Sunday, 30 March 2014

DBad's Dos and Don'ts when waiting to hear back from a publisher

As you know I've finally finished my book and it is now out in the big bad world of slush piles and email inboxes with its fate is resting in the hands of whoever happens to be working in the office that day and picks it up to read.

This is a scary and nerve wracking process. The agony of waiting, the creeping doubt and uncertainty that is inevitable when you put your heart on the line and leave it there for someone else to deem worthy.

Once it is out there is nothing much else you can do but wait... And wait...

Here's a short list of dos and don'ts I have come up with to help pass the time and ease the unsettling madness that is sure to creep in once you've sent your baby off to the judge, jury and executioner of your words.

DO send the publisher a quick email or message to let them know you've sent them something and that you look forward to hearing back.

DON'T send them endless emails and tweets and Facebook messages and Instagram pics and phone calls and carrier pigeons asking if they've read it yet and what did they think and don't they know they're missing out on the next JK Rowling and your entire future happiness depends on their saying yes and that you just can't cope with the waiting oh my god won't somebody read it!

DO give it some time. Some publishers can take up to six or even nine months to get back to you. If you don't hear back in a couple of weeks, or months, it's not because they hate you, it's because they have hundreds of manuscripts sent to them and who knows where yours is in the pile.

DON'T wear out your send/receive button and double check your spam folder every ten minutes. Not only will you disappoint yourself and send yourself mad, you will also end up buying penis enlargement tablets and sending Nigerian princes your bank details in a fog of frustrated tears and confusion.

DO find something else to do while waiting. Start another project, write blogs or articles that accompany your book and self promote them via social media, go for walks, take up a hobby, paint your house, fix your garden, take your mind off the wait.

DON'T pull out your hair, curl up into a ball, weep in the corner and eat an entire family sized bag of m&ms every day while you wait. Trust me. It's not good for your skin.

DO remember you're a valid person and your project is valid and that there are other options open to you other than getting published by a major publishing house. Remember JK Rowling was rejected umpteen times for the first Harry Potter book and now she owns a castle.

DON'T lose hope.

Now where did I hide that bag of m&ms...

Monday, 24 March 2014

The Missing Lessons... Sex Education and LGBTI Youth.

As I have been reiterating throughout my last few blogs, sex education in schools needs a major overhaul. New conversations need to be had, new topics need to be raised, and new approaches must be made. The classes barely scrape the surface of the vast universe that is sex and there is one group of teenagers who are really suffering and missing out on vital information that specifically speaks to them. LGBTI youth.

In the course of writing my book, A Girl's Guide To Getting Off, I drew on many sources for research, inspiration and information. A lot of it came from my own personal experiences and memories as a teenager and, from talking to many teens, I found that not much has really changed at all. All kids go through what we went through. Sure, the technology and fashion may have changed, but really, that's about it. Kids today have the same doubts, fears, questions and desires as I did way back in the olden days of the early 90s (no, seriously, my daughter once asked me if the world was black and white when I was a kid).

The one thing that I found hard to draw on personal experience from, however, was LGBTI issues. Although I identify as bisexual now (and always had girl crushes and things throughout school) I don't think it was ever something I really thought about much beyond the desire of wanting to try it out (which I did). But because I was always attracted to boys as well, and that's where I focused most of my sexual energy, I never felt I really missed out or was excluded from the conversations we had about sex.

One of my close friends, however, missed out big time. She never told anyone she was gay, not until we had all left school and moved on with our lives, but in a conversation we had recently she told me how isolated she had felt in those classes. How abnormal and weird. That because she had absolutely no desire to have children one day and even less of a desire to have a penis anywhere near her vagina, she thought that perhaps there was something wrong with her.

The only time people ever really mentioned “gay” was when the footy jocks were picking on one of the nerdy kids, lesbians were thought of as big, angry, leather jacket wearing hard-arses, and I think most of us thought transsexuals were drag queens. There was no talk of same sex couples or of same sex sex in our health and sex classes. There was literally nothing.

Fast forward 25 years and, even though these days most kids are aware of the diversity of relationships and many of them are angry and confused about the inequality towards same sex marriage and other discriminations that occur for LGBTI people, the education they are receiving in schools is as backwards and silent as it was back then.

Like I said, I have no real experience of being a gay teenager. I can really only imagine how hard it would be to be going through the things all teenagers go through, and having this added worry of coming out, being accepted by your parents, and trying to figure out what this crazy sex thing is all about. I mean, at least straight kids get a basic understanding of the act and what is supposed to happen.

Because of my lack of experience and knowledge on the subject I spoke with quite a few teenage girls who identify as queer and talked to them about the education they were or were not receiving and any discrimination they felt they were subjected to.

Here's what some of them said in their own words.

