I’m a pudgy, effeminate 12-year-old in a neighbourhood of post-war bungalows in Hamilton. I like books and playing the trombone and Magic: The Gathering playing cards. Friends is the hottest show on TV, but I don’t really understand the humour. I prefer Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
I dread — without ambiguity or exception — every single gym period. This is partly because my class is paired with a “troublemaker” Grade 7 class full of strangers.
My female friends are plucked out of comforting reach for the sake of sex-segregated physical activity. We have squads. We run laps. Teasing is relentless, although not always directed at me.
Poking out of the gym teacher’s shorts are legs so hairy and sturdy I can’t make sense of them. I can’t picture any part of my body ever looking like that.
For two weeks each semester, I pull a seldom-used red duotang labelled “health” from my locker and we talk about puberty and hygiene and girls. It is a slight relief compared to the sweaty, clumsy comedy of errors that is gym class.
In health class, hugged by the comforting wood of a student desk, I label male and female anatomy, presented to me in colouring-book outlines photocopied in the teacher’s lounge.
Then one day, we perform an experiment. The gym teacher gives each of us a vial of water. We are asked to find a partner and the two of us mix the contents of our vials. Now, says the teacher, pour half of the combined liquid into each vial and switch partners.
Secretly, two of the boys were given vials of vinegar, not water. At the end, we pH test everyone’s vials. After four “partners,” the gym teacher says 11 of the 20 of us have AIDS. Is it a warning about gay life? I don’t know.
For me, health class clarifies nothing. I am just as confused and just as pudgy as before.
I know now that my poor gym teacher with the beautiful legs had a lot of discretion in what he taught us. I know that his biases, his anxieties, his hang-ups became a part of my curriculum.
Looking back on those experiences, I think that the new Ontario sex ed curriculum will improve things for boys like me coming up through public schools. Maybe only a little bit. Because no matter what the outcome of the battle over health education in Ontario, it will look pretty much the same on the ground: incredibly awkward for everyone.
Or will it? In the Grade 3 curriculum that was introduced and yanked, unimplemented, there is a section on “visible and invisible differences,” which include, sort of, a passage that would have related to my former self. People are different, says the 2010 curriculum. In my chubbiness, my delicate effeminacy, my burgeoning attraction to the gym teacher, I was different. But difference is okay, says the 2010 curriculum.
The more detailed sex ed curriculum for 13- and 14-year-olds? Hopefully, that would nix the gym teacher’s ad-libbing, which taught my peers that four male partners equals a 50-50 chance of contracting HIV. I shake my head at his stupidity.
The Ontario sex ed curriculum — the first one since gays got partner benefits, marriage and full adoption rights — is a step in the right direction, especially for kids with two mommies or two daddies.
And we could do a lot better. As Queer Ontario points out, we need to find ways of talking about sex that aren’t strictly about health risks. If we’re going to talk about sex, and we should, let’s give up on fear-mongering and talk — to boys and girls — about pleasure.
A big step forward would be adopting the Manitoba model, where sex-ed specialists teach young people the facts, and where the non-specialist hang-ups of Mr Treetrunks are less likely to gum things up.
And, in the meantime, we will fight the good fight to get the 2010 health curriculum implemented.
Marcus McCann is the managing editor of Xtra Toronto and Ottawa.