Monday, November 26, 2012

Putting Theory Into Practice -- Or, When the Bubble Bursts

In this stage of the game we all know our own brilliance and recognize the same in our peers. We’ve come to value ourselves for what we have to offer and our classmates for the additional insights they provide our already whirling minds. Some of us have geeked out at various SARS, developmental theorists, lesson plans, or yes, even that blasted biology coloring book. We have faced topics that invigorate and thrill us and some that churn our stomachs. As many of us round the bend to obtaining our MEd, I ponder what this experience is going to look like, outside a classroom. How I am going to be able to practically apply the concepts we have learned, discussed, and hopefully mastered. If I will do right by all of you I’ve shared this extraordinary experience with.

Collectively, we have a wealth of superb ideas as to how to keep our field invigorating and fresh and exciting. We ask a lot of ourselves in regards to considerations we must make before teaching. Look at this blog alone: media and technology, resources, language challenges, political climate concerns, discomfort within populations, inclusivity and disclosure. I am not afraid to say that in class these are phenomenal to discuss, in terms of practical application they may look more like a mountain to climb. We try our best to anticipate how we may act, feel or respond in given situations, but there is no way to be prepared for every last thing. However, I have to note that it’s the unexpected happening that may hold the most benefits for us as educators, especially in this field.

Personally, I have had the pleasure of a life changing moment (or many) in this program, but there’s one that guides me, even when trying to articulate this post to all of you. Many of you know that coming into this program there are certain topics that I knew I needed more knowledge in, transgenderism and transgender issues being at the forefront. Nothing could have prepared me for the day I walked down a long hall and was fabulously awe struck by a room full of beautiful transgender individuals. To this day, I am slightly embarrassed to say I have no idea what my face looked like. I know my heart swelled with delight and enthusiasm, but I’m certain no one could know that just by looking. No amount of reading or studying prepared me for my own reaction.

While this post may wander, please understand that my message is clear. Every concept, whether it fascinates or infuriates us, is likely to be someone’s lived experience. In all our preparations and considerations, please take this as your friendly reminder to interpret information differently if it is coming from a person rather than a text book.

While many of us have some teaching experience, I don’t know of anyone who can say they’ve faced it all.  I’d love my contribution to this blog to be a thread where we share what still makes us nervous, what we might still be uncertain about, or what we straight up hope never to come across. While I hope to regard you all as resources for many years to come, lets also make the best of each other while we are here in this common space.
Ready? I’ll start.
What makes me nervous - THIS becoming mainstream thought amongst anyone, particularly young people, and seeking to eradicate gains made by feminist movements.
What I am still uncertain about - If I can be of any use in THIS area of sexuality education.
What I straight up hope never to come across - Perhaps obviously, THESE beliefs, especially if staunchly held by young people in a classroom setting.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Flirting with Danger, the Movie

An earlier post by Melissa Fabello got me thinking about another genre which often goes overlooked in sexuality education.  In our CHSS 626 class we've seen some media clips from both television shows and other sources, but one that has recently captured my imagination is a re-enactment documentary.

OK, now don't go where I went when you hear the term re-enactors.  I immediately thought of those guys who dress up in military uniforms and re-enact the Civil War and spend the weekend on mock battlefields.  That's something else and not my cup of tea at all.  What I'm talking about is something that the Media Education Foundation (MEF) has successfully done to contribute to our sexuality libraries.  About 10 years ago, the director of the MEF was browsing in (a now-defunct) independent bookstore near Amherst College killing some time.  He came upon a book called Flirting With Danger, a social psychology book written by a professor of psychology, Lynn Phillips.  It's a great book about power and choice in heterosexual women's relationships and it's about dating, sex, and violence.

We know these kinds of books.  We know them as the kinds of books we read as students of human sexuality.  They're great resources, they contain amazing and heartfelt stories, but they're often difficult for the "average" reader to pick up and they don't get on those big sale tables at large bookstores.  But still, the MEF director called the writer and asked her if she'd ever be interested in making a documentary of her book.  The writer, Lynn Phillips, had just landed a job at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a 10-year long project began. Turns out they both were teaching in the same department.  Talk about fortuitous coincidences.

To make the book come alive as a film, they hired young, college age women to re-enact some of the words that Lynn's interviewees had spoken during her interviews with them.  I saw the film a few weeks ago and the words came alive.  The actors were so close in age to the actual women in the book that if felt as if I was hearing the actual women themselves.  Here's a short clip where you can see the effect of their work.

What is your take on this as a teaching tool?  The entire film is just under an hour, which makes it fairly useful for most college courses.  High school teachers would have to show it in segments.  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Role of Fiction in Sexuality Education

By Melissa A. Fabello

Our Bodies, Ourselves.   It’s Perfectly Normal. What’s Happening to My Body?   These are all books that we, as sex educators or future sex educators, know and love.  We have them in our personal libraries; we recommend them to our friends; we buy them for people as birthday gifts.  We understand that they are pivotal, major works in regards to teenagers and sexuality, and beyond those basics, we know other works of non-fiction, too, that we can recommend to more advanced readers, to parents, to colleagues.  We have entire reference lists typed up in our minds (perhaps branded there from how often we have to cite them – APA-style, of course).  But there’s something missing here, something that could be, perhaps not more important, but at least complementary.  Fiction.

