Whenever I tell students that Latin and Greek words can be one of three genders, I often hear a nervous giggle when I mention that, in addition to masculine and feminine gender words, there are words in the neuter gender. Then, throughout the semester, I note that “male” and “female” are not the only genders and never have been.
That, in many works of ancient literature including the 8th-century-BCE poet Homer’s Iliad, men describe their love for men (the hero Achilles’ deepest love is for his long-time friend, Patroklos), and women express ardent desire for women (in many poems by the 6th century BCE poet Sappho of Lesbos).
That, when the philosopher Plato writes about love in his dialogues the Symposium and Phaidros, he is writing about men’s desire for other men.
That, in ancient Greek drama, all the actors were men, so women’s parts were played by men in women’s dress.
That marriage has by no means “always” meant a union of a man and a woman out of romantic love: In ancient Athens, the groom was often much older than the bride and had had (a number of) relationships with younger men.
Tomorrow, May 17, is this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT): Students need to know that homosexuality is not (as some may falsely claim) a sign of how our modern society is morally depraved; that it is simply not true that “people back then” were all straight and that marriage has “always” and “only” been between a man and a woman; that there is nothing wrong and everything right to be attracted to someone of the same sex.
I teach college students and don’t have a school board or PTA scrutinizing what I teach or declaring the above facts scandalous. But even though it can be controversial to discuss the history of sexuality and sex education — including what condoms and contraception are, for sure — these are subjects that absolutely must be part of every child’s education. Numerous studies have shown that sex education can help to reduce teen pregnancy and that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior.
I underscore that sex education must be part of “every child’s education.” My son is a teenager and, due to the extent of his cognitive and communication challenges as he’s autistic, he has not gone through the sort of sex education typical in the US involving (for instance) cartoons of the sperm in search of the egg and distribution of so-called feminine security products (you know, tampons). But certainly he needs to know as much as he can not only about what is “safe” behavior, but that it is quite all right to have certain feelings and sensations. Not to teach children and young persons with disabilities about sex education is not to acknowledge that yes, children with disabilities grow up and mature, physically and cognitively.
In the spirit of IDAHOT: What kind of sex education is your child receiving at school, or did you receive at school? Or is the sex education your child receiving insufficient? What needs to be taught, especially with so many reports of LGBT youth being bullied and worse?
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