Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

“Isn’t she bisexual?”
“No, she’s pansexual.”
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s what picky bisexual people call themselves.”
“Isn’t it what non-picky bisexual people call themselves? You know, they’ll sleep with anyone?”
“Well, anyway, what she’s confused about is whether she’s a girl or a boy.”
“Are you kidding? How hard can it be?”
“I know. Like, anyone can tell that.”
“We-ird. So is that why she dresses in boys’ uniform now? And why she cut her hair?”
“Hmm, I guess.”

This, roughly speaking, is the conversation I overheard while my English class, unsupervised because our teacher was on a trip with a younger year group, avoided doing their work. Though I had headphones in, it was difficult to avoid hearing what they were saying.

I knew who they were talking about. Actually, they’re a friend of mine, and we’ve known each other since the beginning of secondary school. We used to be in a band together.

I couldn’t believe the ignorance of my fellow students. At seventeen, I was thinking, you should know what terms like ‘bisexual’ and ‘pansexual’ actually mean. More to the point, you should probably know that there’s a difference between gender and sex.

But who can expect them to? It’s not something I was ever taught in school. Recently, I had to explain the different to father person, who said, “No, there’s a difference between gender and sexuality, but…”

“Biological sex and gender identity are two very different things,” I insisted, and cited a few things I’d learned from various friends on Tumblr and from the blog, Raising My Rainbow, which has taught me a lot about avoiding stereotypes and typifying ‘girl’ and ‘boy’.

And then I realised. Not only did we never get taught this at school, but actually, it’s something I only got to grips with in the past year. After spending so much time on the internet, I have come across people of all different gender identities, all different sexualities–I’ve got friends who are transgender, gender neutral, or cis; I’ve got friends who are straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual…

It makes me sad that we have to have so many labels for things. I mean, how hard is it: like who you like and be who you want to be. Seriously. I don’t think we’d even have the whole thing of identifying as male or female if we didn’t associate behaviour and clothing with male and female. Why should what body parts you have dictate your life choices?

But I digress. This isn’t a call for society to change.

Rather, this is a call for society to educate.

I have offered this friend of mine my support, whether that’s starting an LGBT group at school (despite being, to the best of my 17-year-old knowledge, probably heterosexual) or helping put posters around the school educating people about things they’re saying that they don’t even realise are offensive (like ‘tranny’ or ‘shemale’, which apparently are humorous, non-offensive phrases… er, no).

Because you see, I don’t have to be a member of a group to support it. I don’t have to endure a struggle to want to end it for other people. I am appalled at the ignorance of my classmates and yet I cannot blame them because no one has ever told me otherwise. It is only the blogs I read and the people I talk to online that have made me any different from them. Without my internet activity, I probably would never have come across this issue and would have viewed my friend with the same confusion and suspicion as everyone else.

This is a mistake.

We have off-timetable days at school called ECM days. Every Child Matters. And what do we learn on them? Well, we’ve had sessions about university, about mortgages, about careers opportunities…

… oddly, we’ve never had one combating homophobia or transphobia. Which, for a day named ‘Every Child Matters‘, seems like an oversight. If we don’t teach people to live out that slogan, how can we expect them to?

Their ignorance does not make them exempt from being kind. Their ignorance does not protect them.

Their ignorance only makes me sad.

55 thoughts on “Ignorance Is Not Bliss

    1. Yeah, and URL. Or hadn’t you noticed? (It’s now .com instead of .wordpress.com)
      I actually didn’t really have time to write a blog post today… I ought to have been doing other things but I just had to get it off my chest. It was running through my mind the whole journey home from school.

  1. You put this issue into words so well. It’s amazing how many people are ignorant of these things, although I guess you can’t really blame them if – like you said – they haven’t been educated on the subject. It’s great to see things on the internet like your post, though, that show there are plenty of people who do understand and support LGBT people.

    1. Thanks for reading. It does amaze me… but at the same time, I realise that it shouldn’t, because my school has never even shown awareness that transgender people exist until now, you know? They behave like it’s not an issue. So, I shouldn’t be surprised.

  2. Exactly. I had no idea what pansexual/romantic, or agendered meant until about two years ago when I become more active online. It isn’t as though my parents hid it from me, it simply never came up in conversation.
    Anyway, wonderful post.

    1. Thank you. Yes, it’s difficult to start conversations ‘casually’ — especially if you don’t know what it is you don’t know therefore don’t know a conversation needs to be started… if you see what I mean.

