Rambling #1

Hi folks! It’s been a while, and even though I should be working (right this second, actually) on a draft analysis for my dissertation (more on that at the end!), I am here, writing on my blog because it has been way too long… and I miss it!!

Last week was a crazy roller coaster! It is safe to say it’s been that way since I started the program, but amazing things have happened and I’m eager to share.

So yeah, last week I gave my first talk ever (YAY!) with a sweet, amazing and intelligent colleague of mine (Hi Bethan!) about the importance of language in our everyday interactions as outsiders and insiders of the LGBTQ+ community. We were invited to do it as one of the events of LGBTQ+ History Month at the University of Birmingham. I must say it went great! We had a lot of positive feedback, comments and a discussion at the very end of the session. The talk focused on bringing sexualities and genders that have been traditionally erased from everyday language, imaginary, and activism Рbisexualities (or, better, non-monosexualities), trans genders, asexualities, and intersex. Yeah, they are all plural because I am by no means universalising the experience of all of these folks. To do this, we explained the intricate ways privilege and oppression works to make these invisible (through monosexism, cissexism, the gender binary, the sexual binary and so on), we mentioned the importance of their recognition and presence within the community.

I really loved the discussion, especially at the end about sign-language and its limitations for expressing and talking about non-conforming genders and sexualities.

The event being promoted!

The event being promoted! ūüėÄ

So yeah, I don’t have a picture from the event itself, so that’ll do ūüôā

Last week we also got our first grades back… boy was I¬†nervous! It went really well though and I am happy, I worked SO hard for that paper. It is a big leap from undergraduate to postgraduate, especially a masters in research as I am doing. There are a LOT of expectations that can be terrifying when it comes to analysis and writing and so on. My paper explores binormativity in contemporary american media representations of bisexuality, using Callie Torres from¬†Grey’s Anatomy¬†and Oberyn Martell from¬†Game of Thrones.¬†I really enjoyed writing it, I can share some of it here (not textually) sometime, not right now lol ūüôā let’s see where it takes me now.

yaaaas

Yeah, now on to other projects!

1. I have to hand in another essay on April 29th.

2. I have to hand in my literature review on April 29th.

3. I have to hand in a mock PhD proposal on April 29th.

yeah, on April 30th I will sleep for 12567753 hours straight.

This is pretty much the reason why I haven’t written here this much. Since September time has flown by and well, I love that this blog is about concise topics and analysis, I can’t do that right now, at least until April 30th hahaha. But, to keep it up to date I will either do micro posts of things I find interesting, things related to my work, or just little updates like this. That’s all I can do for now, I hope this is okay with all of you.

Alright, next post may be a repost from a blogpost I am going for the event I mentioned. I can also talk about my dissertation as an on-going project over here ūüôā

Much love xxx

Valeria

Celebrating Bisexual Visibility Day!

Hey y’all!

Today, September 23, we celebrate Bisexual Visibility Day! ūüėÄ

YAY!

This visibility should actually happen every single day, but oh well, as bisexuals, we become closeted by assumption made by others of us being either gay or straight depending on our partner (hence our need to come out!).

Since these assumptions are made because of monosexism, use today to fight it! Feel proud of who you are and do not let anyone box you on categories and identities that do not resonate with you. Be you!!

Here are some articles about Bisexual Visibility Day and Bisexual Awareness Week (this week lol!) that have been published by other media outlets. Please read them, they are great!

Share by Shiri Eisner!

Shared by Shiri Eisner!

On another note, I haven’t been active over here because… I moved to Birmingham! ūüėÄ

I’m super happy (trust me, I cannot even write about how happy, joyful and grateful I am without tearing up) that I am finally here. I moved in with my partner to the city centre and we are both starting our masters. We have been pretty busy getting settled and this week is crazy for me since it is Welcome Week throughout campus.

Next week I start my MRes in Sexuality and Gender Studies¬†at the University of Birmingham (UoB)¬†ūüėÄ I am thrilled that I can finally ¬†specify on what I am passionate about and that there will be people there for me to achieve great things! Once I know more about my program and about class topics I can make post about them, so keep an eye out!

I also want to write a blog post about Birmingham and some of the sex positivity I’ve already experienced within the city and my campus in particular ūüôā I will also post some pics so y’all can see what I’m seeing. So, that should be next! A couple of informal posts before it gets real doing research. Even though I already borrowed two books from the library today!

Are any of you studying gender and sexuality or any other course that aims social liberation in some way? Tell me about it in the comment section below!

The Bisexual Is The Political

Two years ago I finally decided to identify as bisexual out loud.

Finding a label that helped me understand my sexual orientation was both exciting and scary. It was exciting because I felt a lot more at peace with my internal struggle of understanding who I am, as I have always been deeply in touch with my sexuality and feelings. It was scary, though, because I had to deal with my own internalised biphobia, social expectations and, well, the judgemental people and voices in my head.

Since then, I have talked more openly about my bisexuality with my partner, friends, family and my feminist online community. And with this – and a whole lot of reading – I’ve found myself tired of hearing the accusation that¬†¬†bisexual individuals are cissexists¬†because they supposedly reinforce the gender binary.

Drawing from¬†Julia Serano‘s wonderful insights¬†in her¬†latest book¬†Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive¬†and Shiri Eisner’s amazing blog Radical Bi,¬†I will explain the importance of the label bisexual, as opposed to “more inclusive terms” such as pansexual or omnisexual, within the queer movement because of the uniqueness of our struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure.

