Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sex Education: "You Better Work!"

While watching RuPaul’s drag race this week, I decided that this would make a unique perspective and metaphor on effective sex education.  Who is RuPaul?  RuPaul is an iconic drag queen that has been in the business for the last twenty-five years, but truly gained her fame in the 1990’s.  Currently, RuPaul has her own reality television show in which men compete to be the top drag queen superstar.  How is sex education like doing good drag?  Sashay this way and I’ll show you…


Drag 101:

  • Fierce Make-up!  "Let’s go COVERGIRL!" When it comes to drag, I think about foundation, all the layers of make-up, and blending that go into putting on a fierce face for the stage.  An effective sex educator is also expected to put on a fierce face or presentation by developing successful lesson plans, scaffolding, and paying attention to detail.  A drag queen spends hours putting on make-up for a performance that may only last minutes.  In order to do effective education, sex educators can also benefit from spending two to three times the amount in advance, developing the presentation and lesson planning .  Layering make-up, like scaffolding, is a useful tool for educators seeking to employee the experiential learning cycle to provide learners the opportunity to process new concepts.  Scaffolding is useful for experiential learning, which is appropriate for all ages of learners, and can be an excellent tool to have in your educational make-up bag.  Drag queens know they have to get every line and every shade right; sex educators should have their lesson plans fined tuned and be prepared for every possible answer, interaction, and problem that could develop within their class in order to be a successful.  Good sex education, like good make-up, should always look flawless and effortless.
  • The Tuck! "Oh girl, leave your baggage at home, ain’t nobody wanna see that!"  A drag queen knows how to hide their man parts to create the illusion of a woman, just like a sex educator must hide their baggage or biases to present appropriate lessons.  It is important as sex educators that we manage our feelings and opinions about certain sexuality topics and present them in a manner that allows individuals to form their own thoughts, based on accurate or researched information.  Sometimes disclosure can be helpful, but it is the responsibility of the educator to plan what personal facts are necessary to share to create relevant examples and which might take away from students learning.  Also sex educators need to embrace a positive attitude and check their problems at the door as a means of keeping students engaged or motivated to learn about the topic instead of wondering what the educator’s dilemma is.  Ultimately, personal baggage is like a good tuck, it should be kept secure and hidden.
  • Diva Dressing "She looks like a hott mess!" You do not want to be caught dead with the wrong drag look.  Drag queens must look sharp and well dressed at all times or they will get served/upstaged by another queen.  A good sex educator must appear knowledgeable and experienced or they too will be upstaged and ignored.  Students want their teachers to be knowledgeable when it comes to sexuality education and so do fellow educators.  Far too often sex education is done on the fly, sometimes there is no planning time for lessons or folks attempt to just wing it.  It is very important for an educator to review concepts and fully comprehend the material that they are presenting.  A true diva brings an element of confidence and an understanding of their craft; sex education should be no different.  A sexuality educator should know the material backwards and forwards, don’t fake it until you make it, but rather bring your A game to the stage.  In other words, be fully prepared, present, and precise when discussing sexuality topics; it looks poor when you cannot accurately deliver the concepts of the lesson, and of course like choosing the wrong dress, you will be judged for it!
  • Finding the right wig!  "Tap your weave girl!"  The final phase of prepping for a drag queen is coming up with the perfect wig and placing it on their heads.  For an educator the end stage is the evaluation, does the lesson match the goals and objectives.  Is there a clear take home message?  Is my wig going to stay in tact for my performance?  A sexuality educator must select accomplishable goals and establish objectives that can measure if students are learning.  The sexuality lesson should be delivered with a specific tone, preferably sex positive, and the take home message should be clear.  A drag queen’s wig is the finishing touch, it can offer personality and display exactly what kind of character or art form the queen is attempting to portray.  The sexuality educator should follow suit and be certain that the lesson clarifies any points of confusion, accomplishes the goal, and has a stable tone, not an ambiguous one.  Selecting an appropriate take home message and establishing the right tone for a sexuality lesson is much like finding the most attractive or best fitting wig for your stage performance. 

