Cross-posted at SexGenderBody.com
I half-suspected this would happen: after our sixth screening (the bisexuality documentary) was overwhelmed with people, the seventh Sex+++ movie was far quieter. It was nice to have breathing room! The really cool thing about this is that I can now promote the film series to new groups … I’ve been afraid to do any new promotion because we’ve had so many people at some screenings, I’m nervous that we’ll be overwhelmed. So now that I can do some more reaching out, I’d love new ideas about new people I can tell about the film series!
In the meantime ….
I’ve taken a while to post about it because I went to San Francisco on the interim, but the last film at my sex-positive documentary film series was “It’s Still Elementary” — courtesy of GroundSpark: Igniting Change Through Film.
“It’s Still Elementary” is a bit of a meta-documentary: a documentary about a documentary! In 1996, a film called “It’s Elementary” confronted the question of how to educate grade-school kids about gay and lesbian issues. It showed a number of grade-school educators taking on the issue — in the 1996 political climate, they risked their jobs to do so! — and it also showed the kids in their classes creating their own respectful, honest conversations on the subject. Of course there was a firestorm of controversy around “It’s Elementary”, especially when it was broadcast on TV in 1999. Conservative religious groups did things like call it a “powerful pro-homosexual propaganda film” and mount fundraising campaigns against airing it, writing to their followers that “If we fail to take a stand to put a stop to this outrage, the sin of sexual perversion could be promoted to a potential audience of tens of millions of children” (source).
That controversy is covered in “It’s Still Elementary”, as well as the process of making the “It’s Elementary”; the progress of the :cough: “homosexual agenda” inherent therein; the way the kids who actually experienced that education feel about it today; and issues faced by leaders who tried to get the film shown to educators in their communities. One thing that particularly struck me was the apparently frequent allegation, made by people who didn’t want “It’s Elementary” shown to teachers, that gay and lesbian issues simply weren’t “important enough” to be worth covering in school. School administrators — who didn’t see themselves as at all bigoted, but simply pragmatic — frequently argued that what’s “necessary” is readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic. So of course, since it didn’t fit into that box, they figured training teachers to address gay and lesbian issues wasn’t worth doing.
The reason this caught my attention was that I’ve encountered that argument before. People, even open-minded people who don’t consider themselves to be anti-sex, will frequently argue that quality sex education is simply not something we “need” to be worrying about. Folks will just figure it out, right? Or even if they don’t, raising a generation of sexually confused and ashamed kids is no big deal … right? In fact, this attitude continues — for many people — into adulthood; it’s just phrased differently. As adults, the questions (sometimes stated, but almost always implied) become things like, “Does sexual pleasure really matter?” or “Is it really so important that you explore your sexual needs?”
Now, it’s not that I think everyone should be spending all their time thinking about their sexual needs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there is no “should”. I wouldn’t want to tell anyone their priorities, and I have no problem with freely choosing to prioritize other things over sex … I mean, I do it all the time. Sex is not the only thing in the world. But I do think that this whole idea, that sexual pleasure is unimportant, goes beyond being a crying shame — it’s positively dangerous. Sex, our sexuality, is important. It’s so deep-rooted, it shapes so many things about us, so much of our approach to our lives … whether we’re aware of it or not. How can we know ourselves if we don’t know our sexuality? How can we live as whole human beings? And why, why should we be expected to repress or subvert or twist up a powerful drive that could be such a source of pleasure and power? The idea that sex is unimportant, “not worth it”, is another manifestation of our cultural stigma against sexuality, and a dangerously subtle one to boot.
One person at the discussion group, after we showed “It’s Still Elementary”, noted that the film (and the educators it highlights) was limited — it didn’t take on bisexuality, or trans. That’s a problem. But I’d argue that there’s a bigger problem — that educators limited themselves, are limiting themselves, to orientations when it would serve us better to create a wider curriculum around general sexuality. But, gasp! We can’t have a curriculum about general sexuality for children! What would happen to kids exposed to ideas of sex?
As it turns out, they’d be fine. Unitarian kids get the best sex education in the country through the Unitarian church, starting in kindergarten, and they amazingly don’t grow up to be axe murderers. The key is that sex education really doesn’t have to be entirely about explicit sex. From the website for Our Whole Lives, the Unitarian sex ed curriculum:
Our Whole Lives helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Grounded in a holistic view of sexuality, Our Whole Lives provides not only facts about anatomy and human development, but helps participants to clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.
This is a concept introduced by “It’s Elementary” — the idea that we can have conversations about gay and lesbian issues (which are, after all, about sexuality) with kids without edging into scary sex territory. It’s time to take that idea to the next level and create good, national, general sex education that doesn’t tiptoe around important ideas like pleasure, or self-discovery, or defeating shame. Or so I’d like to believe. In a country where — what is it, 60%? — of schools are still mired in abstinence-only sex education, I recognize that my grandiose plans to teach kids not to be ashamed of their bodies are far from implementation. At least I can do adult sex education … reverse the damage a bit, perhaps. (Interestingly, one of the people I met on this past San Francisco trip, name of Dr. Charlie Glickman, did a dissertation on proposed adult sex education among — guess who? — the Unitarians. I haven’t finished it yet, but so far it seems so good.)
It’s been a while since I linked to it, so I’ll wrap this up by mentioning my old post: Liberal, Sex-Positive Sex Education: What’s Missing. Which just goes to show that even when you’ve got decent sex education, there’ll be room for improvement.
And now I am off to bed (not in a sexy way, regrettably … I’ve worn myself out, with all this typing about sex!). Check out the GroundSpark website to buy “It’s Still Elementary”, and do come out to the upcoming Sex+++ films “Private Dicks” and “Forever Bottom” — both about ideas of masculine sexuality. May 12th, 7PM. See you there!