Today, Rowan is a 21-year-old bass player in a local indie band. Between the ages of fourteen and fifteen, he acknowledged something that would form the foundation for all of the conversations about sex and bodies he would engage in over the coming years. His “body and mind, though companions, did not physically align with the way that people perceived [his] gender.”

Over the years, a shift towards more liberal attitudes has begun to erode the barriers which have prevented discussions of transgender identities, masturbation, and menstruation in the past. Discussion of these topics, however, still demands a punctuated preface, despite their pervasiveness. Rowan is among those young people who regularly defy the stigmatization of some such conversations. Here, four youth share their experiences.

Talking body

The stigma attached to transitioning gender identities begins with the preception that trans-people appear or behave differently than members of the cis community – individuals whose gender identity agrees with their biological sex at birth. Rowan is acutely aware of communities that make assumptions about his body, and what he wants to do with it. “Men will coach you on how to put [your] hands into [your] pockets.”

He also questions what appears to be a contradiction in modern society’s judgment of surgeries. Why is society more or less tolerant of cosmetic surgeries that exist for aesthetic reasons, but not those surgeries that align individuals more closely with their identities? Gender reassignment procedures, Rowan notes, go largely uncovered by OHIP: a systemic manifestation of this attitude.

“It’s 50K to be able to pee standing up — if you’re comfortable with breaking your legs to be taller, you should be comfortable with transgender identities too,” Rowan said.

Thou shalt not masturbate

The spectrum of conversational censorship continues to narrow, as we become societally accustomed to the various, melding aspects of the human identity — yet, even in the privacy of an intimate discussion with a close friend, some topics remain difficult to broach.

Monika is a university student who today openly describes masturbation as a “super casual activity that [she] does whenever [she] feels like it.” Monika was raised in an Eastern-European household with potent Catholic values. She remembers, after the first time she masturbated, being “scared shitless because [she] had just read in a Catholic textbook that masturbation was a sin.”

Conservative Catholic values were so deeply inculcated in Monika as a child, that they drove her to attend confession in ‘repentance’ for what she had done. After confessing, she was even more convinced of the wrongness of masturbation – as a Catholic woman, she was expected to save all of her sexual feelings for her future husband. Monika found this understanding of sexual expression “pretty fucked up at [the age of] ten,” considering she “doesn’t know if [she] even saw masturbation as sexual then.”

Monika no longer feels daunted by, or guilty about, self-pleasure. She believes that the stigma surrounding female masturbation exists “only in religious communities and in misogynistic culture.”

In Monika’s view, men do not have to deal with repressing their sexual urges in shame or secrecy to the same extent that women do. “They just jack off whenever they feel like it,” she said.

The lament of Aunt Flo

Masturbation is not the only unapproachable topic when it comes to women and bodily functions. Society dictates restrictions on a slue of female-centric topics. Chief among them, perhaps, is menstruation – a phenomenon which provokes so much revulsion in other parts of the world, that women and girls are displaced from society for the duration of their menstrual flow.

Kasia, who currently works for a leading financial institution in corporate communications, is part of a movement to dispel this stigma.

Given what she considers to be a constricting environment that corporations impose on its employees, Kasia maintains that women’s health issues should not be censored — especially menses.

Kasia laughs that she, her girlfriends, and her boyfriend “are so open about [menstruation].” In some moments, she recalls saying, “I need a vanilla dip donut because it’s day two and you know what that means.”

Deklan, a student at York University, “begs [her] boyfriend every month” for sex on her period, and while apparently, “he thinks it’s gross, he finally gave in last month because [periods] happen naturally and can’t be helped or stopped.”

These stigmatized conversations are slowly emerging from behind closed doors, as society progresses towards more liberal attitudes that embrace a pursuit of deeper understanding of various aspects of human identity.

The process of changing these deeply ingrained social norms is slow, with persistent pockets of naysayers pleading for certain aspects of our lives to be kept quiet. Ultimately, the scope of what we share when it comes to our bodies is a personal choice ­­­­­­­­­— it is not a decision to be left to the whims of social taboos.