Sunday, December 27, 2009
More background on Kevin Jennings' GLSEN “Fistgate” workshop in 2000:
In the week after the Fistgate audiotapes were made public and the first articles on the incident had appeared in Massachusetts News, a defense of the fisting workshop appeared on a website called “Bridges Across the Divide.” The author, Cindy Beal, claims to have spoken directly with Margot Abels (consistently misspelled “Ables”), the DOE employee who led the teen “gay sex” workshop.
There is much of interest in the article, which claims the Fistgate workshop can only be properly understood in “context” (that would be the context of radical sexuality education). The author claims Abels revealed to her the complete list of sex questions submitted by students as written on notecards, which were then answered by the three instructors. Note the “non-judgmental” response to kids inquiring about fisting and sadomasochism (at end of the excerpt below). Abels told Beal:
"We made it clear that for some people that's [sadomasochism] what they're interested in, and for many people it's not what they want to be doing. We didn't want people who engage in non-traditional activities to feel judged, but in no way did we say ‘go out and try this' because we wanted to make people who weren't interested in it to feel just as good and not judged [for their decision not to participate in these activities.]"
Also note that the instructors led the kids to a “resources” at the conference, and “peer support groups for gay youth.” That would be Boston GLASS, Youth Pride and BAGLY. See our recent report on the X-rated materials those groups handed out to teens at the conference.
Abels asked the kids in the workshop to write down their questions after a role-playing session did not go as well as she’d hoped, because the kids were acting “silly” – basically acting as the children they were. Which makes the discussion that followed all the more shocking. (Yet Beals, Abels, and Kevin Jennings would still say the subject matter was “age-appropriate”.)
EXCERPT from Beal’s report on Fistgate:
Ms. Ables reflection on the role-play was that it got "silly" and the students began to focus on silliness and theatricality rather than on the content. "The kids came to talk about questions they have that haven't yet been answered."
They then decided to do anonymous question cards, a back-up exercise they had come prepared with. These cards provide youth the opportunity to ask questions they have without risking judgement from their peers or adults for the content of the questions. Anonymous question cards also help guarantee that the material being asked is the students' agenda rather than the adults.
Ms. Ables provided me with a list of the questions they asked, which she had typed up because the teachers who were present at the next workshop felt it important to know what gay youth wanted to know.
"These are typed as written originally by the students.
Is oral sex better with tongue rings? P.S. I hope so.
Cum? Calories? Spit versus swallow? Health concerns?
What age do most GLB first have sex? Is it different from the age of straight kids?
What is an anal ball? [See Wikipedia.]
Should some kind of protection be used in lesbian sex?
Women’s vaginal wall can expand to any dick size… Can anal walls do the same?
Are girls who primarily like guys and are only attracted to other girls sexually (not in the love-y) way considered bisexual?
How is protection used in lesbian sex since it’s mostly oral, where does the protection go?
My ex said she enjoys pain, what the hell is that about?
What is fisting?
What is lesbian sex anyway?
How do I find out if someone is bi? Homo?
What are the technicalities of transsexual and hermaphrodite sex?
How long do you have to wait to get tested for HIV or any STD after the "act" is committed?
A question on the ethics of oral sex: would it be considered rude not to swallow?
Can you answer the fish question? [bad smelling vagina?]
Do lesbians rub their clits together? Is that even sex?
How do GLB kids determine loss of virginity?"
The procedure for this exercise was to read the questions in the order they arrived in on the pile of question cards, to turn the question back to the group so peers could do some of the education, and then to add, clarify, or correct any misinformation.
Ms. Ables described Michael [Gaucher, DPH AIDS educator] as an actor, very dramatic and entertaining. She said that youth love him because he presents information in a lively and humorous manner. He did most of the education on about where and how to you get tested for HIV, the different kinds of tests there are for HIV, on HIV/AIDS treatment, and responded to questions about transmission risk for different people, sexual practices and lesbian sex. At one point he was writing on the board demonstrating the differences between the Western Blot and ELISA tests.
The youth seemed to have a good understanding of the importance of safety in sexual activity. One of the questions was, -- "Is it rude to spit after oral sex?" One of the students answered "whether or not it's rude, it's good HIV prevention to not swallow."
There was a long talk about how to make decisions around sex activity and how to decide when to begin sexual activity. They didn’t talk about abstinence in this context, but "postponement." They talked about not making a decision to enter any sexual activity until you're ready, and discussed how someone might know that they are ready. They discussed that for some people sexual activity has feelings attached to it, and for others, it’s just physical. They discussed the context of making decisions about sex, with knowledge about what those choices were about sexual activity and emotional maturity and other things. Ms. Ables reports that they asked the youths, "How do you make those decisions? As you think about it, you might find it’s not the right time for you."
There were a couple of subjects in which they purposely avoided making or implying value judgements. The questions when to become sexually active, what is fisting, and a question about sadomasochism were answered as factually as possible to avoid stigmatizing anyone in the room who participated in those behaviors, and to maintain the educational atmosphere that there is no shame in asking questions or talking about anything. Therefore, both Mr. Gaucher and Ms. Ables described the practice of "fisting" in an accurate way.
As with all the questions, they turned it first back to the students. One student said that fisting was "slamming your fist up into somebody." That is a factually inaccurate statement, and they didn't want that kind of judgement and image left in the minds of these youth, so they both answered it – "not to encourage it -- we gave them clear messages that some people like it and most don’t." That "it's not painful and we didn’t want people there or their friends to be judged" on the basis of inaccurate information.
They responded the same way when there was a question about sadomasochism. "We made it clear that for some people that's what they're interested in, and for many people it's not what they want to be doing. We didn't want people who engage in non-traditional activities to feel judged, but in no way did we say ‘go out and try this' because we wanted to make people who weren't interested in it to feel just as good and not judged [for their decision not to participate in these activities.]"
One question asked by the youth was "Is oral sex better with tongue rings?" Another youth answered, "I have one. My girlfriend has one. It is."
One young woman stated at one point that people don’t even know what vaginas look like, and jumped to the board to draw one. It was "anatomically inaccurate." The presenters made a joke about the size of the clitoris so as not to embarrass the student, and then corrected the misinformation.
They talked about at what age most gay kids have sex. They talked about the statistics from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey – (http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/survey99.htm ) and asked the students why they though gay kids had sex at a younger age than their heterosexual peers. The students primarily hypothesized that it might be because of the isolation, or ignorance, or acting out, only one student said that she became aware of her desire, thought it was a good thing and wanted to try it.
"One kid asked about resources – he said he was sexually active at 14 and now at 15, he was thinking that he was disconnected from people as people" and was thinking that he needed to not be sexual. He asked after about dating, how to find a community, how to find a boyfriend. He was supported in choosing to not be sexual, and "after the workshop Mr. Gaucher went with him to the table and connected him with peer support groups for gay youth."
THE WORKSHOP ENDED BY ENCOURAGING THEM TO FIND ADULTS THEY could talk to and ask questions to. …