared pleasure, of making love; of healthy, mature sexuality, because many of us have rarely—if ever—experienced it firsthand.

But Millennials are having sex. We now live in not just a digital culture, or a “hookup culture,” but a digital hookup culture, which, like internet porn, takes everything to the next level. Cruising culture has intensified and become mainstream, with millennials engaging in online sexual marketplaces like Tinder, Grindr, Okcupid, and even the sketchy ‘Casual Encounter’ bowels of Craigslist. Here, we fall back on the scripts and scenes we have learned to eroticize, and the legacy of a de-historicized rape culture that has served as the linchpin of centuries of racial and sexual subjugation emerges.

We are fresh out of a century of industrialization and digitization that has stripped many of us of connection to our own cultures, histories, and identities within our materialist postmodern society. Yet this is no excuse to plead ignorance of our context: the defining feature and potential of our post-historical moment is to be self-reflexive, literate of our past; to dialogue with it, to choose our fate moving forward, lest we recreate the sins of our forefathers and squander our own evolutionary potential. We are the inheritors of this culture; we are shaped by its scripts and mythologies. These dynamics live on within us, to the degree that we choose to carry them, or, through our silences, to allow them to permeate our culture unchecked.

As two queer and gender diverse female survivors of sexual assault in a long-term relationship, these are the issues we, the authors, have engaged with for years: issues of intimacy and sexuality, trauma and healing, and we are pleased to be able to serve as a conduit in bringing what we have learned to a broader culture struggling with the same issues. We come from the trenches of the Movement to End Campus Violence, as well as the daily struggle for the freedom of women, people of color, and LGBT people in 21st century America, and as we set upon a journey towards our own freedom, we asked ourselves what we could do to imagine and create a better future for ourselves and our communities. We came up with a sex-positive solution that wouldn’t merely demonize the scripts of our culture, but instead would inspire people to new possibilities of sexual engagement: we decided to write some erotica.

Informed by the most common fantasies of Millennials, as well as our own subjective experiences and those of friends we’ve been fortunate enough to discuss these sorts of things with over many cups of coffee, glasses of wine, and occasionally something a little stronger, we wrote a book. Let’s be discreet and call it an erotic novel. Erotica engages the imagination rather than any of the material senses we may associate with sexual activity. There is no shame in reading erotica; no shame in fantasy: whatever shame you find within these pages is your own.

We strive to make the characters we write as human, as multidimensional as possible, while manifesting scenes that are archetypal, that are larger than any one of us in that they exist as the sexual mythologies of our culture. Real people, three-dimensional people are not like the mythical specimens that populate the stereotypes and scripts we each hold about “people like us,” or “people like them,” nor are they able to be reduced to their most vulnerable and painfully human moments. We feel that too often the moments that shape who we are exist in the unspoken shadows, in the quiet space of our inner being, unnoticed and unresolved. These are the moments we explore through the perspectives of our characters, through their hopes and fantasies, traumas and desires; through things they’ve never done before.

It is from this context that we present to you the first volume of the Millennial Sex Trilogy: “I’ve Never Done This Before.” We hope you enjoy it, but more than anything, we hope it inspires the reader to reconnect their heart, soul, body, and desire to the most powerful sexual organ of all: the mind, and to have more honest and trusting communication about sexuality with their friends, families, and of course, sexual partners.

With Love,

Nastassja and Lea

Hunting for the Perfect Victim

**this article was originally published on huffington post Nov. 22, 2016**

Think of the most convincing, beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt, believable rape story you can imagine. One that could even be won in court, although less than 2% of cases are.

Who is the victim? She is a cisgender woman; young, and sexually inexperienced — even a virgin. Perhaps she is religious; perhaps she doesn’t drink. She is probably white. Probably middle or upper class. Perhaps she was just out with her friends, or walking home, or attending a party when she was approached, attacked or drugged by a man she didn’t know. She said no, she tried to escape, but he was stronger than her and overpowered her, probably violently.

Thus, we introduce our rapist. A stranger. A criminal. A bad guy. There are two common mythical rapists. Both are men. The first is intelligent, calculating, even sociopathic, although he seems like a “good” guy. This rapist premeditates his crime, he uses date rape drugs, identifies a target who will be likely to succumb to his strategies, and makes his move — isolating her, incapacitating her and committing the act. He comes from a privileged background and thinks he is above the law. He is probably in a fraternity. The other likely suspect is more impulsive. He sees a woman and attacks. He is less cautious, driven by lust and often violent. Typically athletic, strong; often a man of color.

Do you recognize these characters? They are the archetypal rape victims and perpetrators that populate media narratives about rape on campus, particularly the recent documentary The Hunting Ground, which premiered on CNN on Nov. 22nd.

