Thursday, March 22, 2012

Puberty, Sex Education and Heterosexism

'#  BORN THIS WAY  PUT PAWS Up!' photo (c) 2011, @martiinlurent - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Though I have a very open relationship with both of my children, I realize that there are going to be things that they will not want to talk to me about.  It could be something like a wet dream, or spontaneous erections, or it could be same sex attraction, being asexual or polyamourous. When you have children approaching puberty, it is my belief that as a parent, the number one gift we can give them is acceptance and assurance that we love them unconditionally.

I recently bought a few books on puberty for my son.  I know what it's like to go through puberty as a girl, but I obviously have no experience with dealing with puberty as a male.  It is absolutely vital that children receive the correct information so that they can make the decisions that best suit them.  I don't want him to feel shame about his changing body, or his sexual desires.  I want him to know that everything that is happening, and will happen is natural and normal.

I went through several books on puberty and the one thing that they all have in common is the complete and utter erasure of marginalized sexualities.  This insistence on talking about puberty through a very straight lens must be extremely othering to gay, poly, asexual or lesbian teens.  The authors in question may have felt that they were writing a one size fits all guide, but erasure means creating those outside of this very narrow norm as deviant.  Puberty is a very difficult time in the life of a teen, and those who are not straight or cis, are particularly persecuted.  These manuals through erasure teach them to believe every negative social construction of their identity.

As a straight cis woman, I most certainly do not have the answers.  Though I have done my best to let my children know that my love for them is unconditional, and that they can talk to me about anything, the absence of this necessary information means that there is a void in their education.  I have done my best to talk to them, but even as I do so, I am highly aware that my privilege is a huge stumbling block. These so-called guides to puberty and sexuality for children are perpetuating ignorance, not fighting it.

I know that I cannot protect my children should they happen to be gay, from the horrors of heterosexism, but as a parent, I feel it is my duty to prepare them to the best of my ability.  Talking to them about race, while emotionally painful, has been so much easier because this is an experience that we share.  I can tell them about incidents from childhood, or what society will expect of them and speak with authority, but when it comes to other sexualities, I am way out of my depth.  Even if they end up being straight, the last thing I want to do, is to raise some uptight tool who believes he has the right to attack and oppress someone based in difference.

Looking for resources for my pre-teen child has strongly affirmed to me the meaning of heterosexism.  There is an absolute assumption of heterosexuality.  There is no recognition that it amounts to erasure, or that it hurts both straight and gay kids.  It encourages straight kids to normalize their sexuality and see themselves as superior, even as it teaches gay kids that they are deviant.  It states unequivocally that sex only happens when there is a penis inside of a vagina, and sex involves so much more than that, even among straight people.

Talking to kids about sex and sexuality is not one big talk, as it always framed in social discourse, but a series of talks. You don't have to say a slur to a child to teach them intolerance, you simply have to make assumptions about their identity or erase marginalized people from family discussions. They will quickly get the message about what is and is not acceptable in their family and throughout society.

I was desperately hoping to find some kind of inclusive guide to puberty and sexuality for my children.    Considering the institionalized nature of heterosexism, it was naive of me to hope.  I am going to continue to research and to try and learn in the hopes of creating a tolerant, accepting and open environment for my children as they grow.  I am going to continue to look for appropriate resources, because if they are gay, I want them to know that this is good and natural, and if they are straight, I want them not to judge and actively oppress.  I think that I have laid a good foundation but one can never really be sure.   I am however sure of one thing, discussions about sex, sexuality and puberty are not complete, unless they include the entire spectrum of human experience.

I cannot protect him from pain and I cannot stop him from internalizing negative constructions of the GLBT community, asexual or polyamrous people, but I can do my best to ensure that the bigotry does not start at home, and if nothing else, that he understands that at least around his parents, he is free to be who he was born to be.

Does anyone know of any resources that are inclusive regarding talking to kids about sex, sexuality or puberty?  I would really appreciate it, if you could share in the comment section.