Tag Archives: non-binary

1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference 2016—10 Days Left for Regular Registration

Hello Friends, Colleagues, and Community!

I couldn’t be more excited to be involved in organizing and producing the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference on April 22, 2016 alongside Dr. Michael Aaron. Please see the stellar line up of speakers below, and note that the best time to buy tickets is now, before regular registration ends and prices go up on April 1.

Please also note that the conference has officially been approved by New York State for 6.5 social work continuing education credits, and also by AASECT for 6.5 continuing education credits.

If you have obligations that will keep you from attending the conference in person, you can attend remotely via live streaming, which is also eligible for continuing education credits.



1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference

Friday, April 22, 2016
8:15am – 5:15pm

Midtown Manhattan
CEs available*

Introducing the 1st Annual AltSex NYC Conference—where clinicians, academics, and alt lifestyle community members will come together for a full day of sex-positive, alternative lifestyle affirmative, cutting edge research-based,  and current practice-informed seminars and discussions presented by a stellar collection of New York City educators and mental health providers.   


8:15AM — Welcome Address

8:30AM — Keynote Address by Margaret Nichols, PhD
“Kink is Good: BDSM in the Context of New Models of Sex and Gender Variance”

10:05AM — Zhana Vrangalova, PhD
“Myths and Realities of Consensual Non-Monogamy”

11:05AM — Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW and Michael Aaron, PhD
“The Kink-Poly Confluence: Community Intersections and Clinical Approaches”

12:05PM — Lunch Break

1:20PM — Michael Aaron, PhD
“Facing Your Shadow: The Healing Potential of Psychological Edge Play”

2:20PM — Rosalyn Dischiavo, EdD, CSES
“Metamorphosis: Braving Transitions in Polyamorous Relationships”

3:30PM — David Ortmann, LCSW
“Age Play: Eros, Practicality, and Walking the Edge”

4:30PM — Panel Discussion & Final Words (optional)

produced by
Michael Aaron, PhD and Dulcinea Pitagora, MA, LMSW

*PROGRAM APPROVED: The AltSexNYC Conference has been approved by the New York State Education Department’s State Board for Social Work as a continuing education provider (# 0314) for licensed social workers. 

*PROGRAM APPROVED:  This program meets the requirements of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) and is approved for 6.5 AASECT CE Credits. These CE Credits may be applied toward AASECT certification and renewal of certification.

A portion of the AltSex NYC Conference proceeds will be donated to the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities (CARAS) in appreciation of their continued dedication to supporting and promoting excellence in the study of alternative sexualities. 

For more information, visit AltSexNYCconference.org.

Midtown Manhattan

New York, NY
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Surfing the Win

Metaphorshadowing: Sometimes on my morning commute, perhaps depending on how heavy my backpack is on a given day, I’ll surf the subway. I’ll plant my feet with a slight bend in my knees and I’ll look at a fixed point, and I’ll refuse to hold on to anything as I try not to fall over while the train bumps and lurches and stops and starts, over and over.  I’m not claiming to have done this with the performance of a metaphor in mind this post-Pride Monday morning, though I have to admit that during my commute, I was thinking about the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality for people in same-sex relationships  marriage equality regardless of sexual orientation  marriage equality regardless of gender the ruling in favor of marriage equality.  My subway ride this morning was a lot like my trying to finish that last sentence—I was conflicted, simultaneously happy, sad, frustrated, and excited. I almost fell over, and I most certainly bumped into a lot of people. It was easier to just cross out the outliers grab the subway pole and come to a full stop.

Photo courtesy of ABCnews.com

I am so happy about the ruling. I want everyone who wants to get married to be able to get married. Everyone. Regardless of their gender identification, their sexual orientation, their partner number preference, or their intimate partner power dynamic. I’m not happy it took this long to make happen, and I’m not happy that it doesn’t solve all the other problems of inequality and privilege for those outside of normative relationships and identifications, but I’m happy this happened nonetheless. Not that the institution of marriage is close to perfect, but it certainly helps many people feel better, at least for a while. And I am all for cultural constructs that give people a source of support and feeling of security. So I’m mostly happy about it, though I can’t help but take the decision with alternating grains of salt and sugar.

