Sex & ASL

Sex & ASL

Illustration by Laura Korzon

Illustration by Laura Korzon

What do you do?
When I'm not working full-time as an art teacher, I am an advocate, educator, and vlogger. I teach various topics including creating affirming space for LGBTQ+ youth, sexual health, and boundaries & consent. I also provide professional training for educators, interpreters, and residential staff within the Deaf community. When I have time and fund, I try to create more accessible sexuality education videos in ASL (American Sign Language) and all videos are captioned. Transcripts are also provided for the DeafBlind individuals.

How did you become interested in teaching sex ed and becoming an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth?
I've personally faced several barriers as a Deaf individual with finding access to comprehensive sexuality education, obtaining contraceptives, and understanding my sexual identity. This concerns me because I come from a family who could communicate with me in sign language and I could not even imagine the more barriers a Deaf individual with no access to language at home would face. The more I examine the Deaf education system, the more I realized that there is a missing a huge gap. I've personally and professionally witnessed Deaf members struggling with their sexuality identities and their relationships overall due to the lack of comprehensive sex education in the academic and residential programs. It's a huge misconception that sex education is all about learning about sex, human sexual and reproductive anatomy and contraceptions. It's really about equipping students with proper skills and knowledge to develop their values and make healthy decisions. By being well-informed, our students will able to build and maintaining healthy relationships, be autonomous, develop effective communication skills, and lastly, be more aware of their actions and its impact on themselves and their community.

I've been working as a high school teacher for four years and I've witnessed many challenges our LGBTQ+ students face in school. While I am working hard to advocate for safe and affirming space for students to feel recognized and valued in their learning environment, I am also focusing on equipping LGBTQ+ students with appropriate tools to combat homophobia and transphobia. Often, LGBTQ+ youth do not realize what their rights are in their school environment and there is no one to teach them effective coping methods to manage homophobia and transphobia in school. Like many other students of minority groups, LGBTQ+ students face many emotional and psychological challenges like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide. Homophobia and transphobia need to be stopped in order for all (and I mean ALL) students will not be able to thrive in school, instead of merely surviving.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about the Deaf?
Deaf people are expected to learn to speak and read lips, and that will lead to complete language for them. It's not a realistic expectation for many Deaf individuals. We continue to experience many barriers to accessing to information even though if some of us are trained to speak and read lips. We still cannot hear. The fully accessible language for the Deaf community is sign language. 

What obstacles have you faced as a woman? What stereotypes have you encountered?
It's too often that I've been questioned about my work and have seen my male colleagues not being questioned about their work. I've worked so hard to get to where I am today with my studies and passion, and yet, I'm still being questioned for what I do. It's frustrating. If I say something about it, I am seen as a racial-feminist. Regardless, I will not be silenced. I'm still fighting for the rights of all women, including trans women, women with disabilities, women of color, to be seen and heard. That's why I am doing my work as a sex educator and advocate; I believe that through my work, students are being awakened and aware of the injustice in our society. My work focuses on the achieving our fundamental rights as human beings and that is being well-informed with choices we have and having the ability to make an autonomous choice. 

What is your #1 strength that has contributed to your success?
My passion for students and the Deaf community. It's the only thing that kept me awake and moving. It's something that is constantly on my mind and does not want to quit even though if it's mostly volunteering work.

What keeps you happy + emotionally healthy?
My cats, plants, and loving partner kept me sane and grounded most of the times. :)  

Who inspire you most?
My Deaf friends. I did not have a Deaf role model to look up to when I was younger, and now, with being surrounded with my supportive and wonderful Deaf chosen-family / community, I am inspired to see my Deaf colleagues being passionate about their studies and work. It's amazing to see many obstacles that they've overcome and continue to break. From seeing each other breaking barriers, we are encouraged and strengthened to continue to overcome our obstacles. My Deaf community is my rock. 

What do you hope for in the future of the Deaf community? What do you hope to see change in this country?
I hope that one day all Deaf children will receive the right to learn sign language as their first language at their early age. It's their human right to be able to acquire a language that is accessible to them, instead of expecting them to speak and read lips to meet unrealistic expectations to fit in the hearing world.

This may be unrealistic, but I hope that one day we all will be able to connect with each other on a deeper level and become more conscious of our attitudes and actions and its impact on others. It's too often that we get too involved with our own little world without realizing the ripple effects on the marginalized communities. We are definitely in a dark & scary age for many marginalized communities and I'm hoping that this is just temporary and that this is a wake-up call for many of us to get together and become stronger as one to fight against hate and bigotry. 

How can people get involved or support the work that you and others are doing?
I believe the most important thing as right now is to ensure that all of your videos are accessible by captioning them and providing transcripts for the DeafBlind as well in order to create more accessible learning environment for the Deaf community. To support my work and support Deaf individuals to become well-rounded individuals with a better understanding of their sexuality and relationships, you can share my videos via Facebook / YouTube and encourage parents of Deaf children and educators/ professionals within the Deaf Education system to contact me to get resources and training.
 


GET INVOLVED

Bethany is currently seeking funds to create more ASL-centric sexuality education videos to reflect the true diversity of the community. If you are interested in donating or contributing in different ways contact Bethany at bethany@bethanygehman.com.  

Visit Bethany's Website

 

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