When we did sex ed, one of my friends asked how lesbians have sex. Our teacher sent her out of the room. She wasn't even asking in a rude way. She just wanted to know. I was too scared to ask anything after that” - Kim 16

There's no way I'd even bring it up. Half the kids in my school have no idea what trans is anyway. I don't even know if I know. But I won't find out at school” - J 16

One of my friends went to our care support teacher and complained about people who were making homophobic remarks, as they were 'triggering' him. She told him that he shouldn't talk about the fact that he was gay, because that was a 'trigger' to homophobic people. It made several of my friends and I feel very unsafe and not cared for.” - Heather 16

When we did sex ed I said something like 'Gross. I don't want a penis anywhere near me. I'll take a vagina any day!' I was sent to the principals office and he told me I had been offensive. When I asked him why, he refused to tell me.” - Kayla 17

My dad is gay too. It's just the two of us at home. When I asked about gay sex in our health class my teacher said they weren't allowed to talk about it and I should ask my parents. I asked her what a gay man would know about lesbian sex. She got really embarrassed and didn't look at me for the rest of the class” - Penny 15

Over the past eighteen months I have learnt one thing that, although I always kinda gathered, has been proven and has stuck with me. Kids aren't stupid. They've never been stupid. They just have stupid adults around them telling them what they can and can't think, what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable to talk about, especially in the sex education classroom. But it's wrong. These are our kid's lives, their heads, their personalities and sexualities and it is absolutely unfair to exclude them in the conversation for any reason at all.

It's not just about the LGBTI kids either, it's about all of them. It's about modelling acceptance and tolerance (I hate that word). It's about including every colour of the rainbow in our teachings about sex and relationships so that no kid feels alone or weird or a freak just because of who they are attracted to and so that no kid feels it is right and justified to exclude or discriminate against someone because of their sexuality.

Because although kids aren't stupid, they can be sponges who pick up everything they see and hear and it's our job as adults and teachers and guides to make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly and that all education, including sex, is encompassing and inclusive.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Two Parts to Sex Education

As I've recently pointed out in previous blogs, sex education in schools is pretty poor. It's very basic and fraught with problems from outside sources, lack of resources and a whole lot of fear.

Don't tell kids about sex! They'll just run out and have it!

The thing is, sex is multifaceted and such a deep and involved subject it simply cannot be glossed over and treated as an aside to PE or Humanities. It should have it's own specific classes. And when I say classes I mean at least two different ones.

You see, there are two major reasons people have sex and only one of them is ever really addressed (albeit poorly) in schools. The first reason, and the only one we ever really get taught in classrooms is reproduction. Human biology. This, I believe, is suited to the science classroom. We all did our “life-cycle of a frog” assignment in school or the “Birds and the Bees” assignment on pollen and plant reproduction and this is where human reproduction should be taught. Penises, vaginas, sperm and eggs. We should learn about ovulation and periods and the developmental stages of a foetus.

This scientific teaching should, I believe, happen in both primary and high school. In early primary I think learning about the names of body parts and their functions is vital, then in late primary go into more detail about what they do and what they are for, and then into early high school and continuing throughout, we should incorporate the safe sex message and knowledge of STIs and how to prevent them.

If you take the shame and embarrassment and fear factor out of the lessons on body parts and sex with children then you are off to a fantastic start and a way of easier, more open communication as our kids turn into teenagers.

Now we come to the second reason people have sex, and it's actually (according to many surveys world wide) the main reason.

Pleasure. It feels good. It does! It feels bloody awesome. All parts of sexual intimacy, from kissing and touching to having actual physical sex. And, because teenagers are slaves to their own wants and desires, of course they're going to bloody do it! It's what teenagers do. They do stuff that feels good.

Teenagers don't often think of the future beyond the next week. They want to go to a party, they go. They want to eat a cheeseburger, they go get one. They want to have sex, they do it. We can't stop them by trying to scare them or bully them. We just can't. That's been proven time and time again. The rise in teenage pregnancies and STIs in young people is absolute proof that the “don't do it, it's wrong” message isn't working.

I think, like I said in the beginning of this piece, we need to split sex education into two equally important, and yet completely separate classes. Science, to talk about the actual science of reproduction and everything that goes along with that, and an entirely new class that revolves around pleasure, relationships, emotions, consent and all the other things that go along with sex that have nothing to do with babies.

When you single out reproduction in a sex ed class, you completely ignore things like LGBTI sexual relationships, which are equally as important to young people. You pass over things like consent and rape and sexual assault. Where to get help. Who to talk to. How to say no. How to accept no.

We need to focus on the pleasure side. What feels good. Why it feels good. The responsibilities we have in consensual relationships. The balance of pleasure. The fact that there are many other things young people can do to feel that sexual pleasure without actually having intercourse at all. Masturbation is so rarely talked about to teenagers and yet I can guarantee you almost every single one of them is doing it.

We need to talk about the emotional side of sex; boyfriends/girlfriends, lust, heartbreak. The social side like peer pressure, bullying, slut-shaming and the ever increasing online social aspects, cyber-bullying, sexting, online predators.

I also think it's important to incorporate parents and guardians in these teachings (probably not in the same room as their kids. That's a sure fire way to get kids to not talk about anything) but in conjunction.

It really is a huge topic and a massively important one for the future health and well being of our kids, both physically and emotionally.

It's not something we can just slip in at the end of a PE class and feel we have responsibly addressed. That's just plain ignorance, bred from fear and I can tell you, it's costing us a lot more and damaging our children far more than little bit of embarrassment you might get at the thought of telling your teenagers about the clitoris.