Today, one of the year 7s at the school I work at asked me if I would rather be a gay man or a lesbian. Which, faced with having to explain my decision to a group of earnest eleven-year-olds, is a pretty hefty question.
See, having walked the twin lines of genderfluidity and bisexuality for a number of years, I am in a perfect position to answer. However, I found myself caught a little unawares.
These children are, of course, “magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life”. How the hell do I explain the hideous Venn diagram of homophobia and misogyny faced by both groups?
In the end, after a moment’s consideration, I said I’d rather be a gay man. Which is true.
Neither is a walk in the park. Neither is a choice many would make willingly. But, having seen both sides of the coin, I know what I’d pick.
I’ve been harassed in the street for being in a gay male couple and for being in a gay female couple. I know what made me feel more intimidated.
The year 7 in question kind of hit the nail on the head when he asked, “but how do lesbians even have sex?”
I replied, “I think there’s something you all need to know. I know we teach you about sex in school, so you think it’s the most important thing, but it’s not. There’s so much more to meeting a person, falling in love with them and enjoying your time with them.”
“But none of us would be here without sex!”
True, small child, true. But if the continuation of the species is the meaning of life, then all of human endeavour is ultimately pointless and we may as well build a rocket that will fire us all into the sun to save global warming the bother of killing us all off.
That’s why I felt frightened being perceived as a lesbian. Because queer people don’t love, they fuck. Type “lesbian” into a search engine, and the chances are you’ll be offered “porn” as your next word. Doubly true for the word “bisexual”.
If perceived as a lesbian, you’re inherently a sex object, there for the male gaze. It’s frightening.
When harassed as part of a gay male couple, the story is a little different.
The lone hetero Neanderthal male spots you. He frowns. He approaches your friend: are those two gay? Your friend replies in the affirmative. The Neanderthal frowns again before retreating.
It’s less darkly confrontational, less exposing. That’s not to say that horrors don’t befall gay male couples, because they do. Just- less often.
Again, you’re treated as a sexual being. But because the Neanderthal male sees himself as the object of your desires (the arrogant fuck), he’s actually afraid of you.
Not to mention the fact that he definitely couldn’t take both of you in a fight.
I couldn’t explain all of this to the kids. I explained that gay women, or women perceived as queer, are more likely to be denied jobs.
This definitely surprised them, and I wonder if any of them will think on it a little longer- why is it exactly that women get less than men when in an apparently similar position?
This is why I love working with children. They’re exposed to so much about the world, and just don’t have the experience to comprehend it. Consequently, they’re full of questions.
Questions like, “How do lesbians have sex?” are tricky, because there’s absolutely no way I’m explaining the clitoris to an eleven-year-old. I think it’s important to consider instead why these questions arise- overwhelmingly, I feel it is because relationship education in schools starts at sex and works backwards.
I know why. Because sex is easy, and love is complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s right.
I am frightened for every single child that walks through our education system, and that’s why I work in it.