     Once all the drag queen preparation is completed the next step is to perform just as an educator then must teach.  Doing good drag and good education are quite similar because most of the work is accomplished behind the scenes, prior to performing or actually teaching in front of an audience.  Drag queens have to assemble their face and outfits as well as deciding on what mode of entertainment they will bring to the main stage.  A drag queen has to practice her jokes, songs, and choreography, depending on what type of performance is best suited for the crowd, or in the case of an educator, the target population.  A sexuality educator also must spend time delivering or practicing their lesson in advance, testing out which methodology will be most appropriate for teaching, and adapting the material to fit the particular audience it is intended for.

      A drag queen must have confidence, charisma, and a sense of humor to perform, much like an educator. According to Hedgepath and Helmich (1996), sexuality educators should be confident, comfortable and knowledgeable about the topic and present with an appropriate level of humor.  A drag queen is capable of commanding the attention of the audience and an effective educator should be just as captivating.  The performance or lesson is the most exciting part of education, but the real work is done beforehand to ensure a fantastic performance.  Each drag queen has her own sense of style and finesse, much like a good educator does too, but the development of the performance is the quintessential part of being a successful educator. 

     At the end of the day education should be fun and entertaining if we want students to ascertain meaning attribution from the lesson.  As sex educators we have to follow our bliss and pursue sexuality education topics that possess meaning for us.  According to Kirby (2000), an effective sex educator has the passion for teaching about sexuality topics.  Educators who speak with a positive tone about sexuality can guide the lesson so much farther.  Bringing sex education to the main stage can often be seen as a battle between the restrictive (abstinence-only until marriage), and the permissive (comprehensive sexuality education) (Goldfarb & McCaffree, 2000).  Sexuality educators can benefit from more collaboration and less opposition. 

      If too many divas exist in sex education and if we cannot visualize ourselves as equals then we falter.  According to Schroeder (2009), competition in sexuality education is debilitating and it would be more beneficial to compromise on one goal, to advance the field.  A great drag diva can own the stage, but she also comprehends that her peers can represent and deliver a stellar performance as well to assist the art of drag superstardom on its journey forward.  Sexuality educators may be entitled to sense of ego, but if we cannot share the stage or convince people that there is a stage for sexuality education, then we may fail.  In short, providing good sex education means, “you better work!”



Goldfarb, E. S., & McCaffree, K. (2000). Toward a more effective pedagogy
     for sexuality education: The establishment of democratic classrooms.
     Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 25(2/3), 147-155. Retrieved from

Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV.
     New York, NY: NYU Press.

Kirby, D. (2000). What does the research say about sexuality education?
     Educational leadership, 50(2), 72-76.

Schroeder, E. (2009). The future of sexuality education in the twenty-first
      century and beyond. In E. Schroeder, & J. Kuriansky, (Eds.), Sexuality
      education: Past, present, and future, 255-265. Westport, CT: Praeger.


  1. I absolutely love the parallel of teaching sex education and drag performances Ashley. "The Tuck" is one of the strongest points you make. Checking baggage as a presenter can be one of the most difficult spaces for educators to navigate and just as in drag performances, if you don't tuck it just right, the entire audience will see it!

    But this artifice can be a sore spot just the same, especially, when thoughts of "covering" or remaining "in the closet" are revisited by the presenter. As someone who is both private and transparent, I don't like feeling as though I "have" to chose the way I disclose; but just as your closing comments suggest, this isn't about us as presenters its is about the critical information that we are disseminating. Just as with some drag queens, the idea that the show is NOT about us can create those environments of competition that ultimately work against sex education, rather than help foster it.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Hi Ashley!
    Like LaShay, I really enjoyed your comparison of teaching sexuality education and doing drag. I just recently watched a handful of episodes of RuPaul’s show (pretty intriguing and entertaining, I must say), and I have seen a number of drag shows featured at a local Philadelphia bar (Bob and Barbara's, such a good time!). You speak the truth- the best drag performers are the individuals who have spent the most time prepping for their performance, and it shows! A coordinated costume with a crazy wig, makeup, and heels rule over a drag queen who looks like they just threw themselves together at the last minute. Just like a drag queen, you can tell when an educator is unprepared and lacks motivation…or is uncomfortable with the information they have to teach…or disagrees with the material they must teach…or doesn’t have a clue about what they are supposed to teach. Looking through my educational past and present, the best educators possess the qualities of a successful drag queen, while the so-so educators left something to be desired.