Before we continue, I’d like to clarify that I am not¬†against people identifying with the labels¬†BMNOPPQ (bisexual, multisexual, no label, omnisexual, pansexual, polysexual, queer). Everyone has the right to identify as they want. I am just advocating for the use of bisexual* as an umbrella term to create a strong bisexual* community against our unique struggles.¬†

Bisexual and transgender with the asterisk (*) at the end signify umbrella terms. 

Is Bisexuality Cissexist? Or Is Pansexuality Biphobic?

There are many different definitions of the word bisexual. These definitions vary from person to person and their individual experiences. However, the traditional definition of bisexual denotes¬†a person that feels sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of¬†both¬†the same and different genders. So, there is the implication of being only two genders by using ‘attraction towards both¬†genders’.Other traditional definitions replace ‘same and different genders’ with men and women, making it more explicit.¬†These definitions are assumed to reinforce the gender binary and; as a result,¬†are accused of being cissexist.¬†

But, there are other definitions of bisexuality that are gaining momentum. Julia Serano defines bisexual in her book as “people who do not limit their sexual experiences to members of a single sex or gender”. What is the dichotomy being¬†used in here?¬†She makes the case that being heterosexual, gay or lesbian reinforces the gender binary just as much as the traditional definition of bisexual since they are exclusively attracted to the opposite or the same genders.¬†Same/Opposite dichotomy, anyone? And they are not even using the words men and/or women!

The Bisexual Index enlightens us by saying that the definition of heterosexual, gay and lesbian have changed over time because now people recognise the existence of more than two genders. For this reason, heterosexual, gay and lesbian are now defined as people that feel sexual and/or romantic attraction to people of a broadly different or similar gender, respectively. Gender is a norm and so, it kind of exists like a rigid box (take, for example, men and women), but actually, no gender performance (for lack of a better word) is ever the same. Your gender, my gender, his, her, zie gender might be similar in expression, but they are all unique!

The Bisexual Index defines bisexual as the possibility for romantic and/or sexual attraction for people of more than one gender. 

But regardless of these definitions that acknowledge all genders, there are individuals that advocate for the complete elimination of the word bisexual¬†for its ‘inherent’ cissexism. Some individuals who claim that bisexual is only about attraction towards men and women, may choose to identify as pansexual, queer¬†or less popular labels like omnisexual, polysexual, multisexual or no label at all.

The word pansexual denotes a person that can feel romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people of all gender identities and expressions. Or as it is often described, a pansexual individual feels romantic and/or sexual attraction towards people, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

So, speaking from my point of view, the two are very similar. In fact, a lot of people use them interchangeably. If so, why do people keep fighting over the use of these terms? Is it to find who is the queerest of us all?!

While there are many similarities between bisexual and pansexual (and not just the fact that we feel attraction towards more than one gender), there is one crucial difference that provides the answer to the question asked above.

Activist Shiri Eisner explains in this blog post and Julia Serano explains in her book that bisexuality focuses on sexual identity while pansexuality focuses on gender identity and expression.¬†This means that those two different identity labels are concerned with different oppressive binary structures: bisexual is concerned with the hetero/homo dichotomy that reproduces monosexism (we’ll get to that in a bit!) and pansexual is concerned with the sex/gender¬†binary that reproduces cissexism.¬†

So, basically, when a person identifies as pansexual, they prioritise ending the oppression – in the form of cissexism and transphobia – that their possible partners might suffer because of their gender identity and expression. This means they are actively seeking to undermine the assumption that what’s between your legs determines if you feel like a man or woman (a.k.a. the sex/gender binary). In short, pansexual individuals focus on making explicit their attraction towards trans* and genderqueer people to end transphobia.¬†

But when a person identifies as bisexual, they prioritise ending the oppression they face – in the form of monosexism and biphobia – by feeling attraction towards more than one gender.¬†¬†In a society that has conditioned us to think that people can only be attracted to the same or different gender (gay/straight), claiming a bisexual* identity is both revolutionary and radical since we are proving that we exist and that we are not invisible since our sexual orientations are always defined depending on who we are fucking. It is an act that aims to destroy monosexism and bisexual invisibility (if you aren’t sure of what these two mean, click here for my blog post about it!).

With this, I am not saying that bisexuals are fighting a different fight than pansexuals. Indeed, we have the same goal towards liberation. But just as much as there is transphobia within bisexual circles (sadly!!), there is biphobia in pansexual circles (also, very sad!). This is because of the fact that, regardless of the history behind the bisexual movement and our unique struggle against monosexism and bi-erasure, pansexual individuals choose to identify as such because they don’t want to reinforce the gender binary (and as we saw, bisexual individuals do not reinforce the gender binary any more than heterosexual, gay, lesbians and some trans* people supposedly do). That seems pretty biphobic to me. And frankly, it sounds like the start of the Queer Olympics.

Julia Serano quotes Shiri Eisner’s work in her book because both of them are¬†two bisexual academics in the trans* spectrum that demand the bisexual* community to prioritise undermining their unique struggle against the hetero/homo binary and not the sex/gender one as this contributes to bisexual erasure. Shiri Eisner’s quote is as follows:

“A discussion focusing around bisexuality solely in relation to transgender politics performs structural bisexual erasure, as it prioritises transgender politics over bisexual politics in a discussion about bisexual identity”

For this reason, independently of how people choose to identify within the bisexual* umbrella of BMNOPPQ, it is important to retain the bisexual* umbrella term to fight against monosexism and biphobia. 

