Hi there, and welcome.
Truth be told, it's somewhat strange to have a page about me, because, ultimately, it's not about me. It's about you, your child(ren), your partner(s), family and loved ones. Or the quality and success of your next policy or research project. But I do understand you would like to get to 'know' me a bit better, to see if we’ll work well together. What you probably want to know most of all is a) who I am b) what I do (and do I know what I do) and c) what drives me, really. Here goes.
My journey so far, in a nutshell
Of all the pictures hanging in my grandparents' kitchen, there was a little one standing out in which my grandfather adventurously climbed a palm tree trying to see life from a different angle. It left a permanent imprint in my brain. My little sister and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents when we were kids, and their stories take a prominent place in our family history. They came from very large, hard working families, were survivors of World War II, and had to fight to exist let alone thrive on a daily basis. They made us understand human resilience in all its facets; the innate need to expand our vision; and the power of kindness and human connection. Impossible can also be understood as I'm possible. I owe a lot to my grandparents.
I grew up in the outskirts of Brussels, a raw and colorful hodgepodge of cultural flavors and identities. Yet, it were our (privileged, I know) long annual family travels to the outer corners of the world – each with our own little backpack- that really pushed me wanting to dig deeper in the psychology of human diversity, the peculiar interaction between nature (biology) and nurture (culture) in making us ‘us’ and how we creatively add and remove obstacles to our sense of well-being and freedom to live fully. Driven by curiosity, belief in the power of knowledge, and also drive for social impact (yes oma, girls and women can and will change the world), I embarked on a Psychology degree, with a special focus on sexuality and wellbeing.
I said goodbye to my beloved Brussels to study and work elsewhere, first for some time in Cambridge, UK, later in Ghent and Rotterdam to complete a PhD. I also spent some time in Michigan and New York to work as well as further train as a sexual health educator and therapist. Back in Brussels, I'm juggling my professional ambitions with my partner-in-crime’s whereabouts.
Where can I make a difference? Well, let’s talk about sex
Today, many of us proudly fight against rigid gender stereotypes. Women can be political leaders and scientists, and play soccer in their spare time; men can be brilliant homemakers and kick-ass at ballet. We can all be and do more than societal gender roles prescribe for us. Yet, we keep hesitating at the notion that sex, too - genes, chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs - do not obey strict binaries. Who did not learn in school that being a man equals having balls and XY chromosomes? And how does that simplified message influence men without balls and young women with XY chromosomes? They are no exception to the rule. In fact, nature doesn’t have rules, or draws lines– we, humans, draw lines on nature.
Intersex or differences of sex development (dsd) refers to sex characteristics or variations of those characteristics that fall outside typical “norms” of male or female.
It's been almost a decade now since I first started working with families and knowledge experts on this topic, and they really inspired me to further invest in support, education, and positive and can-do resources. I’m incredibly thankful for their trust and honesty, and the enthusiasm it has given me to get the topic out of the taboo sphere. We are all born with sex characteristics, but how we -society at large, including medical doctors, parents and people- perceive, understand and treat them, ultimately influences our physical, sexual and emotional health and wellness.
By the way, intersex/dsd is far more common than people think- perhaps as many as 1 in 100 people have some variation of sex characteristics, which is actually as common as having red hair! Yet, why is that society is not really aware of it, let alone embrace it? My job as a psychologist, sexuality counselor and researcher gives me an opportunity to be more vocal about this, and be an advocate for diversity.
What about you?
Encouraging people to trust their bodies, themselves and their strength more is one thing. Never before has there been so much pressure, to conform and adapt, to be accepted by ourselves and loved ones. Never have there been so much expectations. Is it ever going to be enough ? Will we ever be enough?
Where do you see possibilities and challenges when it comes to sex, sexuality and bodies, relationships and family life? What's your story? And should we join forces in a pursuit of (more) human connection and wellbeing?