Jessica Martin & Brittney Shepherd
Jessica Martin & Brittney Shepherd in Straightlaced

What do teens think about gender and sexuality? The book Out With It and the film Straightlaced start the conversation.

We all know that adolescence is no picnic. It’s easy for adults to brush off the problems teens, especially queer teens, face, saying that they’ll pass as soon as the SATs and prom are over.

But these two resources, the book Out With It: Gay and Straight Teens Write About Homosexuality and the film Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, shows that the questions teens face are actually adult questions being posed for the first time.

And it seems clear that schools don’t do enough to engage kids in topics like sexuality and gender: According to a 2007 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 86 per cent of LGBT students experience harassment at school.

Gender identity throws a whole other, less talked about variable into an equation that equals fear, self-hatred, and emotional turmoil for many teens. The homophobia and gender stereotyping that permeates adult society is established in schools where discrimination, harassment and hate crimes go unpunished and issues of sexuality and gender identity are often off-limits to educators. Out With It and Straightlaced address these issues by giving teens an outlet to talk about their own thoughts, feelings and experiences. Both ask valuable questions about sexuality and gender and, because they are being posed by teens themselves, both are open-ended, honest and engaging.

Out With It, published by Youth Communication, a nonprofit journalism training program for teens, is a collection of essays written by gay and straight teens about homosexuality. In “Telling My Parents” 16-year-old Destiny recounts her nervousness about coming out to her mom and dad and her disappointment about their refusal to accept her sexuality.

“It’s been a year since I came out to [my mother], and she still thinks I’ll soon be straight,” Destiny writes. “She sometimes asks me if I’ve met any new girls, just to be sarcastic.” In “My friend or My Church—How Do I Choose?” the anonymous author writes, “It’s like a tug-of-war: my church pulling me by one arm and my gay friend pulling me by the other. I feel like my arms are about to be ripped off.” With topics ranging from first love to hate crimes, Out With It is a relatable and inspiring collection of stories by teens, for teens.

Produced by GroudSpark (the makers of It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in Schools) as part of their Respect For All Project, Straightlaced was created as an educational tool for jumping-off points to get teens to talk about gender bias and homophobia.

The film focuses on how gender norms create boundaries that, despite being arbitrary, are nearly impossible to ignore, let alone transgress. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of people telling me that I’m too aggressive.

That I’m too big and too strong and too loud and my voice is too deep…it’s like they’re saying, ‘you’re too you,’ ” says one teen. It’s an honest, eye-opening film that covers a huge range of issues and brings together a diverse group of high school students to talk about gender expectations and how they influence almost every aspect of their lives—from how they dress to how they act and who they’re friends with.

Perfect for parents, educators and community groups, these resources are great for getting the conversation started. So start talkin’.