Lesson Plans Days 5 & 6: exploring personal narratives by youth and discussing LGBTQ identity

Day Five: Reading Personal Narratives About Identity

Lesson Development: I felt it was important to provide students with plenty of examples of other youth writing personal narratives about identity. Drawing from a collection of personal narratives written by youth called Starting With I: Personal Essays by Teenagers, I selected two essays, both of which deal with socially salient identities and the effect that family and community has on our identities. A Shortcut to Independence is about an Indian girl’s quest to cut off her hair, and in doing so, transgress traditional conceptions of femininity and claim agency for herself. I Hated Myself is an essay by a closeted Latino teenager about his experience with homophobia, depression, and attempted suicide. As I was reading this piece to an eleven and twelve year old audience, it was necessary to omit some passages that deal heavily with recreational drug use. Both of these stories also speak to the issue of internalization of societal values, and serve as an excellent jumping off point to discuss the negative reactions people face when they transgress societal norms.               

  •  Announce that today we’ll be reading some true stories about different people’s identities, starting with our own. Ask for two or three volunteers to share their stories from yesterday’s writing exercise.
  •  “What is nonfiction? What is autobiography? What is a personal narrative?” Briefly develop a common understanding as a class.
  •  “As I read these stories, think about how they relate to the issues of identity and societies rules we’ve been discussing.”
  •  Read Aloud A Shortcut to Independence.
  • · What happened in this story? What stood out to you?
  • · Why did Anita want to cut her hair? How did long hair make her feel? (helpless, high-maintenance)
  • · Was it an easy decision to make? Why? (internalization)
  • · How did her family take it? Why?
  • · What do her friends say? (point out “butch” comment. Why did this happen?)
  • · Why was it important step for her to cut her hair?
  • · p.12 – good passage relating to Alisha’s comments from yesterday about muscular girls looking weird (in this case, short hair – “not looking right”).
  •  Read Aloud I Hated Myself
  • · What happened in this story? What stood out?
  • · What are some of the emotions the author describes feeling?
  • · Why does the author say he hates himself/why does he attempt suicide?
  • · Why is it hard for him to admit to his family that he is gay? What about his friends? Even himself?
  • · What happens when he tells his first person – the guidance counselor?
  • · What is the turning point for the author? (when do things get better and why?)

Day Six: Talking About Sexuality and Gender

Lesson Development: I wanted to use the lesson to give the students a basic understanding of LGBTQ terminology, dispel harmful stereotypes about queer people, and challenge students to think about LGBTQ issues beyond gay marriage. In doing this lesson, I was less concerned with whether or not students retained the exact vocabulary than with simply creating a space to discuss queerness and respond to the problematic and limited images of queer people students are exposed to through pop culture.

  •  Preface: “Today we are going to be talking about sexuality. We will be talking about stereotypes surrounding gay people and learning about different aspects of sexuality and gender. If you have questions on anything related to sexual orientation, today is a great day to ask them.”
  •  Define Sexual Orientation – a person’s attraction to people of specific or different genders and/or sexes. EX: straight, gay, lesbian, bi, queer.
  •  Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a “mental disorder.” Though it’s been nearly forty years, hurtful stereotypes of gays being deviant and mentally unwell continue to circulate.
  •  Ask students to say or write down what they think of when they hear “gay.” What do you associate with gay people? What are some of those stereotypes? You will need to emphasize that students will not get in trouble for anything they write –that we’re just trying to find out what stereotypes exist. It may also be necessary to give students the option to write down and submit things anonymously.
  •  Take a few volunteers to share, or read out the things students submitted. Discuss students’ association/stereotypes, one by one – what is it? Where did it come from? Do you think it’s true? Stereotypes to possibly cover if they don’t (“?” indicates an uncertainty as to whether or not sixth graders would be familiar with these stereotypes.)
  • · gays don’t conform to gender norms, esp. in appearance–lesbians look X, gay men look X (and talk with a lisp)
  • · queers cannot (and/or are not interested in) having families, long term relationships and raising children
  • · lesbians hate men
  • · gays are promiscuous (?)
  • · queers were sexually abused and/or are pedophiles(?)
  • · gay people have and spread HIV/AIDS(?)
  • · gay people are white(?)
  •  Why are stereotypes created/perpetuated??
  •  Everyone has their own opinions about homosexuality and choice, but typically when people argue about choice, they are really talking about whether or not you can change someone else’s sexuality, and recent research says no. In 2009, the American Psychological Association (the world’s largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists – including scientists, educators, clinicians, and students) released results of a study assessing the efficacy and ethics of “conversion therapy” and found no scientific evidence of success.
  •  In fact, the APA found that these programs sometimes cause harm by exploiting patients’ fears and anxieties, often contributing to already low self-esteem, and in some extreme cases, suicide. Conversion (or “reparative”) therapy is also based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental problem or disorder somehow in need of a cure, a notion which has been rejected by the vast majority of medical practitioners for decades.
  •  Define Terms. Some of these should have already been covered in the course of discussion. Start by saying the word and asking students what they think it means.
  •  Gay: a general term referring to people of any sex who are attracted to the same sex. Homosexual is the clinical term.
  •  Lesbian: a female who is attracted to other females.
  •  Bisexual:someone who is attracted to both males and females.
  •  Queer: an umbrella term which is often used in place of the word gay to refer to both anyone who is attracted to their same sex and/or identifies as a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth (ie anyone in these categories). It is also increasingly used in place of bisexual to mean someone who is attracted to people of any sex or gender. Queer was once used quite widely as a derogatory term for gay people — and still sometimes is — but has gradually come to be reclaimed and used positively by some.
  •  LGBTQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer. An acronym referring to all those groups, often used as a shorthand like queer.
  •  Gender identity: the gender one sees oneself as. Reiterate difference between sex and gender, and how we are all assigned a gender a birth.
  •  Transgender: a person who identifies as a gender different from the one assigned to them at birth.
  •  Transsexual: a person who has transitioned and lives their life as a gender they were not assigned. A trans woman is someone who was assigned a boy at birth but now identifies as a woman. A trans man is someone who was assigned a girl but now identifies as a man. (If it’s confusing, the word you hear should refer to how the person identifies.) It is now common for people to simply use trans as shorthand for both transgender and transsexual.
  •  Genderqueer: a term often used for people who identify as a gender other than man or woman. Genderqueer people will sometimes use pronouns other than “he” or “she” to refer to themselves, such as the gender-neutral “they.”
  •  Beyond gay marriage: What are some issues that queer people in the US face?
  • · Define homophobia (a fear and/or hatred of gay people) if you haven’t already, as well as the various forms gay-bashing can take.
  • · Internalized homophobia­ – talk about the character in the personal essay we read on Friday, and how often homophobic attitudes cause gay people stay in the closet, sometimes for part of or all of their lives.
  • · In over half of the United States (29), people can still be fired for being gay.
  • · Only 12 states have laws specifically banning discrimination based on gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA, an act prohibiting employers from discriminating against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression) is still being legislated.
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