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The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

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‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more

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Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.

 

Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

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What happens when you find the idea of sex daunting

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Some people find physical intimacy difficult – here’s what to do

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We’ve all been there, feeling shy, bashful or even self-conscious due to a sexual encounter. But for some men and women, the idea of sex can be so daunting they’ll avoid it altogether.

Tara*, a 42-year-old who married young and divorced in her 30s, found herself a ‘practical virgin’ on the dating scene after finding herself single. For years, she avoided dating out of fear that she would eventually have to have sex.

“I simply couldn’t imagine stripping naked in front of a total stranger. I’d be too embarrassed,” Tara says. “My body was okay the last time I was dating, but now I’m older and I’ve had two children.”

Lacking the confidence in bed

Tara isn’t alone in finding the thought of sex incredibly intimidating. Whether it’s due to a bad experience in the past, body confidence issues, sexual dysfunction or anticipation about future sexual encounters, this is a common issue that many of us face.

According to Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist at the College of Sexual Relationship Therapists (COSRT), finding sex intimidating can be centred around body image issues, especially for women, and how they perceive their partner wants them to look.

“Many women also don’t have the confidence to initiate sex,” says Krystal. “It’s quite common, particularly for women who struggle in this area, that they haven’t actually explored their own body through things like masturbation or understood their own sexual fantasies, sexual desires or urges.”

Many men feel that they need to perform and this constant worry over their ability in bed can lead to performance anxiety. “Men often feel like they need to act in a certain way, maintain an erection and take charge of the situation – and for some men this can be really intimidating.”

Very often people who suffer with a sexual issue, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginismus or low sexual desire, will also have problems with sexual confidence.

“Often these issues can put people off getting into a new relationship because when it comes to initiating sex, which would be something they normally do, they hold back because they don’t want their partner to know that there’s some kind of sexual problem,” says Krystal.

6 ways to overcome your sexual fear

Feeling unconfident and daunted by sex can be overcome. We spoke to Tracey Cox, sex and relationships expert about what you can do to turn this around.

1. Only have sex when you’re ready

“Forget any preconceived notions you have about having to climb into bed on date three. Have sex when you feel ready – when you know, trust and feel comfortable enough to sleep with them. Also remember, unless you’re planning on dating an 18-year-old supermodel, your new lover’s body isn’t going to be perfect either. While you’re frantically sucking in your stomach or worrying about how big your bum is, he’s nervous about the light hitting that not-so-well-concealed bald spot or wondering if the arms you’re grabbing on to aren’t as muscular as your ex’s.”

2. Think back to when you were a teenager and take your cue from there

“Start off slowly with foreplay. When you both really like each other, and are both nervous, this is the sexual equivalent of getting into the freezing swimming pool slowly rather than diving in at the deep end. The thought of having full sex after a few foreplay sessions together will feel a lot less scary.”

3. Stick to the basics at first

“Another big concern for people who find sex intimidating is: what if I don’t know what to do? Aren’t people doing stuff in bed I don’t know about? Both sexes worry about this one – and unnecessarily.
The way we meet people to have sex with might have completely changed
but once you’re having it, it’s pretty much the same scenario. After all, there are only so many physical sex acts you can perform and most people stick to the basics first time around. Requests for ‘kinky stuff’, if it’s going to happen, tend to happen a few months in so you’re safe for now. If they do suggest something you’re not comfortable with, simply say ‘I don’t think I’m ready for that now. Can we stick to basics until we know each other better?’.”

4. Explore your body with some solo sex

“If you’re not already doing this, start having some solo sex sessions to get your body used to the feeling of orgasm – perhaps by experimenting with sex toys. There are some good beginners’ toys you can try here. The more you explore your body and know what feels good and what doesn’t, the more confident you’ll be in bed with someone else. Sex toys are a great way to discover how your body works and what it responds to, making you sexually happier and more confident.”

5. Get your attitude right

“Sex isn’t an exam. You’re not going to be graded pass or fail (and if it feels like you are, you’re with the wrong person). So, stop stressing and thinking: ‘this has got to be perfect’. Perfect sex happens to people in movies; normal people muddle through the first time.”

6. Don’t be scared to dim the lights

“Lighting is crucial – especially if you’re body conscious. Don’t be scared to say what you need. If you want it really dark for
the first time, say so. You can start turning up the dimmer switch when your confidence increases.”

