On Rejection Resilience
In this episode, I speak with B.K. Chan about how rejection resilience enables us to live more courageous and authentic lives. In the last episode of Strippers and Sages, Jamila Reddy spoke about the importance of being in touch with and brave enough to pursue our desires. That bravery involves being willing to face rejection ourselves as well as to reject others in order to remain in our truth. Rejection resilience is an essential yet ofter overlooked part of the consent conversation, and B.K. Chan has much wisdom to offer on the topic.
B.K. Chan is an award-winning sex and emotional literacy educator in Toronto, Canada, with 20+ years of experience. Trained in Creative Facilitation, Productive Thinking, and Non-Violent Communication, BK's favourite ways to learn and teach are through stories, metaphors, diagrams, and things that make people laugh. Above all, BK is dedicated to having difficult conversations that are real, transformative, and kind. In 2014, BK was named "Service Provider of the Year" by Planned Parenthood of Toronto for her work in sexual health and was honoured in 2017 as one of 30 Chinese Canadian women of distinction in Ontario. BK is currently working on a series of tiny books and videos about feelings and justice. Her online course on Emotional Intelligence was released in 2018 and is widely available to the public. Follow her work at http://www.fluidexchange.org/.
"If I am not good at feeling a thing, it will be hard for me to witness other people doing that thing, that discomfort is connected, right? And so if I'm not comfortable when I feel rejected because I feel so ashamed about myself, then it will be really hard to sit with you when you're feeling rejected. And I'm either seeing your shame, or I'm assuming you have a lot of shame."
BK: It is hard for a lot of folks to know what they want.
If I am not good at feeling a thing, it will be hard for me to witness other people doing that thing, that discomfort is connected, right? And so if I'm not comfortable when I feel rejected because I feel so ashamed about myself, then it will be really hard to sit with you when you're feeling rejected. And I'm either seeing your shame, or I'm assuming you have a lot of shame.
In my lifetime, I will likely hurt a lot of people, not on purpose. But just by being me. Just by being true to me, I will likely disappoint and displease and hurt. And that truth, it's not something that many people talk about, even though we live it all the time. Live it every day.
Lianne: I’m Lianne. Welcome to Strippers and Sages.
My guest today is BK Chan, an award winning sex and emotional literacy educator in Toronto, Canada. We are speaking about rejection resilience, which I think is a really wonderful follow up to my conversation with Jamila, in which we spoke about having the courage to go after, really your best life, whether that means your best orgasm, your best relationship, your best career, and also having the courage to express ourselves and stand in our authenticity and our truth. And when we do that, and when we ask for what we want, we risk rejection. And so BK Chan is talking about rejection resilience, and why it's such an important muscle for all of us to strengthen, both so that we can be able to receive rejection gracefully, and also feel okay when we need to deliver rejection. I think it's an essential conversation to introduce into discourse on consent. And my conversation with her really has changed my perspective and helps me reflect on where I'm holding back out of fear. And so I hope that you enjoy this conversation, she gets a lot of tools for how to navigate rejection when it comes up, and just how to think about it in a more complex and nuanced way.
BK is known for her accessible style and sense of humor. She integrates curriculum content into stories and theory into practice. She works with individuals, groups, and organizations, and trains professionals across disciplines. Planned Parenthood of Toronto honored her for her work in sexual health by naming her the service provider of the year, and she was honored in 2017 as one of 30 Chinese-Canadian Women of Distinction in Ontario. BK is currently working on a series of books and videos about feelings and justice. And her course on emotional intelligence was released in 2018, and is available to the public, you can follow her work on fluidexchange.org, which we will link to in the show notes. So enjoy the conversation. And I hope that it emboldens you to take big risks in your life.
Hi, BK, thank you so much for joining me on Strippers and Sages, I'm really excited to talk to you today.
BK: Thanks so much for having me, Lianne. I'm so excited too.
Lianne: So you are rather well known for your work on rejection resilience, which is one of the things that got me excited to talk to you in the first place. So I would love to just dive in with that as a concept, like what does that actually mean? And how did that become something that you decided was so important to give attention to?
BK: Mm hmm. What does it mean? I think of it as rejection resilience as one of those skills that is so important, that most of us don't get a chance to develop except in the worst moments. Of how to actually move through an experience of rejection in a way that feels like it's aligned with our values. It that is when when I look back, I don't regret everything that I did, you know, and that to be able to continue making choices in life that are maybe sometimes scary or risky, or makes me feel vulnerable, and with the possibility of rejection, but continue to choose those things, because those things are also what brings me a lot of fulfillment and joy. And so I think of the resilience as like a whole set of skills, including all those things.
Lianne: Hmm, yeah, I've been thinking about rejection and why it's important within the context of what the show is about and thinking both to be able to ask for what you want, and to voice desires, to be able to receive rejection gracefully. And, and to be able to deliver a rejection gracefully.
Lianne: And I want to get into all aspects of that. So when you talk about the importance you just mentioned, you know, that that's where the fulfillment comes, can you talk a little bit more about that as an idea of why on the other end of rejection, or the things that we are most likely scared to be rejected about?
BK: Yeah. I mean, it makes so much sense to me that the places that we want acceptance are the places that we risk rejection, right? I don't really risk rejection from a school, you know, that I don't want to go to. And I don't face rejection from people that I don't want to speak to, or be close to. So it goes hand in hand, it feels, rejection and the possibility of rejection, together. With what I really desire, what I really want in my life, all the things that are important to me, actually ,put me at some risk of rejection. And the rejection might be, you know, actually, somebody saying, No, I don't feel the same way. Or it could just be things don't turn out exactly the way I was hoping. You know, often people feel rejected, if, let's say, a really exciting, elaborate plan that they had built, and they felt very excited about, doesn't turn out quite the same way. Or the people involved. They're not so excited about their surprise party, that moment of disappointment is that kind of just… the feeling of disappointment, of feeling let down and so forth, that’s really close to the feeling of rejection.
