adapted from a previous article published in The Kathmandu Post by the same author.
"A page from a 1934 sex education manual that, like many of its era, managed to be less about sex than about policing racial boundaries", from "The Conversation", https://theconversation.com/lets-talk-about-sex-education-race-and-shame-in-south-africa-41390
There was a quiet gasp amongst the people around me. Tenzing frantically tugged at my arm to
recover my attention form an interesting crow outside the window. Our sex-ed instructor had
pulled out the big guns in the second hour of the one-time course being conducted by some
NGO. Entire wooden penises, the size of my head lay on our desks. I gasped as I gauged the
object from tip to base. The instructor pulled out more and passed them randomly from a white
sack like a sex-crazed Santa Clause. Her assistant opened her bag, turned it upside down to
make it rain a grey and blue bounty of condoms on the table. With indifference to the sheer
disbelief we were all in, the instructor carefully opened a condom wrapper and pinched one out
to tell us the steps of correctly putting on a condom. “Now you will put it on” she said after
showing us, “on ourselves?” some kid in the corner asked . Our instructor answered “no, on the
sample” and flung him one of the penises past our awe-stricken faces and into his hand. After a
few attempts we all had gotten it right, not one air pocket remained in mine. I was proud of my
work. Rumors have it that Jeremiah lied about not receiving a condom in class and managed to
sneak another one into his hostel room for a more private analysis. Other eighth graders weren't
as lucky as the rest of us though. Our parents had to sign a permission slip to allow is to be in the
class and we had several of our friends missing. Apparently some people are careful enough with
their children to keep them from demented conversations about safe sex.
The stigma around sex has been more pan continental than human rights as far ago as I can
remember. Even in my little school in Nepal some 13 year olds had decided on whom it was and
wasn’t okay to have sex with and grasped the social consequences sexuality could have on one.
After taking our log-dicks away the instructor asked us a few questions to gauge our attitudes
around sex. Without breaking eye contact she started rolling off the condoms from one dick after
another as if she were pealing vegetables. She asked “how many of you are okay with two girls
holding hands or kissing?” and almost the entire class raised their hand to show approval whilst
some grinned at the two female instructors. “How many of you are okay with two boys being in
a homosexual relationship?” she asked us but the entire class went quiet. If anyone was to raise
their hand they would have to do it in sync with the rest of the class or risk being called gay by
virtue of enthusiasm. One wrong step could change our sexual orientations for the rest of the 13
year-olds. To many it was a girly thing to have sex with men and to be girly was to lose all grasp
of our newly prized masculinities. This was some sexuality-defining-ones-gender-anti-Michael-
Foucault shit being laid bare by us anti-postmodern kids.
My mother had a peculiar obsession when I was in school of making sure that my closet
represented as large a palate of colors as possible. I would have to carry a different color of
handkerchief to school every day to counter my dull two-colored school uniform. And I would
march into class daily with a different color peaking out of my pocket. For some reason however,
whenever it was turn to carry a pink handkerchief I would make sure it was hidden as deep as
possible. I would sneeze sparingly or in corners not to be seen by my friends so no-one could
laugh mid bless-you.
Even to children, the world presents itself as one of segregation, one composed of medieval
biases that ascribe different materials or behaviors to different sexes. Just like colours, there are
perfumes that are for men and for women, there are behaviors, from the gestures that one
makes while speaking to the pitch in a person’s voice, that are divided and ascribed differently
for the two sexes. I have been told that I walk like a girl, and female friends of mine have been
told they cut their hair like men. A long time ago, a friend of mine came to school with his nails
painted black to be shouted at by the discipline in-charge who said, “Why don’t you wear a sari
as well?” Is this not a form of segregation itself? There are absolutely no negative consequences
from taking up material or behavior ascribed to the opposite sex, except for the multitudes of
taboos that have plagued our minds for millennia. I use my intact genitals as testimony after
eating more girl’s kinder joy eggs than I should have.
What I find disappointing is the fact that most curricula today do little to combat sexism and
sexuality-based discrimination. In Nepal, the environment, health and population (EHP) course
does play its part in creating consciousness in the student body about reproductive diseases. But
it is easy to notice that the course is not concerned with the mental impact of sexism on children.
It fails to mention the importance of accepting that it is okay to dress up differently, that
gestures, fabrics and pitches of the voice do not only belong to one sex or the other. The
curriculum has also so far played its own part in othering or ignoring sexual minorities.
It seems odd that the curriculum supposes that only heterosexual students need to know about
safe sex. Homosexuality, asexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality are completely ignored by
every subject that a child comes across in his school life. There are no stories in either English or
Nepali course books that aren’t heteronormative. The list of stories undertaken present husband
and wife or boy and girl as the only compatible relationship that can exist.
Thousands of students have read about the husband in BP Koirala’s Doshi Chasma who comes
home to vent his day’s frustrations at his homemaker wife. There is no Muna Mandani equal of
Muna Madan. Maths has no questions that ask how much Sita would have to pay for the
chocolates she is buying for her partner Gita. Asexuality and same-sex inclinations are confined
to the world of plants by our science books.
‘Kids aren’t old enough to understand homosexuality’ is an excuse used by many to defend the
taboo with which knowledge about the multiple dimensions of sexuality are kept from children.
There is, of course, nothing profound and incomprehensible about the matter. To normalize the
fact that two men or two women are capable of falling in love and having intercourse, or to say
that there is nothing wrong with wearing or liking things that are ‘meant’ for another sex isn’t
impossible to wrap one’s head around. It isn’t hard to observe that the curriculum blatantly
discriminates against homosexuality. Such matters are left out of the curriculum as if they are
matters of national shame. This is a form of unintended or ill-intended state-sponsored
discrimination that many countries have done nothing to correct.
Nepal has often found itself making leaps in providing recognition and equality to the LGBTQ
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community in comparison to many other
countries on the subcontinent. Yet, knowledge about the spectrums of sexuality and the folly of
sexism barely makes its way into the education system. I hope that something is done to
introduce at least the matter of homosexuality into next year’s EHP curriculum. It is important
to prepare children to explore a world of sexuality that is free from sexism and discrimination,
where they are not ashamed to fall in love with whatever sex they want to or carry whatever
colour of clothes or handkerchief they may see fit. I hope some day in some class room a sexcrazed Santa Clause smiles after she sees all hands raised to the same questions she asked us.