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 Joy Messinger!
1. What do you do in the field of sexuality?
I’m the Manager of Sexual Health Education at the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health. Our mission is to work in partnership with youth to advocate for sound policies and practices that promote a positive approach to adolescent sexual health and parenting. I am also a budding birth doula; I support women through childbirth and help
2. Where are you based out of?
I’m currently based out of Chicago, Illinois. I’ve previously lived and worked in Central North Carolina and the Rochester, New York region.
3. What is your focus? What do you do?
My professional focus is primarily in adolescent sexual health, both educating young people about sex, sexuality, and sexual health and doing professional development and skill-building with adults who work with youth in various school, medical, and community-based settings. Through my position, I also provide guidance and support to ICAH’s Peer Education program, a group of young people trained in sexual health and workshop facilitation who provide interactive and informative peer-led sexual health workshops to other youth.
Outside of work, the focus of my activism is mostly within the Asian American, women’s, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, & allied (LGBTQQA) communities, including groups like the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Invisible to Invincible: Asian Pacific Islander Pride of Chicago, and the Chicago Dyke March Collective.
4. What are your particular goals and passions in the field?
My passion for working in the field of sexuality stems from foundations in nonviolence and reproductive justice and the belief that every person has the right to make decisions about their own bodies and to have access to the information needed to make those decisions. More immediately, this includes access to comprehensive sexuality education that is an integrated part of our educational system; universal access to culturally appropriate health care services; the ability to decide when and if to parent and under what conditions birthing happens; and more intentional approaches to including the voices, views, and skills of young people when talking about issues that impact them and their lives. Ultimately, I want to live in a world where sexuality is a more integrated component of health, wellness, and liberation and where our bodies, identities, and experiences are fully celebrated through our laws, policies, and the ways we interact with each other.
5. Why did you choose to work in this field?
I initially chose to work in this field because I wanted to change the way that my own sexuality was portrayed and valued. I was adopted from South Korea as a baby and grew up surrounded by media stereotypes and caricatures of my identities of young woman and Asian. I wanted to be able to talk about sex and sexuality in honest and healthy ways, but whenever I tried to explore these topics, I was viewed as just another exotic and hypersexual Asian woman. I knew that the key to owning and defining my own sexuality would be to educate and empower myself. I continue to work in adolescent health because I believe that everyone should be able to own and define their own sexuality, and ultimately their own power and lives.
6. Where did you go for school/training?
I did my undergraduate degree in social work and pre-law at Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. My graduate training was at the University of North Carolina (Masters in Public Health and Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Leadership) and the University of Illinois at Chicago (Masters in Social Work). I am also a Certified Health Education Specialist and am working toward my certification as a birth doula.
7. Do you have any literature out (websites, articles)?
An article that I’ve written on anti-bisexual violence will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Bisexuality, an academic journal exploring various facets of bisexuality, and another on Asian American reproductive justice will be published in AREA #12: Intersections, a Chicago-based publication that highlights local work in art, research, education, and activism. I blog about my journey as a Korean American adoptee at http://seoulsisterreturning.blogspot.com. And, the ICAH website, where you can learn more about the work I’m a part of, can be found at http://www.icah.org.
8. What would you recommend to future professionals attempting to get into the field?
Discover what you are passionate about, learn and focus deeply on that, and then continue to learn and focus on the issues that intersect with your passions. For me, sexuality work and social change are intertwined and trying to work in one area without knowing the other is near impossible. Learn how to be an ally. The field of sexuality is broad, and knowing how and when to “show up” – physically, emotionally, intellectually – is key to movement building and connecting within and between communities. More concretely, write a personal mission and vision statement and put it somewhere where you can remind yourself why you came to this work and what you dream toward – this is something that has helped me through tough times, and it has the power to help you too.
9. What is the most challenging aspect for you working in this career?
For me, one of the biggest challenges is remembering how to love yourself. I’ve learned that it is too easy to get burned out when we’re overloaded with work, with community organizing, with fighting opponents who don’t share our values or don’t value us as human beings. At first it can seem selfish to take time for yourself or can be impossible due to our own life constraints, but sometimes it is important even for a moment to refocus the revolution on ourselves.
10. One must read-what would you recommend? Why?
I love to read and take my Kindle with me everywhere I go, so it’s hard to pick just one book. S.E.X. by Heather Corinna of Scarleteen fame is an honest and informative read that is geared toward young people but is an important resource for adult allies in adolescent sexual health as well. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, like everything written by Ina May Gaskin, was one of the most valuable books I read to prepare to be a birth doula – her insight, wisdom, and trust of women’s bodies helped revolutionize the ways I thought about the birthing process. And Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People by the amazing and revolutionary Helen Zia is a people’s history of Asian American activism and really helped me discover my own identity as an Asian American woman.