The Oral Project was an anti-stigma photo campaign where participants shared their unique stories about prejudice, sexual or social stigma.



The Oral Project was hosted at Project Gallery for Fluid, at World Pride 2014, but was primarily an online campaign



Fluid Exhibit was curated by Catherine Jones in recognition of bisexual photographers.



Growing up, and even after I moved away for college, my parents had quite the set idea for how I was supposed to look and who I was supposed to be. I was expected to be a taller carbon copy of my mother; long blonde hair, a touch of brown mascara and sitting pretty in a twin sets or blazers in an office. Growing up in a small town (before online shopping), one is already sheltered from variety without having parents tell you how to be. I felt I was worlds behind everyone else when I moved to Toronto to study fashion, I didn’t know what any one was talking about. Needless to say, I spent a lot of money on clothes over the next few years. But I never settled on a style because I never hadn’t that awkward 15 year old goth phase or the rebellious 17 year old punk funk. Now I feel open to being whoever I want to be when I wake up in the morning and not who I’m told to be, though its taken me quite some time to dress how I want when I go home..

My parents have never seen me with coloured hair, but I’m more than ok with that at this point. I remember going to my first college interview, my mother told me that if I hung out with those gay boys I’d turn lesbian. We didn’t have those where I came from but I didn’t see the big deal. The first time I came home from college my friend asked me if I was a lesbian after playing her a mix cd I made in the car. I didn’t get it, was everyone just expecting me to go away to college and become a big city lesbian? To be honest I dont remember the first time I kissed a girl. It didn’t seem like a big deal.

Sexuality isn’t a thing to me. You be you, and I’ll be over here being me, loving you for whoever you chose to be.

When I was 16, I found a camera in my room containing several videos of myself taken through my bedroom window. As i scrolled through the videos I found that most were of me changing or getting ready for high school. I was completely oblivious to the person filming me at the time. After a thorough police investigation the voyeur was caught and sent to jail.

After the event, my social life changed drastically. I became withdrawn to many people i was once open to. The traumatizing event caused me to have social anxiety, as well as my most recent diagnoses: PTSD. My PTSD and social anxiety created social stigma that i was not even aware of. In large social situations such as school or simple trips to the mall, I automatically withdraw and become what I like to call a ”negative”. By using the term “negative”, I picture everyone else around me as a positive. For some reason I have always thought of my anxiety in this way, the positives stick together and I am the odd one out, the negative.

People can sense that I am weak minded or different in some way. In the past, I have been attracted to sexual partners who feed this negative part of me. I experienced sexual, mental as well as physical abuse from my past partners. My self worth was so low that the abuse felt normal to me. Drugs as well as alcohol contributed to my low self worth and anxiety.

Recently, I have broken from my past of abuse. I almost fully realize what my anxiety is and how it affects me.

A big fuck you to social and sexual stigma!

As the fluid dripped from my mouth all I could think was “Fuck you. Fuck Social stigma.” I am PROUD to be in the process of overcoming mental illness.

By writing this piece and participating in The Oral Project I feel like I have come even closer to my goal of being mentally sound.


When I was eight my family moved from the city into a small town of about fifteen hundred. I pretended to be catholic to fit in with certain friends. Many times I would mumble words that sounded like grace, and mimicked hand

When I was eight my family moved from the city into a small town of about fifteen hundred. I pretended to be catholic to fit in with certain friends. Many times I would mumble words that sounded like grace, and mimicked hand gestures that looked like the prayer (was often completely off) to have dinner at girls’ homes I wanted to be friends with. This worked for some time, but I can remember how heartbroken I was one day after hanging out at a catholic friend’s house, she said to me before I walked to my dad’s vehicle

“My parents don’t want me to hang out with you anymore. I can’t be friends.”

I didn’t understand.

