Sexuality education in the classroom: A queer affirmative approach

Last afternoon, I facilitated a queer affirmative sexuality education workshop with tenth graders at Ecole Mondiale in Mumbai. I am documenting it here with links to resources. I hope this blog post reaches many students, educators and parents.

(Source: Artsy)

We began with an introduction to the rainbow flag and the acronym LGBTQIA+, followed by a short activity wherein students had to raise their hands if they agreed that the purpose of sexuality education is reflected in each of the following statements:

  1. to combat body shaming and promote self-acceptance

2. to learn about bodily autonomy, respect, boundaries and consent

3. to understand how patriarchy influences how we think about intimacy

4. to deconstruct the hype around peno-vaginal penetration

5. to appreciate that pleasure means different things to different people

6. to protect oneself from emotional and sexual abuse

7. to reconsider binary ways of looking at gender identity and sexual orientation

8. to emphasize that homophobia, bi-erasure and transphobia have no place in a supportive learning community

Those who disagreed came up with interesting questions, and we explored the meanings of words that were unfamiliar.

After this, we watched Vitamin स्त्री’s video of Durga Gawde talking about their experience of gender fluidity, and the creative ways in which they affirm their identity that lies between/beyond the man-woman binary. Students were invited to write a brief journal entry about the ways in which they feel constrained by gender norms and expectations. We also talked about chosen names and preferred pronouns.

Subsequently, we watched the Mariwala Health Initiative’s ‘Bridge the Care Gap’ videos featuring Pooja Nair and Aryan Somaiya. The former focuses on her experience of being a lesbian woman who opted out of a heterosexual marriage and built the inner resources to affirm her sexuality, and the latter speaks about his experience of being a trans man who has found solidarity and community after struggling with dysphoria and misgendering.

(Source: The News Minute)

Before moving into the last segment of the workshop, I shared briefly about Chinju Ashwathi (an intersex candidate contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in India), Navtej Johar (well-known Bharatanatyam dancer who identifies as gay, and was among those who led the legal battle against Section 377), Pete Buttigieg (who is in the running to become the next US President), and Shakuntala Devi (a mathematician who, upon learning that her husband was gay, supported him and also became an advocate for gay rights).

(Source: The Better India)

The students were invited to think of ideas to make their school a safe, loving and inclusive space for students with diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. Here are a few:

  1. More such awareness sessions need to be organized.

2. Sexuality education should begin with the Primary Years Programme at our school.

3. Students should be allowed to dress according to their preference, not their assigned gender identity.

4. People should be addressed only by their preferred pronouns.

5. There should be some washrooms without gender labels.

6. Staff members should be sensitized.

My workshop participants

7. There should be no gender segregation in the Physical Education class.

8. There should be a zero tolerance policy towards homophobic and transphobic bullying. The school should maintain a record of such offensive behaviour, and pass it on to the college where these students apply for further studies.

9. LGBTQIA+ speakers should be invited to our school.

10. We should have a pride march in our school.

11. Counselors should be provided with training opportunities for queer affirmative work.

12. Students should be given more freedom in terms of gender presentation.

I emphasized the values of empathy and confidentiality, which are extremely important. Without them, all the new vocabulary is just political correctness.

I concluded the session with a reminder that being an ally is a position of responsibility, not of pity or charity. It is about doing what is right, not finding a way to be cool or woke or to earn brownie points.

My last slide was a screenshot of a tweet by Pete’s husband Chasten, who writes, “Your time in the closet and your journey to coming out belong to you. You are not required to open healed wounds or write lengthy threads in order to explain your worth to others who aren’t willing to see it themselves. You matter first.”

As the students walked out of the library, each one of them got a handout with information about books to read, helplines to get in touch with, and places (GLSEN, LABIA, Gay Bombay, Gaysi Family, Humsafar Trust,Orinam.net, The Queer Muslim Project, Agents of Ishq, CREA, Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues (TARSHI) and more) to seek online resources.

Did I face resistance from some students? Yes, I did. It would have been silly to expect a smooth ride.

Writer, educator and researcher

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