  3. I so wish I could word my thoughts as articulately as you. It really annoys me when I keep overhearing conversations at our school about your friend, glad I’m not the only one!

  4. I agree with all of this. I always get so annoyed when I hear that sort of thing, but it’s true that I only know about it because I have amazing friends who discuss it.
    …now all the words have turned into some weird code-type font, so I can’t read anything. Um. Anyway, I agree.

    1. Very strange… not sure why that should be.
      Thanks for commenting. Yes, it’s definitely a matter of who you talk to. My mum was horrified that our school has never addressed it (in truth, I don’t remember even talking about homosexuality, like, ever, at school… which seems like an oversight), but I guess no one told them to.

  5. I concur with the above comments. I really enjoy these issue posts of yours because they say the things that people like us want to say, but sometimes we don’t have a voice loud enough. I also liked your ‘weeping for humanity’ one, but I didn’t know what to comment on it, having gone through issues to that point (apart from the Bieber thing, which I hadn’t heard of until then). “…when there’s pain inside your head you can’t deal with it, so you try and make it tangible to give you something to focus on in the hope that that will help” was particularly poignant and perceptive.
    Thank you for keeping people alert to these things, when society tends to lapse about them.
    Also – yeah, very different theme. Any reason you’ve gone for a stone-wall effect?

    1. The thing about pain inside the head is very much how I’ve felt in the past. It’s one of the reasons I continue to do things like archery and ballet even though they are a great physical strain and cause me pain sometimes — it’s an opportunity to make mental confusion and turmoil into something physical to get it out of my body, else I know I would lapse into self-harm, which has affected me in the past.
      Thanks for commenting — I’m often nervous about writing about more sensitive topics in case I offend someone, and I actually have a separate blog to purely discuss faith and beliefs and things, but at the same time I can’t just gloss over things because they might not be popular or easy topics. If we do that, everyone will be as ignorant forever. So I’m trying to get over my fear of stating my opinion to stand up for things I feel strongly about.
      I wanted a plainer theme to give a more professional feel to my blog now that I’m trying to get people to take me seriously as an author. I’m picky and couldn’t find one that I liked, but this one was good enough for now.

  6. Ah, it seems the school internet has overcome its qualms and I am able to post properly – excellent.

    Anyway, I would just like to say I respect you SO much for posting this. Not in the least because I fall into the categories of one of those people whose sexuality is often questioned for its verifiability.

    I, though, believe the world is changing fast. Younger people like you and I are often a lot more receptive to gender and sex-related questions, and I like to think this means that awareness of the issues will mean improvements. True, not everyone is going to agree, but being aware of the matter is one step towards working it out.

    Fantastic post, my friend. Hats off to you.

    1. Thank you. I like the word you used: “verifiability”. I had a conversation with mother person about the issue yesterday and she seemed surprised that a friend of mine had come out as bisexual at the age of sixteen, because she said it was unlikely somebody could possibly know at that age. I have read a theory that everyone is bisexual with a preference… an interesting way of looking at it. I’m not sure what I think, but I believe if somebody says they’re bisexual, then to the best of their knowledge, they are. Some know at eleven, some don’t work it out until they’re 21 (I have a friend who only just admitted it to himself, let alone anyone else), and it’s not up to any outside influence to ‘verify’ whether or not they’re ‘right’. After all, if it’s all in your body and in your head, how can anybody possibly tell? That’s like asking someone else to tell if you’re scared, or something.

      1. Zigactly! People sometimes ask me “What’s it like being bi? How do you know?” I just say “How do you know you’re straight?” Admittedly, I probably fit the “bi, with male preference” category better, but sexual preference is very fluid, so any attempts at categorisation are gonna be squicky and leave holes.

        I think you’ve got a wonderfully open and tolerant mind about the matter – and I really love it :)

        1. I do not think I would have survived long in the company I keep if I didn’t have an open mind. I have a very diverse group of friends — and that’s just in real life. Those I know on the internet cover a HUGE spectrum. They’ve taught me to understand issues I may never come across… but if I do, I know what to say and what not to say.

          1. And who says the internet is damaging for relationships. I think it’s great that such a huge diversity of friends has allowed you to gain this mindset. You’re a good deal more knowledgable about the subject than most people I know!

    1. I quite agree that opinions are not ignorance. But failing to comprehend a simple term, or to understand the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, is most definitely ignorance.
      I also believe that if your opinion is going to be hurtful and/or offensive to somebody who is probably having enough emotional difficulties as it is, trying to figure out their own personal identity, you should keep it inside your head. Especially until you know what you’re talking about.

