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50 Years of Queer Anger: Everyone should take a gender and sexuality course

A. Pallas Gutierrez, Columnist

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This is the fifth column in “50 Years of Queer Anger,” a series examining LGBTQ+ issues in the United States since 1969.

Sexuality and gender are fundamental aspects of our society. We relate to each other differently based on perceived identity, different laws and regulations impact people based on their gender and sexuality, and resources are available to different groups based on their identities. But very few high schools offer classes in gender and sexuality, and in college, such classes are often regarded as niche. I believe this classification is flawed, and everyone should take at least one gender and sexuality class.

This quarter, I am taking two such courses — Sexual Subjects: Introduction to Sexuality Studies and Imagining the Internet: Fiction, Film & Theory. Each class has introduced me to different aspects of sexuality studies: Sexual Subjects has given me a historical look at how the study of gender and sexuality has changed since Michel Foucault pioneered the field, and Imagining the Internet has made me reconsider how identity is constructed in a digital space.

Both of these areas are deeply tied to the unique experiences of American society within today’s globalized world. Defining sexuality and gender have increasingly become areas of public debate and discussion, and digital media of all kinds fundamentally shapes how people treat each other. These two classes have helped me understand both the niche fields in which they operate and, more broadly, how people relate to each other.

For decades, sex and everything around it has been deemed taboo in American society. Because of this stigma, it is very difficult for people who don’t learn about sexuality in academic contexts to acquire the requisite knowledge through other pathways. Every student, regardless of their own sexual orientation and gender identity, should take a gender and sexuality class just to better understand how these fundamental parts of human existence — identity and attraction — function in individual and group contexts.

Even those who feel they have a background in gender and sexuality from before college, whether through independent research or lived experience, should continue their studies once at the university level. Going more in depth about these topics can help people who aspire to be community organizers and activists understand themselves, their positionality and their community in order to better organize for change.

Taking gender and sexuality classes can broaden your horizons. Despite how fundamental gender and sexuality are to history and our present society, the general public is often uneducated in the specificities of these topics. Sex education of any kind is only mandated in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and only 5 percent of LGBTQ students report having health classes that included positive representations of LGBTQ-related topics. If students are not provided with simple information that would keep them safe, it’s not surprising that we do not receive more nuanced general education on sexuality and gender. Seeing yourself in a classroom environment, whether that means your gender, sexual orientation or experiences with sex, can be incredibly empowering — especially when classes add nuance and information to your lived perspective.

There are so many different courses offered through the gender and sexuality studies program and other departments that everyone can find something they’re interested in, whether that’s Medieval Sexuality or Heterosexualities: Past, Present and Future.

Understanding how scholarly and societal views on sexuality and gender have evolved can also help people to understand motivations behind other historical movements. Alfred Kinsey’s work challenged the dominant views about sexuality in the 1950s, which can partially explain the sexual liberation movement that took place in the 1960s and ’70s, which in turn may have contributed to the emergence of the gay liberation movement. Contemporary and modern scholarship around AIDS can help explain why the epidemic expanded and occurred in the way that it did. There are many intersections with race, class, religion and age that are not often talked about in everyday conversations about sexuality and gender, but are important to discuss and support. To ignore how these topics, even when not explicitly stated, shape history is to ignore a part of how humans relate to each other and understand themselves.

A. Pallas Gutierrez is a Communication first-year. They can be contacted at pallas2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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