Monday, May 05, 2008
Is There an Elephant in This Room?
...and if so, how do I kill it?
As an undergrad I took a couple women studies courses to fulfill the “well rounded” requirement of the university; you know, so that mathematicians may be tortured with art history and poets with chemistry.
One day the topic of gender stereotypes was brought up and I outed myself as a gay man in order to address what I’d experienced. At that a discussion broke out during which one girl became notably hostile to the “homosexual agenda.” The teacher eventually asked her how her perception of me had changed, and one question she asked the girl was if she’d be worried if I and her brother became friends now.
At the time I thought it was a really bizarre question for the teacher to ask. Worried? About what? The conclusion I jumped to was that her fear may be that her brother may want to switch teams in order to date me (I was quite handsome at 19 ;-)). With that error in mind, I said she need not worry a bit; I was faithful to my boyfriend (and always have been :-)).
But, as the conversation progressed it became clear this teacher personally knew this particular girl, and knew her brother wasn’t some bi-curious college student, one gay friend away from forsaking football for Musical Theater, as I’d assumed. He was just a child in his early teens. As impossible as it sounds to me now, the teacher was actually asking, in class, one student if she’d be afraid another student would violate, in such a terrible way, a child, and the answer was yes!
This was the first time I’d ever got wind of the notion that, to a substantial number of people, being gay is associated with pedophilia. Heck, this was one of the first times I even heard of the notion of pedophilia. Today it seems it’s all too often mentioned in the news, but back then I was somehow able to remain blissfully ignorant.
And my response in this situation was: “Oh don’t worry about me, I’m taken”…
Ugg, I still cringe. I was both shocked and mortified once I realized the age of her brother and how I must have just enforced that bigoted girl’s bias. I never got a chance to explain, but how would I? I’m still really hesitant to even address this topic here.
Anyway, I was happily naive about many of the horrors of this world well into my teens, and here I was being associated with one of the worst. It left a lasting impression.
I started to wonder: this girl was from the LDS culture and that clearly misinformed her views on homosexuality… most of my siblings are LDS… Do my siblings make the same association? Do they now see me as a threat to my nephews and nieces? How many people in my world think like that? It made me sick to realize this possibility, that any person might now wonder about, let alone do, such a horrible thing.
To this day I’ve no answer to those questions. It’s nothing to bring up or clear up in most any situation (and yet here I am asking). It’s just a horrible lingering question now. On anti-gay sites I see the association between homosexuality and pedophilia made often; I know it’s still out there, but how common is it? How close is it to our home? Is it in my cousins? In our neighbors? Is it going to hurt our children, when the age comes for stuff like sleepovers?
If so, how to I protect them and insulate them from it? How do I fix it?
Anti-gay folks are clever. To even breach such a disgusting topic is disturbing. The elephant they’ve placed in this room is hardly ever going to be mentioned by the person holding the prejudice; it’s just a silent fear on both sides, pushing both sides apart.
I mean, I directly know being gay has nothing to do with that desire to harm children in such an unmentionable way, but I also know most parents, just like me, would not gamble with such a thing, even when they know they're being unreasonable (e.g. the fort post…). So what if this girl, from that women’s studies course, now has a child in our boy’s school. How can I keep her bias from hurting our children, when it seems impossible to now know if its even still there, and, if it is, bringing it up could make it even worse?
I'd also like to know if I'm being paranoid from such experiences and reading so much anti-gay literature? Does this bias still exist in substantial numbers? Does the younger gay generation encounter such views in as casual of settings as a classroom? Do they now experience more subtle displays than what I experienced?
I know it's an ugly topic, but how does the unspeakable get resolved? How would you even know if it already has been?