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ definitions every good ally should know

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By Alia E. Dastagir

Millions of Americans identify as LGBTQ, and like any group, they have their own language to talk about both who they are and the challenges they face in a society that doesn’t fully accept or protect them.

If you want to be an ally, these terms might help — but be aware that many have been used derogatorily by straight, white, cisgender (defined below!) people, and were reclaimed over time by the LGBTQ community.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and some of these terms — because they are so personal — likely mean slightly different things to different people. If you’re puzzled by a term and feel like you can ask someone you love in the LGBTQ community to help you make sense of it, do it. But also be careful not to put the burden of your education on other people when there’s a whole wide world of resources out there.

Let’s get started

LGBTQ: The acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.” Some people also use the Q to stand for “questioning,” meaning people who are figuring out their sexual orientation or gender identity. You may also see LGBT+, LGBT*, LGBTx, or LGBTQIA. I stands for intersex and A for asexual/aromantic/agender. The “A” has also been used by some to refer to “ally.”

Speaking of intersex: Born with sex characteristics such as genitals or chromosomes that do not fit the typical definitions of male or female. About 1.7% of the population is intersex, according to the United Nations.

Sex: The biological differences between male and female.

Gender: The societal constructions we assign to male and female. When you hear someone say “gender stereotypes,” they’re referring to the ways we expect men/boys and women/girls to act and behave.

Queer: Originally used as a pejorative slur, queer has now become an umbrella term to describe the myriad ways people reject binary categories of gender and sexual orientation to express who they are. People who identify as queer embrace identities and sexual orientations outside of mainstream heterosexual and gender norms.

Sexual orientation

Sexual orientation: How a person characterizes their sexuality. “There are three distinct components of sexual orientation,” said Ryan Watson, a professor of Human Development & Family Studies at the University of Connecticut. “It’s comprised of identity (I’m gay), behavior (I have sex with the same gender) and attraction (I’m sexually attracted to the same gender), and all three might not line up for all people.” (Don’t say “sexual preference,” which implies it’s a choice and easily changed.)

Gay: A sexual orientation that describes a person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to people of their own gender; commonly used to describe men.

Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally or sexually attracted to other women.

Bisexual: A person who is emotionally or sexually attracted to more than one sex or gender.

Pansexual: A person who can be attracted to all different kinds of people, regardless of their biological sex or gender identity. Miley Cyrus opened up last year about identifying as pansexual.

Asexual: A person who experiences no sexual attraction to other people.

​Demisexual: Someone who doesn’t develop sexual attraction to anyone until they have a strong emotional connection.

Same-gender loving: A term some in the African-American community use instead of lesbian, gay or bisexual to express sexual attraction to people of the same gender.

Aromantic: A person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others.

Gender identity and expression

Gender identity: One’s concept of self as male, female or neither (see “genderqueer”). A person’s gender identity may not align with their sex at birth; not the same as sexual orientation.

Gender role: The social behaviors that culture assigns to each sex. Examples: Girls play with dolls, boys play with trucks; women are nurturing, men are stoic.

Gender expression: How we express our gender identity. It can refer to our hair, the clothes we wear, the way we speak. It’s all the ways we do and don’t conform to the socially defined behaviors of masculine or feminine.​

Transgender: A person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.

Cisgender: A person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Binary: The concept of dividing sex or gender into two clear categories. Sex is male or female, gender is masculine or feminine.

Non-binary: Someone who doesn’t identify exclusively as female/male.

Genderqueer: People who reject static, conventional categories of gender and embrace fluid ideas of gender (and often sexual orientation). They are people whose gender identity can be both male and female, neither male nor female, or a combination of male and female.

Agender: Someone who doesn’t identify as any particular gender.

Gender-expansive: An umbrella term used to refer to people, often times youth, who don’t identify with traditional gender roles.

Gender fluid: Not identifying with a single, fixed gender. A person whose gender identity may shift.

*(Note: While the previous six terms may sound similar, subtle differences between them mean they can’t always be used interchangeably).*

Gender non-conforming: People who don’t conform to traditional expectations of their gender.

Transsexual: A person whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, and who takes medical steps such as sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy to change their body to match their gender.

