Thursday, 28 April 2011

Just A Thought- Lugg's 'Sissies, Faggots, Lezzies and Dykes: Gender, Sexual Orientation, and a New Politics of Education?'

How can people treat each other so cruelly?
I'm not gay, queer or transgendered. And sometimes I think myself very lucky to be because I do not know if I would have the courage to live as one. I am not saying there is anything wrong with being any of those; you are who you are and that should be enough.

After reading Catherine A. Lugg's Sissies, Faggots, Lezzies and Dykes: Gender, Sexual Orientation, and a New Politics of Education? I was physically shaking from fury. I was upset that there were laws in place to protect queers, yet the public schools in particular seemed to find ways to ignore them. I was appalled at the constant changes in marital status and qualifications a teacher had to make in order to keep their job- female teachers in particular. I was angered by the public schools focus on gender conformities and lack of passing on knowledge of the world from one generation to the next. I was more horrified in learning that what I thought was supposed to be a safe haven for kids was actually a place of daily torture, a place where their basic human rights were violated, and a place for persecution for many adults and children alike. I had known that queer people had generally not been accepted in society, but I had not realized that they had overcome so many obstacles and so much prejudice to get to where they are today. Just to be accepted.

Laws in place to protect queers- confusing, not upheld
I was upset that the laws, specifically in the States, were not adequate enough to protect basic rights of people. Queers have been around for centuries. Shakespeare was rumoured to have been involved in many homosexual relationships. Yet, homosexuals caught dancing together or holding hands were deemed to be partaking in "disorderly conduct" and could be arrested. Newspapers would find out about the arrests and "routinely printed names, addresses, and places of employment" (Lugg, 108) of individuals to further add to their embarrassment.

The public schools were not much better. If you worked as a teacher or an administrator for the public school board, you could lose your job just for being a suspected Queer. Children were tormented by peers and teachers alike for being Queer. One boy in particular, Jamie Nabozony, was attacked mercilessly between grades 7-10, having "experienced repeated verbal and physical violence. He was spat on, urinated on, bitten, punched and subjected to a mock rape in which 20 other students looked on and laughed… [he] was so savagely beaten that he needed surgery to stop the internal bleeding and repair extensive abdominal damage " (Lugg, 113). His teachers did not even attempt to protect him and instead shifted the blame for the violence he experienced back onto him because he was Queer. Queer students were expected to cover up their sexual orientation, convert to become a heterosexual, or otherwise hide who they are in order to try and make it through the day without being attacked. I was not shocked to learn that the suicide rates for Queer people were so high. It's hard to live a fulfilling life when you're lying to yourself in order to be accepted by others, knowing that the second they find out who you really are everything changes for the worse. It also takes a lot of courage to be able to go through life in hopes that someday your life will get better and you will no longer be plagued by senseless, unprovoked violence day in and day out.

Of course, the public school board is not completely at fault. The parents can be just as cruel. Lugg presents a case in Utah when a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) tried to form an after school group. Parents tried to ban the group from forming, but because "the GSA [was] protected by federal law- under the Equal Access Act- that was originally designed to permit after-school Bible and Christian clubs" (Lugg, 111) the group was allowed to form. Instead of allowing the group to form, the parents decided that they would rather lose all after school clubs in favour of not allowing the GSA to be.  This action caused a lot of people to be angry. Most of this anger was directed at the GSA for not stepping down and not at the people who had actually caused the ban to all noncurricular groups. What are we really teaching children when we force people to hide behind a wall of deceit and fear? How can we possibly make this world a better place when we are so focused on rigid, out of date thinking. Research, such as the Kinsey report, indicates that "heterosexual monogamy was not the overwhelming norm that is was supposed. Additionally, vast numbers of males and females had had same-sex erotic experiences, although the percentages were lower for women" (Lugg, 107). Queer is not just a lifestyle choice, you are born that way.

