It’s Pride Month where we celebrate lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer (and hopefully also asexual and intersex) folk. Drawing attention to the inequalities, prejudice, and discrimination that so so many people face is super important, and of course we shouldn’t just be doing this in June.
It’s important to avoid doing the same kind of thing in relationships and sex education too: where most of the programme is straight with an add-on lesson about LGBTQAI. Best practice RSE embeds gender and sexual diversity all the way through the programme and includes everyone from the get go. We also need to make sure that the RSE we are facilitating doesn’t reinforce the rules that prioritise straight and cis folks.
From an early age we learn the very strict rules about what is normal or natural when it comes to gender and sexuality. For instance:
- There are only men and women
- Men and women are opposites and there are specifically ‘masculine’ and ‘female’ traits that men and women have to follow
- Men and women are only attracted to each other (the ‘opposite’ sex)
- Our bodies have to fit in with the gender we are given
The problem with these rules is that:
- If we break them we can face major repercussions (bullying, harassment, violence)
- They are unequal (for instance men get status for having sex, women get stigma)
- They exclude some people and make them invisible (e.g. trans/non-binary, or lesbian, gay, and bi people)
- Other aspects of our identities means that it can be very difficult to follow the rules of gender and sexuality (e.g. race, disability, class, age, background, personality, neurodiversity)
Think about how sex and relationships are portrayed in Hollywood films: who is portrayed, how do they look, who are they attracted to? Which of us really fits in with this ideal version of gender and sexuality?
If we consider the Hollywood depictions of gender and sexuality we can see that it often leave out, or sidelines, people who are LGBT. However the powerful rules and expectations placed on us means that many of us don’t feel okay about our own gender or sexuality – even if we are cisgender or straight – because the expectations are both impossible to live up to and also deeply unfair.
However, also think about your own RSE? Was it mostly about straight, cis, white, non-disabled people? Think about the RSE that you might be offering, who is included, who isn’t? What kinds of sex and relationships are included and what messages do we send out?
By offering RSE that is inclusive from the get go we can not just make it better for non-straight and cis students but also better for everyone. One size fits all RSE benefits no-one and I think can do more harm than good. This is we need to ‘queer’ sex and relationships education so that it is valuable to absolutely everyone (even those that don’t want to have sex).
To do this we need to shift the focus away about what kinds of sex and relationships people ‘should’ be having. Instead we need to give people the tools to work out for themselves about different sexual or non sexual practices they may actually enjoy, or different romantic or non romantic relationships that people might find valuable.
In addition to this, it’s better to avoid gendered terms such as ‘girlfriend’ or ‘husband’ but instead use terms like ‘partner’. Also be careful of gendering parts of the body − for example saying ‘a man’s penis’ could just be ‘a penis’ or ‘someone’s penis’.
However, rather than uncritically presenting gender and sexuality as a level playing field we then also need to make sure that students are able to explore how people’s experiences of discrimination can have an effect on how they navigate relationships and sex. This can be done by asking students to reflect on the different barriers and opportunities that are present for different kinds of people in our RSE.
Scenarios could cover things like: what issues might come up around sex where one person is just figuring out their sexuality and the other person is confidently out and proud? How might homophobia or biphobia make being in a relationship with someone of the same gender more difficult? How might someone who is disabled, and seen in society as non-sexual, express their desires without feeling stigma? How can a black bisexual person feel included when their local LGBT groups are so white?
So although you could have a ‘these are what all the labels mean’ lesson, it’s important to make sure that it doesn’t just present a neutral message of just ‘it’s fine to be LGBTQ’ without recognising when and in what circumstances it isn’t, in real life. All students should be able to explore the implications of prejudice and discrimination and also question all of the norms about sex and relationships, in order to help change the culture but also to be able to figure out what works for them in terms of their own identity and what they do.
For this reason there isn’t a separate LGBTQIA lesson in DO… RSE for Schools, instead we have tried to design the whole thing to include everyone from the outset and used diverse real life scenarios and critical discussion questions throughout. So, if you haven’t already, do check out DO… today, it’s free and available right now.
You can also check out our facebook group, where we are trying to build a community of RSE teachers and the people who support them. Alice Hoyle and I run that group and we try to promote best practice as well as offering a nice space where people can exchange ideas.
If you would like a ‘this is what the labels mean’ lesson you could check out this lesson plan I’ve put up at TES and also this one about the beauty standard and who is allowed to have sex (looking at you Love Island). There are also some cracking resources at Proud.
My Bish Activity Book has some worksheets that you can print out and use in class which help young people to think about genders and sexualities (among many other things), which is a bargain for £20 I think. You can download and print as many copies of the worksheets as you like and there are tons of ideas in there.
© Justin Hancock, 2018