      1. How are we to know what it is? There are so many types of sexuality that it all gets so confusing. The way i see it, is that there is only heterosexual, homosexual and bi-sexual. There is no middle ground or any other fancy words to cover it, because in this world, there is only male or female. You can like either/or, but don’t come to us with your fancy nonsense words, because you are trying to be different to everyone else.

        1. I understand that you have your opinions. However, in future, please be aware that transphobia, homophobia, and sexism are not welcome on my blog, my YouTube videos, or in my life. If these are your opinions, kindly keep them to yourself.

      2. I assure you, I am all for gay marriage, but when it comes to people being picky about what they choose to call it, is when it starts to get on my nerves. By science, you are born either a Male or Female. (I understand that in some special cases, you can be born both) When a male likes a female and vice versa, that is Heterosexuality. When a Male likes a male, or a female likes a female, that is homosexuality. When a Male or Female likes both sexes, that is bi-sexuality. I see no middle ground when this is the case. It’s not ignorance, it’s science and morals.

        1. You, sir, are referring to sex. And about that, you are right. We are biologically one or the other. What you are failing to grasp “gender”. Or perhaps you are simply ignoring the difference.

      3. Not ‘ignoring’ the difference, simply ‘not believing there is one’ would be the way to put it.

        [Editorial comment — though I do not normally edit comments, I have done so here to correct a typo. This is not a reflection on you; it was bugging me –M.]

  7. Blogging about your classmates and calling them ‘ignorant’ is you also being ignorant..
    The fact you are ‘appalled at the ignorance of [your] classmates’, makes me ‘appalled’ that you are also being rude.
    Sorry not sorry.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t entirely see where you’re coming from with that particular remark, Hannah (how amusing that you think you’re anonymous!). I have already said that I cannot blame them for not knowing what ‘pansexual’ means, or not understand the difference between sex and gender, because they’ve never been taught that. I was using it to illustrate a point — that our school, and I assume many others, has failed to educate its students about a pretty basic issue.

  8. Awkward because I never thought I was or tried to be anonymous, I just don’t have a blog like this so don’t have an account…
    I just think it’s a bit rich to call us all ignorant when you’re blogging rude things about us. Fair point that our school doesn’t address this issue, but don’t bitch about us on your blog please. Thanks.

    1. I did not write this post to criticise my fellow students, but to criticise the lack of education about LGBT issues provided throughout the time we have been at school. I’m sorry that you have chosen to take it as a personal insult, as that was not my intention. I am not the sort of person to stand back and let conversations that would seriously hurt the feelings of my friends go past without comment — and I will not apologise for what I believe.

  9. *wondered what sort of comments this would get so checked up on it* I’m very glad that you’re standing up for this. And letting them know that they can’t make these comments anonymously.

    1. I am disappointed that the first time I received a negative response to a blog post was this post. I’m also disappointed that the criticism spread to Twitter, though there it could (almost) be called cordial. Almost. However, I will not apologise for standing up for what I believe, and I am not going to take it further with these commenters. They know that I know who they are. And I have been expecting something like this to happen since I started blogging in 2009. It was only a matter of time — I am opinionated and I know people do not always agree, and of course somebody from school would eventually find my blog and pass it around.
      Actually, the idea of fellow students finding blogs, and having to mind what one says, is something we explore in St Mallory’s Forever! Which, you know, everybody should read, because I WROTE A THING.

  10. I think one of the main factors of the controversy in the comments above is the vagueness of the word ‘Gender’ as it refers to Sex, Social Roles and Gender Identity. I’m all for gay rights etc. by the way, and I support Shauna’s efforts to raise awareness in the school, but I think that she’s going the wrong way about it.

  11. A beautifully crafted article, I agree with about every word of it and believe that educating our classmates would be a great idea. However, that would involve investing some levels of trust in them and expecting them to act maturely, which is highly unlikely. To say the least. Also, people using careless words like “tranny” will have to face the consequences of their actions in the future if they continue to be so insensitive. Unless they change, they will fail to find a place in society as their views are so outdated.

    1. Thanks for your comment — that’s exactly the reason I wrote this article. Not to shame them or to mock them, but simply to point out that their behaviour could hurt people in the future and I don’t want to be responsible for failing to do anything about that.

