Born and raised in the Cincinnati area, Peterson has a long, intimate relationship with the city. That relationship — along with those of the romantic and exploratory variety — has colored and deepened what she teaches in her human sexuality class, as well as how she teaches it.
“As a sexuality educator, I often encounter LGBTQ students who are searching for something — we can call it a lot of different things, but it usually comes down to permission,” Peterson says. “Permission to follow the trail of what they want, regardless of what it is. That manifests infinitely — the desire to commune; the desire to identify, clarify and determine their own trajectory; the desire to see themselves reflected in a way that feels good when they see it; the desire to feel what they want to feel.”
To Peterson, permission is the first step toward surviving — and thriving — in a society that places such clear-cut definitions on terms such as “gay” and “straight or “man” and “woman.” These definitions and the expectations that go along with them are evident especially in places like Cincinnati — a city colored in black and white without much room for the gray area LGBTQ issues and identities create.
“We have tabooed desire in more ways than I care to count, and part of the fun and reward of my job is the opportunity to co-create all of that shedding,” she says.
The most challenging part of being an LGBTQ person here doesn’t have to do with your environment or location, Peterson says.
“I was born and raised in Cincinnati,” she says. “Being internally radical in an externally conservative environment has its challenges and its advantages. There is a lot I don’t take for granted. I experience my own sexuality as fluid. That may sound a bit cliché, but it’s true. I have loved and fucked people of many gender expressions, dabbled in this, explored that and settled here and there. I learned fairly early in my experience that, for me, all of that is malleable to what feels right in any given moment, and that I can explore feelings, sensations and behaviors that seem interesting and might have value in my erotic and emotional life. … Sexuality is just about the least static phenomenon.”
Whether someone is gay, straight, trans* (the * signifies the word’s intersection in gender identity and expression, an umbrella term), queer, asexual, undecided or somewhere in between, Peterson says the way a person experiences sexuality is dictated more by their internal landscape rather than their geographical one. However, living in a Midwestern city certainly does affect those experiences.
“Cincinnati has its challenges,” Peterson says. “As we progress, I am looking forward to more and more openness regarding sexuality and gender.”
In the meantime, Peterson lives her life as a Buddhist/Riot Grrrl/peaceful/radical/pissed-off/compassionate/feminist/Zen student-turned-teacher just looking to be the change she wishes to see in the world.
“I try to live as openly as possible,” she says. “I try to teach with love, compassion and fervor. I try to be an open book, and I try to tell the truth regardless of whom it agitates or pleases. I try to put my students first — the accuracy of the information I am sharing, the truthfulness of the experiences I convey, the vulnerability of my own desire. I try to learn as much as possible every day, and share what I have learned as fully as I can in any given moment. I try to live and teach with laughter and the knowledge that what we want, individually and collectively, is more than possible. It’s probable. Things in Cincinnati tend to happen eventually, so all I have to do is look at places like Seattle and then wait.”