Don’t Speak: On Black Women, Queers and Sex Ed

 A version of this article was featured Bitch Magazine. Check it Out!

 

Black Queer Couple

Being the queerio I am, I have this pass time of regularly Googling queer sex related topics in the news for fun. Hey, who knows, maybe there’s some new sex toy I need to learn about #possibleTMI. Well this time, I was met with less than awesome news; Black women are less likely to get HPV Vaccines. According to a recent Health article,a  only 18 percent of black women from 18 to 24  as opposed to one third of white women ( across all income lines), have started taking the vaccine.

“Given that cervical cancer is more common and associated with higher mortality in African-American and Hispanic women than in white women, it is especially important to understand the barriers to HPV vaccination for these populations.”

Black women, as I’ll further explain, have a history of doing less when it comes to sex protection. So in the words of the ever-dope Salt-n-Pepa,  “let’s talk about sex”, people. No not that sex. The boring sex; sex education.

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection of them all. To clarify, the HPV vaccine only protects against two out of the 40 different kinds of HPV. However, these two types, 16 and 18,  are the most likely to cause cervical cancers down the road.  I must be honest, for the longest time I thought it was far more difficult for one to contract HPV in lesbian sex than in heterosexual sex. Sadly though, it turns out we can catch it just as easily, and in similar ways, as can a straight person. According to the Cancer Network, we can catch cervical cancer through genital on genital contact, touching partner’s genitals then our own, or sharing uncleaned toys. Bisexual women and even some self-identified lesbians have also had sex with men, which increases the risk of HPV even more so.

As a black person from the conservative south, I understand that it’s not really a big thing in black culture to discuss sex. I notice more of a “mums the word” approach. In high school, I remember discussing with a few female friends, all black, the ever-awkward “talk” parents give. You know, “the talk.” I was stunned to find my mother was the only one out of all my friends to have given me some version of the talk when I turned ten. Though my mother’s awkward ramble was totally hetero-centric (as I was not out and proud at the mere age of ten), I’m so thankful today that she even went there for me, as I learned not a lot of parents do. I’ve noticed as I grow older that no matter how liberal sexually a black woman is, it is more respectable and acceptable to keep it to ourselves than to vocalize. In a poignant article from Bitch Magazine, Tamara Winfrey Harris further discussed the active silence black women practice when it comes to the subject of sex.

Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.”

Acting overly prudish whether we (black women) actually are or not,  is meant to work as a neutralizer for us when compared to non-black women, as we are already attached to so many other negative stereotypes. But I must ask, is it really beneficial to express virginity if you know that’s not what’s up? I think not, because it hurts us as black women on a fundamental health level, as you can see from these statistics, courtesy of WomensHealth.gov –

  • Chlamydia rates that are more than seven times higher
  • Gonorrhea  rates that are about 16 times higher
  • Syphilis rates that are 21 times higher

However, the avoidance of sex ed talk doesn’t just go for black folks.  Queers in general seem to have this air about us that implies some sort of magical-STIs- shield, more so than straight folks. I say this from a completely personal perspective, as my experience in relationships and conversations with close friends have illustrated this idea to me. It is as if we feel since we are not having hetero sex, we’re safe. That is why it’s important to broaden our understandings of what sex actually is, so that we stay protected in all sexual situations. Especially when facts like these exist; lesbians (of all colors) are far more likely to develop cervical cancers than are heterosexual women.

Full disclosure, I hate all doctor’s visits, let alone doctors that have total V.I.P  access to my who-ha. Nothing sexy about it. I especially don’t like having to wonder whether my doctor is LGBTQ friendly, because if they’re not, the whole experience can be quite traumatizing. Who wants discrimination while simply trying to be healthy? Well, I come to you with great news. Queer allies have got our backs when it comes to pre-sexy-time woes.  The Human Rights Campaign has created an annual Healthcare Equality Index in which hundreds of gay-friendly hospitals and clinics make themselves known. Also, many LGBT centers all over the country offer or support companies that offer free and low-cost HIV testing specifically for our community on a regular basi