And so, yeah, it's one of the same and how I got actually into this work, is from doing consent work. So many of my colleagues and I, as sex educators, were asked to do consent work to teach people of all ages what consent is, what consent culture means. And how do we make it happen? How do we, you know, ask for consent? How do we answer to invitations of consent? And then I realized, you know, the sex educator is there in the room, when I'm telling people what to do, what they're supposed to do, and what the rules are, and what their rights are, and so forth. But I'm not there when they're going to do the scariest thing. And so many people don't ask for consent. I mean, for so many reasons, but one of the reasons is, I've not done it before, and it's scary, and I don't want to get rejected. If I ask, then, I open myself to be answered. So if I don't ask, and I don't open myself as much to be answered. And so many of the sexual scripts that we say are problematic, right? Like, “just keep going until somebody says no, or like, if they're quiet, that means it's all right.” All those things are, of course, connected to entitlement and to, like, problematic sexual norms. But they're also really rooted in doing everything you can to avoid that moment of being rejected. So I really wanted to say, Okay, I want to be in the room with you a little bit more, I want to support you a little bit more through the hardest thing that I'm asking you to do.
Lianne: The idea of entitlement is something that I've certainly experienced before, definitely growing up and with partners, and I think you're really hitting it on the nose of… and I've also just been thinking about how there's always a shadow behind something. So like what you just said, if somebody feels a sense of entitlement to sex, or pleasure, or someone else's body or something, right, that there's actually masking... that entitlement is masking a vulnerability or a need that hasn't been met or something. And I think that's a really powerful concept. Where do you think that feeling of entitlement within our culture, and particularly in this context, like, how has that been conditioned in relationships?
BK: Um, so many ways. I mean, the obvious ones are, you know, like gender conditioning, you know, expectations of what my life would be like as a certain gender and what how people will interact with me in their genders, you know. So the schools of masculinity often will not only sell me this idea that it's my job to go get what I need. But also, like I work hard, and you know, you got to keep going and persistence is rewarded. So, you know, that's, that's the obvious part. But less obvious is also, you know, messages like, two people vying for the same person. You know, even Disney and all those kids-oriented kinds of stories are focused on the people who desire. They don't really say, well, let's let that person decide. So, you know, like, long-time-ago and new stories, they're very similar, like, it's all about the person who wants to initiate. And so the initiator often gets privileged in the story. And then the person who gets to respond to the initiator is, sometimes, you know, less of a subject. Less of, you know, more of an object, by that I mean, and less of a character, right. It's not as much that person's story. So gender conditioning, definitely sexual ideas about who wants sexual connection, and who doesn't. And so if you're the person who wants it, then you have to go get it, because the other person is about to lose something. You know, so, if I'm trying to talk somebody into losing something, I have to, you know, be “devious” or “smart” to trick them into it, or I have to, you know, pay out a certain amount of money or have to buy dinner or to like, get them drunk. So this idea that it is a trade, you know, and this assumption that…
Lianne: Right, that it's transactional.
BK: Yeah, that it’s transactional! So those things feed into entitlement too, because once I've done my part of the transaction, then I deserve whatever is the outcome I'm expecting. So those things are all, I think, connected. But other things, I think, are even more subtle. Like, you know, if you really believe in love, and the beauty of the love story, and the fairy tale, and if your love is ardent enough, and if your love is strong enough, then it overcomes anything. So things that are actually, like, kind of romantic, actually feeds into a kind of entitlement. And it's supposed to happen, like, love is supposed to happen, and connection and beauty and sexual things are just supposed to happen. The reality is so many people are lonely. The reality is, so many people are getting so much less touch, and connection and sex and sexual activity than they want. But it doesn't seem like those stories don't get told, they don't get told on Instagram, they don't get told in movies, they don't get told as much. So there is also a cultural idea that everyone is getting something and so I should get it too.
Lianne: So talking about, you know, you say it's so important to confront and experience rejection and to strengthen that as a muscle. What are ways that people can actively do that to kind of... What does rejection resilience training look like? What's the life gym?
BK: Yeah, and I think for one is to recognize that there's sort of a cultural norm around rejection, first of all. You know, just like there is a bit of a cultural norm around loneliness, it's one of the things that are very hard to talk about, and that people are encouraged, myself included, to call it something else. So either to block it and not feel it and, and when it does surface as a kind of energy, we call it something else. So rejection’s disguises are like, anger, you know? I'm pissed.
I want revenge. And it also can be disguised as like, nothing ever works out for me. Versus like, I'm really sad and hurt in this moment. And so I think recognizing that that's the norm and that, because of that norm, many of us haven't not actually had a lot of training feeling rejection.
That, you know, from when we were little, something doesn't work out. It might be called something else. So in the same way that, you know, many people who have not been encouraged to feel vulnerable, and whenever they do feel vulnerable, they've been allowed to, let's say, be angry, or let's say be blank, you know, be numb. That when rejection surfaces, many of us don't necessarily know. That we're feeling rejected and feeling disappointed, feeling hurt and feeling small and feeling insecure. And feeling worried and feeling, you know, bleak and feeling helpless and despair. And just really, really wanting something and really facing the thing that's not there.
So, recognition, and then the other is to become more comfortable with that thing that is so uncomfortable. So the thing that we've avoided, feeling we've been helped away from feeling, we've disguised as something else, we've called something else. You know, when it comes down to it, that thing is actually very uncomfortable. So it didn't take, you know, a lot of encouragement for me to try to not feel rejected, when, you know, in my life training. And so becoming more comfortable means like, when it surfaces, can I try to feel it a little bit before I do the thing I do that stops me from feeling it, before I'm enraged? Before I start kicking whatever is close by. Before I go into the story of nothing ever goes well, for me, I just have bad luck. Or before I blame it on something else, you know. This kind of: people are terrible. This school sucks. Who wants to get on the volleyball team anyway? You know, I hate volleyball. Before any of that can happen, can I feel it a little bit?