Transvestite: A person who dresses in clothing generally identified with the opposite gender/sex.

Trans: The overarching umbrella term for various kinds of gender identifies in the trans community.

Drag kings & drag queens: People, some who are straight and cisgender, who perform either masculinity or femininity as a form of art. It’s not about gender identity.

Bottom surgery: A colloquial way of referring to gender affirming genital surgery.

Top surgery: Colloquial way of describing gender affirming surgery on the chest.

Binding: Flattening your breasts, sometimes to appear more masculine.

Androgynous: A person who has both masculine and feminine characteristics, which sometimes means you can’t easily distinguish that person’s gender. It can also refer to someone who appears female — like Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose, for example — but who adopts a style that is generally considered masculine.

‘Out’ vs. ‘closeted’

Coming out: The complicated, multi-layered, ongoing process by which one discovers and accepts one’s own sexuality and gender identity. One of the most famous coming outs was Ellen DeGeneres, with “Yep, I’m gay” on the cover of Time magazine 20 years ago. Former President Obama awarded DeGeneres a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, saying that her coming out in 1997 was an important step for the country.

/center
Outing: Publicly revealing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity when they’ve personally chosen to keep it private.

Living openly: An LGBTQ people who is comfortable being out about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Closeted: An LGBTQ person who will not or cannot disclose their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity to the wider world.

Passing: A person who is recognized as the gender they identify with.

Down low: A term often used by African American men to refer to men who identify as heterosexual but have sex with men.

Attitudes

Ally: A person who is not LGBTQ but uses their privilege to support LGBTQ people and promote equality. Allies “stand up and speak out even when the people they’re allying for aren’t there,” said Robin McHaelen, founder and executive director of True Colors, a non-profit that provides support for LGBTQ youth and their families. In other words, not just at pride parades.

Sex positive: An attitude that views sexual expression and sexual pleasure, if it’s healthy and consensual, as a good thing.

Heterosexual privilege: Refers to the societal advantages that heterosexuals get which LGBTQ people don’t. If you’re a straight family that moves to a new neighborhood, for example, you probably don’t have to worry about whether your neighbors will accept you.

Heteronormativity: A cultural bias that considers heterosexuality (being straight) the norm. When you first meet someone, do you automatically assume they’re straight? That’s heteronormativity.

Heterosexism: A system of oppression that considers heterosexuality the norm and discriminates against people who display non-heterosexual behaviors and identities.

Cissexism: A system of oppression that says there are only two genders, which are considered the norm, and that everyone’s gender aligns with their sex at birth.

Homophobia: Discrimination, prejudice, fear or hatred toward people who are attracted to members of the same sex.

Biphobia: Discrimination, prejudice, fear or hatred toward bisexual people.

Transphobia: Prejudice toward trans people.

Transmisogyny: A blend of transphobia and misogyny, which manifests as discrimination against “trans women and trans and gender non-conforming people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum.”

TERF: The acronym for “trans exclusionary radical feminists,” referring to feminists who are transphobic.

Transfeminism: Defined as “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.” It’s a form of feminism that includes all self-identified women, regardless of assigned sex, and challenges cisgender privilege. A central tenet is that individuals have the right to define who they are.

Intersectionality: The understanding of how a person’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability status — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination.

Complete Article HERE!

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Trans Writer E. Parker Phillips Finds Poetry in He/r Fluid Identity

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E. Parker Phillips conveys a message of nonviolence.

By Liz Tracy

At a Yale writing workshop in 2003, one of E. Parker Phillips’ college classmates said Phillips’ erotic poem reminded them of a Calvin Klein ad. Phillips, who identifies as genderqueer and uses “s/he” and “he/r” pronouns, doesn’t remember the poem itself, only one line from the work about a lesbian sexual awakening: “Love is where we stay in bed and go shopping for hats.” The classmate was trying to humiliate Phillips. But s/he treasures the memory.

“The connection between sex, power, and writing felt undeveloped at a place like Yale,” Phillips recalls. “It made me feel like things weren’t set up for me to have a voice.

“Well, now I fight for that voice.”

At the time, Phillips was studying for a degree in Chinese. These days, s/he’s one of the busiest people in Miami, juggling writing, teaching, performing, BDSM and fetish work, and activism. Phillips cannot be explained simply in a line from a poem or exemplified in a single memory. But though Phillips defies labels, he/r uniquely intersectional message and example has made he/r one of South Florida’s most prominent voices in the queer and literary realms.