I cried everyday for months because I hated the change and the fact I had no friends. A lot was changing for me at that time, my surroundings, my emotions, my thoughts. I was obsessed with the idea of having a diary, or any sort of writing vessel after watching Harriet the Spy. I can remember like it was yesterday, the only thing I filled my first diary-whose cover was that of puppies, was of how beautiful I thought my one classmate was. I was socially awkward and had a speech impediment for some time, so I didn’t dare approach this girl who I thought was pretty. So I wrote it down and reread what I had wrote every now and then; I pretended to have the courage to talk to her and maybe be her friend. The next year we were inseparable friends, and she would never know that I had thought her to be attractive in an unusual sense in a small town at a young age.

Another landmark in my fear of being labeled a freak would be when I was a little older, at the awkward age of thirteen. It was a cold winter’s day, and my best friend at the time and myself were getting dressed to go play in the snow-when her zipper was snagged and asked if I could help her do it up, so I did like any best friend did. But as I did so, I started to snicker as I thought of kissing her then and there and how great it would feel- the only thing that held me back was the fear of being labeled a freak and shunned in my town I now accepted as being home. We stayed best friends for years, and I constantly found myself checking out girls of my age whom I thought were attractive in terms of personality and visually. So I carried on my merry way slyly keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself until my last year of high school where I came out as being bisexual to a coworker and later that same month, to my mom.

I love my mom to death, but she was and still is convinced it is a phase I am going through. I’ve tried telling her it’ll be a long phase I’m going through, then. She is supportive in what I choose to do with myself and my life and is very understanding. I am beyond thankful to have her as an inspiration and mother-and not someone who would suppress my feelings towards women and tell me its a sin. After finishing high school, I realized how unimportant being labeled is. I was no longer afraid to be labeled a freak. And with that I dyed my virgin auburn hair a variety of colours, and began covering my body with tattoos and piercings.

I moved to Toronto to pursue art and take up an apprenticeship in tattooing but shortly moved back to this small town to embrace who I am and my newly found confidence of such. I now work for the time being (until I start working at a tattoo shop I have lined up in Kingston), at the local bar in town. And everyday I am hit with comments that would have torn me down if I didn’t have a Mom who helped me be ok with who I am. I have customers who are in their thirties to eighties, of all walks of life asking me “what on earth possessed me to do the things I do to my body and hair”, and telling me “I look like I am seventy years old with silver hair.” Didn’t their mothers ever tell them “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it art all?” I don’t understand what makes these people so ignorant and curt to approach me with insults at my job each day, lord knows what they would say if they knew who I really was….

Some of those comments hit hard some days, but I just tell myself “Yes, you are a freak, and you are different. But you are understanding because of your background and more empathetic than those prudes ever will be.” My Mom taught me that it’s what’s inside that counts

“Sick with pleasure. Fear. Absolute insanity.”

My story was not supposed to have a happy ending.

At a very young age I was thrust forcefully into the sexual world of adults. I became all too comfortable within that realm. The rights to my body were taken from me before I could even begin to understand my own inner workings. All the parts and pieces stolen from beneath me. I never felt I had the right to nurture my body. It was not mine. Who do you ask for permission to love yourself?

When something does not belong to you it becomes far easier to give away.

A borrowed shell. Empty. I was constantly trying to fill the void I felt deep inside me with anyone and everyone within my grasp. Take me home with you just for the night and let me taste your ambition. I want to devour the happiness of others. To absorb, as if by osmosis, the lives that I envy from afar.

“I grasp at the emptiness of our unholy union with bloody fingers and cracked teeth. I found God within your hatred for me.”

As I spiraled further and further into the lives of others, I lost touch with my own reality. As if I were living outside of my own body in a dreamlike state where I could only watch in horror as things unfolded. I became my own personal destruction. I sought abuse in places where love should have been.

Since the onset of my childhood I have struggled with bulimia, trichotillomania, self harm, substance abuse and mental illness. I have willingly endured painful relationships with both men and women that left me breathless. Choking on my own words. I have been beaten, raped, sold, abused, degraded, bullied and tormented. The worst of these I have done to myself because I felt I deserved it. Because I was never given the tools or understanding to help me realize that I was the victim of ignorance and not the cause.