So how do we do that? How do we actually feel the signal we can all feel that we find really hard to feel? And I really connect to that challenge. Because I like, personally speaking, I'm a master at not feeling the things that I'm not good at feeling. This is why this practice is interesting to me at all. And so sometimes it's through the body. And so when I want to feel, and very few people will say: “Yeah, I want to feel rejected, I want to go and feel it.” But you know, for whatever reason, you might want to, to feel it, so that you might process this feeling instead of letting you get stuck, you know? I might put my body in a way that looks like rejection. Right? So becoming smaller instead of big, instead of like, up, and like front, and like vengeful and ready to attack, I might actually have to relax my body to be more defenseless, right, if my issue is being all defended. Curling up in a fetal position. I know this group of feminists in South Korea who do this really cool practice, which is that they get together. And instead of like sitting around and doing a check in or whatever business of the day might be, they huddle together and they make crying sounds, the sounds of crying. Wailing, sometimes, or sobbing. And people are not sobbing, but then they do it. And within a few minutes, everyone is sobbing for real.
And I know this only because I met a woman who was part of the circle. I don't know any more than that. And she's since not been in my life. So… but what I learned from that image that, you know, story that she shared with me, is that like the body can lead. There's so much that my body actually needs to talk about, but I'm kind of blocked. And so going there actually can help us, similar to, you know, people practicing all kinds of body wisdoms will like change and contort their face into the shape of a smile. And that somehow, you know, brings biochemical and biological, physiological changes, right? And it's very similar, so the body can lead. That's one.
Another thing that we can do is to actually ask people who are good at feeling rejected. When you feel rejected, like, what the hell are you talking about? What do you feel? What are you saying to yourself? It can really help. And it's almost like studying. And then what what is helpful is also to allow myself to be rejected in small ways.
Lianne: To seek it out.
BK: To seek it out, but in small ways. It's in small ways some of that the burden that I have to then carry is a smaller one. And I might be better at trying to feel it. So I was interviewed about this about, I don't know, three weeks ago, and I was sitting in my car, talking to the interviewer, and I had left the lights on. So by the end of our interview, my battery was dead. I happen to have a terrible car battery. And then my next, you know, 20 minutes was spent flagging other cars down, asking them for a boost. And I got rejected by eight different people. And I was feeling quite desperate, like, I was feeling like, Come on, you got to help me and I felt like pathetic, and I felt stupid. You know, that's what I'm talking about in terms of feeling rejected. I didn't… I mean, I also went to my brain that says, Toronto sucks! People who live in Toronto, are like, heartless, and they don't help. I went there. You know, that's part of my coping. But what I was really feeling was, like, alone, and stupid, and regretful that I left the lights on, and wished, like, I could just take it back, you know, all those things that are really hard to feel. But that was like, an easier rejection than others. Right. So seeing that as an opportunity really helps.
Lianne: I love that, you know, I think it's been something I've been thinking about since I had Meg Saxby on the show, because she's the one who first mentioned you and…
BK: I love Meg.
Lianne: Yes, shout out to Meg. I met Meg in an airport terminal. And the next day, she came over to my house in Santa Fe to do an interview.
BK: Of course.
Lianne: Yeah, very generous. Um, but I think it's been in my mind. And so I've been watching. And there's a couple of things I've been thinking. One is that it's so not personal, right? Like, at first, it was like, wow, I have this pathology, like I, I'm really scared of rejection, right. And this will happen a lot, when I will kind of get honest or insightful about fears or things that I'm feeling. And then I'll first go through the space of thinking that it's all you know, I'm the only one on the planet that possibly, like, has to deal with this challenging human experience. Yeah, like, Oh, this is actually a super universal human experience. And then I started to watch it. And it's really amazing how often it can come up in places where you're like, why is that even, you know, inviting a friend to do a thing, or asking, “Can I borrow this,” whatever. And I'll sometimes like, track it for myself: “Who would ask like, for this many things,” and now, you know... and then I was recently having to negotiate for a job. And then that was, that's a whole other level of, you know, being... feeling that you need to be courageous enough.
Lianne: But the more comfortable you are with the rejection, the more you're going to ask for.
Lianne: And so in all of these ways, it just got me thinking about how important this work is that you're doing. And this conversation is in all of these realms. So I do, I love the idea of like making it this game and some way of like, you know, small ways that you can start to strengthen the muscles so that when you're in these moments that feel that the stakes are kind of higher, either with an intimate partner or with a boss that you have to have a difficult conversation, that you're really resourced enough to do that.
Um, so, in thinking about the consent conversation, I want to stay on the receiving end of rejection a little bit longer. What are the kind of tools -- I know you work with college kids, as well as adults. And when you talk about this, like, I think another thing I'm thinking about that is this idea that rejection isn't harm, and it's not personal. Not just in the way I was just speaking, but also that receiving rejection, it's not that... it's so rarely about you. I also know this because I'm a theater director, so I go through audition processes a lot where I'm casting people. And every time I go through the casting process, I'm like, okay, for my own self, let me remember that it's never about me, right? Like, this person is amazing. They're just not right for it.
Lianne: Or whatever. So how do you teach people to depersonalize rejection, and then, particularly in the conversation around consent, to be resilient around that and like, you know, develop that resiliency that we're talking about?
