In areas of the country, where education itself is a challenge, to teach about, gender, sex, and the LGBTQ+ has many more hurdles to pass. The complexity of the entire affair is pretty high. Before we teach, there are many components that have to be considered. This means that the process could be longer than imagined, and the progress, slower. So we asked two young teachers, who work in underprivileged sectors of the cities and villages to help us understand it better.
After completing her post-graduation from Manipal Center for Humanities and decided to join Azim Premji Foundation. She also has always wanted to teach, especially to kids from rural regions. She adds, “I think I have that now, because I’m in a government school five days a week, but I also have to read and write continuously. Every day, I meet different people who are either from around here or from big cities. They’re all passionate about education and have worked in the field for years. I take my conversations with them and combine it with my experience in school and the readings I’ve been doing to create my own methods to make learning more effective in my school.”
A graduate from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, joined ‘Teach for India’ in her final semester. As someone who always wanted to teach, she sought many opportunities during her time in college, to try her hand at it. As a student in her session, I promise, she is absolutely brilliant. At Teach for India, she taught prominently in the slum regions of Hyderabad. But, she also spent a few months in rural areas. She joined TFI because it provided her with the perfect opportunity to understand the current situation of the country, apart from other things.
Let’s now get straight down to the point. How do we teach children from every sector in society about LGBTQ+?
Context of what and what cannot be taught is set by the community boundaries. One cannot scandalize or create chaos when education is the top priority. The students should be endowed with skills and the abilities to rise above situations. And thus, speaking about the LGBTQ+ could be a process that needs a lot of greasing of the wheels.
Trishima talks about her engagement with the community through her kids.
The deeply entrenched rules and ideas of gender given by society that perpetuates among the children. The community I teach in is in the Urban area slum, which is a predominantly Muslim region that is quite orthodox.
They have exposure to media, in the sense that they watch a lot of television. This exposes them to these saas-bahu serials which only re-assures the vindictive ideas of how each sex should behave. Their own cultural ideologies are another thing that they subscribe to. The communities are so closed that any of thought or new ideas do not penetrate easily.”
That is the top froth of how we understand education in the underprivileged regions.
The root problems should be dealt with, in order to reach a point where conversing about the LGBTQ+ is not a topic of shame or taboo. She continues,
“The community is known for the marriage market. Old men from middle-eastern countries come to India, marry girls who are as young as 13 and 14. They have intercourse with these girls for about a month or two. Then, they divorce these children and leave. I have lost my children (students) to practices like this. This is acceptable and is even validated by people in the community and in power like the Maolvi.
This makes it difficult to initiate conversations about queerness or non-heteronomy.”
The Story of Yadgir
Archana teaches in Yadgir, which is a rural district in Karnataka. She recently joined the team at the foundation and is getting acquainted with the setup. She explains how gender roles are practiced in Yadgir. “Since this is a rural space, its never as simple as – girls do all the work, boys do nothing. They just have a different set of jobs that they need to finish.”
She elaborates on one of the situations in the school she teaches.
“The kids are supposed to maintain their own classrooms. So, sweeping duties are assigned roll number wise. But I see that it is almost always girls who do the sweeping. When asked, they say that the boys cleverly get out of it by doing it slowly, or terribly. The teachers then tell the girls to take over and finish quickly. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the boys do nothing. They help set things up for the prayer, help move things around, carry water for cleaning plates and the like during lunch. Point is – you can’t be doing nothing.”
Evidently, the education systems are trying to break-down old systems of gender-roles and increase equality. Practicing it, even within schools are a good place to increase progress towards building a gender-discrimination free society. But there is more that is to be battled.
Complexities within the realm of teaching
When things like child-marriage are considered normal and are accepted by society, it is obviously very difficult for children to even think about ideas of LGBTQ+. Or to even identify that they might have feelings for someone of the same-sex, says Trishima. She says, “It is simply unheard of. Even in the textbooks, it is a very heteronormative ideology that is propagated. The educators are also quite nasty sometimes and use problematic language. It is a set specific gender-roles that you are not allowed to deviate from. And if you do, if you are slightly more feminine or masculine, then you are ridiculed for it.”
Archana’s experience with Yadgir, and how gender roles are practiced are not entirely similar to Trishima’s.”Whether the non-imposition of gender roles gets carried over in everyday practice is another thing. I am starting really slow. I know a new set of guidelines will not help. A talk or conference will just tire out teachers who already attend several such events in a month. Dealing with gender stereotypes would mean that each person within the school, especially the teachers understand this bias on a deeper level and make it a priority to tackle them. Education regarding gender roles is happening, at least in Yadgir district.”
Teachers tend to be more in power to create conversations among students.
But, one also has to remember their privileges and take a step back before they critique.
This is Trishima’s take. “A lot of fellows come from very privileged backgrounds and have friends from the community, we know a little bit more, I suppose. We have a curriculum we follow, we have a circle, where we encourage our students to share and we talk to them about things like this. Over the past two years, it is something I have tried repeatedly to talk about. I have tried to initiate a conversation about how gender is fluid, it is okay if boys want to wear a dress, and it is okay to live in a world where these stereotypes are not so strong. Telling them that these stereotypes are harmful, to begin with.
We even speak about reproductive health and sexuality. I also used to teach Biology apart from English. This meant that I was in charge of the chapter on reproduction. So I took the moments to teach them about safe-sex, contraception, reproductive health. As a teacher, you can always bring it in, when you want to.”