    In general, I believe that those who spend the most time working on something will be the most successful. This is not always true because cases of geniuses and individuals who are just born with natural talent do exist. However, I still think making an effort and putting your best “face” forward can make all the difference. Confidence plays a huge role; learners are going to be more convinced by an educator who is confident in the material that they are teaching rather than a teacher who is shaky and displays self-doubt. I think one very important note to mention is that sometimes both educators (and drag queens, too) are inevitably going to make a mistake or be wrong about something. Nobody is perfect! A drag queen might falter in her heels, and a teacher may not know how to perfectly answer a learner’s question. In both education and the drag community (the entertainment industry as a whole), such an intense pressure to be perfect exists, but this is not realistic. Sometimes remaining cool and confident up on stage or in the classroom is just as important as anything else!

  4. Ashley,

    I love it! What a great and creative comparison to draw. When I get nervous presenting from here on out, I am going to remind myself of this post!

    I think the idea of "too many divas" is a powerful one. I have met so many wonderful and talented sexuality educators who are willing to "share the stage" but there are always those who feel it is a competition. I think we do the field a disservice when we can't acknowledge other's strengths or help boost each other up. Because so many people have been gracious enough to talk to me or share a lesson plan or give feedback, I hope to always do the same in return. Besides, with how great of a need there is for skilled sexuality educators, I honestly believe there is enough opportunities to go around.

  5. Ashley:
    Very entertaining! I am not familiar with RuPaul, but if your classes are based on an iconic drag queen, sign me up.

    I am especially interested in the scaffolding concept, although I will be minus the layers of foundation. I will be teaching sex ed to students with learning disabilities within their school environment. To help these kids acquire the skills they have already told me they need, I will have to scaffold as my research shows that for their understanding, it will be necessary to break down the concepts I will be teaching into subskills and perhaps even into sub subskills. Without this type of scaffolding it is quite possible that the information I present will not be understood in the manner intended. Besides breaking the information down into smaller bits, Eggen and Kauchak recommended asking questions and adjusting for difficulty, presenting examples, modeling, and providing prompts and cues. These scaffolding strategies are perfect for working with students with disabilities.

    I am somewhat nervous going into this workshop even though I will not be caught dead wearing the wrong look. I know my material. I will have practiced and I will have all of my accessories in place. What I do not have is the dress that always works - in this case the experience teaching a population with a myriad of learning disabilities all in one room. I am hoping I will not be upstaged. I am hoping I can remain cool and confident.

  6. Ashley,
    What a great idea for a post! You really nailed it. I love your use of metaphors such as 'the tuck' and the 'fierce makeup'. What a unique idea for a post!
    Dr Dyson has brought up several times that although he studied theater and thought he wanted to become an actor, he realized that by teaching, he still had the ability to perform. There are so many parallels, some of which you mentioned like the costumes, the skill, the tone of your voice, the preparation, and finally the big performance.
    Like many performers, there are some that do it because it is their passion and others do it in a quest to become famous. Like Alison said, I think this 'diva' mentality can be said for sexuality educators. I have seen so much shameless self-promotion of people in this field and its really unfortunate because our skill should be utilized to teach and help people.

    Educators also parallel performers in that some are better than others! We as sex educators should really try to recognize our shortcomings. We need to take note of those who may be stronger in certain areas and refer out when possible. I can imagine that this is a difficult task for people with so much education and an important sense of self to do, but it is an important thing for sex educators to keep in mind!

