LGBTQ

Sex Ed, Sexual Preference & Sincerity

The Guttmacher Institute recently released a brief summarizing sex education state laws. The whole thing is worth a look-through, but I’d like to draw attention to the column on “Sexual Orientation” under “Content Requirements for Sex and HIV Education”. There are three states on the list that require teachers to present negative information on sexual orientation. If you don’t feel like clicking through, those states are: Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. Other writers have dug a little deeper and discovered eight more states that mandate that non-monogamous non-heterosexual attraction, if it is covered, should be severely condemned. Tufts calls them “No Promo Homo” laws. Once again, I recommend reading the articles (they’re short) but if you don’t want to, here is a taste of the prescribed language, courtesy of Mississippi: “unnatural intercourse, including homosexuality, is a detestable and abominable crime against nature.”

My child is gay. The relationship she has with her girlfriend is not abominable. They are a couple of teens doing what teens should do: learning the groundwork of forming personal relationships. Information and knowledgable advice are useful; vilification, not so much. Unfortunately, even in states that are striving to do the right thing at the level of sex ed legislation, the way it manifests in the classroom can be disastrous.

Recently an acquaintance who teaches 8th grade health, asked for my opinion on “something,” without realizing that my daughter is gay. That something turned out to be her resentment at being asked to present sexual orientation inclusively. As we talked, it became obvious that she didn’t really want my opinion or advice, she wanted me to support her views, and she had assumed that she was speaking to the parent of a “normal” teen. Everything that she said reminded me powerfully of my daughter’s own 8th grade health teacher. I can attest from experience to the damage that self-described “well-intentioned” and “tolerant” teachers can do, even in states which require that information on sexual orientation be inclusive.vintage book cover - Wise Health

Both my acquaintance, and my daughter’s teacher, were too deeply invested in defending their own revulsion and discomfort to be ready for advice that would help their students (as opposed to themselves). Nevertheless, here are some ideas for teachers in “inclusive” states*, from a parent whose teen is just starting to recover from the experience of realizing her sexuality while under the thumb of a “tolerant” junior high health teacher.

1) Don’t tell students that if they are interested in other people of the same sex, they are just rebelling, and that their feelings aren’t genuine.

2) Don’t tell students that you think having a relationship with someone of the same sex is a risky mistake, and definitely don’t add that, even so, all is not lost, as they can still have a “normal” relationship later.

3) Don’t tell your students (especially after saying any of the above) that if they don’t like what you are saying about “homosexuality” they should raise their hand in class and say so.

4) If you do have students who are willing to speak up, don’t patronize them (does anyone like to be called “honey” by their teacher?) or complain about them. Listen to what they are saying, and treat them with the same respect that you demand.

5) In fact, let’s just make “listen more” a point on its own.

6) Don’t assume that young people don’t know their sexual preferences. Don’t assume that they all do know. Don’t make assumptions about them at all. They are individuals. Also, see #5.

cover of Body & Health book7) Take a gender studies class at a university and listen (do you detect a theme here? If not, go up to #5 and start again). If you say that you have taken such a class and don’t realize that sexuality is more complicated than “hetero- vs homo-“ I call bullshit.

8) Look up the history and implications of the term homosexual. Expand your language and your knowledge base. Find out what all the letters in LGBTQIA stand for, and why people might choose, or not choose, to use them.

9) If your school system will allow it, bring in guest speakers who can recommend groups where non-straight teens (and their parents) can find support and useful advice (hint: not the kind that says they need to be “more sensible” and “less selfish”).

10) If the only word you know for anyone who is not cis-gender and heterosexual is “homosexual” and you can’t even say it without pausing perceptibly first and grimacing, you are not tolerant.

11) If you are obviously uncomfortable with sexuality, you should not be teaching sex ed. That’s harsh, but believe me, not half as harsh as the damage that you can do to the young people in your classes.

12) You do not have to know everything. You do have to be willing to learn. One of the best ways to do that is to keep returning to #5.

* If you are in the other states do check out the above links, because they include information on legislation and lobbying.

images:

Rainbow Bracelet by author

vintage book cover: Wise Health Choices by genibee

vintage book cover: Body and Health by Jacob Deatherage

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Cerys Gruffyydd

Cerys Gruffyydd

Cerys has gone through a genetics phase (undergrad years), a biological anthropology phase (grad school years) and a Pilates & yoga teaching phase (mum years). She lives with a scientist, a teenager and a rabbit. Her quasi-secret passion is historical costuming and she can’t look at people without imagining the era in which she would like to clothe them.

6 Comments

  1. February 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm —

    Now there’s a bumpersticker I need to get custom-made: “I’m detestable in Mississippi!”

  2. February 11, 2015 at 8:12 am —

    Can I make a few more suggestions?
    1) Don’t assume your students are straight until proven otherwise. With my own kids I make the simple choice of not assuming a heterosexual relationship in their future. It’s easy to say “If you have boy or girlfriend later,…” making clear that this is A) optional (if, not when) B) totally ok either way.

    +++
    In Germany the state of Bade Würtemberg just saw a conservative uproar about a change in the educational guidelines. I think they have let up a bit atm because muslim hating is more popular, but for months you’d get them in the media telling us how even primary school children are being indoctrinated into the gay lifestyle because textbooks are required to reflect a broad range of people. the apparent sexualisation of children is having a maths problem like this:
    Paul and Peter want to get married. Each guest eats 2 pieces of cake. One cake yields 8 pieces. There are 40 guests. How many cakes do Peter and Paul need?
    Complete with a drawing of two happy men in wedding coats.
    The horror, can you imagine?

    2) Don’t ever tolerate homophobic language. “Gay” is not an insult. Would you allow your students to use the n-word? No? Then you don’t allow “gay”.

    3) Get your facts right. Not all gays are men, not all gay men have wild butt sex all the time. Indeed, there’s no such thing as “gay sex”. Your straight students will thank you for not stigmatizing their favourite activities, too.

  3. February 12, 2015 at 2:37 pm —

    “1) Don’t tell students that if they are interested in other people of the same sex, they are just rebelling, and that their feelings aren’t genuine.”

    This was a major factor in not understanding my own sexuality until I was almost 30!!

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