For example, the ruling doesn’t necessarily ensure the benefits that marriage is supposed to offer (salt), but it certainly pushes things in the right direction (sugar), and this seems like a necessary hurdle to jump to get closer to the hurdles still to come (salt, you get the idea). Also, the ruling doesn’t ensure that bullying, hate crimes, discrimination in professional, academic, and governmental institutions won’t occur. And the ruling makes no mention of those identifying outside of the binary in terms of gender identification on the marriage certificate, or those who have transitioned from the sex they were assigned at birth to another gender, and the ruling goes without saying that legal benefits for multi-partner relationships of any gender combination are a long time in coming (or are they?).

That’s a lot of salt, but regardless of the bumps and lurches and hurdles and strikethroughs, I see The Ruling as a Big Win, and something we can be unapologetically happy about, I just hope we don’t let the many happy voices drown out the few whose voices are so hard to hear.

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Sliding Scale Appointments Now Available!

I have the pleasure of announcing that beginning this summer I will be working under the supervision of Dr. Kelly Wise, psychotherapist and AASECT certified sex therapist. I’ll be taking on a limited number of sliding scale appointments at his Union Square office, working with individuals, couples, non-traditional relationships and families, and current or former sex workers dealing with issues across the spectrum of gender identification/expression, sexual orientation/expression, D/s dynamics, relationship status, intersections thereof, and beyond. Please contact me directly via email or my contact page for more information, or call me at 917-675-3446 for a free 15-minute phone consultation. I will continue working at PCGS and my private practice as well, and if for some reason we won’t be able to work together, I recommend taking a look at ManhattanAlternative.com, a referral listing for alternative lifestyle affirmative providers.

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I think I just saw my therapist in leather.

A point of clarification: The title of this post is not a direct quote from myself or anyone else in particular, though I am fairly certain that these words have been uttered before, in a paraphrase if not verbatim. I bring up this idea because the potential for crossing paths with your therapist, or your client if you’re a therapist, is something that you tend to think about and perhaps anticipate when both of you run in relatively small circles. I mentioned in the GO Magazine interview that outing myself was a conscious decision for several reasons, but one of the reasons that I did not happen to mention in that interview was that I am active in the communities connected with my intersecting identifications, and therefore chances are very likely that I will run into people I’m doing therapy with. When your own identifications result in something reminiscent of the rainbow Venn diagram below, and you find value in interacting socially with others who share those intersections, you just might see your therapist in leather, or they might see you in latex, or you might notice them interacting with a partner or partners.

And then what happens?  What do you do?  What would you expect your therapist to do?


There’s no one correct answer to the above questions, because the answer will depend on both the therapist’s and the client’s comfort levels, though the agreed upon answer should go in the more conservative direction, the one that most protects the therapeutic relationship and most allows for progress back in the therapeutic environment.  Because I tend to work with people who run in some or all of the same circles that I do, I like to address the issue of a potential path-crossing at some point in our work together, as early on as makes sense.

The conversation might go something like this: I bring up the potential of running into each other outside of our usual meeting place, check in with them to see how they feel about that potential, and let them know I have a uniform code of conduct when I find myself in that situation.  Which is, if I happen to inadvertently make eye contact, I might smile and nod, but I will not approach someone to speak to them out of respect for their privacy and discretion, and I will likely move to another area, or make a decision to leave if that seems more appropriate and protective of the therapeutic process.  If someone approaches me, I will certainly say hello, but I will not engage in prolonged conversation, and in our next session together, we would discuss thoughts and feelings that came up around meeting in a different context.  Finally, I would check in with them to see how they feel about that process, see what their specific preferences might be, and come to a mutually consensual agreement.  This is a fairly standard way of handling such situations, according to what I’ve heard from colleagues and supervisors.

