It’s Time for Sex Ed to Come Out of the Closet: A Glance at LGBT Issues in United States Sex Ed, in Honor of National Coming Out Day

The US national sex ed standards state that by the end of fifth grade, students should be able to “[d]efine sexual orientation as the romantic attraction of an individual to someone of the same gender or a different gender.” Unfortunately, many of the country’s school districts are still stuck in the 1950s, teaching abstinence-only education that completely ignores same-sex attraction.

In one such school district, a substitute librarian defined “LGBT” for her fifth and sixth graders when they asked her what it meant. Within an hour, the substitute was dismissed for the remainder of the week for which she’d been scheduled to sub. She was given an “Unsatisfactory Substitute Evaluation” by the principal of the school, which led to a meeting between the substitute and the school district’s Library Services and Human Resources.

The substitute librarian in question, an acquaintance of mine, provided screenshots of the emails discussing the incident, and I’ve included them here with identifying information blocked out for privacy purposes. (Blocked out in rainbow colors, of course!)

This is just one example of a larger problem: the abysmal state of sex education in so many of our public schools. For instance, only “13 states require that [sex ed] instruction be medically accurate.” Only “12 states require discussion of sexual orientation.” Of those twelve, nine states require inclusive information, while the remaining three “require only negative information on sexual orientation” (emphasis added).

This particular incident took place in Nevada, a state which requires sex and HIV education, but does not require that education to be medically accurate. (There is also no regulation in Nevada that sex ed “be culturally appropriate and unbiased,” nor any restriction on sex ed promoting religion.)

 

Before you read the below emails, I want to state that I agree that the substitute librarian should not have told students about Maya Christina Gonzalez’s parents disowning her. Without knowing the home lives of the students in that library, she could not have known the distress it could have caused some of them.

However, I stand by the substitute’s decision to honestly answer children’s questions of the definition of a word, or in this case, an acronym. Yes, LGBT rights are (unfortunately) controversial. But so is immigration, and I’m certain that if she had defined “immigrant” to her students there would not have been a problem.

The difference is that a large portion of our society still think of LGBT issues as sexual issues, when they are simply relationship issues. They are human issues.

In her summary of the meeting, the Library Services Coordinator states that “[p]arent permission is required for all parts of the [sex ed] curriculum, and that only specific [school district] employees are to teach such curriculum.” But peer pressure is also an aspect of the sex ed curriculum, and again, I am certain there would not have been a problem if a substitute discussed peer pressure with students when asked.

The rules of this specific school district are against this substitute librarian, but that does not change the fact that this is a clear case of discrimination.

Original EmailOriginal Email ResponseMeeting Follow UpMeeting Follow Up ResponseMeeting Summary

Advertisements

Homosexuality in the Live-Action “Beauty & the Beast”

The best thing about the recent live-action Beauty and the Beast is that watching it has caused my three-year-old son to become obsessed with the classic animated movie. Because that’s the one we own. And to be honest, it’s the only one I ever want to watch again.

Okay, yeah, it’s pretty cool that Emma Watson’s Belle invented a rudimentary washing machine so she could spend her laundry time reading and teaching other young girls to read. And that extremely brief glimpse of two men dancing together at the end (which if you ask me had been blown way out of proportion by so many critics) is admittedly an important step for Disney to have made.

StanFou

But the pacing, character development, and action sequences that make the original a timeless classic, in the remake just completely miss the mark. The overall feel of the live-action movie is just wrong.

Still, let’s start with positive changes the live-action version made. Its take on drag, for instance.

animated Stanley

 

The animated B&tB would have us believe that dressing a man in women’s clothing is humiliating and horrific.

live-action Stanley

 

 

 

But in the remake, three men are dressed in beautiful gowns and one of them, Stanley, appears to enjoy it. Stanley is later seen dancing with LeFou at the celebratory ball when the curse on the castle has been lifted.

 

As for LeFou himself, I personally struggled a bit with his character arc. Like many of you, I heard the news that LeFou would be gay long before this movie was released. So I was disappointed to see that his relationship with Gaston was still that of a bully and his lackey.