  12. I agree with this call to educate. But does anyone have suggestions as to the right way. Maybe you could tell this friend. They are just one person trying to take on this hurdle. From what I gather they are quite active in trying to change and educate. And they seem to have your support. But a task like this is a struggle for one person. So if you think they are going down the wrong path talk to them, give them your ideas. Make them feel like they are not the only person in this struggle. Education needs to change and grow with the times And I’m sure if your friend is reading this they’ll be encouraged by the support. But this battle needs more then one enemy it needs an army.Yes one person can change the world but it’s so much easier with others on their side.

    1. There are more than two of us taking on this issue, including some teachers, but sometimes it does feel like very few people against the whole world. And somehow, following the reaction to my being honest about my beliefs, I imagine that it will be hard to find others to join us, as it seems to have such a negative impact. What was meant as a general criticism of society is taken as a personal insult, though I feel it should be evident to anyone who reads with an open mind that that was not my intention.

  13. I don’t think that homophobia is a pressing issue at all in BGS as there isn’t really a culture of it. Also criticising an ignorance of pansexuality, just some fancy attention seeking replacement for bi sexual, seems redundant as it isn’t mentioned in any coverage of gay civil rights. Also bitching about your fellow students and making yourself seem superior is childish and immature and I’d suggest not making it a habit

    1. There is a difference between bisexual and pansexual, Theo, though many of you seem unaware of that. As for homophobia, I think outwardly people are very accepting, but it’s what they say when they think no one is listening that concerns me.
      My post was not intended to shame or criticise my fellow students. It was a broader criticism of society and education and was not directed at specific institutions or people.

  14. I COMPLETELY agree with this post. The major problem is that people don’t know much when it comes to LGBTQ issues but I wish they would make an effort to find out.
    I just hate it when people say stuff like ‘OMG that’s so gay’ or ‘stop acting gay!’ Like being gay is such a big insult.
    I sort of read all the comments above and I want to say that I’m on your side and I support you! The way you’re strong and standing up for what you believe in is amazing :)
    Anyway, thank you for writing this.

    1. Thank YOU for commenting! Yes, I’ve never understood people saying “That’s so gay.” Whenever a friend says it, I always pull them up on it — “In what way, exactly, is that homosexual?” And then they get embarrassed and make some comment about how it means something different in that context, but I point out that they’re using it as a negative which equates pretty much to homophobia, even if they never thought of it like that.
      My friends have learned not to use phrases like that around me now :D

  15. The fact of the matter is; if you do an ECM day on all the sexuality’s under the sun, it would be the least attended ECM in the history of the school. The fact of the matter is, nobody cares. You can call yourself whatever you please, as long as you don’t make other people feel uncomfortable hen you are around them. There are some people that don’t like the homosexuals, and they need to be aware that people do not like them, and just try to respect their opinion or religion, or whatever reason they have for homophobia. But the main point; nobody cares.

    1. Nobody cares that they are ignored? Nobody cares when there is no indication that anybody even knows they exist? Nobody cares when they are continually taught about straight relationships in lessons, when all of the couples in the language textbook are straight, when the only sex ed they ever had was heterosexual?
      Oh, and of course, nobody cares when their friends are talked about behind their backs because they do not conform. Nobody cares when people talk about people like them, not even realising that somebody in the room might be hurt by that. Nobody cares about anybody else or anybody else’s feelings.
      Right. Okay. So as long as it’s not about your life or your problems, it doesn’t matter at all, is that what you are trying to say?

    2. Ok first off, people do care. another thing is that they are not the homosexuals. it’s and adjective not a noun. The fact of the matter is especially with trans* identities that people feel uncomfortable with the way that they are meant to be presented in society and often with their bodies. This friend of yours does not seem confused about their gender, it seems like they have embraced the real them whether that is a trans man or someone who is non binary, someone who is confused is more likely to not bring it as far as the expression stage. The latter sounds a little more applicable in this situation but it is of course your friend who knows for sure. Also why should the “homosexuals” as you have put it have to put up with hate just because they know about the way that they can live someone. Sure they should respect that you have a religion or opinion but they do not need to accept it and conform to youryour hetero sexist view of the world just because you have straight and cis privilege does not give you the excuse to be hateful to minorities. Sounds as lot like racism and sexism. My point is that just because you do not care that people who are supposedly your friends are hated on, ignored, pushed to the bottom of the hierarchy and hurt does not mean that no one cares as seen by the amount of people who are supporting your friend on this blog.

      1. Thank you for this comment. I don’t know who you are, but I am very grateful for your support. I find it difficult to discuss issues when I have no firsthand experience of them, and I am glad that people are reacting positively as well as negatively.

  16. That’s fine, this issue is close to my heart and whilst I don’t have the best writing skills I do have experience so I am glad I can help.

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