There are therapists who would avoid engaging with clients outside of the therapeutic environment at all costs, and in more mainstream communities, it is much easier to accomplish this. When there are limited venues in which to interact socially with like-minded people however, I don’t see the need to avoid engagement. In fact, I feel as though being an active part of the community is a form of autoethnography, a process in which “you use your own experiences to garner insights into the larger culture or subculture of which you are a part” (Patton, 2014, Kindle Locations 3895-3896).  Understanding yourself and understanding the community/ies you’re a part of is an active and ongoing process, as is therapy. Likewise, therapy is an active collaboration, as is community, and I encourage my clients to take an active role in their process, just as I do in mine.

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IDAHOT: May 17!

From APAGS GradPsychBlog:

“On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and since 2005 the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) has commemorated that day. It is a global occasion for individuals, groups, and organizations to take action on topics related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and to advocate for more accepting public policies. Each year a global focus for IDAHOT is chosen and this year’s is LGBT youth.”


Read more!

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Cross-post: Thinking Globally about Sex and Gender

A couple of years ago I discovered a document called the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, created in 2006 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia by the International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights, on behalf of a coalition of human rights organizations in reaction to egregious international human rights violations pertaining to individuals marginalized for their sexual orientation and/or gender identifications.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 9.58.52 AM

The introduction to the Yogyakarta Principles begins with…

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. all human rights are universal, interdependent, indivisible and interrelated. sexual orientation1) and gender identity2) are integral to every person’s dignity and humanity and must not be the basis for discrimination or abuse” (p. 6).

…and ends with…

“The Yogyakarta Principles affirm binding international legal standards with which all states must comply. they promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfill that precious birthright” (p. 7).

I’m an advocate for every clinician and educator’s (and every human, really) reading this document in its entirety, which is why I decided to post this on the ManhattanAlternative.com blog, and is why I’m cross-posting it here as well. Though the abridged principles listed as follows can be interpreted differently depending on context and experience, thinking critically about them as they stand here is a useful exercise in itself:

  1. The right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.
  2. The rights to equality and non-discrimination.
  3. The right to recognition before the law.
  4. The right to life.
  5. The right to security of the person.
  6. The right to privacy.
  7. The right to freedom of arbitrary deprivation of liberty.
  8. The right to a fair trial.
  9. The right to treatment with humanity while in detention.
  10. The right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  11. The right to protection from all forms of exploitation, sale and trafficking of human beings.
  12. The right to work.
  13. The right to social security and to other social protection measures.
  14. The right to an adequate standard of living.
  15. The right to adequate housing.
  16. The right to education.
  17. The right to the highest attainable standard of health.
  18. Protection from medical abuses.
  19. The right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  20. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
  21. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  22. The right to freedom of movement.
  23. The right to seek asylum.
  24. The right to found a family.
  25. The right to participate in public life.
  26. The right to participate in cultural life.
  27. The right to promote human rights.
  28. The right to effective remedies and redress.
  29. Accountability.

Some interesting questions to ponder:

Which of the above principles most affect you on a regular basis?

Which have you fought for in terms of your personal experience?

Which might you have taken for granted?

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Call for NYC Alt Lifestyle Affirmative Providers!

Great news! I’m putting the finishing touches on ManhattanAlternative.com, a network of therapeutic service providers in New York City who are sex-positive, affirmative, and have expertise related to issues that kink, poly, consensually non-monogamous, trans, gender non-conforming, and/or LGBQ-identified individuals face.

I hope to provide people seeking affirmative health care with as many options as possible, so my goal is that the network of providers be as inclusive and diverse as possible. Therefore, I am putting a call out to ask for therapists and health care professionals of varying races, ethnicities, gender expressions, and abilities to contact me directly via therapy@DulcineaPitagora.com or fill out the Provider Application Form if they are interested in being listed as a kink/poly/trans/LGBQ-affirmative provider.

Please pass it on—thank you!

