Monday, March 2, 2009

Transformative Language Arts and Reclaiming the Erotic: Jen Cross and Writing Ourselves Whole

Jen Cross began with a hunger to study transformative writing, especially how it could help people, particularly sexual trauma survivors, reclaim the erotic and live more vibrant lives. Her passion led her to write this manifesto now posted on the website of her writing workshop business, Writing Ourselves Whole:

A Manifesto I believe...
  • that writing has the power to affect transformation, to spell out not only how we feel now but how we want to feel, how we believe we can feel.
  • that we expand in our erotic possibility when we become deeply aware of one another's truths and desires.
  • that there’s a power in writing about sex explicitly and in community, using charged and taboo language – we take that charge and make it our own electricity, utilizing it for our own ends instead of remaining subservient to it.
  • that much of our sexuality and our erotics is manifested through language–one of the ways to alter our reactions to all the sex-negative messages we are force-fed from birth is through practice and play with new language, in a less-charged space than a bedroom, alone or in the presence of others struggling and playing similarly.
  • that we all need safe space in which to be our whole, complete and complex erotic selves – to delve into the desires that we've learned or been told don't "go with" our particular identities.
  • that, finally, when we risk empowering and transforming ourselves, we transform and empower the communities we exist within–and changing our communities means that we are changing the world!

With such an expansive view of writing, spirituality, sexuality, the body and the body politic, it's no wonder that Jen is a gifted workshop facilitator in San Francisco who has helped many people create communal change through individual transformation. She credits Goddard with helping her articulate a theoretical framework for these workshops as well as Amherst Writers and Artists and Pat Schneider for giving her an ethical framework for non-clinical writing workshops.

Like many students, what Jen ended up studying wasn't what she initially planned. “When I began my studies, I had a deep desire not to focus my studies on sexual trauma survivor communities – I was still battling that internalized shame, of course, and a sense that real academics don't talk about their experiences of trauma. Where do these ideas come from that they get so lodged in us? However, midway through my second semester (it never takes long at Goddard), I finally allowed myself to hone in on the issues of sexual trauma, creative writing, and access to erotic language.” The essay she wrote on this topic become the first of many essays that composed her powerful thesis project that also included her poetry and prose.

“I am deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to dig into those difficult places of my history during my work at Goddard, and I am thankful, too, for the ways that the program encourages intimate and personal interaction with academia, ideas, theories, so-called certainties -- I got to experience that inevitable and beautiful tension upon realizing that I had to bring myself into all the work that I do. Disconnecting through some veneer of 'objectivity' just doesn't fly -- not at Goddard, and not in the real world of transformative/expressive arts and, you know, that other real world of true human connection and love.”

In addition to her writing workshop business, Jen has published in many journals and anthologies. See, and her blog for more information. See an audio piece by Jen at the Arts and Healing Network.

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