My Harmful Heteronormative Education

I was born the year before Section 28 was introduced, so with two exceptions, nothing LGBT+ was ever shown or mentioned by teachers at school. There was nothing in the syllabus either. Before I write about these two exceptions though, let me take you through a brief history of my education…

In primary school nothing LGBT+ was ever discussed. We had sex education lessons in Y6 (10-11 years old), but this was mostly about how our bodies changed during puberty. We watched videos that explained that one adult women and one adult man could have sex, and that having sex made a baby. I remember having to draw pubic hair on sketches of a naked man and woman (!). I also remember the act of sex itself being shown by a cartoon of two cats rubbing vigorously against each other (!!). The video understandably left me feeling confused and gave me more questions than answers.

I didn’t know what I was at the time, I didn’t even know there was a word to describe it, but from a very early age I knew I liked more than one gender. From the age of about 8 I had posters of Jet from the Gladiators on my wall along with several female characters from Baywatch. When an attractive, female, teacher in training gave everyone in the class a Christmas card, I kept mine for a long time afterwards because I liked her so much. I kissed boys I liked. I never felt like I was wrong or disgusting, but by the time I finished primary school I was keenly aware of the fact that no was else was apparently like me. Sex ed taught me that I must grow up and have sex involving penises and relationships involving one man.

At secondary school sex education classes re-enforced these ideas. Again nothing LGBT+ was ever mentioned. We learned about some STDs and some forms of contraception. So I now knew that women were supposed to have sex with a man, and sometimes that man’s penis might be a bit diseased so I had to be careful. (But I gained the scarily false assumption that two women having sex was always safe.) I was frustrated by the fact that no information was provided at all if you wanted to have sex with someone of the same gender. Whilst I now had a rough idea that sex involved putting a penis in a vagina (rather than two cats rubbing against each other!), I had no idea how I would have sex with a women. I certainly wasn’t able to put my hand up and ask.

THANK GOODNESS FOR GOOGLE AND SCARLET TEEN!

One of the two exceptions where anything LGBT+ was mentioned was during my A-Levels (16-18 years old) as we were studying A Streetcar Name Desire by Tennessee Williams.

SPOILER ALERT – – –  In the story the husband of the main character commits suicide, partly because of her inability to accept his homosexuality. – – – END OF SPOILER.

So there was nothing positive for me to take away there, just another reminder of what I already knew from my own experience. Homophobia (and bi and transphobia) makes people feel suicidal and in some cases it kills.

I knew this from my own experience as I came out to a few close friends at 13. Naturally at this age it was hardly going to be a secret for long. One girl was drunk at a party and told everyone there. The next few days it went round the school and soon everyone in my year group knew. Whilst I was constantly teased, humiliated and questioned about it, I felt lucky because it only turned into physical violence on one occasion, when I was shoved against some lockers and had some rubbish thrown at me.

This leads into the second exception of when something LGBT+ was mentioned at school. From the age of 14-16 I had this amazing teacher who would sit and talk to us for a bit when he had some time left before the end of class. One day he mentioned Section 28 and explained what it was. He added that it meant a teacher couldn’t even say it was ok to be gay. It was one of the most important things I’d ever heard. In a few sentences he managed to convey the message that for most of my life I’d been living under a law that resulted in a harmful, heteronormative education, without actually breaking that rule. His tone of voice made it clear that he didn’t think Section 28 was ok (and he was married to a woman who also taught at my school, so to have someone who I assumed was straight say it made the message stronger for me). From that day on I knew I had an ally who I could turn to if “if things got really bad”. (Bullying was so normal I never thought things were already “really bad”.) I will always be grateful to him for that. I will always remember him.

What angers me about the education system is it lets everyone down, not just LGBT+ people. For example, no one gets a decent sex education. One result of this is that STD rates keep on rising. Teenagers don’t get taught what they need to know, where to go to get tested, how often they should get tested, what happens when you go to a GUM clinic etc. They feel scared, confused and isolated when something happens. This carries on into adulthood.

Any LGBT+ students don’t get the relevant sex education they need.

We are also asked questions like, “How do you have sex with a women then? One of you must wear a strap on.” a lot. Imagine if everyone was taught the answer to questions like that at school! Imagine a world where we weren’t constantly being made to act as the educator and explainer.

Imagine a time where we aren’t bullied or harassed or discriminated against because of our gender or sexuality. Where young people don’t have to suffer at school, and endure depression, self harm and low self esteem. A life so painful suicide seems like the only way out. I never thought about telling a teacher what happened after I came out, because I believed it was normal and to be expected because I was bi. That it was my fault for being different. Plus I was terrified the teachers would disapprove or bully me too. Again, all of these issues of discrimination and bullying continue on into adulthood.

Societies’ norms and values are taught and instilled into us through our education. We must be straight. Anything else isn’t normal or acceptable or worth mentioning. We must be vanilla and monogamous. No mention of open relationships or polyamory. No mention of BDSM. Hell there wasn’t even any mention of fun! Sex was never presented as something that could be enjoyable or pleasurable. I just thought it was something that you had to do. Consent was never spoken of. Never mentioned. Never explained. Why not? It’s absolutely vital. This is one of the reasons we have rape culture.

Again, we all suffer the effects of this limited, piss poor education as adults.

I never understand why we have to even campaign for sex positive, consent based, accurate, LGBT+ inclusive sex education. For the education system itself to be LGBT+ inclusive. It should be the norm. How long is it going to take?

