LGBTQ issues for the martial arts instructor, an introduction.

Robert Barton 

As martial arts instructors most of us come in contact with a broad cross section of the population. Some martial arts schools are privately owned and so can choose who is accepted as students. Other instructors teach at community centers, schools, clubs, publicly owned facilities or university and college facilities and these often have non-discrimination policies and so cannot exclude students for reason of prejudice. Many instructors will find themselves in situations where they may come into contact with students who have sexualities or gender identities with which the instructor is not familiar and so I would like to give a basic overview of some of the terminology and broader sexual identities that one may encounter. Simply put most of us do not have the option to not deal with people of other sexual identities or who may be gender-variant.

We see LGBTQ now and we sometimes see it with even more letters following it. Some of us are completely at home with these issues and some are made extremely uncomfortable by them but most people are just a little confused by them and just not sure what it all means. Simply put, the letters mean Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and when there is a second Q it is Queer and an A means Asexual. These people exist, you will come in contact with these people and you should know enough about the subject to deal appropriately with everyone.

Most of these are socio-sexual identities and are based on who a person is predominately attracted to. But they are identities and so they have aspects which have to do with culture and are not strictly defined simply by sexual attraction. Most studies since the 1940s and certainly the overwhelming majority of scientifically accepted studies have shown that these identities do not absolutely define a person based on sexual attractions and that a significant percentage of people in our culture have some attractions and even behaviors which may fall outside of their own expressed identity.

I will start with the term ‘Straight’ which is an identity for people who are completely or mostly attracted to the opposite gender and identify socially as such. We live in a hetero-normative society which means that our culture tends to view those people who identify as straight as being ‘normal’ to societal standards. Hetero-phobia would be the fear of straight people and often manifests in the hatred of straight people or hetero-normativity.

Next we come to the term Lesbian which is simply a female who is generally attracted to other females and who identifies as a lesbian. Sometimes we hear the term dyke used and internally within the LGBT community this term specifically identifies a certain type of lesbian but should not generally be used by people outside of that community. There are myths about lesbians including that they are all very masculine and really want to be men or act like men. The fear and hatred of lesbian is generally considered to be homo-phobia.

The term Gay was once used and still occasionally is used to mean anyone who isn’t straight  but most commonly it indicates a male who is predominately attracted to other males and who identifies as gay but as a term is occasionally also applied to non-straight community. The term gay is not considered by most to be interchangeable with homosexual since homosexual describes an act or behavior and not an identity and many people have homosexual thoughts or experiences and do not consider themselves to be gay. Some of the myths about gay men include, that they are all feminine and want to be female and that they are all extremely promiscuous and not capable of long term relationships. The fear of and hatred of gay men is considered to be homo-phobia.

The term Bisexual indicates a person who may be attracted to individuals of either gender and who identifies as bisexual and the shortened identifier of ‘bi’ is often used to describe a person. Some of the myths about bisexuals include that they are switching sexualities or cannot make up their mind or that they are not capable of long term relationships. Bi-phobia is the fear and hatred specifically of bi people and bisexuals often still are victims of homophobia and heterophobia.

The term Transgender indicates a person who identifies with a non-birth gender and who may be biologically one gender and act socially as another gender. A myth about transgender people is that they are homosexual but in reality gender identity and sexual orientation are different issues and a person may be transgendered and be any given sexual identity. There is a related term commonly known and Gender-variant which means roughly the same thing as transgender. Another term is Gender-queer and is actually not interchangeable and tends to mean someone who does not identify with one particular gender. A person who is Transsexual is a person who has had or who is undergoing medical procedures in order to physically move from one gender to another and the term is not absolutely interchangeable with transgender. Generally it is not polite to refer to a person with a pronoun that doesn’t respect personal identity and so a person should be known by that name he or she chooses and should be called he or she him or her according to expressed gender identity..

The term Queer is a term generally used to identify anyone who does not participate in the hetero-normative cultural ideals. It is even applied to people who are predominately heterosexual in behavior but who do not identify as straight. There is a social theory system known as Queer Theory which is somewhat related to third wave feminism.

The other Q often indicates a person who is questioning and not yet sure of his or her sexuality or gender identity.

An Asexual is a person who experiences reduced or no sexual attraction to others and who may or may not identify with any given socio-sexual identity.

The term Closeted indicates a person who keeps his or her sexuality or gender variance hidden. The term coming out is when a person reveals his or her sexuality and or gender variance. To reveal the sexuality or gender variance of another without permission is to Out someone and is not generally considered an ethical or moral course of action. When and who should be informed about sexuality or gender variance is considered to be the choice of the individual and this information should be considered confidential by martial arts instructors.

We often hear that a person is not old enough to know yet or to be sure. Recent studies are showing that the age of 13 is now a common age for a person to be sure of sexual orientation. As our societal pressures on people to conform to hetero-normative views decreases people are more comfortable being themselves and expressing themselves. No child should be told that he or she isn’t old enough to know. It is disrespectful to the individual.

Some people feel that these identities are choices but the overwhelming body of scientific investigation belies this belief. Homosexuality has not been considered to be an illness by most medical professionals in the US for over 25 years and is not legally considered an illness in the US. People with these identities should be treated with respect. It isn’t alright to ask these people highly personal questions. No displays of homo-phobia or bi-phobia or any bigotry should be tolerated in class or on the premises of class.

Remember that as an instructor you are often held in a position of respect and authority and please act accordingly.  Take care not to let the idea of freedom of speech or just sharing your opinion allow you to misuse a position of respect and authority. Our community is best served when we teach with the best of intentions toward each member of that community. Our community is best served when our instructors demonstrate acceptance of others and a lack of tolerance for bigotry. Our classes are martial arts lessons and so should not delve into these issues during class but also should not avoid them as though these people did not exist. Make sure that every class is conducted with respect since some surveys out that as many as 10% of the population may be directly and personally effected by these issues. If there are 10 students in the room the chances are that one of them will be quietly hurt by jokes. If you believe that you would know if there were students in your class with these concerns you are most likely not correct in that assumption even if you yourself have one of these identities.

As authority figures of some significance in the lives of our students they often come to us with personal issues and we need to be ready to be supportive of the person as an individual even if we cannot be supportive of some issues. If you as an instructor feel that you cannot be supportive of this person or that the issue is beyond your scope I urge you to refer the individual to an organization or person who can help.

I hope that this has at least given you a better understanding of the issues and terms that you may hear being used by your students and which may be of intense personal concern to some of your students. I hope that you can always provide students with an atmosphere of ease and safety so that they may study. I hope that you can keep bigotry out of the dojo, dojang, kwoon or gymnasia.

As far as Shorin Goju is concerned no displays of bigotry are acceptable in our schools or classes. No instructor is to engage in any form of bigotry or to allow it to happen in his or her class. We also do not use the wall of silence to avoid these subjects and if in the course of class we are discussing something and this is a natural part of the discussion it is to be treated as such. If for instance the topic turns to domestic violence and one student discusses domestic violence with the context of a same sex relationship it is to be treated exactly the same as discussion of domestic violence in hetero sex relationships. If a student has two moms or two dads or a dad a mom and two step dads it is to be accepted as the family structure of that person without judgment. 

Robert L. Barton is proudly committed to the values of Athlete Ally and is signatory to the pledge of Athlete Ally and personally insures that the Shorin Goju Family adheres to these values. 

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