Daily grind of female teachers: A sad tale
I volunteer at an elementary school that only has two male staff members- the principal and the janitor. All the teachers, all the resource teachers and all the support staff are female. I have personally only had one male teacher in my 14 years of school before university. I have not had many more since then. Because of this, I found it hard to believe that there was a time when female teachers were not the norm. After reading all the trials and tribulations that teachers, female teachers in particular, had to endure, I found it harder to believe that there were so many female teachers at all. The main reason females were even allowed to secure a teaching job was because war; "After the Civil War, education rapidly expanded throughout the United States. Schools districts preferred to hire single young women because they were assumed to be nonsexual, and given their subordinate status as women they did not have to be paid a living wage" (Lugg, 105). Despite being mistreated and told they were not allowed to wed or they would lose their job, women kept teaching. Another war came, and the shortage of able bodies meant that more women were taking on teaching positions. Due to gender role expectations, the field of teaching quickly became a feminine place to work and male teachers were frowned upon.  Society, not seeming to realize that there must be balance in life, came to the conclusion that the influx of female teachers was causing "generations of effeminate (or "sissified" men)" (Lugg, 105). The public school system's regulations on the personal lives of its teachers had once again changed when "gender conformity was taken as a proxy for sexual orientation. Consequently, the greatest proof of one's solid non-queer status was heterosexual marriage… [and] school districts dropped their marriage bans in hopes of minimizing the looming teacher shortage" (Lugg, 108)

Queer Legal Theory – There is hope!
I could not stop myself from thinking how bleak the future for Queers seemed. How did they survive? How did they not lose hope? Part of me believes that the Kinsey report might have kept hope alive. It was so controversial for its time, even going so far as to say that "homosexual behaviour was perfectly natural" (Lugg, 107). Unfortunately this realization got lost as the cold war loomed and phobias grew. Decades later, Queer Legal Theory (QLT) emerged and has since been fighting for Queer rights, and even those of heterosexuals. QLT realised that "by making queer students the subjects of special protective services, a state or local school boas has still reinforced the notion of queer as deviant. Being deemed by the government as at-risk or essentially troubled hardly grants liberation" (Lugg, 114).  The QLT realized that in order to liberate Queers, there needed to be laws and policies in place that protected everyone. This is exemplified in the case of Brian Seamons who was a non-queer that was tormented because he did not fit perfectly with gender expectations for what it meant to be "male". Brian's teammates grabbed him "one day after coming out of the shower. They forcibly tied him to a towel rack using adhesive tape. They also taped his genitals. His teammate then brought a girl that Brian had dated once to view the spectacle" (Lugg, 117). Brian told his coach but was told he should act more like a man. Brian tried to sue the school, but his case was dropped on the "equal opportunity" approach- the school had "failed to act when the girls were hazed… ignoring it…[so] there was no constitutional violation" (Lugg, 117). The world needs to be a safe place for everyone and Queer people need to be viewed as being "people" and not some strange mutation that needs to be hunted out of fear. This safe space included not being fired from a job for being queer, changing dress codes to allow people to be free to wear what they felt comfortable wearing and to educate the general population on what it really means to be Queer.

I felt a surge of hope reading what the QLT thought needed to be done in order to make schools in particular a safer place. I felt like the QLT was also bringing back the whole purpose of schools- a place where knowledge was passed on and not censored.

Under QLT-guided rubric, sexuality education would become universal, as well as inclusive and accurate, with a focus on adult roles and responsibilities, as well as promoting an understanding of healthy adult relationships. It would also be comprehensive, explicit, and offered at age-appropriate intervals, going beyond the mere abstinence-based found in many U.S. public schools. Students would learn about sexual maturation, conception and contraception, maintaining sexual health, and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases…students would learn about the complex interactions between biology, psychology, and identity. More controversial, under the compelling state interest rubric, sexuality education would be compulsory and parents would not be permitted to have their children 'opt out' of the curriculum.
As courts have consistently ruled, parents do not have the right to bar their children's access to vital scientific, sociological, and psychological information- information that may very well save their children's lives, their health, and their sanity, and, at minimum (if internalized), keep them from harm. (Lugg, 120)

I could not agree with that quote more. I believe that sexual education should be taught in schools. Parents should not be allowed to pull their children from class. Parents should not be allowed to interfere with children's access to knowledge. Sexual education, not abstinence-only, can be life saving. It can help prevent acquiring and spreading sexual diseases, some of which can be life-threatening. Education can help empower the youth to make better choices which can help everyone. Sexual education can also potentially help erase the stigma that is tied to being gay – that being gay means you acquire AIDS. Gay men are more likely to have had AIDS in the past because they did not receive any information on how sexually transmitted diseases were transmitted. So much of the sexual education, especially in abstinence only, is focused on preventing sexual intercourse prior to marriage and preventing unwanted pregnancies. Neither is particularly relevant to the queer population. We should not be blaming the Queers. We should be ashamed of ourselves for causing such a pandemic and helping to spread potentially fatal diseases. Hopefully in the near future people will come to realize that sexual orientation is not so important and people will be able to reunite and use their energy and resources to focus on more pertinent issues, such as solving world hunger and closing the gap between wealthy and poor. Just a thought.

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