The way I saw it, LeFou had not changed at all. He didn’t want Gaston – he wanted to be Gaston. No different from the animated version.

It wasn’t until I read an interview with the director Bill Condon that my opinion on LeFou changed.

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.”

LeFou is me, ten years ago. Because when you’re so repressed that you can’t accept wanting to kiss a person of your same gender, you over-correct by wanting to be that person. Leading to self-hatred because you’re not that person, and you never can be.

At least, that’s how it was for me. Even now that I’ve completely embraced my sexuality, remnants of that self-hatred still haunt me. But now it manifests as a knee-jerk reaction to hate fictionalized chLeFouaracters whom I see myself in.

So you can imagine how I felt when I read the above quote. Suddenly, LeFou was not just a lackey, or a villain, or even comic relief. Suddenly, LeFou became a reflection of myself – an insight to the vulnerability and brokenness of my own relationship to sexuality.

If you are where LeFou is at the beginning of the live-action Beauty & the Beast, where I was ten years ago, I see you. Your feelings are valid, and you can heal your psyche. Once you stop fighting who you are and start embracing and loving every aspect of yourself, you will find that you can be happy.To Love Oneself

 

Unite to Move Forward

Not all Trump voters use vulgar speech to objectify, belittle, or humiliate women. Not all Trump voters are members of the KKK. Not all Trump voters are violent, and many even follow a God whose highest commandment (after loving Him) is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Let’s remember that we’re in this together – we have to be if we want to rise above the fear that is holding us down as a country.

unite
Thank you to rickkarasaki.blogspot.com for this beautiful Hawaiian proverb.

 

I understand that you voted the way you did because you felt it was the right decision. But I need you to meet me halfway. I need you to understand something too.

Violence against minorities has skyrocketed. This is not your fault, because you’re not violent or xenophobic or misogynistic. But it is your responsibility to inform your fellow Trump supporters that their violent actions are unacceptable. Because it is every human being’s responsibility to stand up against violence, wherever they see it.

People are afraid. Not just about losing their health insurance or their ability to feed their family. Not just about whether their marriage will be torn apart or their children carted off to foster care because of who their parents love.

No, people are afraid for their very lives.

And with good reason. Since the election results came in, hateful people have become emboldened to follow the lead of their president-elect. Minorities across the country are being attacked.

Your fellow Americans – your own family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, people you know and love and see every day – are afraid that they will be next. And the way things are going, they might be.

Look around at the people in your life. How many of them are women, Muslim, immigrants, LGBTQ, differently abled, or otherwise marginalized? Now imagine someone attacked them because of this.

Are you willing to protect the people you love?

Do what your president-elect has failed to do: Take a stand against discrimination and hate crimes.

be-an-ally
Thank you to Meredith Nudo (writer) and Isaiah Brousard (artist) for this helpful how-to comic. Originally posted on draw-the-line.ca

Be an ally. Attend rallies and protests. If you see someone being attacked – physically or verbally – step in. And even before it comes to that, stand with those of us who are in danger, and vow to protect us from the extremists who threaten us and our loved ones. Offer to walk with someone to a safe place. Make conversation with the scared person sitting next to you on the bus. Call or write your legislators and demand action against hate crimes.

islamophobic-harassment
Thank you to the Middle Eastern Feminist for this wonderful description of a successful technique used in psychology.

Educate yourselves as well as your friends and family. Read books about and written by people  of various backgrounds, and teach your kids that differences are to be celebrated not feared. Actively seek out ways to help, rather than waiting for someone to ask you for help – because until they know you, they might be afraid of you.

Here’s the thing. A lot of us “bleeding heart liberals” feel betrayed by you. You may not have voted the way you did because your candidate uses hateful speech and actions against women, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, differently abled people, etc. But the hatred he spewed was not enough for you to look at his name on the ballot and say to yourself, “Oh hell no.” You were willing to look the other way when we were threatened.

It’s time to stop looking the other way.

You cannot change your vote, but you can take accountability and start to heal the betrayal that more than half the country is feeling.

I’m not asking you to support same-sex marriage. I’m not asking you to be pro-choice. I’m not asking you to welcome immigrants or provide them a reasonable route to citizenship.