Books that have been written on the diverse topics of Human Sexuality are fantastic.  Some of them – like the ones above – are well-written as well as being informative, which is why they’ve earned a spot in our “literary cannon,” so to speak.  But the problem with non-fiction is that you can’t feel it.  You can understand it and identify with it.  You can use it as a basis of knowledge or to explain the world around you, but you can’t connect with it.  You can’t empathize or sympathize.  You can’t become best friends with it.  You can’t cry when something horrible happens or rejoice when the situation has finally been resolved.  You can’t have a relationship with it.  But with fiction, you can.

I read a lot of young adult novels.  I’m not sure if it’s because I work with adolescents or because I long for the forever-gone days of my youth, but I devour those books the same way that I do French fries.  I can’t stop.  And ever since I was in puberty and discovered Judy Blume – Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Melissa, And I Am So Glad That I Found This Fxxxing Book Because It’s Saving My Life – I have understood the innate power that literature has to help you understand yourself by understanding other people, even if they’re just characters in a novel.  And when I was in high school, I related so much to the characters in the books that I read, not just on a superficial level, but on a level that I thought was deep and enriching.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Chbosky, 1999) taught me that it was okay to be an outsider.  Annie On My Mind (Garden, 1982) helped me realize that my lesbian relationship was legitimate and beautiful and true.  I lost myself in books not because I wanted to escape, but because I wanted to understand.  And that relationship has yet to dissipate.  Because the special thing that fiction does is that it doesn’t just give a name to what you’re going through.  It connects you to it.  After reading Speak (Anderson, 1999), didn’t you, yourself, feel like a secondary survivor of sexual assault after watching what Melinda goes through?  Didn’t you feel like it happened to your friend?  And all of a sudden you can recognize the warning signs, and you’re suddenly better equipped to deal with it on an emotional level?  That’s what fiction does.

I could go down an entire list of books to recommend to people to read when it comes to issues in sexuality.  Teen dating violence?  Try Rage: A Love Story (Peters, 2009) or Dreamland (Dessen, 2000).  Eating disorder?  Wintergirls (Anderson, 2009) or Just Listen (Dessen, 2006) or Brave Girl Eating (Brown, 2010).  Sexual assault?  Twisted (Anderson, 2007).  Transgender? Luna (Peters, 2004).  Lesbian or questioning?  The Bermudez Triangle (Johnson, 2005) or Empress of the World (Ryan, 2003) or Love and Lies (Wittlinger, 2009) or Hello, Groin (Goobie, 2006) or Keeping You a Secret (Peters, 2005).  And on and on and on.  Because these books do more than entertain.  They normalize.  They validate.  They educate.

Fiction is powerful.  And I believe that that power can be extremely useful to us as educators, if only we learn to harness and wield it.  I think that it’s time for us to create another reference list in our heads, another shelf in our personal library.  One dedicated to fiction.  And I think that we can use these books, either in conjunction with non-fiction or on their own, to touch the hearts of our students and get them thinking about issues in sexuality in a more personal way.  I think that we can use that connection to our benefit.  In short, I think that fiction could change the world.

So what are some works of fiction that you’ve read that address issues in sexuality?  Which are ones that you would recommend?  How do you go about finding them?  And what are some ways that you think that you could incorporate fiction into the work that you do as educators?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Providing Successful Sex Education Online...

As a full time graduate student, I provide sex ed mainly through my online sex educator persona happEsextalk, so I wanted to describe some issues I'm experiencing going into 2013, and ask for some guidance and/or advice on how to be more effective in online sex education!

The Widener Sexuality Careers Conference from last year caused a surge of energy and focus on sex education online since so many people are utilizing the internet for sources of information regarding sexuality related issues - especially since there are great websites for teens such as Answer, Scarleteen, Sex, Etc., and of course, Planned Parenthood.

While I understand that a big part of being a successful educator online is by looking at what already exists, and trying to offer different/missing information or approach the topic you're educating differently than others already doing it, within our field there's room for many to educate about sexuality in both similar and different ways because so many people are hungry for the information!

Specifically, when evaluating who happEsextalk's target audience is, I get stuck because the purpose for creating happEsextalk was to provide sex positive education among all sexuality topics, not just among topics such as HIV/AIDS, Femininity, Masculinity, or talking with your children about sex. Therefore, I feel my target audience is pretty much everybody, and though feeling overwhelmed with that reality, I look to Laci Green for an example of phenomenal sex positive education for all. (By the way, if you know anybody who addresses all or multiple sexuality topics in sex positive ways, please let me know where I can look into them!!)