“You crucify me to find your own personal hell within my embrace.”

My sexuality and sexual history do not define me. They do not equate my worth as a person. The labels given to me by others were not my own truth. My inner torment was always cheered on by those around me. Small towns know no mercy.

At the age of 26 I became pregnant with my first child. I took my power back. I decided once and for all to regain ownership of my body. To nurture, to care for it, to painstakingly begin filling the cracks that had appeared over time. To purge the buildup of hatred and pain that had haunted me since my childhood.

On September 15th 2013 I gave birth to my beautiful son, my salvation. On that day I allowed my body to become a place where love could grow.



 


I have always had this sense of being “invisible”. It is a sense that I have a love/hate relationship with. A sense of being silently trapped inside myself, while also providing a safe cushion for all of my fears and anxieties. It is a state that I seem to have unconsciously created from an early age.

I was born with a hearing impairment. I have struggled all of my life to maintain some degree of “normalcy” in society, because the reality of it is that while I don’t really fit into our “normal” society, I also do not fit into the deaf community. I do not know sign language, nor have I participated within the deaf community. This leaves me somewhere in no-man’s land; and thus, a sense of never belonging; resulting in an overall lack of communication and self expression.

The irony of my disability, is that I’ve always found that the majority of people I’ve met in my life are pretty “deaf” too. It almost makes it feel less nerve-wracking, speaking in public—because no one is really listening anyway.

When I was a year old, my biological father, my Mom’s high school sweetheart, and young husband, died of cancer only 4 months after the initial diagnosis. There wasn’t even time for full treatment to battle the disease. And following his death, along went my entire Spyrou family; my grandparents, my uncle, my godparents, and any extended family. Why? Because of resentment, and tradition; because of disagreements; because there was a physical brawl between families at my father’s funeral. Because of perhaps other reasons I will never know. I was their first grandchild, and the only child of my deceased father, their son, brother, nephew, etc., Kypros. I was abandoned by my entire paternal family.

No one has EVER asked me how I felt about this. The fact that I resemble my father so much probably didn’t make it any easier for anyone. There have been moments of resentment over the years, especially in terms of trying to discover my own identity. I am still the only person in my family with dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. This led to humiliating questions when I was a child, from other children, such as, “How come you don’t look like your Mom \(or anyone else in my very Caucasian-looking family\)”. I would stare at myself in the mirror, and began to hate what I saw: an outsider, an orphan of sorts.

I have struggled so hard to express myself over the years. My emotions can be very powerful, but I have not allowed them to flow; paralyzing fear takes over and verbal constipation ensues. I have all but destroyed myself emotionally over time. I have put others before me, and therefore almost lost myself completely. Early in life, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety; as well as extreme body dysmorphic disorder. Over the years, I remained silent, angry, and sad. I have tortured my body and brain with self-abuse and self-hate. I have suppressed my true self, my spirit, my sexuality.

I have recurring dreams that I am screaming in a room full of people, and no one is listening. This is the biggest metaphor of my life, and this is what is depicted in the photo.

Over the last couple of years, I have created and channeled my overtly sexual and “evil”persona, via Sadie Mae—my burlesque character. This has been more liberating than I ever dreamed, and became a new beginning in my life; a way to explore my inner exhibitionist and sexual energy. It was also a way to say “I am here”.

I am not healed yet. The process has only begun.

What this project means to me, is that I am now gathering the pieces of my true self, reassessing them, and putting the important ones back together again. And in doing this, I want you to know that I AM HERE. I exist. I want you to SEE me. Be present and beware. Because I will not be silent any longer.

