Sunday, February 15, 2015

Heteroassumption

Image credit: KateAnnexTerrasochi

Last year I took part in one of the most powerful learning experiences of my teaching career so far. A colleague (and friend) asked me if I would come and talk to her class as part of their Puberty discussions. She wanted to dispel the myth in the classroom that gay people ride around on unicorns that fart rainbows. A previous discussion with the class had established that the students knew somebody's aunties cousins neighbours letterbox was gay. They had no reality of which to base their understandings of how people of the same sex have relationships.

Another colleague and I came into the class to be "real" people. To be honest I was a little hesitant at first. At what risk was I putting myself at? Then a stronger power overrode those fears "wow, I could make a significant difference to those students lives and the way that they view themselves and each other". So myself and another colleague were able to talk to and with a class of Year 5 & 6 students about relationships and sexuality in a safe and supportive environment. All the questions were valid and the reflections were amazing. Like the kid who doesn't usually say much who wanted to tell us how awesome we both were and the kid who said that if he decided that he was gay when he was older would be ok with it. Oh and the blooper that happened when a student was feeding back about what he knew about same-sex weddings and said something about them wearing no pants (and meaning something else) and us all having a good ole laugh together about it.


One of the key ideas that we got across that day was the notion of Heteroassumption - that people always assume that you are have a partner of the opposite gender. We focused on how it would feel if you said "So have you got a new boyfriend?" or "Which boy do you fancy?"  to a girl that was gay. They all thought it would be pretty stink. We looked at how to reframe these questions so that they were gender neutral. I was also quite big on the fact that there is no such thing as a gay lunch or gay car parks so why call it a gay wedding? The students were able to reflect on their use of language and also the language and norms that are presented to them.  We live in a very heteroassumptive world!

We were very lucky that the class we spoke with had a supportive and open culture already and the kids respected us and didn't turn the event into gossip. I'm not sure how it would have gone with other classes. This is an area of the curriculum (Health and Wellbeing/Hauora/Sexuality/Relationships) that I am not sure gets done any justice. I worry about those children growing up in a heteroassumptive world where the messages they get from the media, their parents and peers give them a hetereonormative viewpoint. There are many discussions that could lead on from this blog post but my 28mins is up...