BK: I think one of the things is to understand that it feels personal. Right, like, to be able to say “This feels personal” versus not say it and just assume that it is, right. And so to say “this feels personal” and to be able to articulate that is step one, because identifying that something feels personal to you is really important to depersonalizing it. And something that I had learned from nonviolent communication that I still use all the time, is that in nonviolent communication, at least with the groups that I studied with, the list of feelings that are available for you to, you know, choose from, to name how you're feeling, it excludes certain feelings. Words, like: “I feel attacked.” Or “I feel misunderstood.” Or “I feel cornered.” Are not included, because they’re story feelings, they’re stories about the other person. And so what do I say instead of attacked, I have to say, “I'm defensive.” That's how I'm feeling. And that might be because you're attacking me. Fair enough. Or it might be, I believe you're attacking me. It feels personal. So I'm feeling defensive. And that has been so illuminating, right? So that I can feel defensive regardless, whether you're attacking me or not. So that's one. To depersonalize I think, sexual rejection, particularly, I think we have to take apart this idea that sexual, like, sexual invitation and sexual acceptance is based on merit. It is not, you know, a score. It's not: if you're a 10, then nobody rejects you, and nobody has a good time with, you know, a 2. I think that is so harmful, that practice of calling people numbers, of course, I mean, just the idea of like, grading anyone, but it's so obvious that people who are super hot and famous and rich, who most people would think of as 10s, would make terrible partners for, maybe you, maybe me. You know, so the idea that sexual attraction and so forth are compatibilities, just like, you know, when you're casting for a role, it is about compatibility, is so important. So I think stories about compatibilities, about real connection between people. And by real I don't mean like, you have to love each other for, you know, 55 years. I mean, you know, even transcendent, beautiful, brief sexual exchanges are about. So they are personal. Right? They are about what happens between those two people, as I often will say just that, and sometimes it's the first time somebody heard it, that sexual acceptance and sexual interest is not an evaluation of you.
Lianne: To flip the conversation, now, there's being able to receive rejection gracefully. And I'm also thinking about consent when it's so great, when the response is something like, thank you for taking care of yourself. Right, I think it's a standard response that is being taught that... I'm sure there are others that are also as good or better, but you know, it's one. But it's really nice to receive, because it's really hard to deliver a rejection as well. And when he says immediately, “Thank you for taking care of yourself,” it actually like softens it for both people. Yeah, I think really acknowledges that it is personal in that way. Yeah. Um, why is it so hard for us to reject, so not only to receive, but to then speak our truth when that involves letting someone down?
BK: Mm hmm. And I want to say a word about the, you know, the script. I also ask people to make an exit plan. Because in that moment of rejection, whatever the rejection might be, it is really hard to do the thing that would be eventually aligned with your values. You know, it's much more likely we go into panic, and then attack, or and then just, like, try to disappear. And so if you have an exit plan, it is much more likely you will do that. So if your exit plan is, “Thank you for taking care of yourself,” you can say that even though the rest of us turning blue and feeling like, Oh my god, I'm gonna find a hole and cry within that hole, you know. And so, really simple ones when I talk to, you know, college folks. “Thanks, have a good night.” You know, like, just know that that's your plan, so that you don't have to scramble in that moment. For something else, you're much more likely to do something less aligned with who you are and who you want to be.
Lianne: Yeah, well, and even something like that is, I think this also becomes an interesting one.
There's a whole spectrum too. So a rejection is also not: No, absolutely, door shut in your face, right. But sometimes it's” No, not this particular thing right now, yes, I want to keep relating with you in that way. And so I wonder also about an exit plan that allows you to like tend to your emotional reaction while still staying engaged and present to like what is available.
BK: Yes. So that would be like the thing after the exit plan, to take care of yourself. That's a really big one. So the care part is really important, because if we continue to go without care,
there's only reason to not feel it, there's only reason to continue to hide from it to continue to attack other people in lieu of taking care of myself. And so that and taking care allows them, us to remain open to listen. But also expect that for a moment, your ears will be shut, your heart will be shut, your eyes will be shut because you're like, trauma, experiencing shock, did not expect. feel terrible. You know, you will return. But in order to return you just need to actually shut down for a moment.
Lianne: So and then the question of what, why is it so hard for people to reject others? Receiving rejection is really hard and delivering rejection is really awful as well.
BK: Yes, I think it does for many people. And it's the reason a lot of weird things happen when people have to deliver bad news of any kind. So delivering bad news is really scary for people, partly because witnessing somebody else in pain is really hard. So that's one of the earliest parts of training as a counselor or psychotherapist is actually being able to be with somebody who's going through an emotion that is hard to witness. Now, what's hard to witness would depend on the person. But the likelihood is that if I am not good at feeling a thing, it will be hard for me to witness other people doing that thing. That discomfort is connected. Right, and so if I'm not comfortable when I feel rejected, because I feel so ashamed about myself, then it will be really hard to sit with you. When you're feeling rejected, and I'm either seeing your shame, or I'm assuming you have a lot of shame. And it's oozing all over the place. And I just want you to mop it up and get better and cheer up already. I'm just wanting, you know, for you to do the thing I would do. So witnessing someone else's pain is really hard. It requires us to be present, and not like fix it right away, at least, at least not right away. It requires us to acknowledge that this person's feeling this thing. Add to that: “I think they're feeling this because of me or I know they're feeling this because of me,” then that's a really, like, perfect storm of, “I'm going to do everything to get away from that moment.”
And of course, I top swim in the same water that says rejection is personal. “I’m a mean person, and a bad person. If I am not pleasing you, you're not happy with me or you feel bad about yourself. I'm mean and I'm bad.” Now, I think we teach this also to people, to kids, when we say don't hurt people's feelings in a very reductive and simple way. And I think adults assume that kids know, you mean, like, don't hurt someone on purpose.