Phillips was a queer kid raised by strict parents near the Adirondack Mountains in Glens Falls, New York, a largely white, Republican, rural town. There was a lot of pressure at home to go to a good school. Phillips found sanctuary and joy in playing sports. “I was an athlete before anything else in my life,” s/he remembers.

After graduating from college, s/he lived “on the fringes of literary cultures at Yale and in New York City.” The red state of Florida might not seem like the most welcoming place for a queer writer, but Florida International University’s creative writing program offered Phillips the chance to study with renowned poets Campbell McGrath and Denise Duhamel. There, s/he recalls, “I could learn to embrace how I write from my groin and my heart while also exploring ideas and politics. Miami, and FIU, helped me turn my position as an outsider, once a source of shame, into a place of empowerment.”

Phillips taught at FIU and Broward College while publishing poems in journals such as Voluble (a LARB channel), The Sensations Feelings Journal, Jai-Alai Magazine, and Hinchas de Poesia. Along the way, s/he developed a unique literary style to express he/r layered experiences. “I am happiest at the nexus of language, performance, and physicality,” Phillips notes. “Writing poems is a trans-like state where I am thinking about my body both physically and emotionally, processing my experience in language — consciousness tethered to a sensual world.”

From 2014-’16, the instructor found a less conventional avenue for expressing he/r identity by opening a 1,500-square-foot BDSM commercial dungeon. “Both [kink and poetry] feel like arts of consciousness,” s/he explains. “BDSM, kink, for me brings together making money and art; it is how I have made a living in the past four years.”

S/he now operates out of a private fetish studio in Hollywood, Florida — and not just to pay the bills. “I try to work outside academia so I can deepen my engagement with the world, which affects my voice in poetry. It is not always easy. I probably do too much,” Phillips admits.

In addition to hosting BDSM play parties and a meetup for kinky people titled Miami Munch, for the past six months, Phillips has cohosted the weekly Queer and Trans Yoga class at Agni Miami.

“Poems, BDSM, yoga — these are my lifelines. Sharing these practices with other people amplifies their meaning and helps me push the boundaries of the various forms,” Phillips explains. “When I try to live up to the expectations of what I perceive as the mainstream poetry world, I end up not writing.”

In joining all of these varied pursuits, s/he explains, “If I can focus on bearing witness to my feelings and my body, bearing witness to politics and injustice, I can engage poetry as a vehicle through which I traverse the known into the not-yet-known… Imagining a different, more equitable world is particularly important to me as a nonbinary, genderfluid person.”

Part of imagining that world is changing the words used to describe it. “Language is an ontological problem — a world of ‘he’ and ‘she,’ a binary world,” Phillips continues. “How can we take that apart and build something more livable?… What happens when I share my queer, feminist consciousness with a reader? A change in hearts and minds can happen there.”

The Queer and Trans Yoga class s/he cofounded is another converging of these realities for Phillips. In a hatha class, the teacher focuses on yin — “practicing being versus doing” — according to one instructor. Students hold poses for three to five minutes, and class leaders discuss topics such as self-acceptance, self-love, and coping with rejection. During the class, a reiki practitioner attends to individuals. The class also begins or ends with a poem by a queer or trans author, or a talk by a community member.

“The message we convey is one of nonviolence toward self and others. There is a lot of emphasis on the self and falling in love with the self,” Phillips says.

Those themes will carry into he/r course at this week’s TransArt, an annual event that advances equity for the Latinx and LGBT communities through education. Titled I Talk to My Body, Phillips’ workshop will “look at the topic of the self addressing the body, which we will explore within the context of a queer and trans lived experience,” s/he says. Using works by poets Lucille Clifton, Anna Swir, and Joy Ladin, Phillips hopes to teach students to “make sense of, or even celebrate, a discontinuity between self and body.”

Phillips recalls a recent moment at Queer and Trans Yoga when a practitioner spoke about being queer-bashed by a trusted yoga instructor. The reflection evoked a related yoga practice. Class members were told to lie on their backs with legs in the air, “so we could feel the disorientation the person experienced. It felt like falling backwards,” Phillips remembers. “I really wanted to get up and leave — it was challenging both emotionally and physically.”