  7. Like every other fawning comment, I will agree that this was a great post!

    I'm really interested in the sex education as performance metaphor-specifically, the idea of sex education (or performing) as a job. For those days that someone isn't feeling 100%, they still have to show up and work. The show must go on! If a cubicle worker is having an "off-day", it's possible that no one will notice. If an educator is having an "off-day" and they let it affect their work, people will notice. In relation to the "tucking" (keeping our baggage in check), we also have to "tuck" whatever day-to-day stuff we're dealing with. Gigi mentioned the theatricality aspect of teaching. If we're having a good day, or if we're having a bad day, we still need to put on a good show for the audience (students).

    Unfortunately, I think the field of sex education will always have "divas" due to its non-traditional nature. When I say "non-traditional", I mean both in terms of subject matter and the structure of the field. For consultants, self-promotion is essential to their success. As someone who leans more towards the "show, don't tell" motto for skill sets, I often interpret aggressive self-promotion as crass and obnoxious. But I also recognize that it’s a central component to being a successful consultant. I would love to see the field of sexuality education more united and focused on specific goals, but given the wildly different work that is being done, I have a hard time seeing how that would occur.

    P.S. I knew this was an AMFC production from the title alone!

  8. GIIIIRRRRRLLL, as they say on In Living Color, "two snaps up!"
    I greatly enjoyed this blog. I do not wish to repeat what has been said. I concur with all of your ideas. I also think, like the drag queen's routine,the our presentation needs to be perfected so that we do not miss a beat. That is not to say that we cannot bring our own uniqueeness to the stage. But the performance must be flawless. As a drag performer must have the latest moves and music like we must have the latest and most up to date information so that we put on a fierce educational experience for the learner. One does not want to be caught on stage ill prepared or bitter over anothers performance.

    However, your most poignant message for me was about "THE TUCK". We all have our own shit but we must be willing to provide an unbiased curriculum that meets the needs of the learner. From this course and other in the Human Sexuality Program, I have learned that we all have a bounty of knowledge that we bring to the discourse of sex education. So, we as a collaborative force, must be willing to share the spot light with each other in order to educate and to advance sexology as a legitimate and needed discipline.

    Thank you
    Melvin.... now I shall sashay away.....

  9. I am not going to reiterate what others have said here, but besides loving the post, I have to comment on the creativity. You made so many good points about being prepared and confidant, but educators must also be creative! And what a perfect example of this!!! In an setting, its important to have a plan B, or C, or maybe even D, but most importantly is to have your creativity at your side. If all plans fail and you are faced with something you never expected, creativity should kick in. You have provided such a great example of this kind of creativity! Making a strong point from a not-easily-seen connection takes a high level of creative thinking. That kind of thought process can't be taught in any classroom, but staying on your toes and relying on that creativity is also a sign of a good educator.

  10. My favorite take-home message from your post: “Good sex education, like good make-up, should always look flawless and effortless.” Yes!! Working with my community partner has really driven that point home for me. To create great sex education lessons/workshops/programs we need to work so hard behind the scenes and practice, practice, practice because we often only have a few minutes on stage. In order to drive our messages home (and win the crown) we need to seriously work hard to perfect our performance so our delivery is natural! Your section on dressing reminds me of my post about being center stage. In order to be successful we need to overdress and over-prepare.

    As part of this flawless look, we as a community really need to talk more often about “The Tuck.” I know we have talked about this in classes, but we need to discuss this even more to remind ourselves and develop strategies. We have an agenda, but we need to present ourselves in a non-threatening/unbiased way in order to be heard. This is in part manipulation. In order to manipulate others to listen to our messages we need to leave our baggage behind! Part of our preparatory work requires we practice this so, like our lesson, we will be better able to do this naturally/flawlessly.

    I’m also going to agree with what others have said – I love that you bring up collaboration. I am often uncomfortable with the self-promotion I have seen from some people in the field; the kind of promotion that resists self-promotion. Is there a nice way to call someone out on that behavior and remind them that we are all working for the same goal? We all need to make a living, and for some that requires self-promotion, but as Gigi pointed out, we all need to recognize our personal strengths and limitations and know when to refer or ask for help!

    Love the post, Ashley. Great food for thought and creativity!