BK: But most of the people I speak to have trouble discerning, alright, like, don't hurt people on purpose. So, in my lifetime, I will likely hurt a lot of people, not on purpose. But just by being me. Just by being true to me. I will likely disappoint and displease and hurt. And that truth, I wish I knew when I was little. And, yeah, it's not something that many people talk about, even though we live it all the time. Live it every day. Yeah, and, and this idea of being nice, not mean, it's really not helpful.
Lianne: Totally. I love how you're pointing out, like, the root of it. And I'm thinking about, you know, makes me happy when parents, I know parents, a handful of parents who don't make their kids hug and kiss if they don't want to, right. And that's like a nice little shift I'm seeing. But otherwise, it's so often like, “Go and give this person... go say hi. Go give them a hug, go give them a kiss.” And it's like, there's no agency or choice in that. And if you don't, then it's very apparent that the person and your parent, everybody's let down.
BK: Right, right.
Lianne: Like you've done something wrong. You're not being kind. And yeah, I can, I think that conditioning is really profound and insidious, and what makes it so... what makes, what allows so many people to go through with non-consensual sex, right, or to act... because they think that they are being nice, or that to speak their truth or to reject or to stop or to say that they don't like this, any of that is actually a reflection of them being a bad person, or selfish. And I know that that was, growing up, like, the hardest thing for me, was that feeling of, oh, I’m letting this person down.
Lianne: Like they have a want or a desire or an expectation. And if I say no, like, I'm disappointing them.
Lianne: And the feeling of disappointing someone was so awful, right, and got very compounded with an idea of being selfish, or anything like that.
BK: And, I think, you know, that's, you know, how in rejecting and receiving rejection or sometimes confusing the feeling of rejection for something else, like anger. The the act of setting a boundary, for example, or telling your truth, and witnessing the reaction to that being pain is, by mistake, equal to, “I am hurting you on purpose. And I don't care about you.” Right, I necessarily don't care. If I do anything that you're hurt by. So that conflation is also deadly, right? It's, because those are not the same. And so after I've, you know, set my boundary and you're hurt and you feel rebuffed. You know, if you come back to me by saying, I guess you don't care about me. So many people in that moment, then, acquiesce then say, “Oh, no, I do. Okay, fine.”
BK: Because I feel so bad already. The moment you push back. Yeah, so it's just, it's just an untrue story that care, or that “You matter” means you never get hurt.
Lianne: Yeah, it feels like, well, I wonder then what is the education or training that can help us all as a society and help young people not go down that path of conflation.
BK: Um, I think, you know, allowing those things to coexist is already huge, you know, like, “You failed this test, and I’m really disappointed, and I love you. And we're going to sit down and talk about how you're going to do better.” Because either I'm going to help you or somebody else is going to help you or, you know, we're going to figure out, so you know, a parent, being angry with a child is often in, in the cultures and this communities and the circles that I'm familiar with, so often equated with, I'm going to disconnect from you. Because you don't matter. You're bad. Right? And so how do we continue to say I love you, and I'm so mad at you, I love you and you disappointed me. I love you and you broke the rules or you broke our agreement.
I care about you as a person, and I don't want to do that thing you just suggested. I find you very sexually attractive, and I don't... didn't enjoy what we did last night. Right, like, to be able to have these truths coexist. It's really not that complicated. But for many people, it's a “but.” Like, I find you sexy, but. I didn't have a good time. And I, too, I'm a bit confused about it. Right. So the “but” really tells the story that our truths don't, seemingly contradictory truths, have a hard time existing together. And I think that has to do with, you know, like, maybe Western thought, the way we live, maybe I don't know, I don't know.
Lianne: Totally, like there's no, there's not room for both ends, right. We love, we love our binaries, our polarization and the absolutes. And I think a lot of young people, and adults too, go through thinking that there's a script as well, so that there's some, there's a pre-written script about how things are going to go. And there's these codes that have already agreed to, right? So like, I've invited you over on a Saturday night, Oops, I've already consented to sexual intercourse. Right? And like, Oops, I can't change my mind about that now, or whatever, you have an impression and I… there's tha, I think, coming from that feeling of who I don't want to disappoint. It's like the privileging of someone else's reality over your own style that I would often feel when I was younger, like, Okay, well, I don't really want to participate in hookup culture, that seems really weird and scary to me. I don't think I'm super into casual sex. But that's like, what we're doing. That’s what it is to be 24 in New York City right now. Right, you know, and so that, what I think, how I think this connects to everything in terms of, it's about truth and authenticity, and like ,being really in touch with what your own truth is, and honoring it only. And even when it comes into conflict with someone else's, and being like, and both truths are okay, it's not that one is more right than the other. But here they are, so now how do we find a way to coexist so that we both feel honored and respected within those truths?
BK: Mm hmm. Yeah. And like connected to what you're saying is also, it is hard for a lot of folks to know what they want. Right, sexually speaking. So. So sometimes, people find themselves in the position of say, yes, when they mean, no, absolutely. Because of all the, you know, social pressures that you're talking about, and, like relational currency, right. But other times, it's, I don't know, what I really want. And this is what I've had. And it's been okay. And so I think we also as sex educators, and people who think about sex a lot, also need to make our language more complex, our stories more complex, right? I would like there to be more room for people to name: “I don't know. And I don't really like sacks, or I haven't had amazing sex, or I've had it once and I don't expect it again. You know, all those realities are common. And so then there's that I think, some of the consent talk assumes that there's always something I understand, a truth I know about myself. And it's about either I say it, or I don't, right, I set my boundary or I don't, but the reality is that so often in sexual activity, like, my mood changes, what I like, and what I enjoy is changing as we go. And, you know, if I'm happy with something, I could be unhappy with the same thing in the next moment, or I'm like, hoping it'll change or when the song changes, I'm suddenly more into it, you know, like, all those things are real. And I think we could talk about those more instead of only as like when you want it, you deserve it, you know, to say, No, you can say no. So there's that peace.
