Category Archives: sexual health

Hunger by Roxane Gay

hungerLike much of the literary world, I am obsessed with Roxane Gay and I LOVED her collection of essays that blended memoir, popular culture, and commentary on society, Bad FeministHunger: A Memoir of (My) Body dives more deeply into some of the pieces of Gay’s story that she alluded to within Bad Feminist.

The composition of this collection was different than a memoir I’ve read before: the chapters vary in length, some only a page long, as if they’re all of the thoughts Gay had while conceiving this book, some jotted in the notes app on her phone so as not to forget and then left in their brief form. Other short pieces signify emotions that simply have too much underneath them to be explored further.

This book is heavy and you should take your time with reading it and give yourself the space to unpack the things that have happened and persisted in Gay’s life. Her story will likely make you reflect upon your own life stories and you should give yourself the time to do so. Within Hunger, Gay details her trauma associated with a gang rape, which had been lightly brushed upon in Bad Feminist, how fat bodies often have trauma and stories underneath that people dismiss or assume the bodies are just in poor health out of choice, her challenges with romantic and sexual relationships post-trauma, with her body, and with her geographic location, and the ways that people assume large bodies are always indicative of poor health.

Hunger forced me to challenge some assumptions I didn’t even know I had about how people move through the world and some of the things people who are large are forced to consider that I simply take for granted (i.e., will the chairs at this restaurant be compatible and provide necessary support to my body?). While Hunger definitely made me aware of things I had previously been oblivious to, it’s also important to remember that the book is an account of one person’s experiences with a large, fat body and it shouldn’t be taken as how everyone with these bodies feels or what they want, an important point that Gay emphasizes throughout her work.

Speaking of her work, I haven’t read any of Gay’s fiction pieces yet, but maybe I should add Difficult Women to my 2018 reading list? Hunger makes me want to be a Roxane Gay completionist, something that I feel like is rarer and rarer for me to even consider pursuing while staring at my ever mounting To Read pile, but Gay’s writing encourages me to do so. If you haven’t read one of her works yet, pick up Hunger or Bad Feminist the next time you see them at a store or your local library!

As an aside, this anecdote is tangentially related to the book Hunger, but I’m going to share anyway. Last year, I was inspired by the podcast The Cooler to start a “long-distance book club” with a bestie. The idea revolves around you reading a book on your own, underlining your favorite bits that resonate with you, and then passing along the book to a friend who can reflect on your bits, add their own bits, and give you specific things to talk about when you catch up on the phone since sometimes long distance besties can get in the rut of not really talking about their lives. While I do this with my faraway friends, I also do it with two of my nearby friends wherein we read the book back-to-back and then have a coffee/beer date where we talk about the book, like a two person book club where you only have to buy one copy of the book. There’s something so intimate in seeing what lines specifically connect with a friend and it can be very revealing, especially with a book like Hunger. My friend and I shared Hunger and it ended up being a nice way to talk about very sensitive and personal topics without having to put all of the cards on the table. I do this with a lot of books, but the experience of sharing Hunger will always be a poignant memory for me. 

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yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

yes means yes! by jaclyn friedman & jessica valenti

I received this wonderful book for free — not because I am a special snowflake and received an Advanced Reader’s Copy, but because the health center at my university gave it to me during a sexual health course because the course creators viewed Yes! as essential reading. Why oh why didn’t I listen to them when they said that this book would literally change the way that I thought about sexual assault and the way we talk about sexual health in America?

Instead of reading this book in its entirety when I was first given it by the sexual health goddesses at my university (because completing additional reading while poring through pile after pile of required reading is h-a-r-d), I read a few selected passages that were recommended by the coordinators of the course. I really enjoyed that the first chapter recommended to the course entitled “Hooking Up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality, and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry as it really challenged me to view sexual health through a different lens other than the one I was born with (aka white and female-bodied). As someone who had never taken any sort of gender studies or sexual health courses before, this chapter was a huge eye-opener for me in terms of seeing how some different people interact with and understand rape culture within American society. I thoroughly recommend reading this chapter first to anyone who undertakes sexual health & assault as new reading territory.

Despite connecting with the chapter, I wasn’t able to set aside time to read the entire book while a student. Thus, it was one of the books I put into a pile of things that absolutely needed to be properly read whenever I finished my time as an undergraduate student and would hopefully possess eager eyes and a less stressed brain. I’m so glad that day finally came and I was able to give these essays a shot and read them altogether.

The book is compiled of essays written by different people who have had different experiences. The editors of the book, Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti — who also contribute their own chapters, tagged all of the essays with different themes such as Consent, Race, Sexual Healing, Media, Survival, Queerness, and Gender, though with much cooler names than I’ve simplified them to here. This allows a reader to jump around to specific issues that they’re curious about or to immediately look up similar chapters if they find an essay that really connects with them. For my first thorough read, I decided to read completely through and dive into the essays in the order that they were compiled by the editors. The order flows very smoothly despite covering a range of topics which may or may not seem related on the surface.

After reading this book, I feel like a more well-rounded individual who holds a more nuanced view on sexual health issues in America. I definitely recommend this book to anyone curious about different opinions and viewpoints on sexual health and assault, no matter what level of understanding and background you already have. New terms that you may not be familiar with are well explained, but also won’t feel like you’re being talked down to if you’re already cool with the lingo. Enjoy!

Publication date: 2 December 2008 by Seal Press Format: Paperback

Authors: Jaclyn Friedman web/@twitter/podcast & Jessica Valenti web/@twitter/column

On a blog-related note: Woohoo for finally publishing my first book review here! Though it’s clearly delayed (finished the book in January, posting the review in April), I’m excited to jump into action with publishing reviews of my backlogged reads (complete list can be found here) and to eventually be posting at the same rate that I’m reading books. Thank you for reading this first blog and joining me on this journey!