“Isn’t she bisexual?”
“No, she’s pansexual.”
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s what picky bisexual people call themselves.”
“Isn’t it what non-picky bisexual people call themselves? You know, they’ll sleep with anyone?”
“Well, anyway, what she’s confused about is whether she’s a girl or a boy.”
“Are you kidding? How hard can it be?”
“I know. Like, anyone can tell that.”
“We-ird. So is that why she dresses in boys’ uniform now? And why she cut her hair?”
“Hmm, I guess.”
This, roughly speaking, is the conversation I overheard while my English class, unsupervised because our teacher was on a trip with a younger year group, avoided doing their work. Though I had headphones in, it was difficult to avoid hearing what they were saying.
I knew who they were talking about. Actually, they’re a friend of mine, and we’ve known each other since the beginning of secondary school. We used to be in a band together.
I couldn’t believe the ignorance of my fellow students. At seventeen, I was thinking, you should know what terms like ‘bisexual’ and ‘pansexual’ actually mean. More to the point, you should probably know that there’s a difference between gender and sex.
But who can expect them to? It’s not something I was ever taught in school. Recently, I had to explain the different to father person, who said, “No, there’s a difference between gender and sexuality, but…”
“Biological sex and gender identity are two very different things,” I insisted, and cited a few things I’d learned from various friends on Tumblr and from the blog, Raising My Rainbow, which has taught me a lot about avoiding stereotypes and typifying ‘girl’ and ‘boy’.
And then I realised. Not only did we never get taught this at school, but actually, it’s something I only got to grips with in the past year. After spending so much time on the internet, I have come across people of all different gender identities, all different sexualities–I’ve got friends who are transgender, gender neutral, or cis; I’ve got friends who are straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual…
It makes me sad that we have to have so many labels for things. I mean, how hard is it: like who you like and be who you want to be. Seriously. I don’t think we’d even have the whole thing of identifying as male or female if we didn’t associate behaviour and clothing with male and female. Why should what body parts you have dictate your life choices?
But I digress. This isn’t a call for society to change.
Rather, this is a call for society to educate.
I have offered this friend of mine my support, whether that’s starting an LGBT group at school (despite being, to the best of my 17-year-old knowledge, probably heterosexual) or helping put posters around the school educating people about things they’re saying that they don’t even realise are offensive (like ‘tranny’ or ‘shemale’, which apparently are humorous, non-offensive phrases… er, no).
Because you see, I don’t have to be a member of a group to support it. I don’t have to endure a struggle to want to end it for other people. I am appalled at the ignorance of my classmates and yet I cannot blame them because no one has ever told me otherwise. It is only the blogs I read and the people I talk to online that have made me any different from them. Without my internet activity, I probably would never have come across this issue and would have viewed my friend with the same confusion and suspicion as everyone else.
This is a mistake.
We have off-timetable days at school called ECM days. Every Child Matters. And what do we learn on them? Well, we’ve had sessions about university, about mortgages, about careers opportunities…
… oddly, we’ve never had one combating homophobia or transphobia. Which, for a day named ‘Every Child Matters‘, seems like an oversight. If we don’t teach people to live out that slogan, how can we expect them to?
Their ignorance does not make them exempt from being kind. Their ignorance does not protect them.
Their ignorance only makes me sad.