Monday, 24 March 2014

The Missing Lessons... Sex Education and LGBTI Youth.

As I have been reiterating throughout my last few blogs, sex education in schools needs a major overhaul. New conversations need to be had, new topics need to be raised, and new approaches must be made. The classes barely scrape the surface of the vast universe that is sex and there is one group of teenagers who are really suffering and missing out on vital information that specifically speaks to them. LGBTI youth.

In the course of writing my book, A Girl's Guide To Getting Off, I drew on many sources for research, inspiration and information. A lot of it came from my own personal experiences and memories as a teenager and, from talking to many teens, I found that not much has really changed at all. All kids go through what we went through. Sure, the technology and fashion may have changed, but really, that's about it. Kids today have the same doubts, fears, questions and desires as I did way back in the olden days of the early 90s (no, seriously, my daughter once asked me if the world was black and white when I was a kid).

The one thing that I found hard to draw on personal experience from, however, was LGBTI issues. Although I identify as bisexual now (and always had girl crushes and things throughout school) I don't think it was ever something I really thought about much beyond the desire of wanting to try it out (which I did). But because I was always attracted to boys as well, and that's where I focused most of my sexual energy, I never felt I really missed out or was excluded from the conversations we had about sex.

One of my close friends, however, missed out big time. She never told anyone she was gay, not until we had all left school and moved on with our lives, but in a conversation we had recently she told me how isolated she had felt in those classes. How abnormal and weird. That because she had absolutely no desire to have children one day and even less of a desire to have a penis anywhere near her vagina, she thought that perhaps there was something wrong with her.

The only time people ever really mentioned “gay” was when the footy jocks were picking on one of the nerdy kids, lesbians were thought of as big, angry, leather jacket wearing hard-arses, and I think most of us thought transsexuals were drag queens. There was no talk of same sex couples or of same sex sex in our health and sex classes. There was literally nothing.

Fast forward 25 years and, even though these days most kids are aware of the diversity of relationships and many of them are angry and confused about the inequality towards same sex marriage and other discriminations that occur for LGBTI people, the education they are receiving in schools is as backwards and silent as it was back then.

Like I said, I have no real experience of being a gay teenager. I can really only imagine how hard it would be to be going through the things all teenagers go through, and having this added worry of coming out, being accepted by your parents, and trying to figure out what this crazy sex thing is all about. I mean, at least straight kids get a basic understanding of the act and what is supposed to happen.

Because of my lack of experience and knowledge on the subject I spoke with quite a few teenage girls who identify as queer and talked to them about the education they were or were not receiving and any discrimination they felt they were subjected to.

Here's what some of them said in their own words.

When we did sex ed, one of my friends asked how lesbians have sex. Our teacher sent her out of the room. She wasn't even asking in a rude way. She just wanted to know. I was too scared to ask anything after that” - Kim 16

There's no way I'd even bring it up. Half the kids in my school have no idea what trans is anyway. I don't even know if I know. But I won't find out at school” - J 16

One of my friends went to our care support teacher and complained about people who were making homophobic remarks, as they were 'triggering' him. She told him that he shouldn't talk about the fact that he was gay, because that was a 'trigger' to homophobic people. It made several of my friends and I feel very unsafe and not cared for.” - Heather 16

When we did sex ed I said something like 'Gross. I don't want a penis anywhere near me. I'll take a vagina any day!' I was sent to the principals office and he told me I had been offensive. When I asked him why, he refused to tell me.” - Kayla 17

My dad is gay too. It's just the two of us at home. When I asked about gay sex in our health class my teacher said they weren't allowed to talk about it and I should ask my parents. I asked her what a gay man would know about lesbian sex. She got really embarrassed and didn't look at me for the rest of the class” - Penny 15

Over the past eighteen months I have learnt one thing that, although I always kinda gathered, has been proven and has stuck with me. Kids aren't stupid. They've never been stupid. They just have stupid adults around them telling them what they can and can't think, what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable to talk about, especially in the sex education classroom. But it's wrong. These are our kid's lives, their heads, their personalities and sexualities and it is absolutely unfair to exclude them in the conversation for any reason at all.

It's not just about the LGBTI kids either, it's about all of them. It's about modelling acceptance and tolerance (I hate that word). It's about including every colour of the rainbow in our teachings about sex and relationships so that no kid feels alone or weird or a freak just because of who they are attracted to and so that no kid feels it is right and justified to exclude or discriminate against someone because of their sexuality.

Because although kids aren't stupid, they can be sponges who pick up everything they see and hear and it's our job as adults and teachers and guides to make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly and that all education, including sex, is encompassing and inclusive.

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