A retreat in every sense of the word

Reflecting on the Politics of Sexuality Reading Retreat, by Imane E.H.

At first, I was a bit hesitant to spend the weekend, the only time during the week I get to rest, in what sounded to me like an academic retreat. But the idea of being in a calm place away from the city and its routine, even if I would have to wake up early on a Sunday, was a good motivator.

The reading booklet looked intimidating when I first saw it. It wasn’t really a “booklet” either, it was pretty thick. But as soon as I started reading it, I really got into it. The various topics it tackles are so relevant to our reality, and yet we rarely discuss them or even notice the effects they have on our lives. Many articles enlightened me on how policing and controlling the sexuality of people, especially women, comes from social and economic backgrounds under the guise of “morality”: what is morally wrong and right in a certain period of time depends largely on the sociopolitical situation of the time.

I didn’t expect a book about sexuality would help me understand so much about society, economy, and politics, and the relations between them. But most importantly, it taught me a lot on a personal level, showed me how my own interpretations are so often dictated by my surroundings. I became more self-aware of my expected role in society and society’s role in my life.

The retreat itself was even better. To be able to share ideas and discuss sensitive topics in a safe environment is an opportunity we don’t always get. It made me realize just how much others share in concerns and struggles and that I’m truly not alone. I don’t consider myself a good public speaker. I’m pretty shy and uncomfortable around large groups, but I found myself able to speak my mind and express my ideas freely. I got the sense that we were all in this together and I wasn’t afraid of being judged.

The debates were very enlightening: hearing different people’s points of view and personal experiences with different topics made even the most distant concepts relatable to me. For example, understanding the challenges facing gender non-conforming people in society today from their point of view, and learning that there is a set-standard of good sex vs. bad sex within the same society, communities, and sub communities was eye opening.

I have to admit that the movies and interactive exercises where my favorite parts, as they were very well-crafted and played a big role in fueling the conversations that followed the next day. I recommend watching the movie Beautiful Boxer (2004) to anyone reading this right now. It is, by far, one of the best movies I have watched in a while. Seeing a true story about a trans person’s self-discovery and growth in a society that rejects them, seeing their daily struggles, pains and challenges, and yet seeing them succeed in becoming who they really want to be was very inspiring. It also helped me become more aware and understanding of the difficulties faced by gender non-conforming individuals.

My perspective on many different subjects grew to accommodate the insights of others; self-reflection is very important to me. Most of the time, these reflections were fueled by the side discussions some of us had over coffee, or a drink on the balcony late at night (while many were trying to sleep and had asked us to tone it down!). I found myself sharing very personal thoughts with people who, only a day ago, were total strangers. Days after the retreat ended, I find myself still thinking about many of the discussion points we had, and this is helping me to become more critical of the things which were once toxic to me but that I had always assumed were “normal”.

I remember that the final comments given by most participants on the last day, they said they wished the retreat had been longer. Honestly, I felt the same way. I felt kind of sad as we were all packing up to leave, thinking that it was like I was falling off a cloud of tolerance and acceptance and returning to the struggles of the society we had so intimately discussed.