A member of my extended family, “Jane,” is a public health nurse. One aspect of her work that she finds both delightful and challenging is being invited into school classrooms to offer presentations on reproduction and/or sexuality matters, depending on grade levels.
Jane recently told a story of being invited to a Grade 5 classroom in a small town school. The teacher was young and enthusiastic, and worked with Jane to create a safe, open and honest environment where important learning could happen. Given the grade level, this was to be mostly an informative discussion of reproductive organs and how they in fact reproduce. Jane laughed as she remembered pointing at her charts, and inviting the class to name the various components after her. She had insisted that the words, “penis” and “vagina” were repeated, over and over again, until the kids could say them without giggling.
The discussion went well. The class seemed to understand that they could say and ask most anything. Again, Jane chuckled as she recalled a boy, who, after giggling for probably 30 seconds, blurted out his question. “Can two gay men have a baby?”
Ever matter of fact, Jane referred the class back to her charts to explain that, no, between two males, a uterus is lacking, and so some other means is needed to bring about progeny. Given her thoughtful response, the children rushed on to bring out more hidden questions.
When class time ended, the teacher, obviously realizing that these students would now step into different environments, cautioned the kids, “Now this isn’t something to talk about on the bus on the way home, if you have more questions, come talk to me!” And once more, Jane chuckled, “I was done, on my way home, and it seemed like this young teacher was realizing that if there was fallout, it would land in her lap!”
At this point in our conversation, Jane’s partner interjected, proudly pointing out that in the various high school classes where Jane has presented her “sexuality” discussion over many years, teen pregnancy rates stand at very near zero.
I was enormously heartened by this conversation. In fact, I suggested to Jane that we should perhaps have her bring some manner of this conversation to our grandchildren. She was very comfortable with the thought, pointing out that in her experience, differing ages and maturity levels mattered less than the sense of trust, that kids interact and learn at the levels where their understanding and curiosity lie.
We are well aware that the secretive blanket that has been thrown over sexuality has resulted in dysfunction, perversion, confusion, and unhealthy power issues. I delight in the matter of fact “Janes” of the world who roll that blanket back, albeit respectfully, honestly, pragmatically, and with a healthy dose of humour . Freedom lies there.
The world is better and stronger when gentle people say honest and hopeful things. At any age, humans are better equipped to make decisions when they are entrusted with accurate information. The world, including the church, has not always offered that. It is telling that Jane, a very spiritual person, does this work through her secular day job.
Recent news media has brought the story of the Supreme Court of Canada naming the pamphlets of a zealous Saskatchewan Christian as hate literature. The topic, of course, is homosexuality. Few issues (astoundingly) engender the extreme reaction as same sex matters. It seems that we drag our feverish “isms” through the holy book hoping that a few verses will stick, and then build exclusive theology on those words.
Jane and her ilk have a huge and central role to play. Churches do as well, but are often poorly equipped to go there in gentle ways. Jane does holy work, offering trust to young spirits, inviting them to believe that with honest information, those spirits are better equipped to make life giving decisions.
“The truth will set you free.”