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Poly Perfect

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about non-binary intersecting identities—well, actually, I’ve always thought a lot about them, but lately I’ve decided to more fully flesh out my thoughts in order to share them with you—and right now I’m thinking about the poly lifestyle, and what it means to identify as poly, and how the meaning of the identification can change depending on other lifestyle intersections. Not too long ago I had a conversation with a friend who’s relatively new to the lifestyle about how when you start attending poly events there’s always someone (and usually more than one someone) who wants to impart their very firm beliefs of what perfect poly is, and how someone who identifies as poly should act, the kinds of rules that should be in place, and whatever else they feel is correct in their belief system. And though we are two people with very different, backgrounds, collections of experiences, and ways of living the poly lifestyle, we agreed quickly that:

There is no perfect poly.

The thing is, perfection is a tenuous concept, especially in any non-traditional lifestyle. And let’s face it, it’s a tenuous idea in traditional lifestyles too, it’s just not really spoken about in such terms because living a traditional lifestyle usually means that you’re amenable to living within the structures and constraints understood by the collective majority. Which is fine when that works for you, and it’s also fine when your perfect idea of poly works for you, but what’s not fine is trying to impose whatever perfect structure you’ve constructed for your life on someone else. Not to mention that having a perfected structure for what poly means might tend to impose a rigidity that can work with a certain set of partners, as long as things don’t change a lot within that structure, which is rarely the case.

For example, let’s consider the single poly person. As so eloquently elaborated on in The Critical Polyamorist’s post about Couple-centricity, Polyamory, and Colonialism (which offers important perspectives that go far beyond the scope this post), there is a tendency in the poly community to default to couple-centricity, which has the effect of emphasizing a hierarchy of relationships within the poly structure, and can sometimes relegate the single poly person to a lower status within the community. This is not something that happens across the board, and is an idea that fluctuates widely depending on personal perspective and experience, but that it does exist is a good reminder of how easily we can unconsciously fall into systems put in place by the mainstream majority.

That is not to say that the idea of couple-centricity is a bad thing—it’s just as easy for people in the poly community to insist that hierarchy within poly relationships is not the perfect way to do poly, and terms like primary and secondary or ancillary are hierarchy-reinforcing and therefore destructive to the perfect poly lifestyle, to which I say: Mind your own perfection! After all, every relationship fluctuates, and the way that we feel about a partner or a combination of partners will shift depending on many factors, including the coming and going of NRE (new relationship energy), and other factors such as whether or not one or more partners identifies as kinky, or has time constraints because of work, school, or other obligations, et cetera. One example of this is neatly laid out in the concept of “Not Better, Just Different” described by Silverwolf for The Polyamory Society.

I like Silverwolf’s discussion of NRE versus ORE (old relationship energy), but I don’t think there’s any one correct way to deal with things in the poly structure. For example, let’s take the case of a long-standing ancillary poly partner with a new primary partner in the throes of NRE—can there be a perfect approach in handling this situation? While one person’s idea of perfect poly might be that all loves be equal, they just aren’t always, and therefore sometimes hierarchy becomes part of a structure where it didn’t exist before. (The author of Poly Styles describes hierarchical versus egalitarian styles of poly in their post on Living Poly.) This can be a difficult situation to deal with when you’re used to an egalitarian poly structure, and there’s no easy or necessarily correct answer for how to react. It depends entirely on the new agreements that the primary couple ends up having, and how those agreements mesh well or differ from the agreements you have with your ancillary poly partner. Relationships change just like feelings change just like people change over time. A shift in focus and attention might feel like rejection or neglect, but it does not have to be perceived that way, and a thoughtful investigation into the concept of compersion can do wonders in this situation.

Another type of poly relationship that is often controversial within the poly community is the platonic poly partner. There are those who say that there is no such thing, that a platonic poly relationship is “just” a non-sexual friendship, so why call it poly? To that I would say the same thing to someone who says a single poly person might be considered someone who is “just” dating different people—if you identify as poly, and your partner identifies as poly, and you agree that you are in a poly relationship together, then you are in a poly relationship together, regardless of whether or not or how or when sex enters into the arrangement. (For an astute example, see S. E. Smith’s definition of the word “queerplatonic.”) I don’t like to apply rules to identification, but I will assert that self-identification is key: Nobody else gets to decide how poly you are or aren’t.

