How to Avoid the Awkward Sex Talk: From one Exhausted Parent to the Next

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I’m on a rant. I’ll admit it. Here in Ontario, Canada, our provincial government has just brought in new sex education curriculum. Ontario sex curriculum hasn’t been changed since 1999. Before cell phones, ‘sexting’ and google. It’s a whole new game.

 

So how do we as parents provide great sexual health education (and we need to – knowledge is power!)? Can parents support teachers to guarantee all kids in our neighbourhoods get the same “talk”? Having a good standard education curriculum means that teachers can provide context, researched answers and support to students struggling with gender identity, body image, substance misuse, or at-risk sexual behaviour. All good things, say I.

 

So How Do We Do It? Without making it AWKWARD?

 

  1. We can avoid the BIG talk by having lots of little talks. While the kid is relaxing in a bath. When we are on a long car drive. In the grocery store. In the forest listening to chickadees call out for “friends”.

 

  1. We can start with the basics. There is great benefit in having simple scientific names for our body parts. It means we count all our body parts as significant and lovely (not ignored): knees, noses and testicles. If something hurts or someone hurts us, we have the words to describe the experience.

 

  1. Curiosity is wonderful. Questioning and a love of learning can take us a long way in this life. We can learn together. By answering questions we let our children know we want to have these conversations. We want to be the person they go to for answers. (Also it’s good for them to know grownups don’t have all answers all the time.)

 

  1. We can create spaces for gender fluid and understandings of gender diversity. As soon as my child started kindergarten, gender norms became a constant conversation: “Boys can wear dresses”,“ Some boys have vaginas.” We need to acknowledge difference and teach allyship. Allie’s best friend corrects other kids who use the wrong pronoun. I love this little activist.

 

  1. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable talking about SEX. As children, we probably didn’t get adequate sex education. We can acknowledge this with our kids. And we can do better.
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Creating Space for a Cacophony of Gender Adventures

Today at school my son Allie wore a dress to school.

Now being a queer-identified gender-fluid person myself I didn’t expect to be upset by this. I’ve raised this boy child in a world where they know some girls have penises and some boys have vaginas. Girls can be any kind of girl and boys can be any kind of boy. Their best boyfriend wears nail polish and pink jeans.

Early on there were lots of discussions about hair length. It seems weird to me this is how young children seem to grapple with the gender rules. Girls have long hair and boys have short hair. They seem surprised when we point out the error in this with direct examples of friends and family members who identify differently and have the “wrong” corresponding hair length.

I wear big boots and rarely wear make-up. I’ve always broken the gender rules. I decided a long time ago that gender is arbitrary and I would be whatever damn person I wanted to be. I didn’t need a fixed gender identity. I’ve had short hair. I’ve had long hair. I never wear dresses.

And here I am buying a pink and purple dress for my child, as requested (possibly for “dress-up”). But then they decide it is the most beautiful dress and they will wear it to school. And dropping Allie off that day terrified me.

“Great, no problem I said”. Dropping them off at school, I whisper to the teacher. “Please don’t let them be bullied”.

Earlier in the week, the teachers had told me that Allie had said, “I’m a girl.”

Picking out skis, the clerk turns to me and says “Is Allie a she or he?” They loudly state, “I’m a she, SHE!” So there we have it. And the teachers shockingly were great. They said they just told Allie it was fine to be a girl.

But then I worried about their classmates. Allie asks me “ do I look like a girl now?, with my dress?”.

Again I say (although at this point I’m mostly just agreeing that yes you are a girl),“Some boys wear dresses and some girls wear dresses. I don’t really know what a girl or boy looks like. You look like Allie to me, with a beautiful pink and purple dress.”

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At lunchtime, I arrive to help out in the classroom. There is Allie sitting in the middle of the classroom. They are super cute in their pink dress and so happy to see me. Allie is eating lunch with a friend Nora, “Nora knows I’m a girl. “ Nora smiles and nods, “Allie is a girl”.

Tonight they tell me they want to be a boy named Isabella. “I can change my name right, if I want a girl name and my mummy says it’s okay”. I said, “of course it’s okay”.
Wherever we go on this journey with my sidekick. gender will be a bumpy part of the road. As I told Allie tonight, “Boy or girl, I will love you no matter who you are. Makes no difference to me. “