But the meaning of the action made it bearable for Phillips. Inversion poses like that lift energy to the throat, s/he explains, renewing one’s voice.

“Learning how to work through discomfort is a hugely valuable lesson for me as a queer person, given the discomfort I face in the adult entertainment industry, in my family, and as a poet,” Phillips describes. “Doing yoga in community and turning the raw, painful stuff of lived experience into something inspiring and shared — that is another act of poem-making too.”

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ kids are missing out on sex education—and it’s up to schools to change that

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Last year, California officially mandated LGBTQ history lessons in public schools, vowing to teach “the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” and their impact on both the state’s and the country’s history.

This was a victory for LGBTQ rights, because it’s a rarity; in most states—in all but nine to be exact—schools don’t even cover LGBTQ sexuality, let alone queer history.

When surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 12 percent of millennials said they received sexual education material that covered sex between gay partners—even though 20 percent of millennials consider themselves LGBTQ. American sex ed is “primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people,” according to a different study conducted by Planned Parenthood and the HRC.

This hetero-specific focus creates a multitude of problems for all young people sorting through their anxieties and questions about sex and sexuality. For one, straight students aren’t being forced to acknowledge other sexualities, which can foster bullying and promote a culture of intolerance. For another, a lack of school discussion means most LGBTQ students are being inadvertently told to stay in the closet. And with that messaging, there is the shame and hiding, and then there are the health risks.

Proper safe-sex education is important for all students, and LGBTQ people are no exception: 22 percent of all transgender women are HIV positive, and queer men face a higher risk of contact with HIV or a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ignoring queer students may not be a new phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be remedied. And perhaps school districts can start by listening to the stories of queer people who have gone through the country’s lackluster sexual education systems. Through them, activists can learn how to fix such a massive gap in sex education.

This is what the queer sex ed gap looks like

Larissa Glasser, a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts, grew up in the 1980s, an era whose approach to sex ed was based in fear and simple authoritarian phrases like “Don’t do it.” Glasser, whose transgender, obviously couldn’t rely on schools to teach her about queer life.

“I was in public school until fifth grade and we had no sex education whatsoever,” she told the Daily Dot. “This was during the Reagan presidency, so all we ever heard about sex was AIDS as a scare tactic to be abstinent.”

Very little accurate information existed about transgender women outside of schools. Glasser was only exposed to trans people through filmmakers like John Waters and Ralph Bakshi.

“Finally, during the 1990s, trans issues were addressed somewhat respectfully in about 10 percent of the films I saw,” Glasser said. “Then I discovered writers like Jean Genet, Angela Carter, and Hubert Selby Jr., who were willing to portray queer femme sexuality in a somewhat positive light.”

Glasser’s experiences mirror many other LGBTQ students’ struggles. Sophie Searcy grew up miles away in Kentucky during the ’90s and 2000s, attending Catholic school all the way through high school, and she too had virtually no experience with LGBTQ education. Queer and trans sexuality just wasn’t discussed.

“The Catholic system I belonged to had a program called ‘family life,’ which was a religious health and sex education program,” Searcy told the Daily Dot. “Very basic facts about anatomy and puberty were explained in gender-separated rooms. There was no mention of safer sex methods, navigating consent, or any LGBTQ issues whatsoever.”

Searcy knew early on that her church wasn’t LGBTQ-inclusive. But looking back on those early years, she realized that queer people were treated as if they simply didn’t exist at all.

“The class explained sex as exclusively between a man and a woman, as if only heterosexual orientations existed,” Searcy said. “Similar to how the class erased all non-hetero orientations, the class explained gender, sexual development, and sexual intercourse in a way that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of trans people. Boys had penises, girls have vaginas, boys develop into men, girls develop into women, etc., etc., etc.”

In particularly conservative areas, sexual education isn’t just biased—what it is lacking can induce violence. LGBTQ activist and writer Sarah Bess grew up in southeast Missouri in the 1990s, and she was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and physically assaulted across school districts.

“I was this awkward, autistic, queer kid from the middle of nowhere, so I got picked on a lot,” Bess explained. “I dropped out in the seventh grade because I was getting beat up so much and my home life sucked and I really didn’t care about school.”

