What’s the difference between a man and a male? How are trans* and queer related? Where does RuPaul fit in this discussion? These are examples of questions I have asked high school students before embarking on a lesson in gender, sex, sexuality and expression.
I have received a variety of answers including:
- “There is no difference between a man and a male!”
- “A man has a penis and a male can be anyone who identifies as male.”
- “I love RuPaul!”
- “What are you?”
After a swift correction that not all men have penises, I reminded the class that we were in a safe space to talk about these issues, and all of their questions were valuable. So let’s brainstorm some answers to those questions!
Brainstorming is an incredibly useful method in sex education because it invites all students to contribute equally, and is not based in hierarchical knowledge. A student can share from personal experience, knowledge they may have gleaned from reading, and interpretations and meanings they’ve developed as a result. There are virtually no right or wrong answers, and each suggestion will be evaluated based on its usefulness. This invites each student to the table and ensures that there is room for everyone.
Another great aspect about brainstorming is that in can be utilized in both small and large groups. For those learners who may be introverted, answering in a large group is preferable to the social aspect of small group work extroverted learners enjoy. Gilbert, Sawyer and McNeill (2011) have detailed a lot of these advantages to brainstorming, and added that it can be utilized at any point during a lesson.
Gilbert et al. (2011) also caution against some of the ways brainstorming can go wrong. It can fail if there is a low energy to the group, and people don’t feel like participating, or students can derail from the topic making it difficult to accomplish the purpose of the exercise.
“RuPaul is a drag queen!”
“Is drag queen a gender?”
“Yes and so is unicorn.”
“RuPaul is also a unicorn.”
Well, yes and no. As an educator, I would rather young learners be excited about engaging with the topic than wish they were anywhere but in the classroom. Still, it can be a Herculean task to bring that train back to the tracks. Some of the suggestions Gilbert et al. (2011) made for when this happens were to use a timer during brainstorming activities. This way, there are specific start and stop times, and a limited amount of time to come up with ideas. Students who have a lot of ideas are encouraged to get them out quickly in anticipation of the next step, and those who may be less connected to the activity know it will come to an end very soon. Having start and stop times have also been beneficial to me because I know exactly when to move on just in case I get caught up in a tangent.
When it comes to gender, sex, sexuality and expression, I often use the Concept Development Model that coincides with brainstorming activities seamlessly. Since the first step in concept development is listing relevant information to the topic, a brainstorming exercise could easy be employed early on in learning by asking students to creatively think about related information. Following the model, this information would then be grouped, synthesized and summarized (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011).
Here’s an example: To reach the objectives of distinguishing between gender, sex, sexuality and expression using the method of brainstorming within the Concept Development Model, I would begin with breaking the class into 4 groups and asking them to come up with anything and everything related to their category. Each group would have gender, sex, sexuality, or expression, and 3 minutes to list as many things as they could think of.
Next, each group would have 3 minutes to lump what they wrote into categories. Perhaps under gender there evolves a distinction between gender role and gender identity; under sex, distinctions between the act versus biological markers. After the information in each group is categorized, and labeled, the class could come back to the larger group for evaluation of the categories. The rest of the class would be spent analyzing each category to decipher if more specialization is needed, and would end when there is consistency and accuracy for gender, sex, sexuality and expression.
It seems simple, but actually requires a lot of practice. Luckily, brainstorming ideas and deducing from a known topic are not only skills every educator can achieve, but also highly useful in a number of ways.
Ok, but where does RuPaul fit in all of this? Last time I checked, she expressly stated that he prefers the label “Fabulous.”
References: Gilbert, G., Sawyer, R., & McNeill, E. (2011). Health education: Creating strategies for school and community health. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. Estes, T., Mints, S., & Gunter, M. (2010). Instruction: A models approach. (6th ed). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, Inc.