Gender + Sex + Attraction = It’s Complicated

Remember when the world seemed simpler? The good ol’ days. Doesn’t it put a smile on your face?

For me, third grade appeared to be a happy time in my life because all made sense to me. Everyone was my friend, except for that little boy, Santiago, who I fought pretty much every other day. Of course, there was that girl, Gloria, in my class who I called myself liking. On several occasions, Gloria threatened to kick me with her boots, because I teased her by pulling on her hair each day. And, according to reports from numerous parent-teacher conferences, my teachers, who loved me to death , also said I talked a little too much in class and needed to complete my classwork on time.

Besides those little quibbles, life was like a Cracker Jack box with a few cheap surprises, predictable and sweet. Looking back, the everyday routine served a purpose. There was a consistency in my expectations. I never doubted my mother’s love and enjoyed spending time with family. I played basketball during recess, made friends at school, looked forward to seeing my brother and mother at home, ate Golden Crisps for breakfast, and enjoyed watching TV cartoons, Soul Train, and Kung Fu Theater on Saturday mornings. Life at its best.

At the time, sex and gender were not very complicated to me either. Man and woman, right? By the third grade, I’m not even sure I knew what homosexual meant except for a crass joke we enjoyed when we learned the words, homo sapiens. After science class, some of us went around asking our friends and younger kids if they were homo sapiens. For children, it was a monumental attempt at humor to get someone to deny being human for fear of thinking they were homosexual. It was also the 1970s. Need I say more?

I think it was not until junior high school that I knew what lesbian meant. A teacher gently spoke with me in the hallway as I flopped around singing made up words using the Name Game song. Earlier, I had seen a sign announcing a meeting for the Thespian Club. I aptly used the word thespian and started singing as I approached my next class, “Thespian, thespian, lo-lesbian, Banana-fana fo-fesian. Fee-fi-mo-mesbian. Lesbian! From there, I began to proudly exclaim that I was a lesbian in the most authoritative, Spakespearean voice I could muster.

After singing variations of the Thespian-Lesbian song, a wise and kind Asian teacher with jet black, shoulder length hair, who I had a tepid crush on, stopped me in the hallway, smiling, and asked me, “Do you know what a lesbian is?” My initial curt reaction was, “Well, no!” As I thought about it at the time, the question seemed to be ridiculous to me. She astutely placed her hand on my shoulder and explained, “Honey, a lesbian is a woman who likes other women.”

Stopped in my tracks, I stood dumbfounded, mouth wide open peering around to see if anyone else noticed. I had this sinking feeling where I simultaneously felt everyone had left me out of this inside joke or no one knew it and I was the first one to learn it. Safely assured that I learned something no one else in my grade had learned, I sauntered on to class as the teacher returned to stand next to her classroom door waiting for the bell to ring.

Today, we live in a world where people are far more aware and knowledgeable about gender, sex, sexual orientation, and sexual attraction. However, controversy continues to plague some communities trying to sort out how to make sense of the politics, the role of religious faith, doctrine, and tradition, and what to do with coming generations. Although we have greater access to information unseen in our history, many of us continue to be blind to the obvious dynamics and subtleties surrounding us. For many, the changing tides in people’s perceptions and deeper understanding is a backdrop for the ongoing backlash against those in the LGBT community.

There continues to be those in the middle who are not sure what to make of the controversies, are aware of LGBT hate and discrimination, and want information to decipher the issues they may have never seriously questioned before. For those in the middle, sex and gender seem so uncomplicated, when in actuality, they are far more sophisticated than what we are led to believe.

As a first step, the following VBlog helps to provide a basis for understanding gender, sex, romantic attraction, sexual orientation, and other aspects of human sexuality. Share the video with others who might want a short explanation in easy to understand terms. Share your thoughts and reactions with us below.

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Originally published at jelaniaustin.com on March 17, 2014.

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