Our waiter the other day was a cute guy, very busy and efficient. “Is he one of us?” The question just came out. We all understood the question to mean, “Is he gay?” “Too ambiguous to tell,” was one reply. But we found ourselves AGAIN not questioning the concept that he must be either gay or straight. Almost everybody assumes there is a fairly clear-cut line between gay and straight, just as there is between male and female. Isn’t that the way we are?
No, in fact it isn’t.
This difference between scientific fact and general assumption is causing a lot of trouble, and it is not really rational or necessary.
Physiologically human beings generally conform to a typical female or male developmental pattern with male or female genitalia and secondary sex characteristics. Exceptions are few, but variations are many. Psychologically, however, human beings are less consistent. Sex, simplistically speaking, is about the physical and gender is about the psychological aspects of being a person.
Shouldn’t the physical and the psychological be consistent? It certainly makes life simpler when boys are boys and girls are girls. But life is not always simple. In truth, there is no necessary connection between a person’s sexual appearance and their gender orientation. This inconvenient fact is often overlooked.
If there is no absolute link between how a person appears and how they are oriented, then what is all the fuss about when it comes to putting on sexually distinctive clothes? The basic argument is that these clothes make it clear who are male and who are female. They are necessary for social stability, apparently, except for heavy winter clothing, most hospital garments, the vast amount of young adult casual wear, military battle outfits, infant clothes, academic and religious costumes, clothing worn by culturally insensitive tourists coming from America and Europe to Asia, attire for almost all Olympic sports except swimming, and judges sitting on the bench.
Really, the difference in clothing for males and females has nothing to do with anything but mating, which is supposed to have to do with finding someone of the opposite sex and making society stable. Actually, the more mates are strongly bonded the less distinctive clothing helps. And on the other hand, the more sexy (sexually distinctive and explicit) a costume is the less it contributes to monogamist, un-fluid society. Nor is there a necessary link between finding someone of the opposite sex and finding a mate. WE know that.
If clear sexual distinctions are inconsistent with reality, if they are confusing and troublesome to those for whom they do not fit, if they are used most blatantly for anti-social ends, and if they are widely disregarded for the very purposes they are designed to serve, then why is the sexual binary so heavily defended?
There is one other possibility. Defending the male-female binary notion is about defending privilege. Ah, that rings a bell.
I am convinced that anxiety in early adolescence about being gay is a serious threat to gay kids in middle adolescence. I am certain that anxiety comes from concern about negative responses from important outsiders. For middle-adolescent kids those important outsiders tend to be where life is centered: school and home. Therefore, it is up to the school and home to reduce anxiety as it gathers. If school and home effectively communicate, “You’re OK if you’re gay” no other social factor will undermine it for adolescents.
Too often home and school are reactive. They treat homosexuality as they would handle leukemia: let’s not deal with it if we don’t have to. By the time Johnny or Guy begins to let it be known homosexuality is an issue, even if school and home want to then be affirming, it could be too late.
There are two reasons it could be too late for the young gay guy: silence on this topic often sends a loud message that this topic means trouble, and silence can also give negative and false information from other sources time to grow. Preadolescence and early adolescence are when boys accumulate attitudes even if they are too young to process them accurately. Flawed as the attitudes may be, they begin to take charge. This is why silence can be a danger just as lethal as homophobia. Silence is not always nothing. As in this case, it can be laden with meaning. Silence says, “This topic is not OK. Being gay is not OK. If you’re gay you are not OK.”
If Guy or Johnny are being targeted by bullies or just accosted by comments and ridicule, the boys may, and probably do, feel powerless, or worse, a hopeless failure. After that, any crisis, no matter how apparently minor in the big scheme of life, can be too much to handle.
I spent a whole day this week reading and laughing at one online slide after another.
“How to tell if a toy is for boys or girls. A guide:” one frame said. “Do you operate the toy with your genitalia? YES: It is not for children. NO: it is for either boys or girls.” There were a number of suggestions about letting children pick their own toys.
On another slide a teenage fellow asks, “Does it really matter if your guy friends like guys over girls? I mean doesn’t that kinda leave more girls for you?”
Many of the multi-section slides are bit of monologue from the comedian Ellen. In one she says, “I don’t like to label people. The only thing I label is my lunch here at work. I write ‘Lesbian’ on it so everybody knows it’s mine.” (Can we get Ellen on any of the cable packages here in Chiang Mai? I may have to sign up.)
Most of the slides are visual. You have to see them to see the irony that makes them funny. A couple I liked included a highway billboard that suggests, “Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one. It’s fine to be proud of it. But please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around.”
Another slide shows a tattooed shoulder quoting, in Gothic script, “A man shall not lie with a male as one does with a woman. It is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22”. The subtitle exclaims: “Tattoo of Leviticus 18:22 forbidding homosexuality, $200. Not knowing that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos, priceless.”
“Ur negativities cannot penetrate mai Rainbow Wall of Happiness,” a kitten tells us from inside a brightly colored basket.
I had to quit a little after four when I decided to tell you about this website. You can find this stuff on “LGBT Equality Worldwide” on Facebook. Click on any picture and follow through by clicking on arrow points that show up on the sides of the slides when your cursor gets near. I think their collection of wit and wisdom is bottomless.
It sure made my day.
In many ways, it seems to me, being gay is about dealing with the unexpected.
I have a perspective on emotional shocks, being a one-time victim and multi-time observer of culture shock and the effects it has on people. The salient aspect of culture shock is that it always hits when we are not expecting it. No matter how much we read and get ready, culture shock hits from a blind side. Perhaps that’s part of the definition of culture shock. If we are expecting it, it doesn’t shock us. It takes an artist to shock us anymore at the movies. We’ve seen so much we are expecting about anything they can conjure up. Still, they manage to exceed their previous level and shock us again, or the movie is a box-office flop.
We think we’re ready for the gay shocks:
Hey, Dad. I’m gay.
I want to let you know, I’m positive.
Uh, I got a new boyfriend.
Could we just agree to live separately for a while?
We’ve rehearsed our reactions to these shockers. We will be rocked and stunned, but we are ready to make a non-hysterical reply. But we will be thrown by the one we never dreamed of. What are those?
What are your worst case scenarios?
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.