"The move toward sex education
stemmed from a persistent, implicit anxiety among the
educators of [blind children] that [such children] were
insufficiently heterosexual and that their
'restrictive' environment was to blame."
"Why is there so
much at stake for the authorities here, and why did this relatively
obscure topic receive so much attention in the 1970s and early
The answer is that blindness, by its very existence, poses a
significant challenge to orthodox understandings of sex,
gender, and desire."
- White, Patrick. "Sex Education: Or, How the Blind
Became Heterosexual." GLQ: A Journal of
Gay Studies. 9:1–2, pp. 133–147. Duke University Press,
This article, whose full title is,"Sex Education: Or,
How the Blind Became Heterosexual," analyzes the ways in which
blind children and adults have been affected by the pervasive
of Western (and specifically, American)
The author, Patrick White, argues that this topic is
relevant not just to blind people, nor just to those with
interest in blind issues, but to anyone who wishes to
understand how sexual norms influence personal sexuality in
America. By studying the specific case of heteronormativity in
blind persons, argues White, we can
understand a great deal about how heteronormativity affects us
And by "us all," I really do mean everyone. Gender norms
are tightly interwoven with sexual-orientation and other
sexuality norms, such that it is impossible to extricate
sexuality from gender. I offer that behavior rules about gender blend seamlessly
into behavior rules about
sexuality, and I view them as existing on a continuum.
White appears to see it this way also. So even the reader who
self-identifies as "heterosexual" can benefit from
considering which parts of this identity's implicit norms were thrust upon
him, and which he has chosen on his own accord. The
humanities gain their practical legitimacy, I believe, in their
ability to render insight into who we are, why we are here, and what we mean to each
Thinking about this subject, and reading this article, sent
chills down my spine. I felt like I was in The Twilight
Zone, because that series' author, Rod Serling was a
master at composing tales in which the protagonist was the only
sane person left on Earth, and even though it was everyone else
who had gone 'crazy,' it was the protagonist who was labeled
so. White uncovered literature about sex education for the
blind which guided educators to make sure that their blind
students were well-educated about gender differences, which,
they should ideally, according to the literature White found,
already know before their first day in school.
Blind children must be taught, apparently, the
"attractiveness features" of the 'opposite' sex, and instructed
that this is desirable.
Um . . . if you have to be instructed that something
is attractive, then precisely how is it attractive?!
I got chills from thinking about this because it made me
realize the depths to which gender constructions go to ensure
their continuity. It's almost as if this faceless,
cultish force has taken over our species, instructing us
that our genital differences are our most important feature,
and, as fallaciously, that there are
only two possible categories of gender, and that in those rare cases
where it doesn't fit, it is the PERSON, and not the category,
which must undergo change. It's SO reminiscent of the
Twilight Zone to me, the more I think about it.
In the absence of visual cues to distinguish men and women,
sex education policymakers instructed educators to engage in
exercises focusing on other sensory differences, such as olfactory, and tactile differences. I
realized as I read this article that the sex education policy
manuals are grasping at straws, suggesting the exercise of
having children imitate the voices of people they know
(presumably of both genders), to emphasize that 'boys and girls
(or men and women) are different creatures.'
And then I realize that while these specific exercises are
unique to the blind-specific sex education practices of the
past, they are not conceptually unique at all in sex education,
nor education in general. I remember hundreds of instances of
gender-code enforcement throughout my childhood, and the ways
in which my assigned gender identity imposed upon me the burden
of conformity despite not understanding it, nor choosing it. I
am reminded now of how violated I felt growing up, knowing that
although I have a penis, I was not like
the other 'boys' and I didn't fully want to be, at that.
There is, of course, another way to look at this: Blind
people are members of the same society that sighted people are,
and therefore they must be prepared to live with the gender
construction that society has carved out for them. There is no
reason that the blind would be granted any special exemption
from gender rules and heteronormativity. The blind would need
to be indoctrinated into our gender-cult just as their sighted
cohorts would. They would need to be prepared to deal
with social situations in which gender plays a crucial part.
It might, in this view, even be rather cruel to NOT ensure that
they know about gender.
The article examines the state of sex education for the
blind in the 1970's and 1980's, and I must assume that some
things have changed in sex education since then—both for
blind-specific sex education, and for sex education in general.
Nonetheless, I have to wonder what it's like now. I feel
confident it probably still needs improvement.
The (withering) practicalist in me approves of educating the
blind about American gender norms based on the fact that it
might be impossible for them to navigate our society
But another part of me finds irony in the
fact that blind children are prone to 'see' their fellow humans
more accurately than their sighted peers do.
[Node your homework].