When I was five years old, I went to day camp and my best friend and I decided that one day, we were going to get married. I mean, who would ever want to marry a boy, thought my 5-year-old brain. They had cooties and picked their noses! No, I was going to have a pink wedding and we would both wear white dresses and princess crowns and live in a castle where no boys were allowed. That seemed like a perfectly sound arrangement to me, so I couldn’t understand why our camp counselors were so appalled by the idea. They told us that girls were supposed to marry boys, and that was just the way it was.
I don’t remember the exact moment I first became conscious of what “gay” meant, but I know that however it was introduced, it was planted in my brain as more of an abnormality than a natural occurrence. This is typical of many American children. Through observation and education, or lack thereof, they initially understand a heterosexual relationship's characteristics, and then often perceive homosexuality as an atypical variation, rather than a perfectly acceptable alternative.
In Japan, however, sexuality education seems to be heading in a new direction. Thanks to a fabulous poster that debuted at Saitama Prefecture’s Sayama Keizai School, kids are being provided with a plethora of options and explanations in regard to their bourgeoning sexual identities. The chart, which was placed outside the nurses office and entitled “Who Will You Come to Like?,” uses simple, nonjudgmental illustrations to explain the terms straight, gay, bisexual, and asexual as well as the innate development of sexual orientation.
Here is the translation:
When young people reach puberty they often like other people, this is called sexual attraction. Depending on who a person likes, this is their sexual orientation. Most are heterosexual, but people who are homosexual and bisexual are not altogether a small group. Sexual orientation is innate and it cannot be changed by intervention, so there is no need to change your preferences.
However, adolescence is a time when one generally discovers their sexual orientation. When it comes to understanding one’s sexual orientation, one should take as much time as is needed.
I absolutely love this poster and hope that American schools start to follow Japan’s lead in refining the language used to educate children about sexuality. But while the chart is a huge leap forward for sexual education, it fails to address the difference between "gender" and "sexuality." It's imperative that children grow up with an awareness that not everyone fits nicely into a strictly pink or blue gendered label.
In order to nurture self-awareness and confidence in children, we must teach them that there is no such thing as "normal" or "right" in regard to personal identity. We are who we are, and that is exactly who we are supposed to be.