Every Wednesday The CSPH highlights a Sexuality Professional you should keep your eye on. Their backgrounds are very diverse in order to bring attention to the wide variety of amazing people working in the field. This week we bring you Hanne Blank!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I am a writer, activist, and historian, and I describe my work as being located “at the intersection of bodies, sex, and culture.” I have written and edited collections of erotica, wrote the first book celebrating and educating about fat sexuality (Big Big Love), the first historical survey of virginity in Western culture (Virgin: The Untouched History), and most recently, wrote a book that presents a critical historical outline of the social institution we call “heterosexuality” (Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality).
I also speak and lecture on sexuality issues regularly, primarily on college campuses. I talk and teach about body image and sexuality, sex-positive culture and practice, and many different aspects of my historical work.
2. Where are you based out of?
Currently I divide my time between a small city in north central Massachusetts, about an hour from Boston, and Atlanta, Georgia.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
As I see it, most of what I do is ask pesky questions about what “everyone knows” about sexuality, bodies, and the relationship between the two, and write down what I find out when I do. This urge to poke my nose into the things we take for granted about our bodies and our sexual selves is what bridges my non-historical work and my historical work.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
I believe strongly in the power of education and demystification to liberate and empower. My big overarching goal is to help change the ways people are capable of thinking and talking about sexuality and bodies. I believe that the more you know, and the greater your access to information, the more likely you are to be able to include more possibilities and think more independently about yourself, your experiences, and your interactions with others both intimately and on a cultural level.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
It’s fascinating! I’ve always been interested in, and often perplexed by, the ways people behave around bodies and the things that bodies do and can be used for. Why do we do some things and not others? Why do we do them the way we do? How do we learn about our bodies and about embodiment, why do we learn about them in the particular ways we do, and why does particular culture support our learning those things? How’d we come up with our aesthetics about bodies and bodily experiences? These are all great, juicy historical questions as well as great, juicy personal questions.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
My formal education is both as a musician – I attended New England Conservatory and the Indiana University School of Music, as well as having been a Tanglewood fellow and stuff like that – and as an historian. I studied historical musicology at Brandeis University. I will shortly be returning to academia for a Ph.D. in history.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
My ninth book comes out in January, 2013; number 10 should be out in fall of 2013. Information about these, as well as the other eight, which include Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (And Those Who Love Them), and Virgin: The Untouched History, can be found at www.hanneblank.com.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
Realize that it’s not all one field. What I do as a historian, writer, and sex educator is very different from what someone who, for instance, does HIV education, or from the job of a sex boutique owner. We’re all working with bodies and sex and culture but we’re doing very different things. My advice is to figure out the kind of work you like to do and want to do – Teaching? Academic work? Clinical or medical work? Counseling? Research? Writing? Public speaking? Entrepeneurship? – and then figure out how that exists in the sexuality sphere and what that might look like for you. Just having an interest in sexuality is not enough. You aren’t going to be happy working in just any old job because it’s sexuality-related. Play to your strengths.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
The eternal struggle between what I want to do and what people will pay me to do. But this is familiar turf to many, many people.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
Roy Porter’s Flesh in the Age of Reason: The Modern Foundations of Body and Soul. If you have any interest at all in how we in the West have come to think about ourselves and our physical bodies the ways that we do, you must read this brilliant, masterful historical overview.
Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy
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