When I was at high school I didn’t know any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or sexually fluid people. It’s not as if we weren’t wrestling with confounding and emerging sexual identities; it was just that back in the 70s, we knew little to nothing of such things.
I mean we knew, but we didn’t know. There was always the intimation or suggestion of sexual difference but other than a smattering of miserable and misfired pejoratives, we had no educationally sanctioned language or learning to help us understand or speak about differing sexual orientations.
We didn’t have anti-bullying policies or education like most schools do today. We didn’t have much in the way of self-development or emotional intelligence programs. Sex Ed was a tittering cacophony of boring anatomical cross-sections and euphemisms.
Today, most of us understand something of the real pressures faced by LGBTI students, who are currently the targets of an ideologically-driven campaign against who they are, and against the anti-bullying programs that have been set up to protect them.
Back then, we didn’t have anything like Safe Schools Coalition running programs that educated students about sexual and gender diversity, and educated staff about policies to promote inclusion and safety. Some of us came out of the system seemingly unscathed; others were not so fortunate.
Adolescents are often given bad press. They are self-focused and selfish. Their hormones are in overdrive and their brains are under renovation. They have no respect, common sense or empathy. The boys are smelly, the girls are judgmental and we adults just have to help them and put up with them while they endure this pimply, sexually charged, competitive and excruciatingly self-conscious stage of their lives.
But adolescents are not all like this. Adolescents are as diverse and dynamic as our sexualities. I love them. I have taught them for years. I own one. He is annoying and messy, forgetful and volatile, potty mouthed, screen addicted, funny, sweet, vulnerable, rude, embarrassed by his parents and by his own emerging self-ness.
In his book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Daniel J. Siegel writes:
“The adolescent period of life is in reality the one with the most power for courage and creativity. Life is on fire when we hit our teens. And these changes are not something to avoid or just get through, but to encourage … [There is a] need to focus on the positive essence of this period of life for adolescents and for adults.”
Last week I picked my Year 8 son up from school – something I avoid doing because I’m meant to making him more independent – and in the car he says apropos nothing:
“You know that Grant is bisexual and that Ally and Lisa are together, as in girlfriend and girlfriend?’
“No I didn’t know that,” I said, trying to keep my eyes on the road.
“And Jason’s a kind of girly boy.”
“Oh, okay. And what about you?” I ask him.
“Oh I am sooo heterosexual because I sooo like girls. But most of my friends are all other kinds of other stuff. Could you change the station, this music is boring?”
(first published in March AEU mag)