Nicole Jedrzejko / The Silhouette

 

Do you use the word ‘queer?’ Communities at Mac and throughout the world have begun challenging the word and its uses, saying it proudly embraces any orientation from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, questioning and intersex people into its umbrella. ‘Queer’ is becoming a re-empowerment through unity under one term that knocks down its derogatory history and acknowledges all. This is still an ongoing process, with academia and the younger generation spearheading the change but its derogatory influence still remembered by older generations. The power of this word, of uniting under this term, is strong and clear. So why aren’t queer sexual health education messages the same?

 

There have been whispers of change in our current sexual health education curriculum in elementary and high schools for years now. That curriculum has not been updated since 1997, years before social media, sexting, the Internet and more modernizations have altered the definition of sexual activity for many young people. A sex ed curriculum change has recently been brought to the table by Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first female Premier of Ontario and first openly gay Premier of Canada. Changes including teaching the anatomical names of body parts in Grade 1, discussing sexual orientation, identity and invisible differences in Grade 3 and non-vaginal (i.e., oral, anal) sex in Grade 6-7 have been proposed. The most noticeable changes are for Grade 3 students, where respect for people’s differences is the focus of sexual orientation lessons. Some call the change political suicide. Some call it necessary.

 

Regardless of the controversy over this curriculum change, sex ed includes the same principles, no matter what orientation category you find yourself in. And yet sex ed campaigns seems to separate the hetero and queer communities. Mac’s Student Wellness Centre has made great efforts to include the queer community in all sex ed resources, but the fact still remains that many healthcare professionals often make quick judgments and mistakes based on perceived expectations of the queer community’s sexual habits. Assumptions are often made that the queer community is “sexually charged” because of more overt sexual discussion. But many queer people do not fit into that category, and all still deserve a safe, non-judgmental environment to get sex ed.

 

For our generation, queer sex ed did not happen in schools. It is hard to get information on queer health, and even those brave enough to seek information do so online or by quickly sticking their hand in SHEC’s condom basket. Open and honest discussions with your healthcare provider are a great place to begin. Here are some starting points:

 

  1. HEALTH HISTORY: Trusting your provider with a complete health history is important, especially details on medication and past surgeries. Find a provider that is the right one for you to ensure you deservingly receive the best possible care.
  2. SAFE SEX: Males who have sex with males (MSM) are at increased risk of HIV infection, while everyone in the queer community is still susceptible to STDs. Regular testing if engaging in unsafe sex and screening (e.g., Pap smears) are very important.
  3. CANCERS: Females who have sex with females (FSF) are at higher risk for breast and gynecological cancers due to irregular screening, while MSM are still at risk of prostate, testicular and colon cancers. Regular breast and pelvic exams for FSF are recommended.
  4. MENTAL HEALTH: A huge stigma even in the queer community where mental health issues are significantly prevalent, discussing depression, anxiety and intimate partner violence is crucial in supporting relationships and the people within them. Be aware and be supportive.
  5. VACCINES for MSM: With an increased risk of contracting the Hepatitis virus, get the Hep A and B shots while still maintaining safe sex to prevent contracting Hep C.
  6. HORMONES for TRANS* PEOPLE: Trans* men (assigned female at birth, identify as male) should ask about blood tests needed to ensure testosterone doses are safe. Trans* women (assigned male at birth, identify as female) should ask about estrogen and blood clots, swelling, high or low blood pressure and high blood sugar. Pay attention to your body and discuss any significant changes with your provider.

 

With the queer rights movement strongly moving towards change, it is important to remember that regardless of your involvement in the queer community, we all must be allies if change is to occur. So much of our Mac community strength comes down to mutual respect for one another. Accept past and present mistakes you are making regarding assumptions of the queer community, acknowledge and reflect on your emotions and listen to other people’s perspectives. Being an ally does not simply mean saying you’re pro-queer rights; conscious efforts to create a positive space every day must be made. The queer people you know are not meant to be your resources, nor is it their responsibility to market information to heterosexuals. There is information out there, from our own QSCC on 2nd-floor MUSC to the LGBTQ Community Wellness Centre (“The Well”) in downtown Hamilton and Rainbow Health Ontario. Take the time to educate yourself about the queer community, self-direct your learning and if all else fails, remember to give everyone a chance to have the life they want.