All I’m asking is that you defend human beings’ right to live, and live with dignity.

against-hate-again-1
Please share on social media to let your loved ones know that you have pledged to protect them from hateful attacks both verbal and physical.

Not the Gunman

Years ago, in the midst of a hypothetical debate regarding religion and homosexuality, I was asked, “Why are you getting so emotional?” I didn’t have an answer right away. After all, the conversation was not about me, or anyone I knew. It was all safely within the realm of generality.

About a week later I was able to put into words what was so upseting to me: Even if the people I was talking to were not extremists, they were on the same side of the issue as people who have caused countless deaths – both murders and suicides – within the LGBT community.

Now, I’ve finally found someone who put it eloquently:

Screenshot_2016-06-15-19-06-08-1-1
Photo credit: William Hubbard on Facebook. Thank you to Louis Niebur, a former college professor of mine, for sharing it.

If you’re reading this from a place of misunderstanding and disrespect for LGBT rights, it may seem harsh to you. But it is so important. People are dying. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be part of the solution. You can join the side of history that says, “All humans deserve human rights!” You can stop perpetuating hate and start spreading love. You can.

Screenshot_2016-06-16-07-36-09-1
Photo credit: ElephantJournal on Instagram.

My Coming Out Story

Happy National Coming Out Day! Whether you came out today, you’re celebrating an anniversary of coming out, or you’re simply reflecting on your own personal journey, today is a day to be proud of yourself exactly as you are.

This year for Coming Out Day, I’m going to tell the story of how I came out… to myself.

***

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church, which meant I had some strong feelings about homosexuality and God. So when I was in high school, and I started to wonder if I was in love with my best (girl) friend, I shoved the “sinful” thoughts away. Most of the time, my general repression was subconscious, but these were feelings that I actively repressed. They scared me too much to give any serious thought to them. I comforted myself with the reassurance that I was attracted to boys, and therefore could not be a lesbian.

Four years or so later, having been in a couple of feminist theory classes, and out of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church. I could no longer believe that love could keep someone out of Heaven. My decision to leave that toxic environment was the first step I had to take before I could truly love and accept myself.

About six months later, my then-boyfriend and I were talking and he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we told people that we’re both bi, and we both just happened to end up with someone of the opposite sex?” So that became our inside joke.

I think I needed that non-threatening, humorous space to say those words about myself before I could say in all seriousness and honesty, “I don’t think it’s a joke for me.” It still took me months to be comfortable enough to say out loud, “I’m bisexual,” and even longer to be able to say it to my family and the majority of my friends.

But admitting to myself that I’m attracted to women was not the end of my self-acceptance journey. For me, the last piece of the puzzle was a life-changing college class, Philosophy of the Body, with Denise Lecamp.

I was more or less halfway through getting my bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a philosophy course that doubled as a women’s studies course seemed like a great way to get the major-related elective that I needed. We discussed the mind-body split and wabi sabi, and I learned that “imperfection” could be viewed as a form of perfection.

Now, I’d had body image issues for years, since before I’d even begun middle school. I used to spend days at a time with sheets draped over my mirrors, and fantasies of self-attempted liposuction in my head. I used to beat myself up over not having enough will power to be anorexic.

So the idea of finding beauty in imperfection was a much-needed revelation.

But it was one specific passage of one specific book, Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp, that made the true difference:

Look at me, the goddess says. You’re so fat compared  to me. You’ll never have hair like mine. You’ll never be so desirable. As Wheelock professor Gail Dines puts it, “To men, the look says ‘Fuck me’; to women, it says, ‘Fuck you.'”

Like I said, it was the last piece of the puzzle. All those years I’d spent hating myself, it wasn’t truly because of the way I looked. The real reason was because whenever I saw that ever-present image of the “perfect” woman, I couldn’t handle the “fuck me” message she sent, and so I exaggerated the “fuck you” message.

