Sex Education, the Lady Gaga Way

When gay teenager Jamey Rodemeyer took his life last week, his “It Gets Better” video remained on the net. So there we were, listening to Jamey’s beautiful words with the knowledge that they ultimately didn’t save him from the bullies. But this doesn’t change the truth of Jamey’s video or the merits of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which brings support from those who have lived to tell a happier tale. Rather, it speaks to the reason Savage started “It Gets Better” in the first place — to deal with the hellish pressures of being young and queer.

How can we fight the kind of bullying that cost Jamey his life? Jamey’s idol, Lady Gaga, has long been a passionate advocate for LGBTQ rights, and is devastated about Jamey’s death. The angered star wants bullying to become illegal, and while I agree, I think we need to go further. Homophobic bullying is insidious and hard to prove, and bullies, as we know, have usually been bullied themselves — in this case, by a society that says, “Be ashamed of your sexual self.”

Such conditioning can begin via our communities, and is perpetuated through formal teaching. In schools, sex ed typically focuses on heterosexuals, thus sweeping other identities under the carpet. The result? At a powerful point in their sexual development, our teens are pushed to repress their own burgeoning desires, regardless of whether they are queer or straight. No wonder so many young people project their shame onto those who are proud — especially those whose fantasies do not fit the diagrams these students have been shown.

The consequences of such a system aren’t always as obvious as bullying. Witness the “It Gets Better” video from the Boston Red Sox. The team clearly has good intentions, but on a site that is devoted to LGBTQ pride, it is ironic that the players themselves make so little reference to queer identities. In fact, the words queer, gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual are not used by the players, whose statements remain vague. Attorney Rob Anderson reminds us that the world of sports is rife with homophobia, putting pressure on LGBTQ players to stay silent about their identities. And while sex ed remains so biased, this isn’t likely to change. What we need are more Gaga-style proclamations from adults, like the star’s own: “On a gay scale of 1 to 10, I’m a Judy Garland fucking 42.”

So imagine a world in which we defined sex via identity and pleasure — a world where we learned that sex, be it queer or straight or partnered or solo, makes for a more harmonious society. We would learn about sexual needs as well as sexual safety, and genitals would simply be viewed as a tool for sexual connection — just as the artist’s hands are used for creating art. To borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga, we’d all be “revolutionaries of love,” regardless of our sexual identities. I know such a world can exist — if we educate with pride.