Now that I’ve drilled it home that there is no “perfect poly,” here are excerpts from Dr. Kenneth Haslam’s The 12 Pillars of Polyamory, which I feel quite strongly is a collection of guidelines that would help reinforce the fluidity in anyone’s definition of a perfect relationship, poly or not:

You must know yourself and be comfortable being you.
(I would just add, do the best you can. Nobody is always entirely comfortable with themselves, or knows exactly who they are, and identities shift and change over time. So I would paraphrase this to say: Be on a constant search for authentic authenticity.)

A grounded and balanced Poly understands they are free to make decisions about how they will live their life.
(Nothing to add here.)

Although some will disagree, I firmly believe that there should be no secrets in Polyamory.
(While I tend to agree with this idea, and what others might call radical honesty, I also believe that disclosure is a very personal thing that should be done on a timeline and with people as aligned to the individual’s comfort level. I do personally believe that transparency in one’s identifying as non-monogamous should happen right away, however. That said, this is not always possible when you’re not sure exactly how you identify, in which case the transparent conversation would go something like: I’m not sure how I identify in terms of non-monogamy.)

A quick definition of trust is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
(Side note: Trust comes with time, and should not be given too freely, or withheld too stringently. Again, this is according to the individual’s timeline and comfort level.)

What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
(And also for those who are neither goose nor gander.)

(I think this goes without saying, though I also will refer you back to what I said about transparency.) 

Although this overlaps other Pillars it is so important it is worth repeating.
(I think this should be #1.) 

No one owns anyone.
(I very much believe this, though of course there is the case in which someone is kinky and their partner identifies as being owned by them, and we could get in a very long philosophical conversation about what that really means.)

Everyone knows what is going on in all the partners’ lives and everyone AGREES to what is going on.
(This should also be #1, if there can be two #1s. And I happen to believe that 2 #1s is a perfectly poly premise.)

Understanding that each of us is different is essential. Encouraging your partners to follow their own life’s path is mandatory.
(Absolutely, otherwise you’re in a coercive relationship.)

Sexuality is, of course, a major part of Polyamorous relationships and all partners being in agreement on sexual matters is essential.
(And practice safer sex obvi!)

Understanding and embracing compersion is the essence of successful Polyamorous relationships.
(I’ll link to Dr. Elisabeth Sheff’s Psychology Today article on compersion again
here, because I agree that this is paramount, and if we can have two #1s we can also have three!) 

*The above 12 pillars are direct quotes from Dr. Hansen, and my sidenotes are italicized in parentheses.

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All of the Shades

I started out thinking that this would definitely not be a blog post about the 50 Shades books or film, but about the myriad of ways to identify outside of binaries—for example, all of the shades of gray between straight and gay, top and bottom, kinky and non-kinky, and all of the intersections thereof and beyond.  It can be a tricky for people to admit that they reside in the gray area somewhere between the categorical binaries of gender and sexuality—for example those who are not 100% kinky or 100% vanilla; or are versatile or a switch; or who like different things at different times with different people.  There can be a tendency to feel devalued or anticipate judgement by any given community’s majority for not fitting into a binary role, which can prevent people from experiencing the fullest sense of who they are.

I have been so inspired by the all of the conversations around identification and sexual exploration that have come out of reactions to the 50 Shades franchise that I can’t help wonder how the expansion of consciousness happening around kink right now will influence ideas around non-binary identifications.  And while I can’t say I’m exactly a fan of the content or its presentation, I think it’s wonderful that 50 Shades is making discussions about kink more accessible and acceptable. This is important for so many reasons, one of my favorites being that in opening up conversations around kink, it makes it easier for a lot of kinky or kink-curious people to come out of the closet, or consider embarking on a new exploration of their sexual identity.

