This blog post is part of the Sex Ed Road Trip, a blog series uplifting youth activists work from across the country working towards comprehensive sex education. As part of today’s stop in Louisiana, we’re hearing from Foster, an activist for inclusive sex ed and trans rights in Louisiana.
My first exposure to sex education was as a very queer 9th grader at a central Alabama high school. The guest lecturer started strong with “condoms don’t work” and proceeded on to the STI-infected genital flashcards.
I remember that class vividly because almost all of the information our instructor shared was hurtful and wrong. Now a college student and public health major, I’ve worked extensively with HIV testing, lobbied for comprehensive sex education in my state, and even taught a few sex ed classes of my own. Comprehensive sex ed has become a huge part of my life and what I fight for.
But since that class in 9th grade, I’ve also come out as transgender, and that has complicated my relationship with this work. Fourteen year old me cringed when hearing about “the female body” and eighteen year old me isn’t feeling any safer. When I work in progressive spaces I’m constantly dodging the assumptions that queer sex and pregnancy are never related, that penises are what men have, and that abortion is an issue for women only. Everyone I’ve ever worked with in the fight for comp sex ed has believed that LGBTQIA+ inclusiveness is important. And yet…
When I lobby on Capitol Hill for comprehensive sex ed, I know that no curriculum exists that doesn’t tell me my body is “female,” that doesn’t keep transgender young people out of conversations about our sexual health.
As young people, we need to be educated about our bodies. How can we look for resources when every pamphlet, curriculum, and resource website is full of language that hurts us?
Talking about gender and trans people doesn’t change the fact that most sex ed resources are harmful and cisgenderist. Even those that include information about LGBTQ issues still use phrases like “a condom covers a man’s penis” or “a woman’s ovaries release an egg every month.” Sticking to this binary misgenders our bodies: my ovaries may release eggs, but I don’t identify as a woman. It endangers our health by not providing the information we need about preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, and sexually transmitted infections. And it’s a painful reminder of the transphobia and exclusion we face in daily life.
My dream sex education course uses absolutely no gendered language. No phrases like “male body” or “this is common in females.” Only accurate information specific to the body parts or systems being described. My dream sex ed course understands that like gender, bodies are a spectrum. Intersex students and transgender students who are physically transitioning have bodies that are just as normal and deserving of proper information about taking care of ourselves.
My dream sex education also isn’t so heteronormative. In my nightmare 9th grade class, the girls were forced to write a contract of things we wouldn’t do to provoke boys into wanting to have sex with us (like wearing revealing clothing.) Not only is that sentiment horrible, it also made the assumption that all girls in the class were straight. My dream sex ed would use words like “partner” to talk about healthy relationships and sex. My dream sex ed would also make space for and celebrate the narratives of asexual, aromantic and polyamorous folk. Sex education should be about validation and gaining tools for your future, not about shaming young people for the relationships they do or do not want.
My dream sex education course also would talk more about sex. The class I had in high school implied that the only sex that existed involved a penis plus a mouth or a vagina. I had no idea of what sort of protection could be used when neither partner had a penis. Having frank conversations about dental dams and other forms of barriers will only give students a great ability to make safe decisions.
My dream sex ed is not just the sex education of the future. It’s the class young folk like myself are teaching over text message or at parties or on youtube. It’s also something that our elders have been working to assure that we all have access to for decades.
As queer and trans young people, we need access to education about our bodies and the choices at our disposal. Making sex education inclusive of our narratives and our needs is just one step towards creating safer schools and safer futures for our generation.