When many of us hear the word “rape,” certain scripts and myths spring unbidden to the forefront of our minds. Although rape and all forms of sexual abuse are disgustingly, soberingly common in all their forms in our present culture, there are certain stories, certain rapes that resonate more strongly with our cultural preconceived notions and assumptions/scripts about what rape looks like, who is affected by it and who commits it (Susan Brison: Aftermath, Chapter 6). There is, for lack of a better word, a “perfect victim,” a “perfect perpetrator” and a “perfect crime,” at least when it comes to which stories are seen as believable and relevant by the media.

These assumptions do not occur in a vacuum. They are intimately tied to very intentional stereotypes and scripts with a long and ugly history. Historically, rape has only been taken seriously when to do so is politically advantageous to those in power.

Spousal rape, for example, has really only been taken seriously legally since the 1970s; before then, it wasn’t considered possible, echoing legacies of archaic English law in which a woman’s body was considered the property of her husband. Evidence of past sexual activity can be used by the defense in a rape case to undermine a victim’s “credibility.” Even today, the “stranger danger” paradigm means that widespread domestic violence and relationship abuse is all but ignored.

Despite the explicit usage of rape as a tool of colonization and genocide, Native American women have not legally been able to prosecute rape and abuse by non-Native perpetrators until a provision in the 2013 Violence against Women act finally made it possible.

White slaveowners intentionally cultivated the stereotype of the “Jezebel” — the wantonly, uncontrollably sexual black female — to justify the forced breeding of black women throughout slavery (Stephens, Dionne P. “Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes: The Sociohistorical Development of Adolescent African American Women’s Sexual Scripts.” Sexuality & Culture (2003). This stereotype is the foundation of ongoing fetishization, objectification, and hyper-sexualization of black female bodies that continues to justify sexual violence and harassment of black women to this day. Young Latina and black girls are seen as “chronologically older” than their white peers in order to justify their sexualization and abuse. Rape of women of color is deemed “less traumatic” by juries.

LGBT people have also been targeted for sexualized hate crimes, including “corrective rape,” and experience higher rates of sexual assault but receive less support — and indeed are frequently victim blamed because their very identity is seen to be sexualized.

These dynamics shape the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. A University of Michigan study found that LGBT students and students of color were at least two times as likely to be raped as their straight and white classmates.

Another internal survey conducted at Harvard echoed the finding that LGBT students are twice as likely to be assaulted. And yet women of color, LGBT people — and even sex-positive women — are seen as “unrapeable,” their stories are sidelined and disbelieved. Paradoxically, these are the people most likely to experience rape due to the tendency of perpetrators of sexual assault to target victims who are hyper-sexualized and therefore less likely to be believed.

While privileged perpetrators of rape have historically been protected, other communities have been scapegoated with scripts of sexual violence. When Donald Trump says that Mexican immigrants are “rapists,” he links into a longstanding tradition of scapegoating men of color for rape. In the United States, this dynamic has grievously affected Black men, who have been subject to rampant lynching, arrest and accusations of rape for hundreds of years, particularly due to how stereotypes of their sexual uncontrollability have intersected with stereotypes of white female vulnerability.

Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was brutally lynched in 1955 by two white males. His crime? Flirting with a white woman. His adolescent black male sexuality was perceived as a threat, and he was killed for it.

Although it is simpler to believe rape is committed by strangers and “bad guys,” 80-90% of rapes are actually committed by someone the victim knows . In a sex-negative, consent-illiterate hook up culture where substance abuse is rampant and sexual communication is impoverished, coercive and opportunistic rape are rampant.

The media tells stories, and “stories help us make sense of the world,” but too often serve to validate our own perceptions, “reinforc[ing] the status quo, serving particular interests without appearing to do so” (Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists p. 75). Rape myths are therefore inseparable from the larger power dynamics in our society. Which rapes are covered in mainstream media, and which rapes are sidelined — which we have shown are at odds with the actual prevalence of rape — are not only informed by, but also replicate historical patterns of erasure and “believability.” Stereotypes have the power not to tell you what to do, but who to be in order to be heard. The tendency of media — even, and especially media intending to help “solve” rape — to fall back on stereotypes to create a simpler narrative of rape minimizes many, if not most survivors’ experiences of rape.

Within a simplified myth of “rape culture,” other types of rape- intimate partner violence, same-sex violence, any scenario that strays far from the “perfect victim” and “perfect perpetrator” — which is, after all, a myth — are viewed as add-ons. This is a form of tokenization, and links into a disturbing trend of “disaster porn,” evoking pity towards and alienation of survivors of “complicated rape.” When media falls into stereotypical oversimplifications it alienates the majority of survivors, making our stories less believable, making it harder for us to get support and even to believe ourselves. When we re-write the stories of survivors to fit into preexisting myths that link into dangerous stereotypes, we erase and rewrite history, thereby reinforcing the problem.