My goals with happEsextalk are to provide: 1) resources to those who ask (and those who didn't know they were in need of them in the first place), 2) different perspectives through creating discussions about sexuality topics in the media, and 3) answers to questions my followers have about personal experiences.

I'm familiar with adding posts to a queue (through Tumblr) so you're consistently posting even when you're not at your computer, which helps tremendously with time management while in this program, and I have posts from my Tumblr linked to my Twitter and Facebook Fan Page so all my followers are notified when something new posts; additionally, I post specifically to Facebook trying to start conversations, or create interest in the particular topic.

The issue that concerns me is, although I'm doing all these things, nobody is engaging with the posts or starting discussions from my questions. The fan page insights provided by Facebook show how many people view the posts, interact with the links/photos/videos on the posts, and provide demographics for those who "Like" the happEsextalk fan page, but I am obviously missing something that gets people interested enough to respond or engage in discussion.

When I look at other sex educators online, some from our program and some not, discussions begin almost instantly when they post on their blog or Facebook, providing people with that different perspective of thinking I am trying to achieve through happEsextalk.

As this fall semester comes to an end, I plan to spend the entire month of December re-vamping the happEsextalk approach, mission, goals, etc. - thanks to great advice and tips from Francisco Ramirez's workshop at this years Sexuality Careers Conference!

In preparation for this, I wanted to ask my peers:

  1. Whether through blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., how do you approach sexuality education online? 
  2. What methods do you use (or have seen others use) to engage followers in the topics being posted about?  
  3. What helpful resources can you recommend for happEsextalk's 2013 re-vamping brainstorm I have planned? (whether it be books, websites, personal tips, etc.)
  4. If applicable to your career path, how do you currently (or plan to) market yourself as a sex educator? 

Providing sex ed by utilizing social networks is an important aspect of my identity as a sex educator, and I want to be able to do that effectively. While I feel confident in my ability to provide a starting point regarding human sexuality questions or concerns for people of all ages, it's more important for these people to also be confident in my abilities! Thanks in advance for any feedback, resources, and tips provided in the comments!! I welcome it all with open arms!!! :) 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Puse? That Sounds Dirty: Overcoming Language Barriers

Over the last week, since the presidential election, much has been made about the increasing role that the Latino and Latina populations play in deciding elections. Both democratic and  republican pundits have acknowledged the effects that the new demographics of the country have on politics. There are currently 40 million individuals in the U.S. who use the Spanish language primarily. This demographic shift affects the educational system and will therefore affect each of us as sexuality educators. Language barriers may become more common within classrooms as more students who speak Spanish are in classrooms with  teachers who speak English. The Bilingual Education Bill of 1968 requires that students be presented equal educational opportunities regardless of language. Sexuality educators within public institutions have to follow this bill, which means many of us will encounter a language barrier at some point. Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings between teacher and students. Language issues when teaching sexuality are unique because much of sexual language is slang. Therefore, the teacher must be aware of regular vocabulary and the slang within a foreign language. Learning and using slang terms within sexuality may help overcome language barriers and make the teacher relatable to students,but many slang terms are inappropriate and may be used by students to be offensive. Using slang in the classroom has led to legal issues for some teachers. Difficulties also arise when a teacher is surrounded by a classroom in which the students speak a language that the teacher is unable to understand but the students do understand. This makes the classroom difficult to control because students are able to speak without any fear of the teacher knowing. This can be frustrating for the teacher and disrupt class. Language barriers also affect interaction with parents, which can be a detriment to parental involvement.  There are solutions and resources that can be used to overcome language barriers. Each and every teacher learning Spanish is not an option moving forward and there will always be language barriers between some students and teachers.

-What as an educator can you do to overcome the language barriers you may face?
- What are your opinions regarding the use of slang terms in the classroom?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"We're all in this together" - President Obama

We are doing/plan to do our very best as sex educators, but educators are restricted by educational guidelines and  institutional bureaucracy and children are aggressively confronted with conflicting messages about sexuality every day through the media. What can we do to make sure that children get access to comprehensive, factual information about sexuality? I say we sneak in through the parents and guardians. I’m not trying to put any of us out of a job… I’m just suggesting we get some other adults with authority to join our cause.

Children will likely go to their parents or guardians with questions about sexuality at some point in their lives and the reactions they get can impact their view of the topic overall.  Discomfort begets  discomfort.

Why aren’t parents and guardians talking to their children about sex? It’s possible that they believe that the burden falls to us as professional educator, but that puts us in a terrible position because we are likely to impart our personal values in some way in classroom. It’s also possible that parents and guardians don’t have the time to prioritize educating their children around sexuality issues. Could it be that they simply don’t have the information they need? Maybe a basic set of guidelines would be helpful for parents.

There have been efforts  the past to encourage parents and guardians to get involved, but they have not been very effective. I can’t help but feel that it is partially our responsibly to try to teach parents and guardians how to talk to children about sexuality. It can create more spaces where healthy discussions about sexuality are possible.

How can we realistically make this happen?

Should we make this happen?

What snags might we hit in our quest combine our efforts with parenting at home?