Consider all those times you had sex and protection didn’t once cross your mind. Mhmm. It happens. But the fact is, it should. I agree, depending on what you’re into, it can be harder to protect against STIs as a vagatarian; Yep, I went there. But in the long run, caution is really the best way to go. I’m not saying we all need to run out and get that HPV vaccine like, now, as there are precautions and arguments against it, let alone the many qualms some people have with vaccines in general. The real concern this Health News article raised was the overarching need for women and queers of color to do so much more when it comes to sex education and protection. As much as I like to think of us queerios as some sort of superhuman species within ourselves, we must accept the fact that no one is invincible. We’re all subject to contracting a sexually transmitted infection. The great thing is, if we’re careful and responsible, there’s a lot we can do to avoid them.

 

Poor Kid, Rich Kid

   My sister teaches special education and my father has worked in the school system for over thirty years, helping to form my unapologetically biased love and respect for the value of our teachers in the United States. Furthermore, it’s no surprise that education was hugely emphasized in my upbringing. my ability to focus so strongly on school related greatly to my financial privilege, coming from a financially stable -middle class family. I recognize this privilege and understand  not every child is so lucky. However, it doesn’t seem our education system cares so much about this disparity, as child after child from lower income families is being left in the dust when it comes to quality schools.

 

With income disparity among the poor and the very rich higher than ever, and a system that values instant gratification over investing in our future, many low-income children are left in the dust of a stale and antiquated education system.

In  high-poverty schools, more than one in every five core classes (21.9 percent) are taught by an out-of-field teacher, compared with one in nine classes or 10.9 percent in low-poverty schools

  Though legislation like No Child Left Behind set laws to close the gap of unqualified teachers per low-income schools versus higher-income schools,the disparity between the two is still strong today.The Independent Budget Office of New York released a study showing the link between poverty and low test scores, stating that students who qualify for free lunch are far more likely to fail tests than student who are eligible for subsidized meals. Wealthier areas can afford to invest in their programs and curriculum, furthermore helping students from already privileged backgrounds, to excel even more. This goes the opposite for low income areas, in which poorer schools are not invested in, and students that already have late starts academically are left behind.

More than 40% of Low-Income Schools Don’t Get a Fair Share of State and Local Funds.

Teachers cannot adequately invest in this disparity.  In a response to the editors piece on the need for higher pay for teachers, T. Elijah Hawkes, principal of  James Baldwin School in Manhattan, stressed the dilemma in expecting teachers to transform lives of students in hardship simply by teaching.

Until we perceive child poverty as something to be fixed not by our schools but by wage, labor, taxation and health care policy, we will continue to place unrealistic expectations on teachers, and see them as to blame for dashed American dreams.

Low-income schools are subject programs that force underprivileged students to learn from insubstantial teaching standards.  Teach for America, while offering wonderful opportunities  for recent college graduates, does not benefit our education system as a whole. Unqualified teachers are sent to low income, over crowded schools where unaccounted for students need closer attention, not less. After months of minimal training and often times, no previous teacher’s training, these TFA recruits attempt to teach students to reach minimal test requirements. If we want to expect more from our teachers, we must raise our standards of what it means to be a teacher. Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, Mark Naison wrote a piece about how Teach for America has spoken out about his disdain for the program in the Washington Post

Until Teach For America becomes committed to training lifetime educators and raises the length of service to five years rather than two, I will not allow TFA to recruit in my classes.  The idea of sending talented students into schools in impoverished areas, and then after two years encouraging them to pursue careers in finance, law, and business in the hope that they will then advocate for educational equity really rubs me the wrong way.

Every child deserves the opportunity to excel, not just the kids from well-to-do backgrounds. No Child Left Behind, in which the administration attempted to close the gap between school’s successes failed, and much of that reason is because poor schools were not given the adequate resources to meet those standards that were expected of them. Teach for America is not the answer, and it’s time we move more towards a system that better recognizes  financial disparity rather than general requirements for students that are not starting out on the same level playing field as their peer.