The first time I came across the word “lesbian”, it was being hurled across the playground as an insult. I was about nine and had no idea what one was, but thought it sounded interesting and exotic. I knew I fancied girls, but I didn’t know there was a word for that. In fact, the only word I could think of to describe my attraction to members of the same sex was “disgusting”.
If only I’d been taught, aged five perhaps, that what I was feeling was actually pretty mundane and this “lesbian” thing was about as exotic as a Marmite sandwich. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have burst into tears when I came out to my mum, aged ten. And maybe then I wouldn’t have kept this strange thing that was my sexuality knotted up inside my guts like an especially vindictive tapeworm, until it burst out of me.
Labour’s plan to introduce LGBT-oriented sex education to five-year-olds is simply one of the best ideas they’ve had. Liberal parents may shrug and say, “cool”, Daily Mail readers may reel off the usual Hallmark conservatism stuff about “loss of innocence”. But for me and all the millions of other LGBT people who know first-hand what it’s like to feel alienated at school purely because of our sexuality, this proposed policy couldn’t be more important.
For too many of us, our first introduction to anything LGBT is via playground meanness. I spent most of my childhood thinking “gay” was a rude word. When I was five, my very accepting parents just didn’t think to tell me that it’s OK for girls to fancy girls, and I didn’t think to ask them. If my teachers had taken it upon themselves to impart that crucial nugget, even as a side note – “A triangle has three sides. Two plus two is four. Oh, by the way, gay people are a thing and that’s fine” – things could’ve been very, very different.
The right wing press, naturally, have taken it upon themselves to remind us that teaching children about sexuality is a harbinger of the apocalypse. The Daily Mail headline “sex lessons for pupils aged five under Labour” seems to suggest that, if Ed Miliband manages to pull it off in May, every kid in the country is going to be issued with a My First Kama Sutra. But with stories like this about homophobic bullying in schools appearing more and more frequently, it’s vital that parents get a grasp of the difference between sexuality and sex. It really isn’t difficult. Not that teaching kids about sex is such a bad thing in the first place.
Aged five, the only narrative I knew about making babies was, “when a mummy and a daddy love each other very much… blah, blah, willy, blah, blah, fanny, something about tadpoles eating eggs, etc”. I wish I’d been taught that, if I ever want to have a baby, a willy doesn’t actually have to be involved, at least not directly. I wish I’d been taught that families come in different shapes and that, sometimes, sex isn’t for making babies at all.
I’m sure that, had my education taken that different turn, my response would still have been to hold back hysterical laughter over a teacher having said the word “sex”. But the stuff about girls liking girls, boys liking boys, and some boys being girls, and girls being boys: that would have changed my life.