Regardless of the fact that many bisexual individuals (and other individuals within the queer and trans* community) want to reduce¬†the meaning of bisexuality to that of attraction towards men and women, aiming to reinforce the gender binary, we need to remember that only we get to define what bisexual means (hopefully in the most inclusive light). As Julia Serano beautifully explains, bisexual is our word: “[it] is about our experiences with sexuality and sexuality-based oppression, and it makes no claims whatsoever about what other people are, or how they should be sexual or gendered”.¬†

We can’t pretend that the long history behind the word bisexual, as it is the first word bisexual* individuals¬†used to fight for¬†their inclusion within the queer community and their struggle for liberation. We can’t ignore the fact that the word bisexual is the most familiar term for everyone to understand BMNOPPQ identities and that creating new words to describe biphobia, bi-invisibility, bi-erasure, monosexism and so on would be problematic and would only further our invisibility within both straight and queer communities.

We shouldn’t abandon the bisexual* umbrella term because this would undermine any efforts made to create a bisexual community. Sadly, this bisexual community is not as strong, so creating new words would only weaken any attempt at forming it. I advocate for the creation of a bisexual* community to hold each other accountable, share and fight for our struggle and to move away from always trying to assimilate and navigate between gay, lesbian and straight circles.¬†


I want to remind that this post is not about belittling people within the bisexual* umbrella that choose to identify with any BMNOPPQ terminology; on the contrary, I fully support every individual’s right to self-determination. But I am encouraging us to hold on to the bisexual* umbrella term for political reasons. I did want to bring to light the problems of a weak bisexual community, the biphobia and transphobia within the community and debunk the myth that bisexuality reinforces the gender binary.

If you have any thoughts, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comment section below ūüôā

Street Harassment: Not Asking For It

This post does not imply that harassment only happens between men and women. Everyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, class, or race can experience harassment. Street harassment happens between all groups and all groups have different experiences with it depending on their intersecting identities. Even though men do experience harassment, women (both cis and trans) and other subordinate groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community are more vulnerable to it, which is why this post focuses on such experiences and my experiences on harassment by men.

One of the most vivid memories I have as a child is, sadly, a really bitter one. When I was around 9 or 10, I remember being at one of the many beautiful beaches of La Isla de Margarita, a wonderful small island in the north-east of my country, on a family vacation. My mum and I decided to take a walk along the beach. Because I normally went to these beaches with my grandparents while my parents worked, I wanted to spend as much time with her as possible.

Every time I walked alone with my mum I felt uncomfortable, fearful and in danger. This time, my emotions were exacerbated by the fact that she was wearing a tiny bikini that accentuated her best attributes. My mum is and has always been very coqueta and this was something that bothered me a lot because I believed it was the reason behind the cat-calls she always got.

“Mami, tu si est√°s rica!”

*whistles*

*blowing kisses*

Mira ese _____ y esas ______*

*turns around*

*licks his lips*

Me blaming my mother for the behaviour of these men was my internalised sexism, a product of my socialisation growing up female in Latin America (among other things like religious education, machismo culture, and so on). This was almost like slut-shaming her indirectly. This was my 9 or 10 years old self perpetuating rape culture. I always got angry at her because I thought that she put herself in danger (and when I was with her, I was in danger too) because of the way she decided to dress. In my head, those men were sort of guilt-free.

Ugh. Silly me.

I always asked her if the street and sexual harassment she faced bothered her and her answer was always a fake “no”. I thought to myself,¬†“if it doesn’t bother¬†her, how come she never smiles or takes these comments as compliments, but instead she walks faster and her facial expression becomes inscrutable?”.¬†

Of course it bothered her, she was being harassed.

Credit: stopstreetharassment.org

Cat-calling is just one form of street harassment. The organisation Stop Street Harassment defines it as:

Unwelcome words and actions by unknown persons in public places which are motivated by gender and invade a person’s physical and emotional space in a disrespectful, creepy, startling, scary, or insulting way.

Street harassment is so diverse, it ranges from leering, assaulting, whistling, flashing, masturbating in public, stalking, groping, cat-calling and much more. It is very scary.

Street harassment, which is one form of sexual harassment, perpetuates rape culture. This is important to mention because a lot of people believe that street harassment is only about unwanted attention and compliments, but it actually is about reinforcing power dynamics and the status quo. And this is at the core of rape culture. The dominant group, through street harassment, sexual harassment or rape, reminds the subordinate group where they supposedly belong (in the private sphere) and how vulnerable they are (in the public sphere). The subordinate group suffers street harassment fuelled with sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, classism, sizeism and more depending on their identity.

This dichotomy of the private/public = dominant/subordinate = normative/non-normative is constructed because of gender policing, which functions to delegitimise and devalue the gender identity and/or expression of the individual being harassed. Spaces are policed because spaces are gendered. Historically, the public has been constructed as a masculine space and the private as a feminine one. So, when women are in the masculine public space, they are vulnerable to assault, violence and punishment because it is supposedly non-normative for them to be there.

If we translate this into a day-to-day and more up to date situation, we can understand how the dichotomies help explain power relations and how harassment works. In a society that values virginity over sexual liberation for women; where the gender binary, rigid gender roles and expressions and heteronormativity at the expense of queer and trans* folks; where being white is seen as more legitimate than being black, hispanic, asian or indigenous; where being wealthy means having more social advantages over people struggling with poverty; where people who are closer to unachievable beauty standards are considered more beautiful, smart, capable and much more than people that are fat, have stretch marks, small boobs, no thigh gaps and so on; where people with disabilities are somehow only worth the pity and awkwardness of those who do not have a disability Рthose that are on the receiving end of street harassment are considered non-normative identities and bodies that need to be policed and punished to not threaten the normative status quo.

This happens because we construct our identities based on what we are not: “I am what I am not”. And to define what we are not, we have to police the boundaries of what we are. “I am a man¬†so I¬†must not act like a woman” –¬†BOOM! Gender policing at its finest.

Gender Policing Hurts Everyone and Contributes To Our Culture of Harassment. Credit: soul-gender.tumblr.com

Until I experienced street harassment myself, I kept blaming my mum and the way she dressed for the behaviour of these men. I noticed that even though I dressed differently, was younger and did not have my mum’s body, I got harassed too. That’s when I understood that it was¬†not my mum’s or my fault to be objectified in this way¬†– it is the cultural sickness of rape culture. And once I had that realisation, I felt helpless, vulnerable and sexually objectified.

Sexual objectification¬†happens when a person is robbed of their desires, autonomy and dignity by being dehumanised, treated and seen merely as an object of sexual pleasure. This stems from the dichotomies of self/other, us/them, subject/object, mind/body. In our society, men are the sovereign subjects while women are the Other, the objects of men’s desires. As men represent¬†the mind, women are¬†reduced to their bodies which are often objectified, commodified and sexualised on a daily basis.

The feeling of helplessness, vulnerability, dehumanisation, indignity, filthiness, anger and fear that comes from the sexual objectification inherent in street harassment, while paralysing me, often feels like a call to action. Every time I face street harassment, I wish I could slap the attacker on the face for making me feel like less of a person than him. I wish I could ask him if he would like his mother, sisters or daughters to be reminded by strangers of the oppression and violence women have to face on a daily basis. I wish I could scream back at the harassers that my body is not for their entertainment and that it does not define my worth.

I wish I could simply walk on the streets Рalone, at night, at daylight, with a short dress, a skirt, a ton of make-up and heels, cleavage, my belly showing, in a winter coat, in boots, in shorts, drunk, high, whatever the heck I want jeez even naked Рand feel safe enough to do it. I remember in London walking late at night on my way back home from the library with the keys between my fingers just in case something would happen. I remember a guy trying to slap me on the face after I slapped his for grabbing my ass. I remember all the damn times a guy or older men asked me to smile at them because I look so cute and sweet and hot. I want everyone to be able to walk freely and safely on the streets without the fear of being harassed!

I have been harassed so many times and I am fucking angry about it. I want to scream back at the attackers and tell them that my body is mine and that I¬†dress and walk and am out in the public sphere¬†for myself and not for them to look at me or comment on my appearance. I am out in the public space just because I am just as entitled as anybody else to it because I am a person. I do not need anyone’s¬†validation. People can keep it to themselves,¬†I don’t want to hear it. Don’t approach me. Don’t touch me because I haven’t given you consent to do it. Don’t tell me to smile. Don’t force me to conversation. Don’t try to force eye contact with me. Don’t touch yourself looking at me. Don’t lick your lips. Don’t blow me kisses. Don’t whistle at me. Don’t stalk me. Don’t follow me on the streets. Don’t make a comment about how I look. Don’t objectify me. Just don’t.

street harassment

Credit: http://warblebee.tumblr.com She took the tagline “Women Are Not Outside For Your Entertainment” From Tatyana Fazlalizadeh‚Äôs Stop Telling Women to Smile Campaign

Even though men are also vulnerable to street harassment (and sexual harassment in general), the #NotAllMen argument derails the conversation about how men perpetuate and benefit from rape culture (whether they want it or not). So, I understand a lot of guys get offended when the feminist community calls them out on raping or harassing women and trans women but, whether or #NotAllMen do it is completely irrelevant! Men need to check their privilege and how they benefit from our patriarchal/kyriarchal society and understand that #YesAllWomen are potential victims of or have experienced sexual and street harassment at some point in their lives.

My partner¬†asked me what would happen if a guy approach a girl with good intentions (let’s say they are genuinely interested in the book the girl is reading at that time) and the girl would think the guy is harassing her. I answered that even though we know that #NotAllMen are harassers, #YesAllWomen have been conditioned to always be alert against possible predators. We grow up in this mentality of not walking home alone at night, not leaving our drinks unattended, not talking to strangers, always looking at our surroundings, try to take a self-defence class and so on. For this reason, in that hypothetical situation, I answered that the guy must not feel offended but should understand why women react in a certain way, like ignoring him, walking away or being defensive – we need to always be alert!

Credit; Tumblr

This post was originally going to be about the ways we can react when we are going through street harassment, but I personally feel very angry about this topic and have always wanted to express those feelings. However, I do want to share an article, organisations and projects that aim to empower victims of street harassment. Maybe I can write a blog post about those some other time ūüôā

Have you experienced any form of street harassment? How did you react? Did you care? Did it make you mad? Would you give the cat-caller one of the cards? Why? Why not? Would you holla’d back? Would you say something back at the harasser? Are you usually afraid to do so?

Please share your stories with me in the comment section below! ūüôā

What Would Queer Sex-Ed Look Like?

After exploring¬†the reasons why we have never heard about queer sex-ed in our schools in last week’s post, it’s time to imagine what queer sex education would look like.

And to imagine what queer sex-ed would look like, we need to keep in mind these four fundamental things as the foundation for our new sex-ed:

  1. Gender Is Not Binary, Gender Is A Spectrum:

Gender Identity is a person’s inner sense of self. This can be as man, woman, something other entirely or something in between. There are people, whose sex doesn’t match their gender identity, who identify as transgender.

Gender is a social construction because there’s nothing really natural, inherent or essential in a person’s gender identity. Society has constructed gender as a set of norms, roles and scripted expectations that determine¬†how people within the gender binary (man and woman) should look,¬†think and behave.

Our job as educators is to break the gender binary and construct gender as a spectrum. This means that a person’s gender is not about¬†either/or, but about both/and.¬†No one on this planet is made to perfectly fix society’s boxes of “men” and “women” and these categories are not in opposition against each other. Men have feminine traits in their character and vice versa. There are trans* folk who feel that they don’t belong to any gender or have traits of both of them and feel somewhere in between. There are people that feel another non-binary gender in its entirety. There are people that feel they have no gender identity at all.

  1. Sexual Orientation Is Not Fixed, Sexual Orientation Is Fluid

There are many sexual orientations! Think about all the labels people can choose to identify with: gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, queer or no label at all. We know sexual orientation is very diverse and, as such, it is not binary.

Sexual orientation is the sexual or romantic attraction (yes, they are separate things) a person feels towards other people. Much like gender, sexual orientation has nothing natural, essential or inherent about it. In fact, it only became an identity marker around the 19th century (thanks for the info, Foucault).

This attraction felt by people towards others is just pure desire and desire cannot be regulated or controlled by social norms. So, a person’s sexual orientation cannot strictly fit society’s boxes of “heterosexual”, “gay”, “bisexual” and so on. Identity¬†is fluid and can change overtime,¬†but this is not to say that everyone’s sexual orientation changes. Some people know they are gay and identify that way their whole life just as others ‘come out’ many times in their lifetime. It really depends on the individual and his, her or hir past experiences.

  1. Sex Is Not Just Male and Female, Sex Can Be Everything In Between: 

Have you ever heard about a person being Intersex?

Just like gender identity and sexual orientation, biological sex is a spectrum. Some people are born with genitalia that is not exclusively male or female and/or with chromosomes other than XX and XY. Intersex people are born with biological traits that do not fit the sex binary of male/female and these traits can be chromosomal, hormonal and/or physical.

Our society tries to normalise¬†these bodies through corrective surgery from the moment they are born. This is because our society wants to maintain the (binary and limiting) status quo regarding sex, gender and sexual orientation. All this is to preserve the privilege and power of those that are cis-het people with normative genitalia (because they are in power and are wary of people that are different taking their power… duh) *rolls eyes*

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

Credit: Bruce Lawson (http://brucel.tumblr.com)

  1. Sex¬†‚Ȇ Gender¬†‚Ȇ¬†Sexual Orientation

All these categories have one thing in common. This one thing is what our current sex-ed and society wants us to ignore: sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are not binary, black and white categorical boxes. These identity markers are diverse spectrums. 

Sex, gender identity and sexual orientation do not determine each other, but are extremely linked and influence one another.

And guess what?¬†All of these identities exist, all of them deserve respect and recognition and all of them are normal.¬†So let’s start teaching sex, gender and sexuality as they really are¬†and not as we’ve been conditioned to think they should be.

So what does this look like?

If queer sex-ed has as its foundation the four criteria explained above, it is automatically more inclusive and a more accurate representation of what sex, gender identity and sexuality really are. This means queer sex-ed needs to include traditionally marginalised voices within the queer movement like trans*, genderqueer, asexual, bisexual and intersex.

There are no assumptions of anyone’s gender identity, sex or sexual orientation and this means two things. Firstly, this creates a safe space and opens the conversation about how everyone feels and identifies, without being judged or considered an outcast. Secondly, the class needs to be taught accordingly, queering pedagogical methods (like using examples of queer people, asking for preferred pronouns, diversifying the literature to include queer voices).

Queer sex-ed should be leading the way towards a pleasure-based sexual health education. This means that, unlike abstinence-only education that focuses on babies and the (false) consequences of sex and contraception, queer sex-ed should be about learning to safely pleasure oneself and one’s partner. And this pleasuring¬†should be without boundaries, which means acknowledging every gender identity and sexual orientation.

Queer sex-ed should be¬†sex positive.¬†Sex positive goddess Laci Green¬†explains that sex positivity is about embracing one’s sexuality (no matter what that is) in a safe and consensual way. Sex positivity goes against the fear, shame and judgement that sex-negative societal attitudes seek to reproduce (mostly through sex-negative abstinence only ed), like slut-shaming. Sex-positivity calls for the freedom to express one’s sexuality alone or with a partner (or many!). But most importantly, sex positivity emphasises the need for consensual acts and advocates that only yes means yes. Important to say that ALL sexual relationships need consent, regardless of the genders and sexual orientations involved.

Yes only means Yes! Credit: http://tumblr.safercampus.org

And last but not least, queer sex-ed should be body-positive. This means that part of sexuality education needs to focus on developing a positive and healthy relationship with our body image, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. This should focus on building acceptance, respect, love and admiration for our own bodies no matter what size we are. Also, to broaden our understanding of diversity, body-positivity fights against ableism, since this is another axis of oppression in relation to bodies in our society.

Surprisingly, there are a few organisations and academics (like me in the future, just saying) that are developing general guidelines and building curricula to queer sex-ed or make sex-ed queer. And this is not only regarding sex-ed, but to queer education in general. These awesome people have realised that in regular sex-ed, or even worse, abstinence-only education,  queer sexualities and non-conforming gender identities are not only invisible, but they are considered threatening and immoral. 

Think of the stigma, depression, loneliness, anxiety, sadness, bullying and other horrible consequences queer and trans* kids face in school (if not all of their lives) because they are taught that their experiences are considered unworthy of acknowledgement (to say the least!).

Credit: US Teen Culture

Beyond including facts and figures about the LGBTQIA+ community, queering sex-ed is about challenging the status quo. This surely sounds like big words to you, but it is indeed a big thing to celebrate. Queering sex-ed is about pushing boundaries and re-imagining the world we live in. And in doing so, paving the way towards a more equal and fair society.

Are you still not convinced of the need to teach a queer sex-ed? No? Okay. Just ask the following question: why is queer sex-ed important?

Well, basically because it is important that members of a marginalised community have¬†the right¬†to know how to have safe and consensual sex and be represented in the school curricula: LGBTQIA+ YOUTH.¬†This type of education validates their experience in a world that constantly tells them that they are wrong and they shouldn’t exist.

This type of education promotes and promises LGBTQIA+ youth a better relationship and understanding of their identities, their bodies and their desires. They will learn how to have safe sex and enjoy it. They will learn how to prevent STIs and HIV. They will learn that consent is necessary in all kinds of relationship. They will learn that they too can form families.

Queer sex-ed not only benefits LGBTQIA+ students but everyone. This means that cisnormative heterosexual students can learn to accept and respect people that identify differently. This means that this cis-het students will learn about their identity privilege and will be encouraged to engage in active self-reflection about their role in oppressive structures.

Queer sex-ed dismantles the taboo status regarding sexual education (queer or not, to be honest!). It helps to see other identities and orientations as normal and helps dissolve the tension and fear of coming out. It will, by default, decrease the homophobic and transphobic bullying that is so rampant in our schools.

Queer sex-ed teaches gender identity, sexual orientation and biological sex as they actually are and not how we have been conditioned to think they should be. 

So, I don’t know about you, but this sounds like my cup of tea ūüėČ I love me some queer sex-ed.

If you have any suggestions or ideas that you think should be included in queer sex-ed, please feel free to post them in the comment section ūüôā

Why Haven’t You Heard About Queer Sex-Ed?

If you went to a Catholic School like me, it is most likely that you’ve never heard of Queer Sex Education or about how to have safe queer sex. Hell, you might not even have ¬†heard of sex at all, since it probably was¬†abstinence-only education.

One of my dearest friends (who identifies as a girl and received that same education) recently expressed to me that she was nervous to engage in sexual activity with another girl because, “what if she has any STDs?”

And this is a legitimate concern. 

If we are barely taught in school about safe cisgender heterosexual (cis-het) sexual acts and consent, what is there left for queer sex? If cis-het people engaging in sexual activity before marriage is still considered a taboo, what about young people having queer sex? What about gender non-conforming people having enjoyable sex? How does my friend, as a queer woman, have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex?

And what is this division between heterosexual and queer sex anyway? Sex is not only about penetration. Sex is not all about the penis and the vagina or exclusively between men and women. Sex is sex. Period.

By now you are probably imagining the infinite possibilities and ways in which sex can happen¬†or simply realising that heterosexual folks are not the only people with the right to know about how to have safe sex.¬†Everyone,¬†regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation, has the right to know about how to have safe, consensual and enjoyable sex. But before we get to the part where we imagine what that would look like, let’s focus first on the reasons why you have never ever heard of queer sex education in school.

4 Reasons Why You Didn’t¬†Hear About Queer Sex Education in School

1. An Exclusive Cis-Het Approach to Sex Ed

I know I mentioned in the paragraph above about people being cis-het, but most of you might be asking,¬†“what does that even mean?”. Am I right?

Cis-het is the abbreviation used to describe a person that identifies as¬†cisgender¬†and heterosexual. Being cisgender means that a¬†person’s gender identity matches with¬†the sex they were assigned at birth¬†(i.e. the doctor claimed you were a female based on your genitalia and you grow up feeling, acting and expressing yourself like a woman). Being heterosexual means that a person is attracted to the opposite gender (i.e. men attracted to women and women attracted to men).

As being cisgender and heterosexual in our society is considered ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, the privilege granted to cis-het identified people by institutions remains unchallenged. Cisnormativity (the normalised assumption that what you have between your legs determines your gender) and Heteronormativity (the normalisation of heterosexuality as the standard and natural sexual orientation) are constantly reproduced and maintained by institutions such as the educational system.

If the school does teach sex-ed, it probably focuses on heterosexual sex acts like vaginal intercourse, (mostly male) masturbation, how to correctly use a condom (oh, that good ol’ banana demonstration) and other mainstream contraceptive methods like the pill. If you’re lucky, you might hear about the morning after pill.

How To Put a Condom By Amy Poehler

There is unchecked cissexism and heterosexism in our educational institutions since these norms dictate which identities and practices are accepted in our society and which are not. Queer sexualities (like gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, queers) and gender-non conforming identities (like genderqueer, transgender, a gender, genderfluid) are usually marginalised, excluded, silenced and oppressed from institutionalised cisnormativity and heteronormativity. In short, queer sexualities and gender non-conforming identities are erased and deemed nonexistent. 

So, if the mainstream is all about reproducing and privileging cis-het identities and furthering the invisibility of non-conforming individuals, why bother teaching queer sex education?

2. Abstinence-Only Education

*Cringes*

The goal of abstinence-only education is to normalise abstinence from sexual activity until marriage in our society. This is because (most) of this education is founded upon religious values such as chastity, marriage and the traditional family structure.

Abstinence-only education is inherently cisnormative and heteronormative as it exclusively¬†requires¬†men and women to¬†abstain from sexual activity until they are¬†married. Since marriage (and apparently procreation), in its religious definition, is something that¬†“can only happen”¬†between and man a woman, trans* and queer folk are completely out of the picture.

As Jessica Valenti explains in¬†The Purity Myth,¬†abstinence-only education is not really about sex, it’s about social norms. If virginity, family values and marriage¬†between a man and a woman is something to be strived for and celebrated, something other than that is considered disruptive of the status quo (as if queer and trans* folk cannot form healthy family values around love, respect and commitment). With its heteronormative values, queer sexualities and trans* identities are not considered or mentioned at all within an abstinence-only education framework. Queer sexual activity is simply seen as impossible and immoral.¬†

Heteronormative and cisnormative expectations are damaging for young people, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The social need to be straight and cisgender, to wait to have sexual activity, to want to marry and procreate rob young people of knowing and loving their own authentic selves.

These expectations are detrimental to everyone because they reinforce traditional sexist (and outdated!) gender roles. Girls are taught that their worth is defined by their virginity while boys are taught that they have no self-control (since girls need to be the sexual gatekeepers). These constructs contribute to sexism, misogyny and the reproduction of toxic masculinity.

Mean Girls Sex Ed

But what’s the deal when a lesbian-identified female has sex with another girl?¬†Is she a virgin forever because she was not penetrated?¬†Are heterosexual boys¬†forever virgins or are they¬†just¬†exempt¬†from the virgin status?

Abstinence-only education contributes to queer and trans* erasure and invisibility in our society, while reproducing social norms that are harmful for every young person out there.

3. No Pleasure, Just Babies

Both regular sex-ed and abstinence only education are concerned about baby-making, not sexual pleasure. 

Sex for pleasure? Sex for fun? Sex because is enjoyable? What is that?!

The assumption is that men and women have sex to reproduce. Period. There is no other purpose to engage in such an activity.

*Rolls eyes*

It is funny to think that in this day and age, where everything is about sex and sexualisation, people still want to make believe that sex is not for pleasure. Even solo acts – masturbation – are seen as a taboo and young people that engage in it feel dirty, alone and full of shame.

Only now are schools allowing the sex-ed curriculum to be more comprehensive by including a pleasure-based approach to sex-ed, and some cover queer sexualities; but these curricula are still pretty heteronormative. This is because they might not use gender neutral language, they might follow a monogamous framework or the wrong assumption that queer couples follow a heterosexual mould (one is the guy and one is the girl).

When will we teach about other enjoyable and pleasurable relationships like polyamorous ones? What about queer couples able to reproduce? How can queer woman have safe, enjoyable sex? How to best pleasure your trans* partner whether or not they transitioned? How can we talk about these things without stigma, positioning pleasure as our goal?

This knowledge is vital to engage in healthy and pleasurable relationships, no matter the gender identity, sexual orientation or type of relationship.

4. The Walk of Shame

Our approach to sex-ed uses fear and shame to teach young people to fit in with mainstream social norms. Kids are scared to be queer or trans* because they know they are not “normal” and feel shame. The same happens if you lose your virginity too young or too old, if you are seen as a “slut” for having sex for fun, if you get any STD or HIV. They teach us that we¬†should feel ashamed of our choices.

This is especially true when it comes to STDs and HIV. These are taught in school as the¬†worst thing that can ever happen to us.¬†They teach about safe sex under the guise of fear, just so people don’t engage in it, because they might catch an STD. And so you think not engaging in sexual activity at all is the best way to go. It’s kind of a masked abstinence-only education, right?

Schools portray people living with these conditions as if their life is over. Schools educate young people to think that if your sexual orientation is other than heterosexual, you are most likely to get one of these infections/viruses. So, people learn to fear those who are queer since they might have a contagious disease. Those that are queer feel ashamed of who they are. Nobody wins.

This is part of a campaign by The Stigma Project that aims to start a conversation with young people about how to eradicate the stigma, dehumanisation and fear around people living with HIV +. For more images, click here.

Credit: The Stigma Project

The majority of our schools are places that teach how to maintain the status quo rather than how to challenge it.

It is important that we ask our schools to implement a comprehensive curriculum that seeks to revolutionise our society for the benefit of us all, not only those that are religious, cis-het individuals.

Imagine what a happier place the world would be if sex-ed focused on how to best pleasure ourselves and our partners? ūüėČ

PS: this post will have a shorter Part II later this week discussing what queer sex-ed should look like (it won’t be a real curriculum, just a compilation of ideas!)

Your Partner Does Not Define Your Sexual Orientation

“How do you know you are bisexual if you’ve never had queer sex before?”

I’ve had to answer this question just as many times as I have come out to my partner and my selected group of friends and family members. The answer always is,¬†“How did you know you were straight before having heterosexual sex with someone else?”.

That usually catches their attention because, really, how did they know? Perhaps they have never questioned being straight.

But I have. Many, many times.

And my bisexuality – one part of my identity that gives me a sense of self – often gets dismissed with comments like¬†“but your current (or past) partners are male though”.¬†

I know, but this does not define how I identify myself. And to understand this, we need to realise that sexual orientation does not equal sexual behaviour or sexual identity and that this way of thinking contributes to bisexual erasure and biphobia.

Sexual Orientation¬†‚Ȇ Sexual Behaviour¬†‚Ȇ Sexual Identity

Michel Foucault, the king of sexuality studies (LOL), explains in the¬†History of Sexuality: Volume II, that sexual identities such as ‘gay’ only became¬†a thing¬†in the 19th century. Before this, sexual acts defined the status of a man, not his sexual identity or sexual orientation (since they usually had wives and same-sex sexual acts were a rite of passage into manhood).

We can never assume people’s sexual orientation or how they identify themselves because of their sexual behaviour; and I will explain why through¬†The OBI Model:

As one of my badass feminist idols, Melissa Fabello, elaborates more in depth in this article, the OBI Model was created by Don Dyson and Brent Satterly in 2010 to explain the complexity of what we usually think of as sexual orientation. They separated it into three related elements: Orientation, Behaviour and Identity (OBI).

O is for Orientation: describes the gender(s) the person feels sexually attracted to and fantasises about. I would add (not the original authors) that Orientation can be romantic and sexual, which are two different things.

B is for Behaviour: describes the gender(s) of the people the person engages in sexual activity with. (This sexual activity is not limited to intercourse, it can be anything!).

I is for Identity: describes how the person identifies/considers himself, herself or hirself*. Yeah, the label the person uses to better understand their inner sense of self (like queer, bisexual, gay, lesbian, pansexual, etc). Some people feel more comfortable not using a label to describe themselves at all, and that is valid too.

So listen up, straight folks! If you equate sexual orientation to sexual behaviour, then, your heterosexual identity before having sexual activity should be dismissed too, since you could not have known you were straight before having sex. And what happens to the straight people who engage in sexual behaviours that are not heterosexual? We cannot assume or force them to identify as something else because of that. Their identity labels (or lack thereof) can only be decided by them and them alone!

Disclaimer: I’m talking about heterosexual folks because that has been¬†my¬†experience when coming out to my friends and family. But people from the queer community could also question how I know I am bisexual before having queer sex.

Bisexual Erasure and Biphobia

To say that sexual behaviour determines sexual orientation and identity contributes to bisexual erasure and biphobia, and this is something both heterosexual folks and the LGBTQIA+ community alike reproduce in our society.

Biphobia and bisexual erasure go hand-in-hand. They usually cannot live without each other, but this is not always the case. Biphobia can be defined as the hatred, discrimination and fear of bisexual people. Just like homophobia, biphobia thrives on the belief that bisexuality is a threat to our heteronormative social order (since heterosexuality is supposed to be the norm). Bisexual erasure is the idea that bisexuality, as a sexual orientation, is not real. And this is an extreme form of biphobia.

Bisexual erasure and biphobia co-constitute each other, which means that they contribute to each other’s existence, they fuel each other’s fire. And simultaneously, they are both reproduced by the deep¬†monosexism¬†ingrained in our society.

Monosexism is the idea that a person can only be truly attracted to one gender, reinforcing binary thinking and legitimising the experience of straight, gay and lesbian folks. In our monosexist society, if a person that can only be attracted to one gender *feels* sexual attraction (because not everyone does!) to that one opposite/same gender engages in sexual behaviour, this person is considered either straight or gay.

So, if a bisexual person is engaging in sexual behaviour with someone of their opposite or same gender, this person is¬†“not really”¬†bisexual, they are just really straight or gay. Right?

NO!!!

Equating sexual behaviour with sexual orientation reproduces bisexual erasure and biphobia because bisexuality is dismissed by the gender(s) of the partners. If a bisexual girl is in a relationship with a guy, this does not make her straight. If a bisexual guy has sex with a guy, this does not make him gay. Even if passing as straight or gay, the person remains bisexual because they feel attracted to more than one gender. Or as it is also said, the person is bisexual because they feel attracted to people regardless of their gender, not because of it. Unless they identify as something else with time, because identity is contingent and fluid.

queerbits

The sexual behaviour = sexual orientation equation furthers the stigma, myths and stereotypes bisexual individuals struggle with on a daily basis. The most common misconceptions are that bisexual people are closeted gays and lesbians; that they cannot be faithful or monogamous; that they feel equal attraction to all genders; that they are promiscuous and have more risk of getting HIV; that they are confused; that they are 50% straight and 50% gay; and that they are greedy, attention-seekers that are just going through a phase. Or that in reality, they are just barsexuals.

Ugh.

So, next time we assume someone else’s sexual orientation because of their sexual behaviour or because they pass as such and such, we need to think more critically about this. Think about how a person’s experience can be completely dismissed by one hurtful comment or assumption about how their identity is not real.

Remember that only YOU have the power to determine your sexual identity and that your experiences are always valid.