There are many tactics that teachers can use to knock on the chain of thought. There is a need for children to think beyond and believe that they can are good judges of things.
What Archana does with her students runs on this idea too.
I have actually had girls walk up to me and tell me to wear a saree tomorrow because I’ll look beautiful then. I tell them, I think I look beautiful now.
They blush and go away, but another girl tells me I have to wear a bindi, or I look like a Muslim. I ask them what happens in their village if they won’t wear a bindi. They tell me and I ask them many questions. You have to ask them the right questions.”
Simplifying ideas to the Children
We asked both people how they initiate conversations of gender identity or sex in such closed places. “I have conversations with the kids. And I talk to the girls. I tell them to come to me in case the boys try to get out of cleaning duty because they see me as their Teacher and that position of authority is something they respond to. When the older girls ask questions about me living alone, or my tattoo, or just the way I dress, I try to be really careful with my responses. I try to introduce them to little details that they find different about me. Most often, these kids completely take you by surprise with the things they say.” says Archana
Trishima gave us a small snippet of an incident that occurred during her fellowship, which helps illustrate a point. “At the end of my fellowship, on my farewell, a few of the kids were eating with me when they told me they wanted me to get married. And that they would find me a nice boy. So I asked them, what if I did not want to marry a boy and want to marry a girl. In a heartbeat, the kids turned around to a colleague and asked her if she would marry me. For kids from a community like to say something like this is in itself a pretty big change in their behaviour, and the way they were looking at things. For them to say, that if didi does not like a man, and likes a woman, it is okay.”
LGBTQ+ ideas can be explained easily to kids.
There is a need to create conversation among them to create a diverse and accepting society for a better future. An important factor that affects this is contextualisation. How do we rewrite and reinterpret ideas that actually fit with their own society? Look at this example Archana shares.
“It’s about getting them to ask the questions they want to actually deal with. How do you think feminism while talking to a girl who wakes up at 4 in the morning and does all the household chores before coming to school because her parents and brothers are all away for work? I’m not at all saying creating a conversation about gender is futile – it is an urgent need. But the questions will have to emerge from them. If it doesn’t, then it’s futile.”
Efficient communication and creating a safe space
The efficiency of teachers is one of the most important things in order to help students understand concepts. I know of fellows who have taught rocket science to kids, and the kids understand it. And I know colleagues of mine who have taught gender-fluidity, transgender rights, and sex-worker rights, since she used to work in a red-light area, to a third standard classroom. I think a well-equipped teacher will be able to simplify material and deliver it across. In this particular case, the teacher has to know what they are talking about. This requires a certain amount of research on the part of the teacher. They have to have a working understanding of the concepts and what the terms mean to know how it works. Delivering content correctly is something we should work on.
What the kids take away from the story is up to them.
The students are very smart, we should be giving them the benefit of the doubt. We should trust our students. As educators, we should be comfortable talking about things. We cannot create that bubble of shame by hushing words like sex, penis, or vagina. Our teachers were uncomfortable while approaching about it, so most of us, until our days in college, were also uncomfortable. But when I was upfront and honest about it and spoke about it with ease, my children who were in 8th and 9th grade were able to do the same. They did not have a problem using these words. But I could see that the students who weren’t taught by me, would have a sense of shame or be shy.
Entertainment and Media
Trishima says that “A great way to talk about these issues in closed communities is through drama. A good play can help convey the message and the story. Another big influence could be the media. The privileged get to monitor what the kids watch. But in this case, media is merely for entertainment. And what they watch is pretty ridiculous as mentioned earlier. Having more inclusive media and spaces like that would really help.”
Since we have a lot more LGBTQ+ inclusive movies, does that make educating kids easier?
She says, it does not affect kids due to three reasons.
- Language Barrier
- Picking movies approved for kids
- Context barrier, if it is not close to context, the kids do not get it.
Would it be better if people from the community could interact with the kids, how would they react? “Kids are curious, they might ask offensive questions, but they like interacting with people. But we usually tend to advise the kids to use their discretion before they tell a certain kind of things to their parents.
The Paradigm of the Privileged and the Underprivileged
This gave rise to an interesting axis of who should be teaching the children?
The source of information is essential to decide what people should pay attention to, and what they may not. Archana reminds us, “I think it requires a sensitive teacher to bring these lessons to the classrooms. What if the teacher does not initiate a proper conversation? What if the teacher speaks of these characters like it is a matter of ridicule? Or worse, what if it is read out like any other story and there isn’t any room given for the kids to wonder about these characters? Haven’t we all grown up to realise that at some point, some character we had come across was clearly queer, or lower-caste, or belonged to some community that is looked down upon? I have no experience with this particular question, but I do think a lot of work has to be done to find out how these tales are being introduced.”
Regarding who should be teaching, she says,
“I do know it can have a terrible effect if someone from the outside starts to educate the kids, teachers or the community. A bias that did not exist until now could then grow. It depends on what kind of social or cultural setup the village has. The kids in my school, for example, have never interacted with Muslims. They know about festivals like Eid, but all they have is a vague idea. And this is the case even though Yadgir as a district has a large Muslim population.”
Archana still tries to tackle the situation
“I think I’m also afraid of creating a vague concept of queerness among the kids. They’re going to go out into the world, come across and meet people from the LGBTQ+ community, but I’m really confused how one can go about educating them before they’re ever encountered someone from the community. Children learn about a lot of things they haven’t necessarily experienced or encountered themselves, but I don’t think queerness should come to them at the same level as the pyramids in Egypt.”