Lianne: I'd love to talk about these ideas, then now, when it comes to communication, about desire and about, you know, especially when it's with a partner, I think the consent conversation and everything, all of this becomes increasingly rich and complex, actually, when it's with trusted, intimate partners.
Lianne: There might be this assumption that what we're talking about is only about a new partner when it's casual. And actually, in some ways, it's even harder when, because there's some expectation, but there should be some certain, either certain things should be accepted, or we care so much more, the rejection means a whole lot more if it's from someone that we love. So I'd love for you to just speak a little bit about the concept of rejection resilience as it comes into, now sexual communication about sex that we are consenting to. speaking about desire and yeah, navigating intimacy and authenticity in partnerships.
BK: Yeah, I think the idea of letting multiple truths be coexistent is really important, especially in intimate relationships, because then all the more is it important to actually tell the truth. Because there's more room and more time to tell the truth. So the truth about everything, including, you know, right off the bat, things that might be true, like, “I don't do that, I've never done that, I fear, you seeing me like this, that's why I do that other thing,” right. But so often, the reality of relationships is that they're built on certain things being concealed, and and rightfully so. And so in relationship, it also means a series of, reveals. A series of revelations over time, as I trust you more, as I know you to be safe, as I become braver, as I decide, you know, who I might want to be in this 20-year relationship? You know, I hope that, you know, folks still feel, like, themselves growing, and so forth. So there's always more of ourselves to reveal. And if we can assume that there are more revelations coming, I think it makes a better relationship. And so some of those revelations might be sexual rejections. Right, the thing that we've enjoyed every Thursday, I'm thinking, of not. You know, it's really feeling not fun for me anymore. How do we talk about that? And so it's very different in every relationship. And so this is another thing that's very specific to longer term, or more intimate, or, you know, deeper relationships, is like, learning about how you communicate in that relationship. So some folks really, truly will be wanting you to say, “Stop it, I don't like it.” And others will say, “There's something I want to talk to you about. And it's really hard to talk about, because I don't want to hurt your feelings. And it's really important, to be honest with you.” Right, so some folks would hate that, and some folks would love that. So, I think we get into a little bit more craft, we get into a little bit more, How do we do this as people in relationship, and as people who are committed to knowing each other more and more. And then there's also like, a future. You know, so in this moment, there's a rejection, there's time for you to move away and be wounded and, and heal, and so forth. And then there's a time for you to return and then we revisit. That's not, you know, what we're talking about in you know, hookups or when we're talking to a new partner. So the future tense, everything slowing down, is more possible. And so I think rejections can also be slowed down, and the things and I can participate in your healing it, because I am not only the person rejecting you, I'm also somebody who loves you and cares for you. I'm also somebody who helps you through hard times, right? So I think our roles expand in those ways. And allowing somebody to to help take care of you when it's their rejection that's hurting you is one of the ways to deepen a relationship. One of the biggest ways.
Lianne: That's a question I wanted to ask you earlier is, is there an onus on the person who is doing the rejecting to hold space for the person that they've rejected? Maybe that depends on the relationship?
BK: Yeah. I think it depends on the relationship and the thing. And the thing that's... yeah, sometimes for sure. And other times, you need to get support from elsewhere. I can't be the person supporting.
Lianne: Yeah. Especially I think, when it is not in a sort of committed partnership, that it's important. You know, if you feel moved to hold space, then you can, and also, you don't have to,
Lianne: Somewhere in their process and owning your own.
BK: Especially if you know that you tend to sort of get blurry around how they're feeling and how you're feeling. So if you tend to, you know, take on other people's feelings.
BK: Then it might be actually more important to just be clear, and then let them take care of themselves and be kind and so forth. But don't take it on, right, especially if you know that's the thing you tend to do.
Lianne: So what about desire, and can you, getting what you want, or you don't want, what are some tools that you give people? Or how do you, you know, I think it has the same, it's in the same stew of topics that we're talking about. We’re thinking like, Why is it so hard for people for us to ask for what we want? Or to say no, I don't like this. And I think there's something about rejection in there.
BK: I think it's hard in a number of ways. One is back to the same, like, you may not know what you want to ask for. You might, you know, and it, I think a lot of times these things get talked about, like, oh, there's that thing I want to try. You know, and many of the folks I work with are saying, “There's nothing I want to try. That's the issue.” There's not like a thing I've been, you know, having a hard time saying, My issue might be like, I don't know, is there anything I should be wanting? So sometimes it's that. Other times, of course, it's judgment, and judgment specifically linked to shame around you know, sexual desire, around what turns you on, what turns you off, all the amazing parts of imagination, of somebody’s inner workings. You know, so being fearful that you would be judged, that you might think I'm creepy, that I'm weird, that, you know, you don't get it. You thought we were like, similar in all these ways. And then I reveal something about myself. And then you have a freakout. I think these are some fears that people have. And there's not really a lot of things to do around those things besides continuous, like, exploration. Like continuous exploration, not necessarily only sexually right? So watching documentaries about, let's say, disability, it can change how you have a conversation about perspective. Isn't it interesting, what we consider ability versus disability? Isn't it interesting what's normal and what's not normal? I think, often it's not specific to sex, but like it, it's the culture of a relationship, right. Do we think weird things are bad? Do we think not knowing each other completely is scary? You know, so how do we develop the culture in our relationship, beyond sexual topics, that are actually full of curiosity, and like, when I'm scared that you're moving further away from me, because the thing that you desire is not about me. How do I talk to you about how much I desire to be close to you and wish that, you know, I could fulfill everything. And I can't, and I don't, and that terrifies me, right. So it is so often linked to other things that are not about talking about sex. And then I think it's also who people are, in, you know, intimate relationships, we tap into different parts of ourselves sometimes. So then, at least the many of the couples that I work with would say, like, when we were newer, we were really great sexual partners. And now we're good life partners, but sexually, we're much less, like, exciting. And sometimes that's, you know, just changing of how much you know, distance we have to travel metaphorically to get to each other, so it’s less exciting. Sometimes it's familiarity, but other times, it's that, you know, we may not want to be that racy, exciting self with the person that we're very deeply intimate and vulnerable with. That racy self might be easier to be when I'm more mysterious to the other person, when I can hold back a lot of other things. And so for me, it's often about making peace between those, those things, like I’m not thinking that I need both of them to exist in one connection, to mean that it's a good one. You know, so the, you know, the people that you love to go party with, and, you know, have a great time with may not be the same people that you want to, you know, plant a garden with. Those things require very different connections.