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Something Simple I Learnt From Stonewall’s Bi Consulations

Since I attended the Bi Consultations held by Stonewall in February 2015 I’ve wanted to do a write up of my thoughts and feelings on how the event went. I deliberately waited a few weeks for the adrenaline, excitement, and euphoria to wear off so I could write something more balanced. However by that point I felt really hurt and angry at the charity again and still haven’t been able to face doing a blog post about it yet.

However once thing that has stayed with me was something Ruth Hunt (chief exec of Stonewall) mentioned, which was this idea of what sucess looks like at the end of the day. An example she gave was an experience of going in to speak with a large construction company. This is not a quote, just my recollections of what she said! On that occasion sucess was getting them to realise that some people are gay or lesbian. Some of their staff could be gay or lesbian. That it’s not ok to call another man a poof when they do something like drop a load of bricks, and even if there were no lesbian employees it is still offensive to have a calendar containing lesbian porn hanging on the wall.

Now this was obviously a humoristic over-simplification of what she discussed with the company (though I’m sure the B word would’ve been left out a lot. : p) but the idea stayed with me. It reminded me that whilst some people are clued up on LGBT issues, most people aren’t. That for some it will take a long time to change their prejudices and negative attitudes. Others never will. You might want to walk in and talk about LGBT rights and issues and have everyone on your side, but sometimes you have to start with the basics such as what LGBT actually means.

One memory that came to mind was when I came out to a close Japanese friend. She had no concept of bisexuality at all, and after I had explained it to her, and then explained that I am one of those bisexuals, she told me that it was very interesting but there are no bisexuals in Japan. “Well when I lived there for two years, there was at least one!” I quipped before explaining that there are many LGBT people in Japan, but because it’s not socially acceptable most LGBT people don’t come out so live their lives in secret. It was a lot for her to take in, and I had to leave it there and tell her about other bi related things in my life later on. At that point sucess was just being able to come out, and being able to tell her what I was coming out as.

Another example comes from when someone new turned up at my group, and I unintentionally overwhelmed them by speaking about bi related things too much. They were at a bi meet for the first time, and just realising that they might not be straight for the first time. Sucess should have been me not making any assumptions about them and remembeing how scary it is when you first venture out into the bi scene.

Remembering these things has helped me recently, such as when I called up prisons in Nottinghamshire and asked them to display a rainbow flag on 17th May. I only had a few minutes to explain the whats and whys of my unusual request to people who had never heard of IDAHOBIT. It has also made me realise how little I know on topics such as racism and white privilege. That I will get things wrong sometimes. Do stupid or hurtful things sometimes. That people will have to explain things to me and/or correct me (if and when they want to).

However one simple thing I learnt from the Stonewall consultations is that some people are confusing bisexuality with complexity. So they are either mis explaining it or not including it at all as a result and this is a really harmful and hurtful thing to do. I didn’t consciously realise people were conecting the two until then. In addition it was great to hear an apology for doing it from Ruth/Stonewall during the consultations. One of the many reasons why the consultations were a sucess for me was being able to hear the apologies that I’d waited years for. (Along with statements that in time, Stonewall would change and do better in the future when it comes to bi issues and bi inclusion.)

I think it’s fine to simplify if you need to. Sometimes the sucess of your goals depends on it. However bisexuality it itself is not too complicated to talk about or understand!

Nottinghamshire Pride 2014

Originally published August 2014 over on https://nottinghambi.wordpress.com

What a wonderful day! It felt like everyone had come out to join us. I arrived at the parade start point at about 10:30am and was joined by more and more BiTopia members until it was time to start marching. Whilst we were waiting we took photos, played with poi, and even got interviewed by Notts TV! (I’m still not sure if we actually made it onto the news though.) The weather was absolutely boiling but sunny and there was a festival feel in the city centre as the parade snaked slowly round the streets. Some of us held the banner, others handed out stickers and leaflets. Most of us were either wearing or waving bisexual/rainbow flags. During the parade a few people came up to look at our banner and ask who we are. Some took our picture and a few others stuck around and joined us to walk the rest of the route!

After the parade ended about half of us stayed together to go for lunch, then we wondered round the stalls and stages before heading our separate ways.

As someone who has experienced biphobic abuse at Prides in the past, I’m always a bit nervous about attending but I didn’t have any problems at this Pride. I was also delighted to discover two of the stalls were selling bisexual related merchandise, as at most Prides I’ve been to there is only gay, lesbian and rainbow merchandise for sale.

These kind of events are so important for bi visibility and reducing bi erasure, so I’m really happy and proud we managed to get such a large presence at Pride. There were about 20 people for the parade, which is amazing considering we’ve only been running for 7 months. As I said before, what a wonderful day!

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The photo shows eleven of the people who took part in the parade. Many are wearing purple. Some are holding bi flags or wearing them as capes. Two are holding a large banner which says ‘Out and proud bisexuals fighting for equality’.

Setting Up a Bi Group – Part 1

Originally published in January 2014

I’ve decided to write about the process of setting up my new group for bisexuals so I have a record of what happened when and gain an idea of how much time and work I put into this project. I also hope it will inspire others to do something similar if there is a need for it within their own communities. (Be it netball, knitting, Doctor Who fan clubs…not just bisexuality, anything!) I would also like this blog to be a useful resource for people in the future who are thinking of doing the same but don’t know where to start…

Continue reading “Setting Up a Bi Group – Part 1”