Having said that, because the general public has historically not been privy to the inner workings of the BDSM dynamic, an unfortunate side effect of the current focus on kink as mass marketed by the 50 Shades franchise is that people might assume this depiction is actually what BDSM is. The collective understanding of sexuality is reciprocally created by and influences popular culture and media, which is why I’ve been thrilled to see all the articles calling out how 50 Shades is an egregiously inaccurate representation of BDSM interactions. If we don’t have these conversations, we may end up getting set back decades in the fight against pathologization and criminalization, and people’s lives will continue to be seriously affected, such as the all too common problems of custody cases being lost because of sexual orientation, or discriminatory firing, et cetera.

Let me give you a real life, first hand example of this type of problem. I gave a talk a couple of weeks ago to a group of kinksters in NYC, and a woman stood up at the end to thank me. She had been considering exploring her submissive desires for some time and had been reluctant for many reasons, but on that night, she gained the understanding that she actually has a say in what a prospective dominant might do to her. Though it is common knowledge in the BDSM scene that the submissive or bottom holds most of the power in their ability to use a safeword or gesture to stop a scene at any time, not having interacted with the scene before, and going off common (lack of) knowledge of BDSM, she had no idea about the importance of negotiations, or having firm boundaries, or really what consent means in the context of a BDSM interaction.  I was so happy that she spoke up, and that she felt empowered to explore submission in a safe way with a dominant she trusts, because this is a ongoing issue that I’m concerned will be exacerbated by the insidious consent violations in 50 Shades.  (One of many examples: A kink-identified person who clearly understands the concept of consent would never give a person who does not sexually identify as a submissive, and who has not yet had a chance to figure out much at all about her sexuality, a 24/7 D/s slave contract. Ana wasn’t capable of giving consent because it would have been impossible to wrap her mind around what that means, and therefore impossible to give consent to any of it. It would basically be like trying to convince a straight-identified person to be gay, or vice versa.)

That is not to say that people who enjoy vanilla sex can’t also be interested in trying kinky sex, or vice versa (though that really doesn’t seem to be the case at all with Ana or Christian.) The most important thing in any kind of relationship or sexual interaction is communication. So many relationship issues come from important information or preferences not being brought up early on, and a lot of the challenges people face come from not knowing how to do this. We’re just not taught to talk about sexuality in our society, in fact, we’re taught not to talk about it, which is pervasively problematic. It can be extremely uncomfortable when you’re not used to it, and it can make people feel vulnerable to merely consider a disclosure of information when they’re not in the habit of doing so, especially when you add the expectation of resistance or rejection to atypical preferences.

To get back to my original thought process, the aforementioned books and film might very well encourage a lot of formerly non-kinky people to consider adding kink to their sexual repertoire, which has the potential to be a good thing, if it turns out that BDSM is something they find they’re actually into, and if it’s something they learn how to go about in the right way (consent, consent, consent). Speaking transparently about sex—any kind of sex—with current or potential partners is crucial; for example, discussing both kinky and non-kinky sexual interests before having sex for the first time; and how often you might like to indulge in kinky as opposed to vanilla sex, for those who are into both at different times; or if you happen to be someone who prefers to incorporate kink into vanilla sex, or incorporate vanilla sex into kink. Since sexuality is an extremely individualized aspect of identity, as long as you’ve communicated ahead of time what your interests are or may be, and you’re doing what you’re doing consensually and with someone who shares your interests, you’re doing it right. The options are endless, but they will remain beginningless without having that conversation.

The bottom line is this: There are so many shades of sexual interaction, and while it’s comforting for many to self-identify in a specific way, it’s also not necessary to adhere to any one particular orientation or identification. We are all multi-faceted individuals with a variety of aspects to our identities, and we all have sexual identities that are fluid from childhood to old age. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—confining ourselves to a specific set of society-approved sexual acts could at minimum result in a stifling of sexual identity and self-actualization. Encouraging clear communication, education, and tolerance for if not full on acceptance of sexual diversity is the antidote.

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