Lianne: I’m wondering about your own journey into this work. I've heard you say, or acknowledge, you know, that you've gotten to this work because it's work that you needed for yourself for that it hasn't come naturally, which is also how I got into this work. And I’d love to hear just a little bit briefly about your upbringing and how you even first learned about sex and like, what your initial exposure to and experiences were with it, and how it's evolved since.
BK: What a great question. It's not a usual question.
I was very, I was a pained child, you know. So as a child, I think I was like, quite sexually interested and romantically interested. I remember thinking, like at nine, that I was like, ready to, like, have a relationship. But then I was also queer without knowing that I was queer, I think, yeah, I was very, I felt like I was stuck in like, the wrong time, wrong body, wrong age, wrong gender, all of the above. And so I had so many desires, and I had no outlets for them, because it was not safe. And so I think that actually deeply created a path for me, because all I wanted was to be let out of the prison I had created for myself. And so it was so liberating to realize, actually, so many of the things that I thought were not possible, like, say out loud that I desire something, or walking up to someone and say, I think you're beautiful, and I can't get over it.
Or feeling okay to say to myself, like, you're sad, you're feeling very alone. That all those things are possible, and that the sky doesn't fall, and all the things that I thought would happen, like the sky falling, literally, or my family would fall apart, and everyone would be angry with me. All those things either didn't happen, or they happened, and they didn't kill me. So, yeah, I think for me, it's always been a path of like, liberating myself from this feeling of like, “I'm alone”. And “I can't.” So that started with, you know, talking about sexuality. Absolutely. But also talking about racism and talking about homophobia and transphobia. Finding language to talk about those things was amazing. And then much later talking about feelings, because yeah, there's a lot to learn.
Lianne: Did, how did your family, did they speak about sex with you at all?
BK: No, no, no sex, and like, when somebody would kiss on screen, like, I was to look away. And I think I was maybe 12, and I remember sitting in the kitchen, and Geraldo was on and a number of trans women were on there talking about being trans women. And my mom looked over at me and said, “You're not like that, are you?” And I was like, “No.” Because I was already very genderqueer and androgynous. And we had run into a lot of problems at school and also in the community of people like accosting my mother and saying, like, “You have to raise your daughter better.”
Lianne: Wow. Where did you grow up?
BK: I grew up in a suburb of Toronto, on the edge of Mississauga, which was like a new development, subdevelopment, yeah.
Lianne: And your family's from Hong Kong.
Lianne: All right.
BK: Yeah. So I grew up, like, a weirdo. And that's also been very liberating.
Lianne: How did they, or what is, what is your relationship with your parents like now, and particularly around the work that you do?
BK: Ah, my relationship with them is pretty good. We still don't talk about most things, which is fine. And they understand that I am an educator. And I think at some point, you know, when I was doing sexual health, they would say I was a health educator. Um, yeah, my mom would often say, you keep traveling to give talks, but what is there so much to talk about? And so that's sort of, I don't think they really understand what I do, but I don't think their care and attention for me is like, in those kinds of details.
BK: And more like into making sure that I change my winter tires.
Lianne: And so when you were growing up, I guess, what was maybe I just ask you two questions. One is, what were some of your earliest sexual experiences that you're open to sharing about and then what was a later one that was maybe a pivotal shift, or some outside influence that maybe shifted your own relationship to how you communicate and to your relationship to your sexuality.
BK: One of my earliest memories of, like, a sexual experience was, I think, when I was three. And I remember having an incredible crush on one of my cousins. One of my girl cousins, and I just could not, like, sit still, because I was so embarrassed whenever she was in the room, and I could not look at her. And so I remember she had like, come over to visit my parents and I ran laps and jumped onto the couch, and I jumped off the couch. And I ran the whole time that she was there. And it was because I wanted… I just didn't know what to do with myself. And it was so clear that it was like, like, I don't know, I see. I couldn't tell you what I wanted from her. I just knew it was that I couldn't look at her face. Yeah. So that was, I would have then, many, many more experiences like that.
A pivotal moment. I remember having a lover who was also a sex educator, when I was in my early 20s. And I remember one time, she was like, in the covers, and she was like, near my genitals, and then she came up out of the covers, and she was holding her hand up. And she had a glove on and she said, and looking at the glove, showing me the glove, she said: “I think you have BV.” And I was, and that had never happened -- for, you know, people who are listening like bacterial vaginosis, very common and you know, if you know it, you can tell by how it looks and how it smells and so forth. And that had just never happened to me until then, that somebody would tell me, and told me in such a matter of fact way.
Lianne: Right. But, and a glove on her, that was a common practice for you?
BK: Yeah, she was, she was always using gloves. So I wasn't shocked about the glove, but I was shocked at the delivery.
Lianne: Why was she using gloves?