Bess’s classes didn’t provide a respite from the attacks. “Being gay wasn’t really mentioned as a possibility in my sex ed classes. The existence of trans people definitely wasn’t acknowledged. There was a lot of fear-mongering about pregnancy and STIs, and that’s mostly what I remember,” Bess explained. “I don’t remember anyone at school even mentioning trans people. Beyond transphobic Jerry Springer and Maury Povich episodes, I don’t think we were on anyone’s radar.”

In one case, her sex education teacher enabled a physical assault.

“My seventh-grade sex ed class was taught by a gym coach who watched two boys beat the shit out of me after school one day,” Bess said. “He just laughed, got in his car and drove off.”

When anti-LGBTQ sentiments take hold in a school, then queer students live in an ongoing state of fear. This not just impedes their education, it can be debilitating for their growth and self-esteem—and it can separate queer people from one another by forcing them to stay hidden. For someone like Bess, this was extremely alienating.

“I was in my late teens the first time I knowingly talked to another trans woman online,” Bess explained. “I was in my twenties before I knowingly met anyone like me in person.”

For others, sex education classes could have possibly saved their lives. A 2014 report published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA Williams Institute reveals that suicide attempt rates are particularly high among transgender and gender non-conforming students who face harassment or bullying at school. Through sex education, though, students could have a better understanding of gender transitioning or normalizing queer sexuality. The more that classrooms validate LGBTQ experiences, the more likely students are to treat their fellow classmates with respect.

“Gender was always conflated with assigned sex and body parts,” Searcy said. “It wasn’t that trans people were portrayed as evil or misguided, but that the possibility of being trans was never even acknowledged.”

Then came the internet

So if LGBTQ students aren’t able to learn about their bodies from primary and secondary schools, where do they go for information about queer sexuality? Many turn to the internet.

But the internet is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to access—especially those in previous generations. In Bess’s case, this directly impacted her exposure to trans material.

“I didn’t have consistent internet access for most of my life, so I picked up bits and pieces where and when I could,” she said. “I watched a lot of porn with trans women in it and read a lot of gross forced fem erotica, none of which was very helpful for learning about sex.”

Even when internet access is available, its resources aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they can be damaging.

Shortly after Glasser graduated from library school, she stumbled across a gender transitioning guideline called tsroadmap, also known as “Transsexual & Transgender Road Map.” Glasser felt even worse about herself while using the website, in part because the guide relied on rigid stereotypes and generalizations for trans women. In one case, the site demanded that trans women undergo surgeries in order to properly transition, when many trans people prefer not to undergo permanent surgery.

“It was useful at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight, I think its normativity had a fairly toxic effect on my self-esteem when I was at my most vulnerable point.”

Searcy, on the other hand, saw internet access as a major source for learning more about non-hetero sexuality. Some of her biggest resources for her transitioning were writers who have gained significant prominence thanks to the internet’s impact on the trans community.

“Ultimately, a close friend came out as trans which led me to question my own gender and explore resources on my own,” Searcy said. “Julia Serano and Morgan M Page were particularly helpful, as were Imogen Binnie and Casey Plett.”

So while online resources aren’t exactly perfect, the internet has advanced far enough that it can connect trans and queer people with the online communities they need to learn more about themselves. On Reddit, there are subreddits like /r/asktransgender that let trans people learn about undergoing gender transitioning. Sites like Sites like Keshet and Queer Theology provide resources for religious queer and transgender people. Resources like TJOBBANK host employment listings for LGBTQ folks searching for inclusive workplaces. And services like Discord and Slack allow queer and trans users to create their own closed groups where LGBTQ members can hang out, talk about queer life, or get together and play video games. The internet has changed over time, and that means there are more ways for queer and trans people to meet each other than before.

But it’s unfair to relegate LGBTQ students to the internet for advice, often in secret. It can stall LGBTQ kids from coming out, make trans and queer sexuality feel like a taboo, or send the message that queer and trans life isn’t important enough to understand.

Schools are supposed to provide students with learning opportunities that help young kids grow into productive adults. That’s why third graders learn basic reading comprehension skills, and high schools teach American history (albeit often from a very straight, white, male perspective), and middle schoolers get a whole class dedicated to sex and their bodies—so they can go out into the world informed and prepared.

