When California made major changes to its sex education curriculum earlier this year, people flipped out. Some — left-leaners, hippies and those with little rainbows next to their handles on the Twitter — did happy cartwheels and handsprings and generally bounced around like a bunch of wannabe Katelyn Ohashis. Others — far-righters, conservatives and those who answer direct questions with Bible quotes — did angry summersaults, banging their heads on the floor as they ranted and raged.
With school back in session now, I’m wondering how long it will be until I start seeing posts by angry parents, frustrated and disgusted by what their precious spawn are being taught in school and threatening to move out of The Golden State in response. The issue? One of the primary ones is “the suggested use of gender-neutral and LGBTQ-inclusive language.” The curriculum covers grades K through 12 and many parents think kids in the lower grades are too young to start learning such stuff. The argument I saw most often on Facebook? “Just let kids be kids.”
Is it some kind of privilege for parents to assume their children are all little cisgender heterosexuals or just plain denial? Because when you say “just let kids be kids” and by that you mean “hide the truth about humans who exist,” you’re completely unconcerned about the children who happen to be one of “those” humans. And the typical response to that is that kids as young kindergarteners aren’t old enough to know what kind of human they are yet. To which I reply, “Au contraire, mon frère!”
As one of those former little humans, I wonder how different my world and my life would have been if I’d been given the education to understand why I was so fascinated by Miss Emma Peel in her leather catsuit on The Avengers when I was only 5 or 6 years old.
When I was in the third grade I had a beautiful, young teacher, Miss M, and a mad crush. I also had a friend named Nicky who I believe hit puberty sometime in the first grade because I’m pretty sure he was shaving by the time we were 8. I vividly recall being out at recess one day and Nicky commenting, “Boy, Miss M really make me cream my jeans!” I, of course, immediately nodded, “Me too!” I did not in any way grasp the meaning of what he’d said, but I understood the sentiment. And I agreed. But I had no language to properly convey my feelings.
My first year, my first day, actually, of junior high, I was sitting in 2nd period English when She walked in. Her hair was blonde and pulled back away from her face, except for some wispy little curls that caught the morning sun as it streamed through the high windows. My stomach dropped like I was on a roller-coaster and my heart thumped hard, like it was trying to escape my ribcage. That was the moment it gelled that I liked girls.
It would be a while yet before language caught up with what I was feeling, and somehow instinctively knew to hide. The word was lezzy and it was right up their with slut as the tag that once applied, would follow you until the day you graduated from high school. It was to be avoided at all costs. I can remember trying to banish the word from my very thoughts for fear thinking it would make it show on my face, or that I would somehow blurt it out and reveal my terrible secret.
But, what if? What if from the time we all met as unbiased, innocent little people in kindergarten we learned that the world was populated by all kinds of people? Some who were different from us on the outside, and some who were different from us on the inside? What if I’d been able to raise my tiny hand and announce to my teacher that I wanted to marry the pretty lady on The Avengers? Would my classmates sitting cross-legged on the carpet have recoiled in horror, or would more hands have gone up as others impatiently waited to tell who they loved or dreamed of marrying? I’m guessing it’s the latter.
I was with my Ex for many years, including the births of our nieces and nephews through the time they were in elementary school. And never once did the kids question or seem fazed by our relationship. The two of us together was totally normal to them because they’d grown up with us. In fact, the only time any of them got upset was when my sister-in-law had to explain to my oldest nephew why we weren’t married (this was back in the pre-Marriage Equality days). He was all about fairness and our unmarried status struck him, correctly, as patently unfair.
Another argument the pissed off parents have is that their children are being taught that these “lifestyles” are acceptable. First, I think it’s a wonderful thing that these kids will finally be able to educate their parents that being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not a lifestyle because the word lifestyle implies that the participant had some kind of choice in the matter. Like being a Christian, for example. And second, it’s not about judging anyone as “acceptable” or “unacceptable.” It’s simply teaching children that, like Mr. Rogers said, these are the people in your neighborhood.