Here in Ontario there is a lot of debate about a proposed new sex-ed curriculum. There are loud supporters both for and against the new curriculum. Two parts of the curriculum that are seeing the most opposition relate to teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. Predictably conservative religious organizations are most vocal about opposing these changes. They do not want any children taught about the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. It would seem that they want this made invisible and something that young people are not told about at all.
Just this week the Toronto Sun used the arrest of a University of Toronto professor on child pornography charges to attack this new curriculum. (see Disturbing questions about sex education policy) In the column the author questions teaching 8 year olds about sexual orientation and gender identity. To me this is a primary example of making LGBT people invisible, even though it is not uncommon for children to be in families where they have two mothers or two fathers or even gasp one or more parents who have transitioned. What message are we sending to children when we do not acknowledge their families? Further, what are we telling them as they are reaching an age when they are beginning to explore their own sexual orientation, or are questioning their gender identity.
On a practical level it is important to teach young people about both gender identity and sexual orientation. This instruction does not have to mention sex at all. When we talk about a “traditional” family with a mother and a father do we talk about how they have sex? No. The same applies for those in same gender / sex relationships. When we discuss these things with children in an appropriate and in a matter of fact way they learn that there is nothing wrong with it, that it is a normal part of the human experience. As a result, they learn that it is something that is part of life and not a big deal or something to fear. I had a practical reminder of this within the past few months.
A friend recounted teaching a group of young people about possible interpretations of a story in the Gospels. The discussion came around to the idea that a relationship in the story was a homosexual relationship. As the discussion progressed one of the young people asked what transsexuals were. As a group the others provided explanations that were accurate and did not require much, if any, correction. The young person then asked my friend if they knew anyone who was transsexual. My friend answered, “yes, she was visiting us yesterday.” Their own children in the group did not react negatively.
I had one experience with a child who appeared to be on the ASD or Autism spectrum who was more curious about the stubble they felt on my face – it was the end of a fairly long day – than whether I was a man or woman. I think their parent was the one most uncomfortable in that situation, although I felt awkward myself.
It has been my experience that young children generally take trans people in stride when left to their own devices. It is when the adults in their lives are negative, and communicate their own negative or transphobic attitudes to their children that these attitudes get passed on to children.