Opinion Editorials

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.

<3, 
N+L

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.

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:

“CONFIDENTIAL — ACADEMY AWARDS Opportunity”

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.

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.