According to data collected by Hunter College with the Human Rights Campaign, men are 12 when they first think they might be gay or bisexual. Women are 16 when they first think they might be lesbian or bisexual. By the time LGB people hit college age, they have, on average, had sex with someone of the same sex and have decided for sure that they are LGB. So it is no surprise that so many people come out before or shortly after graduating from high school and explore these aspects of themselves during those years.Regardless of an individual’s sexuality, these are the sexual development years and so many youth are exploring sexuality during this time, with whomever they are drawn to be with.
So how are our cultural views on sexuality during youth changing? Last weekend, Ryan Allen, under the stage name Reann Ballslee, was named Homecoming Queen at George Mason University, a school with some 30,000 students. While there are some who are nay-saying his being named to this position, this is a title given to the person with the most votes after they performed at a qualifying pageant in early February, so clearly an awful lot of GMU students were comfortable with a drag queen being named Homecoming Queen and cast their votes for Reann Ballslee.
On the other hand, high schools across the country are grappling with staging a newly-released toned-down version of the musical Rent. It seems that many communities are not yet comfortable with the idea of high school students talking about sex, STDs, and drugs. Oh, and there are two gay couples in the show. Perhaps the parents and administrators ought to attend the Homecoming this weekend at GMU?
Meanwhile teens across the country are now being booked on pornography charges for texting pictures of themselves nude to friends and partners. Some of this is certainly warranted, as when a boy takes pictures of his girlfriend and texts them to his friends, but much of it is the same fear of human sexuality, especially among youth as probably drives the people fighting Rent productions. I’d be interested certainly to see gender breakdowns; I’d assume that these photos are more often of and by young women trying to live up to cultural expectations of being sexualized. Where is the line here between allowing youth to be sexual as human beings and protecting youth from being victimized by our culture?
So how are we talking with youth in Sex Ed class about sexuality? What sort of language do we permit in schools? Is language that puts women down or sexualises them laughed off by teachers? Does homophobic language merit merely a “hey, cut it out!” or more conversation about what homophobia looks like and means? What messages are we sending youth through both what we talk to them about as well as what we do not talk to them about?