Once I was able to accept my bisexuality, I was able to stop exaggerating the “fuck you” message. And I was able to truly love myself. Just as I learned that there is no split between the mind and the body, I learned that I had to fully love who I am on the inside before I could love myself on the outside.To Love Oneself

Dear Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman

This is a post that came up on my Facebook feed. I blocked out the original poster's name and profile picture to protect her privacy.
This is a screenshot of a shared post that came up on my Facebook feed. I do not know the original poster, only the person who shared the post. I blocked out the original poster’s name and profile picture to protect her privacy.

Dear Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman,

I’ve seen what you had to say about Caitlyn Jenner, and as a fellow ciswoman I found your statement highly insulting. You see, Ms. TC, there is more to being a woman than making catty comments and feeling a false sense of superiority. Compassion and understanding are traits we parents should begin teaching our young children at an early age.

As a woman with diagnosed polycystic ovarian syndrome, I can tell you that I have never woken up with searing cramps. Am I less of a woman than you?

You will never know what it is like to wake up almost every day with the crippling body dysphoria that so many transgender people experience, and yet (those of them who have not been fired for simply being brave enough to show their true selves) must still go off to work or school as though everything is fine.

As an American ciswoman with an interest in social equality, I can tell you that you are dead wrong when you say that a transwoman will never know what it is like to have her car break down on the side of the road, and when a couple of men stop to help, her prayer is that their intentions are good because there is no way on Earth she has the ability to physically overpower all of them. Outnumbered is outnumbered, Ms. TC. Even a cisman could be overpowered in such a situation. And the fact is that transgender people are “1.7 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than cisgender” people. That means that Caitlyn Jenner is nearly twice as likely as you are to become a victim of sexual violence.

It is extremely classless of you to remind transwomen such as Ms. Jenner that however much they may long to have a child, they will never be able to experience the joy of pregnancy or childbirth. Not to mention all of the ciswomen who cannot get pregnant, or choose not to. Are any of them less of a woman than you?

Believe it or not, many transwomen take hormones, because they were not as lucky as you were to be born with the correct ones. So many of them do in fact know what it is like at the age of fifty to be walking down the streets of Phoenix and pop into an ice cream shop only to be gripped by their fourth hot flash of the day. They just also have to deal with people like you staring at them while they are gripped by that hot flash.

To say that “identifying as a woman” means sharing all the same experiences with all women is ludicrous. A transwoman identifies as a woman because being a woman is part of her identity. She does not have to be you to be a woman.

No, Ms. TC, there is more to being a human being than sharing every experience with every other human being. Lesson #1 for all true human beings is this: treat each other with respect. Being assigned female at birth is not what makes you a woman. A real woman is one who knows, deep down, however she does or does not express it, despite the ignorant and bigoted comments, and even with curvy and natural ciswomen out to get her, that she is a woman. Hear her roar. Those of us who love her see her real beauty and find her far more valuable than rubies or diamonds.

Ms. TC, you are ignorant of transgender issues, but you are right about one thing: Ms. Jenner is privileged. So privileged that she can even spend her massive amounts of money to change her outward appearance. This is not something that most women (trans or cis) around the globe are able to do. True, most women in our world don’t even have access to a high school education. Fortunately, education, socioeconomic status, and country of origin have nothing to do with a person’s true gender. Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, and so are all the women in our world who cannot afford surgery or hormones. And so are all the women in our world who cannot even afford to be honest about who they truly are.

They are no less women than you.

Caitlyn Jenner is not an anomaly. She is not the only transwoman in this world. This post is not even about her. This post is about all the transwomen you may have hurt with your commentary, for all the transwomen who have been hurt by other statements like yours. Because it is ignorance such as yours that contributes to transgender people being three times more likely than cisgender people to experience police violence, nine times more likely than the national average to attempt suicide, and “21 times more likely to be murdered while walking down the streets of America than a solider in the Iraqi combat zone.”

So, Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman, I find your claim that Ms. Jenner has somehow insulted you to be disingenuous, uneducated, and – honestly – quite offensive.

We are LGBT-riffic!

 

Resources:

Rutherford-Morrison, Lara. (2015). 5 Shocking Facts About Transgender Suicide and Violence That You Need to Know. Bustle.

Ten Eyck, Meg. Shocking Stats That Show Trans* Violence is an Epidemic. Posture.