The river catches me in the throat

Rip tide swallows me whole
Spitting, spurting, coughing the yawn
How to digest this wayward boat
The sinking fish that lick my soul
Reach for the rain that keeps me calm
And where the siren has sung her song

I will be there
With what’s dragged me down
To the bottom of the bed
Where the fluid is gone

Fluid. Body fluid, sexual fluidity. The physical and conceptual stigmas that are attached have dragged me down, and I am still attempting to free myself.

I have no idea where to begin. My history is such a part of my fluidity that I can’t even imagine reflecting on it for fear of unearthing memories that were meant to be forgotten.

Only recently, a family member and I were together and she asked me if I remembered being molested by a babysitter when we were fairly young. I thought about it for a while and recalled it as though it had been a nightmare, a figment of my imagination. Together, we confronted another family member to ask if she remembered this babysitter, and despite how vivid that basement memory was to the two of us, she didn’t even recall knowing anyone who met the babysitter’s description. So it still remains unreal, dream-like.

I had a similar emotional upheaval last year when I spent a month at CAMH after a disastrous attempt to quit drugs cold turkey. While I was there, my therapist continuously poked and prodded me about the physical and sexual abuse I experienced as a child and teenager. My past became “Exhibit A”. He was obsessed with his theory that I am queer because of how men have treated me consistently throughout my life. He labelled an experience I had as “rape” and sent me to group therapy where we had to confront our assailants as victims. I left because I am not a victim.

It’s so very odd, talking about my past. Conventionally speaking, yes I have been raped, molested, beaten, and oppressed. But in my mind, these were things that just happened to me, things I couldn’t control and that I will never be able to change. They were moments where, in a sense, my mind completely abandoned my body and I was was simply an object being acted upon, not a person being permanently damaged.

This dissociation with my body is deeply rooted in my childhood, and it has taken me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. I grew up being told I couldn’t wear certain things, I had to cover up my body because it was something to be ashamed of. I had to protect myself in order to cater to the time bomb that is male sexuality. That is to say, I was raised with the idea that rapists were the victims of women traipsing around in short skirts and that female sexuality existed to be acted upon.

Female sexuality was the pandora’s box of my childhood. I never received “the talk” from my parents and the only times sexuality was acknowledged was when it was being judged or put down for being wrong. I think I’ve talked to my mother about sex once, when she told me about a nightmare she had about me kissing someone and in this dream she was overcome with rage. So coming out to my parents was the most difficult thing I’ve had to do. I knew I was gay since I was a child, and apparently my parents did as well. Furthermore, I knew that they knew because my ex decided to out me after we broke up. It was the elephant in the room and once it was acknowledged, a priest was invited over to tell me that I am objectively disordered.

I honestly wouldn’t consider connecting my past with my sexual fluidity until now. The reason to this is I would hate to taint the freedom of my orientation with the stigma of “damaged goods”. I didn’t want people to say, “Oh, no wonder you’re gay.” However, who I am now has everything to do with who I was and what has happened to me in the past. When I first came out, I cut off all my hair, only slept with women, and was a total misandrist in an attempt to reject while simultaneously healing from and owning my past. A massive paradigm shift occurred when my girlfriend at the time came out as transgendered and I was forced to consider the confusion that was my sexuality. I discovered the beauty and freedom that is my sexual fluidity. I finally connected my mind with my body.

Because I have had such disregard for my body in the past, with my addiction, my disconnectedness, and low self-esteem, my sexuality is the most healing and freeing thing I have at the moment. I am free from my own stigma in that I can look past a person’s physicality and see the real beauty of who they are and love that person. And in turn, I can love myself.

I am Eryka. My name means “lone female warrior.” I was raised to believe my body and desires to be dirty. I was beaten to believe in judgement and learned to expect abuse. But I am a woman and I love women. I grow strong from the power of six inch heels and my lover’s lipstick on my collar. With every drop of “Fluid” from my mouth, I am reducing the hate and stigma attached to my freedom and strength into vomit. Vomit that is washed away by the rain.