Nicole Jedrzejko / The Silhouette

 

Pregnant (adjective): [1] (of a woman or female animal) having a child or young developing in the uterus, [2] full of meaning; significant or suggestive. Origin: late Middle English from Latin praegnant-, from prae ‘before’ + the base of gnasci ‘be born.’

 

For so many of our peers, this word carries the most uncertainty and fear, and definitely lives up to its definition: full of meaning. As young adults, we are being faced with the frustrating reality that the prime childbearing years are also prime working years, in which most of us are focused on school and career prospects in the preparation for our future selves. More than a third of university-educated women today are having their first child when older than 30 years, another issue entirely when our fecundability (the probability of achieving pregnancy in one menstrual cycle) begins declining in the mid-20s, drops significantly in the early 30s, and plummets by approximately 37. Even with future fertility in question, it is still unthinkable by many in our university culture to consider pregnancy before graduation, as the decision to reproduce is seen as a huge burden on one’s ability to survive and prosper. Financial struggles, impact on education and career, cultural and religious restrictions, inconveniences to current lifestyles, terror of such huge responsibilities, and many other personal reasons have changed pregnancy from a simple change in the body’s reproductive state to the severity level of disease.

 

But contrary to popular opinion, pregnancy pre-graduation is manageable. There are an overwhelming amount of educational resources on pregnancy, but the most important first steps can be summarized into these six points:

 

  1. Go to the experts: See your doctor or visit the Student Wellness Centre as soon as you find out (or suspect) you are pregnant to begin planning. They will have the best information on your options.
  2. Eat well: If there’s ever a time to watch what you eat, it’s now. A well-balanced diet in accordance with Canada’s Food Guide is optimal, but consider taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements (i.e., fish oil pills) and folic acid supplements for their beneficial effects on the baby’s birth weight and nervous system development. Food hygiene is also very important to avoid spoilt food’s serious effects in newborns.
  3. Exercise: Keeping up your strength and endurance is difficult enough in university, but exercising during pregnancy not only helps to manage weight gain, but can ward off depression. Walking, swimming, yoga, and Aqua Zumba are all recommended…and available in our David Braley Athletic Centre. Also consider pelvis floor exercises to strengthen the hammock muscles at the base of the pelvis that support bladder, vagina, and rectum. Get more information from your prenatal instructor.
  4. CUT alcohol, cut back on caffeine: More than two alcoholic drinks a day may lead to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), resulting in mental and growth retardation, behavioural problems, and physical defects. Cutting alcohol altogether during pregnancy is obvious, but caffeine in coffee, tea, and soft drinks may also contribute to a risk of low birth weight or miscarriage. Err on the side of caution and cut it down.
  5. Stop smoking: The Student Wellness Centre’s ‘Leave The Pack Behind’ initiative is a peer-run service that provides information on how to quit smoking, provide support and resources, and more. The risks of smoking during pregnancy are incredibly high, so use these resources available to feel supported.
  6. Rest: Fatigue is normal during pregnancy, and though rest is often an unappreciated luxury in busy university lives, both you and your baby will benefit greatly from taking well-deserved breaks. Good night’s sleeps, naps, and relaxation techniques from yoga to massage will all help manage your stress and focus on your body’s needs.

 

Campus services from the Student Wellness Centre, SHEC, and faculty academic counselors can provide additional resources to help manage pregnancy concerns, but there is a significant lack of support from one of the most powerful forces on this campus: our peers. Dealing with pregnancy, unwanted or not, carries enough pressure to deal with from partners and parents to involve additional prejudices from peers. So often people dealing with such tough experiences do not need our sympathy or pity, but a realization that they are not alone. Mothers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, as do families. Whichever option you choose to manage your pregnancy is the right one for you. No one has the right to say otherwise, and everyone has the responsibility of respecting your options. It is also up to us all to make our campus a place where a woman’s decision over her reproductive state is respected.

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