But if schools leave out LGBTQ sexuality and force queer students to learn on their own time, then those schools are failing at their jobs. Why must the burden be on LGBTQ youth to educate themselves?

The solutions that exist

Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love, lived in an upper-middle class suburb in Oregon during her high school years. At the time, she enrolled in an “internationally-focused hippie-ish sub-program” that seemed more like “actual sex ed taught by Planned Parenthood.” And yet like Glasser and Searcy, she says, “I cannot recall LGBTQ issues ever coming up. Negatively or positively.”

And as for trans issues? “Ha,” she told the Daily Dot. “No. Zero.”

This was in 2001. But she recognizes things have changed since then. LGBTQ equality has become more mainstream, trans rights have entered the news cycle, and queer sex ed has turned into a serious activist rallying point. Today, she thinks there’s solutions that school districts can take to bring LGBTQ education to kids, instead of forcing them to turn to the internet. That is, if they’re willing to put in the effort.

“There are plenty of gay sexual health resources out there,” Plett said. “I’d get a hold of them, pay them to come, and let them take the wheel. And be open and loving and willing to learn.”

Plett is right. Today, many local LGBTQ organizations host workshops for queer youth, providing the resources students need to learn more about their sexuality. Long Island’s Pride for Youth, for example, facilitates workshops on fighting transphobia and working with LGBTQ youth. Other community centers, such as New York City’s Apicha Community Health Center and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, provide training segments for educators, giving them the skills they need to teach LGBTQ-inclusive material in classrooms. And in recent years, Planned Parenthood has both criticized the lack of LGBTQ sex education in public schools, and begun taking a more LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education.

Gender therapists and counselors traditionally host workshops for teens as well, allowing them to explore LGBTQ topics in an affirming environment. And programs like the GSA Network even give students the training they need to host workshops and class sessions that can debunk damaging myths about the queer community.

For those who don’t live in “gay-friendly” metropolitan areas, there are also online resources available for classrooms. TED hosts a variety of TED Talks covering LGBTQ issues, from coming out to helping transgender teens. And many educators host lesson plans and teach-ins that are available for free online, allowing students to engage in queer sex education topics through a vetted workshop environment.

These programs and groups normalize LGBTQ sexuality. Workshops talk frankly and openly about what it means to have sex as a gay or transgender person and provide safe sex education to prevent STIs. They also give educators the training they need not just to respect queer students, but to include LGBTQ topics in future lesson plans. If school districts aren’t sure how to approach queer sexuality, here is where they can start.

“It would have been incredible for me to hear the simple facts that sex is complicated and messy but that there are a few universals that we should consider (consent, safer methods, exploration),” Searcy explained, “or that gender is independent of assigned sex and that it might be helpful to consider if my assigned sex did not fit.”

That’s something echoed by Bess, who knows all too well that many school districts are still avoiding LGBTQ topics in their entirety. She insists that the federal government should take a more active role in protecting LGBTQ youth, especially in areas where people are particularly bigoted toward queer students. Many school districts simply aren’t evolving anywhere near the rate of young people’s attitudes toward sexuality.

“It’s been awhile since I was in school, but it doesn’t seem like things are much better now in the places I grew up,” she explained. “Federal intervention is absolutely necessary to protect queer and trans students and educators, especially in rural school districts.”

Safety is where educators need to start if they want to facilitate an open, tolerant conversation about sex and sexuality. With transgender students under attack through outrageous “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and the Trump administration officially rescinding any federal guidelines for protecting trans youth, state and federal intervention is more important than ever.

For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially outlawed all forms of discrimination against transgender people in 2015. Discriminatory fines for “willful, wanton or malicious” discrimination is up to $100,000. Massachusetts offers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, a joint initiative that provides training for school administrators on queer topics and gives students the tools they need to become activists in their school settings.

Fostering change and giving schools a legal incentive to end discrimination is important. Seeing how 42 percent of all queer youth feel their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people, promoting tolerance and opening constructive discussion are the keys to getting there.

Schools teach basic sex education for a reason: Most adults will have sex, and the repercussions of sex are often far-reaching and far-ranging and can be life-changing. But if sex education doesn’t address the current population and the culture, then it’s time for administrators to recognize they’re doing youth a disservice. Making things right could actually save lives.

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