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opinion

Hi Auntie,

I was wondering if you remember that doctor you told me about, the heart specialist at Toronto General Hospital. He helped you understand all the surgeries and medications you have to put up with, and he sometimes came by just to say, "Hi," because he knows it can be boring sitting in a hospital bed all day. He was funny, and you liked chatting with him.

You said to me that it was fine with you that he is, "you know." Then you made a forward wave gesture with your hand. I just wanted to make sure – you mean he's gay, right? I was wondering if you could think about how nice and smart he is while we talk about the new sex education curriculum that you're worried about.

Did I tell you that one of my friends goes to public schools to talk about sex education and healthy relationships? His name is Rahim. Yes, Rahim Thawer. Yes, he's Muslim. He used to work with the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention. He's a social worker and a counselor for adults, too. He told me that sometimes he will meet men who are from Pakistan or China or Iraq, men who are married to women but still having sex with other men, secretly.

I asked Rahim if he thought these men were putting their wives at risk for diseases. He said that I shouldn't assume that they don't use condoms, and that I was villainizing them instead of understanding how hard it is to stay hidden their whole lives. They're often very worried that if their families find out they won't ever see them again.

"People get okay with a kind of silence and secrecy," he told me. This definitely happens in our family. Look how many of us there are, but just one of my 50 cousins ever told us that he was gay. We all still loved him, but we didn't get any better at talking openly. But it's silence that leads people to take risks that can hurt them and other people.

Please believe me, those rumours and letter that are going around aren't true. Kids are not going to be taking their clothes off in school, and they aren't going to be touching themselves. When Rahim is teaching kids in school about "consent," it doesn't mean consent to have sex. It's about knowing that their bodies belong to them, and that other people's bodies don't. They learn to ask if they want to give someone a hug, or a high five, and to be respectful if that person says no. They learn that it's okay to say no themselves. That's what consent is for a second grader. It's very simple, but it can be very important.

They are going to learn the real words for private parts, that's true. I think it's a good idea. I'll tell you the truth – I think the person who wrote those letters is the one who is hurting children. I think that person wants kids to stay ignorant for a reason. This is a hard thing to talk about, but Auntie, you and I both know someone who was hurt, sexually, by an adult as a child. Maybe it was you. It makes me so sad and so angry.

We need to give kids the words to talk about their bodies, and to teach them that their bodies belong to them. There was a police officer on the radio last week who said the same thing – that if a child says someone touched their "penis" or "vagina," it is much easier to get an adult in trouble than if the child uses a word that the police don't know.

Silence is what puts children in harm's way. What Rahim said to me is that when we don't talk about these things, "we are perpetuating that cycle of silence that needs to be broken." Secrecy is what keeps us from talking about the abuse we've suffered, instead letting it grow into mental-health problems, things like alcoholism and suicide. We've seen that in our family, too.

You know, Auntie, when you were younger, women were sometimes so embarrassed to talk about their breasts that they died from breast cancer. That happens a lot less now, because we talk about breasts as though they were just normal body parts. I really think sex ed is just a continuation of that. It's about health.

All I want is for the littlest kids in our family, my son and his cousins, to be safer and more confident than we were. Because I love them. You love them, too. Let's start by talking about that.