When I was a child

Mommy thought was too loud
“Noisy Girl” she’d always call me
Even when I made no sound
Must be mommy’s favourite word
For a kid she tried to raise
But mommy’s too disturbed
By my energetic ways
Because I ain’t quiet
Passive or submissive
A hindrance on the mind
Of a child I find abusive
But I never matched this “genetic” code
Every Asian daughters should follow
Why do I find this idea too hard to even swallow?
Because my mouth is too small
And I knew nothing at all about some patriarchal law
Telling me who I am
But I don’t give a damn
Bout how you think I should be
Fuck Patriarchy
You ain’t the boss of me
Imma still make noise
And let the words flow freely
From my Mouth
From my Mouth
From my Mouth
Imma let the words
Flow freely from
My Mouth

My Mouth
The multi-purpose piece of my face
A part of me I wholly embrace
Its the tool I use to express myself
To speak honestly
To show you the truth of me
A personal part of me
And its my story
So let me give it orally

My truth runs deep
Cus I know I ain’t shallow
I have a heart and a mind
That will never be hollow
Because my mind is constantly
Doing mental equations
And my heart can’t help it
When its filled with emotion
Because we’re humans
As humans we have feelings
And we should never never
Ever be afraid to show it
Long as we have
A mouth to express it
Imma let the words flow freely
From My Mouth
From My Mouth
From My Mouth
Imma let the words flow freely
From My Mouth

Yes I have a mouth
And it can be loud
That’s cause I ain’t afraid to be heard
Although I know words can hurt
My mouth can run off the track
And make me say stupid shit
But nobody’s perfect and I know it ain’t worth it
I must lift all the burden and its weight off my back
Yes I have a loud mouth
Cause I’m fighting to be heard
Mamma called me Noisy
But believe me I’ve been called worse
From chink to flat face
I felt like my own waste of space
But I learned to school the bullies
And spit truth back in their face
See I’m not afraid to be heard
as I’m not afraid to be seen
I’m perfectly comfortable In the skin that I’m in
I ain’t Yellow, I’m Asian
So don’t ask me for persuasion
I’m proud of my culture, I’m proud of my heritage
But I’m more proud of my ability to overcome my oppression
It’s really a wonder
How many members
Of my family, friends and lovers
Have all been my oppressors, one way or another
But of course I’ll never let that hinder me
From being who I am and what I gotta be
I’ll continue to raise my voice
Cus its the only way to be free

I have a mouth
And I will never cover it
When I laugh or cry
I still wont cover it
I have a mouth
And its a part of me
So I’mma let the words flow freely
From My Mouth
From My Mouth
From My Mouth
Imma let the words flow freely
From My mouth


My mother recently told me, “you have been caught”, several times over! My earliest ages depict a rather sexually liberal stance.”How”, you ask? Well.. let’s just say, i didn’t start even really considering guys until i was around 15..

I earned two pretty prevalent nicknames across the highschool grade-scale, “The Switcher” and “Queen of the Lesbians”.

You know that saying, “Men wanted her, women wanted to be her ” ?

Women didn’t want to be me, but for some reason, they sure were (all kinds of) attracted to me! Maybe i was a broken-winged baby bird that set off red flags that a beautiful, hopelessly-optimistic mindset of a maternal being would yearn to fix? A couple of conversations exchanged, a few drinks at a party and I might’ve had you, too.

I can understand, open and shut, all labels attached to sexual identity.I , however, cannot identify personally with any of them. I believe in balance. Neither denying nor admitting, but supporting yourself strongly by your own view of yourself.. Doing right by you. Call it conceit, But as an empath, if you make me feel something thrilling, I don’t care what you’re packing. One could argue “sexual ambiguity” and I would get loud about it because it counters my monogamous values.

I am not undecided, I am not an opportunist. I am a late 20s mother, woman, and daughter. Plain and simple, I am in love with love.

