Care about body safety?

11 Oct

Just a quick post from Upworthy about a 3rd grade teacher’s developmentally supportive and scaffolding lesson about consent. While I think body safety is an issue that should be universal and nonpartisan (at least for anybody with a body who knows other people with bodies), if this isn’t an issue of concern for you, I think there are still takeaways here about how to have vital conversation that matter to you and that you believe matter for the well-being of children and youth.

And while we’re on the topic of body safety, I think it’s a great opportunity to practice equity and inclusion, which is to say:

  • Address body safety for every individual and all people
  • Address body safety as an issue which impacts different groups of people unfairly.

Does it surprise you to hear that in my work, I come across a common concern about gender and sexuality inclusion, specifically regarding safety in bathrooms, locker rooms, dormitories, and camping and other housing accommodations for students?

Let me be clearer: whether or not folks name it, the concern is for the safety of cisgender and heterosexual students, who may be preyed upon by transgender and queer classmates. And the concern about sexuality inclusion also extends to queer kids acting sexually inappropriately with each other.

Here is where it’s helpful to distinguish between stereotypes and what my colleague D. King refers to as “research-based generalizations”:

  • A stereotype is a fixed idea about what a group of people is like, based on inevitably limited personal experience, social biases and assumptions, and a “made up my mind” (consciously or not) mindset.
  • A research-based generalization not a 100% and forever proven fact, but a theory grounded in some study.

It is a stereotype that transgender and LGBQQ people are more sexually active and inappropriate or predatory than cisgender and heterosexual people. And this isn’t just an unfortunate stereotype; it’s one that drives exclusionary, unfair and even mortally endangering policies and practices. While examples of cisgender and heterosexual sexual misconduct abound, it signals the privilege of these identities that we don’t seem inclined as a society to theorize that cisgender and heterosexual people group may be even more dangerous than transgender and LGBQQ folks combined.

Here’s perhaps a hybrid of stereotype and research-based generalization: locker rooms can be body-unsafe place for any students. While I haven’t found a robust study, different groups have written about bullying in locker rooms as a general issue that is not-limited-to gender identity or sexuality.

And here’s a research-based generalization:

Trans kids suicide stats

Of all the reasons why trans kids may be more susceptible to suicidal ideation, we have to include their cognizance of the stereotypes about people who identify within the cisgender binary.

Which is why we need to teach body safety both as a universal and also with a commitment to bias reduction and anti-discrimination. We need to:

  • Honor the importance of body safety for all.
  • Name homophobia and transphobia and their basis (fact or low-hanging fruit of prejudice?)
  • Point out that focusing only on the behaviors of trans and queer kids creates a blind spot that enables inappropriate and dangerous cis and hetero behavior. And that we have reason to be concerned that a group of kids who are all hetero and cisgender are not, in fact, guaranteed to be body safe.
  • Recognize that this isn’t just an individual behavior issue: it’s a cultural behavioral issue, and an institutional design question. Dorms, locker rooms, bathrooms and other facilities were traditionally designed in the US on the assumption that gender determined sexuality. And that is just not the case. So we need to talk to all kids about body and sexuality safety, include people in the assignments we make about where we presume they will be/feel safe, and offer options to include and empower everyone in our communities to thrive (and here’s the catch) without requiring them to disclose who they are.
  • What?! Kids don’t have to tell us? Yes, I said that. First of all, identity is life-long in formation. Or as Jack Kornfield says, “We think of ourselves as nouns, and we’re really verbs.” So I may not be able to tell you accurately for all time how I identify. Secondly, it may not be safe to disclose. You may want to know, but you don’t have the right to compel me to tell you, especially if I don’t feel safe. Third, it’s not about stereotyping people’s behaviors based on their identities. How people behave is definitely a nature-nurture question, and what communities need to do is focus where they have agency, which is not how someone got born, but how we empower them to be in community with us and us to be in community with them.



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