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As many of you go back to school, I wanted to share a story from one of my first days teaching human sexuality. It was a lesson in humility, language, and examination. Essentially I learned that the ASL sign for penis isn't a crotch level jack-off motion and that the deaf community needs privacy like hearing community.

Thank you for being part of our ever growing, amazingly curious community! And special thanks to Em Cohen for coordination and stage support; Bonnie Christensen for interpreting; and HHP for letting us use their classroom.

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Dr. Lindsay Doe: First, a little story about sex and American Sign Language. In Undergrad I took a class in collaboration and co-operation, a course focused on teacher efforts to support students with disabilities.

Since sexuality was my passion even then, my end of the semester research project was about accessibility of sex education, kind of a guidelines to any educator. For part of my research I went to the library and photo-copied this: essential sex related signs. See how each one has a description of the action and the image of the hands?

"Sexual intercourse: the upturned left "V" hand remains motionless while the down-turned right "V" hand comes down repeatedly on the left." Wait, What?

I started to judge American Sign Language and referred to this sign when talking about repressed sexuality. See how the person on the bottom lies there passively not moving while the person on top thrusts up and down? I told you I was judging.

So jump ahead a decade, I am teaching human sexuality at the university, a class about 200 students. It's the first day of a new semester and there's an American Sign Language interpreter twenty feet to my right.

I was thrilled and proceeded to share this with my students. Telling them that you can learn about human sexuality and ASL sexual signs. 

To illustrate my point I paused, said penis and whipped my head to the right to see how the interpreter signed penis. I didn't notice anything at least nothing distinctive like ASL for intercourse. So I proceeded with the class.

After most students have filed out, I approached the Deaf student, her identity preference, and asked how I could best accommodate her education.

The conversation was great, and she and the interpreter explained that in Deaf Culture sexual signs aren't used around what she calls hearing people. It's a way for people to keep their privacy and avoid ridicule, like the kind I had expressed earlier.

The interpreter, being a hearing person, right? because she hears me and then signs to the student, didn't know all of the sexual signs and even those she did know were inappropriate to use in front of the hearing eyes of the other 199 students.

To accommodate her learning needs, I needed to slow down so that the interpreter could spell out the sexual words that she didn't have signs for and instead of drawing attention to the interpreter, let her become unnoticed by the hearing students.

I needed to stop questioning their language and hold mine to examination. I thought about how language worked, how symbols held places for ideas and people put these symbols together over and over and over again to share ideas.

If the symbol, written, spoken, signed, danced didn't exist, then they took what they had and created something new. Like the words sexy, once sexful, boob which also means stupid person, or crotch, the 1530's word for pitchfork. Which eventually became crotch, the region where the body forks. 

I thought about the spoken-English word blowjob and how many take it literally before learning the meaning of the symbol. (blows into her hand)

Here is a demonstration of an actual blowjob. (throws a paper airplane and blows down army guys)

Charles Panati, an expert of origins, found that blowjobs are actually referred to jet airplanes. During the 1940's and 50's, it was said that the powerful take off gave those near by a blowjob and so the plane itself became known as a blowjob. Not to be confused with a jet-job, which is a sexual blowjob given to someone on a jet plane.

The sexually related blowjob, that you are probably thinking of, is more likely a derivative of blow-off than the aviation blowjob. Like to blow-off steam, or release pressure. 

In 1700's Europe a woman who had sex for money was called a blower. She blew off his pressure. Her job, to blow off. Blow off job, blowjob.

They're loosely connected dots in an attempt to understand how we communicate. Charles Panati, a mastermind of etymology isn't sure this is the connection, I'm not either, but we get to stay curious.

"For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." -Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed