Are LGBTQ+ topics too inappropriate for classrooms with young people?
Shamari Reid| February 21, 2020
to go back follow the Queen
Zaya invited us into her experience.
I made a mistake and read some of the wildly homophobic and transphobic comments about her. Comments that demonstrated a collective ignorance around the differences between sexual identity, and gender identity + expression. Some of y’all lost it and really showed your asses. And reminded me that some of the cis hets are not ok. A few days later (still angry), I walked into my job…...ready to work with the educators in a course I teach.
I'm trying something new. Y’all have really tried it this week. And generally, I sit with my anger and frustration before writing something because I know that written creations can be permanent. Nope. I ain’t doing that this time. I ain’t sitting with shit. Y’all got me fucked up, so y’all gon get this smoke today. And I won’t spend time editing this either. None of the “editing” things seem important to me right now. Neither is making my words palatable.
The Short Answer
To LGBTQ+ people: I see you.
During class one of my students posed a question to all of the educators in the room: do you all think sexual identity or LGBTQ+ topics are appropriate for a classroom with young people? Are young people ready?
Me: Nah, we’re not doing this. I am mindful that besides me, there are other LGBTQ+ people in this space and I refuse to subject any of us to a discussion about the appropriateness of our humanity in classrooms. We will not be debating our humanity, validity, or appropriateness tonight. As we are human, we are appropriate for any and every classroom. If you are feeling uncomfortable or uneasy with including the humanity of LGBTQ+ people in your classrooms, then you can sit with that discomfort this weekend. On your own time. But I will not sacrifice the mental health of the LGBTQ+ folks in this space for your pleasure or unlearning. And let me say this on the record: if you do find it inappropriate to have discussions around queer sexual identities, queer gender identities + expressions, queerness, or LGBTQ+ lives in general, you should really reconsider working with young people. Next question.
The Long(er) Answer
To LGBTQ+ people: I love you.
So that was my short in-class answer. However, here is my much longer answer:
First, as I mentioned above: educators (and teacher educators), stop sacrificing the mental health of students from marginalized communities for the unlearning of their peers. I’ve been in too many spaces where white people get to say all kinds of crazy shit with their Black peers in the room. And then after traumatizing these Black students, y’all want the Black students to educate you on their experiences, prove their humanity, and provide evidence that racism is real. Nope, that’s not our job. Stop doing that shit. Black people come to class to learn just as our peers do. We don’t come to be traumatized, tokenized, singled out as spokespeople for our communities, and interrogated as walking proof that racism isn't just a figment of our imagination. Y’all have got to stop subjecting us to violence for the unlearning of our peers. I feel the same way about LGBTQ+ people. We are also not in these spaces to defend and prove our humanity. That’s not our job. So, stop inviting debates around our lives in classes. Who wants to come to class and hear their peers go back and forth about whether or not their stories and lives are appropriate for classrooms? I don’t care if you have to break folks into affinity groups or something, but stop subjecting people to harm for the benefit of others. Also, stop using our trauma as tools for teaching.
*now back to our regularly scheduled programming*
So, here’s the deal. I find it absolutely wild that anytime educators are invited to teach to and about LGBTQ+ people, the conversation often gets stuck on “sexual identity” and its appropriateness for schools. Like, do we all understand that we are always teaching about sexual identity? The sexual identity of heterosexual people. It’s all over schools. Heteronormativity and heterosexuality are all over schools! Classrooms are filled with stories about heteronormative relationships and family structures. Yet, these stories and lives are never deemed inappropriate. And this heteronormative mindset also informs how we expect young people to identify and express their gender. We use playtime to teach about heteronormativity, for example, making it dangerous for male-identified children to play with dolls, fake cooking sets, or try on dresses and other feminized clothing items in the dress up station. We teach about heteronormativity through lining up practices that separate students by perceived or actual gender. We teach about heteronormativity through school dances by strongly suggesting heterosexual pairings, and homecoming rituals that encourage male-identified students to avoid vying for the role of “homecoming queen” and female-identified students from becoming “king”.
And I mention these gendered examples, because it is difficult to separate heteronormativity and heterosexuality from our narrow conceptions of gender. Additionally, these practices emphasize gender difference-which is created by sociocultural factors that get interpreted as biological differences owed to varying levels of prenatal testosterone- and motivate some educators to encourage girls to read silently, to allow boys to run, and invite girls to play with words and boys to be tactile. Students who do not behave in this way are often regarded as queer and are punished. And their lives are often deemed inappropriate for the classroom….even though they’re in the classroom. Like, y’all do know LGBTQ+ people are real, right? Ok. I got carried away. Let’s get back to wtf I was saying about us teaching about sexual identity and the lives of heterosexual people every day.
To LGBTQ+ people: y'all are the source of my hope.
People will teach about Goldilocks and the three bears and think nothing of it, never taking issue with the fact that there is a papa bear and a mama bear. And I have lost count of the number of times educators have taught about MLK Jr. and his partner Coretta Scott King, however, have avoided mentioning Bayard Rustin because of... sexual identity. Like, what? MLK Jr. also had a sexual identity. In fact, we’ve all been sexualized and have some kind of sexual identity. I’m reminded here of something Toni Morrison said about race. In an interview about her intentional decision to write about Black people and receiving criticism for always 'writing about race', Toni asked, “don’t you know that white people also have a race?” She continued to share that all writers write about race- a book about white people is also a book about race, because they’re also racialized. So, why am I mentioning this? Everyone has a sexual identity and gender identity + expression. Could you imagine arguing that it’s inappropriate to teach Goldielocks in schools because gender identity + expression is inappropriate for the classroom? I mean, Goldielocks is assumed to be white and a girl, right? Could you imagine arguing that it's inappropriate to teach about MLK Jr, a heterosexual, because sexual identity has no place in the classroom? Of course these are just examples and they might seem silly. But this is how y’all sound to me when you debate the appropriateness of sexual identity and LGBTQ+ stories in the classroom. Y’all only argue "appropriateness" when it comes to LGBTQ+ lives even though schools are supposed to be places where students are invited to co-construct knowledge about life. As if LGBTQ+ people weren't alive or weren't human. As if we haven't contributed to this great, big thing we've come to know as life. So if it bothers you so much to talk about "sexuality" in the classroom, then you better not talk about heterosexual people either. If I come to your classroom, you better be teaching about rocks, water, and chocolate chip cookies! I don't wanna hear or see a damn thing about anybody's sexual or gender identity! I mean that shit!
Nobody is asking you to talk about sexual intercourse (unless it’s sex ed). The same way that you teach about heterosexual people without ever explicitly diving into sexual intercourse, you can teach about LGBTQ+ people. Keep that same energy. And if not, just own your homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism and go. So, what exactly do you find inappropriate? Because I have been in a lot of classrooms on 3 different continents and witnessed kids as young as 4 years old illustrate characters that fall outside the socially constructed cisgender and heterosexual lines. I’ve witnessed how they engage their imagination when playing with toys, and in the dress up station. And when they do these things, guess what? None of the other kids give a fuck. I’ve even heard kids compliment these “queer” illustrations saying stuff like “ awww he’s so cute in his dress” or “my friend has two moms too.” And not to mention that a number of kids are being raised in queer family structures. The kids don’t make a big deal of that either. You know who gets weird and makes a big deal and starts talking about appropriateness….adults. And in classrooms, teachers. Kids will ask questions around queerness and/or transness and teachers will respond with “we don’t talk about that.” So it’s not that sexual identity and/or the lives of LGBTQ+ folks are not appropriate for young people, it’s that some of our educators are inappropriate to be teaching young people. It’s you, it’s not them. And by the way, this is not to confuse sexual identity, gender identity, and gender expression. It’s just anytime anything LGBTQ+ comes up, educators assume it’s all the same and label it “sexual identity/sexuality” stuff which reveals our collective ignorance.
And so if you feel that the humanity of LGBTQ+ people is too inappropriate for your classroom, please leave the field of teaching. ASAP. I said what I said. I’m done being nice and waiting for y’all to come around and “get it”. Too many young people are being fucked up while we await your enlightenment. Too many minds and hearts being corrupted. Too many dreams deferred. Too many students believing they don’t matter. Too many lives lost. Leave. Please.
A BlackGay boy who thought he was too inappropriate for schools….too inappropriate to live...too undeserving of a life replete with dreams of love, joy, and happiness...dreams that seemed too impossible to believe.
“allies” please don’t write me talking about “keep your head up” or “don’t mind the haters”. My head isn’t down. In fact, it’s often my pride in my identity that invites more harm. And I’m not minding the haters. I’ve already expended too much energy, once again, on defending/proving our humanity, but I don’t do it for the haters. I do this for all the young LGBTQ+ people in schools. I love them for real. I Love us for real. I do this for humans. For our shared humanity.
So don’t waste time trying to console me or prove to me you’re an ally- I don’t care. I’m much more interested in you educating yourself and not letting the other cis het colleagues in your school continue to spiritually murder LGBTQ+ youth. So refrain from talking about my bravery or my courage. Let’s talk about your cowardice and that of your colleagues and what you will do about that.
To LGBTQ+ people: you are appropriate for any and every space! Take up space una-fucking-pologetically and without shame!