Nicole Jedrzejko / The Silhouette
Do you use the word ‘queer?’ Communities at Mac and throughout the world have begun challenging the word and its uses, saying it proudly embraces any orientation from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, questioning and intersex people into its umbrella. ‘Queer’ is becoming a re-empowerment through unity under one term that knocks down its derogatory history and acknowledges all. This is still an ongoing process, with academia and the younger generation spearheading the change but its derogatory influence still remembered by older generations. The power of this word, of uniting under this term, is strong and clear. So why aren’t queer sexual health education messages the same?
There have been whispers of change in our current sexual health education curriculum in elementary and high schools for years now. That curriculum has not been updated since 1997, years before social media, sexting, the Internet and more modernizations have altered the definition of sexual activity for many young people. A sex ed curriculum change has recently been brought to the table by Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first female Premier of Ontario and first openly gay Premier of Canada. Changes including teaching the anatomical names of body parts in Grade 1, discussing sexual orientation, identity and invisible differences in Grade 3 and non-vaginal (i.e., oral, anal) sex in Grade 6-7 have been proposed. The most noticeable changes are for Grade 3 students, where respect for people’s differences is the focus of sexual orientation lessons. Some call the change political suicide. Some call it necessary.
Regardless of the controversy over this curriculum change, sex ed includes the same principles, no matter what orientation category you find yourself in. And yet sex ed campaigns seems to separate the hetero and queer communities. Mac’s Student Wellness Centre has made great efforts to include the queer community in all sex ed resources, but the fact still remains that many healthcare professionals often make quick judgments and mistakes based on perceived expectations of the queer community’s sexual habits. Assumptions are often made that the queer community is “sexually charged” because of more overt sexual discussion. But many queer people do not fit into that category, and all still deserve a safe, non-judgmental environment to get sex ed.
For our generation, queer sex ed did not happen in schools. It is hard to get information on queer health, and even those brave enough to seek information do so online or by quickly sticking their hand in SHEC’s condom basket. Open and honest discussions with your healthcare provider are a great place to begin. Here are some starting points:
- HEALTH HISTORY: Trusting your provider with a complete health history is important, especially details on medication and past surgeries. Find a provider that is the right one for you to ensure you deservingly receive the best possible care.
- SAFE SEX: Males who have sex with males (MSM) are at increased risk of HIV infection, while everyone in the queer community is still susceptible to STDs. Regular testing if engaging in unsafe sex and screening (e.g., Pap smears) are very important.
- CANCERS: Females who have sex with females (FSF) are at higher risk for breast and gynecological cancers due to irregular screening, while MSM are still at risk of prostate, testicular and colon cancers. Regular breast and pelvic exams for FSF are recommended.
- MENTAL HEALTH: A huge stigma even in the queer community where mental health issues are significantly prevalent, discussing depression, anxiety and intimate partner violence is crucial in supporting relationships and the people within them. Be aware and be supportive.
- VACCINES for MSM: With an increased risk of contracting the Hepatitis virus, get the Hep A and B shots while still maintaining safe sex to prevent contracting Hep C.
- HORMONES for TRANS* PEOPLE: Trans* men (assigned female at birth, identify as male) should ask about blood tests needed to ensure testosterone doses are safe. Trans* women (assigned male at birth, identify as female) should ask about estrogen and blood clots, swelling, high or low blood pressure and high blood sugar. Pay attention to your body and discuss any significant changes with your provider.
With the queer rights movement strongly moving towards change, it is important to remember that regardless of your involvement in the queer community, we all must be allies if change is to occur. So much of our Mac community strength comes down to mutual respect for one another. Accept past and present mistakes you are making regarding assumptions of the queer community, acknowledge and reflect on your emotions and listen to other people’s perspectives. Being an ally does not simply mean saying you’re pro-queer rights; conscious efforts to create a positive space every day must be made. The queer people you know are not meant to be your resources, nor is it their responsibility to market information to heterosexuals. There is information out there, from our own QSCC on 2nd-floor MUSC to the LGBTQ Community Wellness Centre (“The Well”) in downtown Hamilton and Rainbow Health Ontario. Take the time to educate yourself about the queer community, self-direct your learning and if all else fails, remember to give everyone a chance to have the life they want.