BK: I think she was just like, doing, she would use gloves, she would use dams, everything. Just as a latex barrier. But it was the coolest experience. Because I was like, should I feel embarrassed right now? Because nothing is set up for me to feel embarrassed. Right? I needed a cue to like, run to the bathroom and shame or something. Right? But she had not given me any of that. And she was just like, Look, look, I think. And then she's like, “Don't worry, cuz you know, all you need is this, this and this”. And I was just like…
Lianne: “Now, back to this!”
BK: “Okay, do you want to continue?” She's like, “No, no, no.” But you know, so it really normalized and neutralized something that I thought must be a terrifying experience.
Lianne: Totally. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing.
BK: Would you tell me a little bit also of your path to your work?
Lianne: Oh, flipping the interview on me.
BK: Just because you said that it was similar that you were, you were also on a journey.
Lianne: Yeah, well, I think just how I referenced already, like, there was... my path just came from feeling both always very sexual and like, very erotically alive, and also not particularly safe in that, from how I like, saw that that energy that I was putting out would come back at me and I wouldn't know how to handle it. You know, especially, I moved to Argentina when I graduated from college. And so I was dealing with, like, Latin men and machismo. And so there is a feeling of never having learned to have these conversations and then later being like, Oh, yeah, cuz like, no one learns how to have these conversations. And feeling just really sexually dissatisfied for a really long time and thinking that it must mean that, my bad there's something broken in me or something wrong. Not that it was simply that I hadn't learned how to communicate and why I want or how to, how to really deliberate self-pleasure exploration. And so I think for me, it was both a quest for pleasure, and also trying to like, figure out my own body and then figure out like, that feeling of, that I alluded to earlier of always feeling that there was some script, that was the dominant culture, when it came to sex, that didn't feel good, or it didn't feel right with me, but that I didn't think I had any agency to change, and didn't have any of the tools to change it, even if I felt empowered to do so.
And so, um, I'd say it was once that, through my own research of other people's work, and a lot of conversations with a lot of women to be like, “Oh, that's pretty common.” And the more I would sociologically, and historically investigate why that was, and all of them many sources from patriarchy, and like our history, and just, you know, like, what it was like to be a teenager in Long Island, and like, what sex ed was like, or not like, and all of these dynamics, that just led me to be wanting to have conversations about it. So that, because it seems like such a profound part of our lives, and I, it later became more of a spiritual quest too, because I think pleasure and sex is, it's just so connected, there's a whole verticality to that self connection, and that there's a divine connection there too. And so it kind of angered me that that was so ruptured and broken and in our society, when in fact, it's like, the most fundamental essence of what it is to be alive and to be human and to be able to continue, like, humanity. And so, um, and then I see how many aspects, the more I, the more conversations I have, and the more self reflection, like, how much it all connects to everything outside of sex. Right? So we're talking about rejection resilience, and it's like, yes, like, the more I can strengthen that muscle within my intimate relationships, that also is me strengthening my authenticity in the world and my feeling. I'm feeling entitled in a healthy way to like, my own desires, and not, you know, learning, or deconditioning whatever self-denial is. So that's sort of my all in a nutshell. That was fast.
BK: Yeah, thanks for sharing it with me.
Lianne: Thanks for asking. I know at some point, somebody should interview me, so I could just get all of this out on the show.
BK: I think that would be a great show.
Lianne: Yeah, I know, I'm gearing up, it's much easier to ask the questions than to share vulnerably.
Um, but yeah, thank you for asking. Um, well, the last thing I was gonna ask you is just on that note, of where we are, it's pretty appropriate now, is because I also see how many conversations I'm having around this, and yet how it continues to be stiff, I have to navigate and feel really sloppy about in my own intimate relationships. And so I’m curious how your work has informed your personal life and if you ever feel barriers to practicing what you preach, and what, what helps you break through them, if anything?
BK: Hmm, I always feel barriers. Which is why I think, which is how I even learned what I preach. And I struggle, sometimes, like for moments, forget that you're allowed to know something, but not be perfect at doing it. And then I remember like, right, that's actually the only kinds of things I know. So I must be allowed. What helps, actually, what helps is actually talking about it. What helps is sharing and teaching. Because in doing that, people's feedback, and also, by trying to explain something, I understand something more. So that helps. Having a therapist helps. Having people that in my life that I can talk to helps. Practicing helps. So you know, like the rejection resilience is... I really relate to that as a challenge, you know, it wasn't that long ago that I felt so much guilt for asking for anything. Even, you know, if I'm just like at a restaurant, and I would like someone to bring me some lemon, and I'm creating a huge story like, “Oh, this person is making minimum wage, and they don't want to. And the last thing you know they need is to bring you a fucking lemon. So shut up.” You know, I have this big long story about it. And so my practice is to ask for it and then to receive it, right, and to, instead of feeling sorry, all the time, to say thank you, when I receive what I asked for, and to allow that person to, you know, they could get pissy about it, they could be like, “One more person asked me for a lemon, great.” Or they could be like, “That's awesome. I love lemon too. Happy to get it.” Right, but allow it to happen. So, practicing helps. And feeling like a learner helps. I rarely actually feel pressure to be very good at living my life. I feel pressure sometimes, like being an educator and helping folks live their lives. But yeah, but I will tell you something that I'm working on is like, feeling more aligned inside and out. So yeah, like telling my truth, like telling the truth about myself, right.
Lianne: And to yourself.
BK: To myself and to anyone. That helps.
Lianne: Well, here's to your alignment, to all of our self alignment, and to communicate authentically.
BK: Thank you.
Lianne: If this episode turns you on, please subscribe, rate, and review us. It makes a huge difference. Then head to strippersandsages.com to learn more about our guests, sign up for our mailing list, access special resources, and become a Patreon supporter, which would be very sexy of you. Special thanks to Ben Newfrat for scoring and mixing these episodes. Stay sexy, folks.