When a Participant Breaks his Gender Role in Front of the Whole Group
June 23rd 2017. What’s Not Said Founder Sarah Sedlack joined our recent program with Ndejje University in Ndejje, Uganda to deliver additional sessions to some of the group.
Neck deep in a class discussion around male victims of rape and a participant raises his hand to speak.
When it’s his turn, he begins to reveal an incredibly personal story about sexual issues in his own marriage.
“My wife rapes me.” Certain members of the class, both women and men, giggle, some of them in
disbelief. I then address the entire class, “we need to all be respectful and listen quietly. He is trusting us
with something very personal and showing a lot of courage right now.” Then, talking directly to him I say,
“if you feel comfortable, please continue.” He explains that his wife not only ignores him when he
communicates that he doesn’t want to have sex, but laughs at him and proceeds to mount him anyway.
Here we have a Ugandan man, showing emotion and expressing pain in front of other men and women in
the community. Specifically, this community was a product from our partnerships, with Ndejje University
hosting the event, Coaches Across Continents (CAC) implementing their programs with Mark as the
primary coordinator and coach, and What’s Not Said (WNS) with getting to hop on for a few days and
provide supplementary training. The participants were passionate about playing soccer, coaching it, and promoting
community leadership. Mark and I piggybacked on each other by referencing each other’s skill building
exercises during our respective training sessions. For example, I facilitated discussion around consent and
he created a game to illustrate how understanding is impaired without consent. For the sake of adding
value and meaning to our discussion, this Ugandan man risked social rejection for the remainder of the
training sessions on the field. Showing emotion not only goes against his gender norm as a man
(expressing and communicating feelings and victim-hood in public), but it could be interpreted as a sign of
weakness. I felt honored to witness this level of empowerment. Both as a sex educator of What’s Not Said
and as a person in the world, I see the positive impacts being vulnerable can have in our relationships and
communities, especially as a man in a society where men hold overt, systemic privilege and power.
Showing vulnerability happened both on the field and off the field. Off the field, trainees showed humility
and emotions and on the field trainees enthusiastically participated in games designed for children, which at
times meant acting like a frog and chanting silly sounds in front of everyone. Off the field, the
vulnerability allowed the conversation to organically move in directions I would have only dreamed of
going. For the first time in What’s Not Said history, we were discussing the importance of sexual
negotiation in relationships and marriages and the need for teaching about pleasure in conversations around
consent and sexual assault prevention. And let me remind you, this all happened at a University in Uganda.
I was warned by everyone, from Kenyans to westerners, to be careful and perhaps censor what I talked about, in Uganda. Uganda is known for being a bit more closed when it comes to sexuality, much of these attitudes being based on current laws (for example, homosexuality is illegal). And I have to admit that made me a bit nervous. But through my vulnerability and the vulnerability of our partners, remaining shame free about my work, active listening and keeping the discussions participant-focused, Uganda surprised me for the better.
My name is Sarah Sedlack and I am founder of a culturally adaptive, comprehensive sex education program
called What’s Not Said (www.whatsnotsaid.org). I discovered CAC through networking in Kenya and
immediately developed both a mentoring and professional relationship with the organization. That relationship brought me to a CAC partnership in Uganda, where I facilitated discussions on Ugandan current events and taboo topics with community leaders from all over Uganda. The intentions of the forums were to empower more responsible community leadership, teaching skills in developing self awareness and empathy. These very skills were practiced in sport as part of CAC on-field games and reviews.
This class goes down as one of the most memorable sessions because the participants were willing to explore
openly together, which made it easier for all of us to learn from each other. A 39 year old male participant
reveals what he thought was most meaningful about the forum, “WNS gave us the confidence to be free to
be who we are and create new friendships among other participants.” As for myself, I feel thankful I got
this opportunity to explore Uganda in such an intimate way, both on and off the field. I deeply respect the
conversations shared and look forward to more to come.
Until next time!