Birds, bees and poisonous rhetoric on sex ed in Ontario

Sexual orientation isn’t a lifestyle. It’s a life sentence.

Birds, bees and poisonous rhetoric

Photography by Andrew Tolson

Fall, it seems, is the official season for scare tactics—and I’m not talking about Halloween. I’m talking about sex, and a coming of age tradition that’s supposed to render it totally unsexy: sex education—or, as I remember it, a queasy 45 minutes of watching your teacher put a condom on a banana and advocate something called “heavy petting” as an alternative to “doing it.” Apparently, though, sex ed’s just not what it used to be, and lefty school boards across Canada are brainwashing kids as young as six to believe they can—according to Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College—“change their gender.” McVety, a televangelist who says he has many “ex-gay friends” (friends who used to be gay, not, decidedly, the other way around) is behind, a pet project of his Institute for Canadian Values, creator of the controversial advertisement pictured with this column.

The motive behind the ad, and what had Charles McVety’s moral shorts in a knot, was a controversial plan of the Ontario Liberal government to institute a more comprehensive sex education curriculum—one that included teaching Grade 3 students about homosexuality and Grade 7 students about anal and oral sex. The fact that the Liberals walked away from their plans in the face of ferocious opposition was apparently not enough to assuage McVety (who, buoyed by examples in a resource guide for the Toronto school board, maintains that children across Ontario are even now being required to cross-dress to show solidarity with various sexually “confused” communities).That McVety is right to the extent that such a plan would be a bad idea (the educational merits of cross dressing are beyond me) is irrelevant because he’s wrong about virtually everything else. And he’s not alone.

There are factions working to oust sexual diversity platforms (the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, to name one) from sex ed curricula across the country. And the most egregious thing about their scarily popular ideology isn’t that it’s criminally transphobic; it’s criminally dumb. The doe-eyed little girl in the ad, for example, won’t denounce her biological sex because she learns somebody else once did. Gender dysphoria and homosexuality aren’t contagious; they’re God-given. (If they weren’t—if gay people could “pray the gay away”—they would probably do so somewhere in that “wonderful” time between puberty and college—that, at least, is what I would have done.)

We aren’t, that is, talking about a choice here—which is precisely what McVety and the Institute for Canadian Values are talking about. Which does have some novel implications: it took me about five minutes of conversation with McVety to realize that his view on sexual identity was more fluid and radical than any view held by his liberal adversaries. “[Such a curriculum] can definitely change their understanding of their gender identity,” McVety told me. “The fact is, you have many people who one day identify themselves as a man and then identify themselves as female and then later change to two-spirited.” And educational instruction, he argues, is a legitimate catalyst for this kind of chameleon behaviour. So school is to sexual orientation what advertising is to your choice of toilet-paper brand. McVety and his allies are like an unfunny version of Larry David, who wrote in the New York Times that he refused to see the movie Brokeback Mountain because he was afraid it would turn him into a homosexual (not that there was anything wrong with that).

One of the most deceptive corollaries attached to the myth of “sexual choice” is the idea that your orientation denotes a lifestyle. In college I drank heavily and ate entire wheels of cheese in one sitting. Some would call this a “high risk” lifestyle. Now I work in an office and eat at my desk; a lifestyle you might call “sedentary.” But I do not, nor have I ever lived, a gay lifestyle. Why? Because sexual orientation isn’t a lifestyle: it’s a life sentence.

But pundits like McVety and the people who back them continue to hammer at the idea of choice, which is why their rhetoric is so poisonous. These people are intellectually dishonest to the detriment of the children they claim to protect. McVety’s assumption that kids are too young to learn about homosexuality, let alone to accept homosexuals, certainly would have failed Jamey Rodemeyer, the 14-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., teen whose suicide was preceded by years of gay bashing long before he began high school.

The truth is that the Institute for Canadian Values’ objection isn’t to the age-appropriateness of the education; it’s to the message that being gay or trans is not morally inferior to being straight. And they have an ideological ally in the National Post’s resident killjoy, right-wing columnist Barbara Kay, who argues that talking to young kids about transsexuality will result in the “betrayal of children’s right to biological confidence.” Kay, like McVety, apparently thinks that teaching children to accept homosexuals is impossible without teaching them about homosexual sex. But she’s wrong. The most effective piece of “sex” education I’ve ever witnessed was my cousin explaining to her three-year-old son over dinner that I was in a same-sex relationship. “Sam,” she said, pointing at me and my girlfriend, “they’re in love. Do you know what that means?” Sam looked up from his colouring book, said, “Yeah, yeah, two moms,” and immediately went back to ignoring us. He has yet to try on his mother’s dresses.

(Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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