Vorm Van Aimee

My mother was born last into a family of six; trailing behind two sisters and a brother. My Uncle Scott had always wanted a brother and, as a last ditch effort, took my mom under his wing to teach her how to fish, play sports and other things of the like. As a result, she identified as a “tomboy” growing up, which consequently followed her into adulthood. Though she may do “feminine” activities such as crocheting, gardening, and most of the cooking in our household, she is also the first awake at the cottage wheelbarrowing loads of gravel down the steep hill; she ran her own daycare for the first 14 years of my life, modestly exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit, and unwittingly convincing me that women could be in positions of authority within their workplaces; and she was the best hockey mom to my brothers and soccer mom to me, never missing a game.

That’s right: I have brothers.

I was born last to a family of five where the men outnumbered the women. I grew up with two older brothers, one only a few years older than me. I idolized them while constantly challenging them to prove my worth. Since an early age, I refused to wear dresses or the colour pink; I learned every sport that was ever shown to me and excelled at it; I wrestled with them and their friends; I tried to eat as much food on grocery day as I could before they’d devour everything; I tried to bend house rules that were founded along the lines of “but you’re the baby” or “but you’re the girl”. I faced gender discrimination very young from my mother since I was, “her only daughter,” as she constantly liked to remind me. I would face many hardships and qualms later in life, but my mother and brothers were always the battles that prepared me for the wars.

In the early years, I was surrounded by children. We lived in a townhouse complex that housed two other daycare moms that my mom had befriended. In the summers, we might have totalled up to fifty children if the neighbouring daycare moms would come to visit. My brother A.J. and I were always part of the older crowd and as such, were responsible for taking care of the youngsters. Through this, I learned to view people as individuals: to see their weaknesses and strengths and to appreciate both; to not let gender define who was best suited for my jailbreak team but rather a person’s speed, or cunning.

Adolescence was a whirlwind of genderneutrality by classic definitions. I was suspended for beating up boys who made my girl friends cry… until they cried themselves. Iwas enrolled into girl guides. I won achievements for school sports. I learned how to sew, cook, and do laundry before I was ten \(unlike my brothers\). I shaved my hair into a Mohawk that kept mysteriously finding its way back for 5 years. I learned how to do make up. I was queen of the local mosh pit. I fell in love with gardening. I got charged with Mischief over $5,000. I finally wore a skirt. I wore too many skirts. I wore underwear as pants once. I tried to tether down my boobs and be a boy for a while; my best friend called me Nate. I dated girls. I dated boys. I fell in love with everyone because everyone was simply one: an individual to analyze and appreciate.

When I was very young, I dealt with this confusing duality inside me by naming my reflection Nadine and my shadow Damien. Nadine was the wise girl who would tell me peaceful truths about the future and I would stand on my tip-toes whenever I looked into the mirror for her calming advice. Damien never spoke, but ran with me when I ran, climbed trees with me when I climbed them, and always stood by my side.

The duality still goes on to this day.I believe it always will with me. I have the “maternal instinct” that drives me to nurture those I love, and the “masculine drive”to prove myself to anyone or anything that challenges me. I can feel domestic when I do all the cooking for my boyfriend or spend my downtime sewing. However, I prefer to release frustration through Muay Thai and rugby.

As an adult, I have learned to accept the duality within myself as facets of my being. I no longer identify traits as masculine or feminine, but rather dominant or submissive.They work in tandem, each one needed to give perspective and balance to the other. Even within my relationship now, there is always a constant flux between who is dominant and who is submissive– not necessarily in a sexual way, but in the natural ebb and flow of living with another person. There are compromises, moments when one must motivate the other, or take care of the other in some way. Thereare times when we are completely aligned in goals, objectives and hobbies.

We should foster a society that is truly equal – a society that doesn`t promote hiring biases based on gender, or different pay scales for men over women. We should encourage each other to pursue true love and give it no other title than that. We should commend all those brave enough to chase after their dreams, even if that includes gender-reassignment surgery.

In short: I can appreciate my partner`s automotive knowledge, but I appreciate his baking a whole heck more.

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