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?


Kengo Biddles said...

I know it was regularly associated with it in my home-town; there's a stigma of an openly gay man being a predator of some sort, that for whatever reason is out there.

I know that's how I was treated by a bishopric after my first divorce. (which had no infidelity, whatsoever)

If it hadn't been a single's ward, I think he would've told me not to go near the young men.

I think America has a problem with Paedophilia, not only with regard to homosexuality, but heterosexuality. I mean, Miley Cyrus! Hello! America's so fixated on looking young and beautiful, we're prostituting many porn sites out there are for "barely legal" whatever?

Part of it seems to stem from the social view that it is an aberrant sexual choice, and thus must relate to other aberrant choices.

And some of it is just us as Americans needing real help.

Chedner said...

One of the first things my Stake President asked me after I told him of my being attracted to males was "Have you abused any children?"

I was quite taken back.

I also used to be the main and preferred babysitter for my nearing 30 nieces and nephews... until I came out; now I am never asked to babysit (except for one brother and sister-in-law who are fully accepting of me).

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

I think the prejudice that gay men are somehow inclined to paedophilia is still unfortunately very strongly rooted in many people; however, I think that many younger people see that this as ridiculous. They've grown up with openly gay people and friends, and for the most part, know better.

Within the LdS church culture, homosexuality is regulary paired with paedophilia, incest, and rape when discussed as one of the main evils of our society. It's really no surprise then that people get weird ideas of what it means to be gay when their constantly told that being gay is equivalent to committing sexual crimes.

MohoInTx said...

I never really heard of it being associated with pedophiles within the LDS church, until I heard about Miracle of Forgiveness.

But currently, they have taken a much lighter stance on homosexuality, and I don't think any general authority would say such a thing now.

One of the things that scared me to death before coming out was whether or not my siblings would trust me with their kids. I love my neices and nephews, and to tear me from them would break my heart.

All seven of my older siblings and their spouses have been really supportive since coming out, and they don't really mind me being around their kids.

People's perceptions have definitely changed for the better over time, whether it is the members themselves, or the Church.

Java said...

Here's a different point of view, but with a similar experience. I am a straight Southern woman from an evangelical protestant religious background. (that's a lot of qualifiers) Until about 2 years ago I was homophobic. And now that you mention it, yes, there was within my homophobia a generalized fear/suspicion of pedophilia. I had forgotten that part. It seems so far away. I have learned so much about homosexuality and glbt people the idea seems ludicrous now.

When we invited our young gay friend to live with us in March of '06 (the turning point in my homophobia) we were warned by many of our friends to be careful, that we were putting our children in danger. Our youngest two were 8 years old, and our oldest son was 15. The implication was that the gay boy (17 at the time) would turn our older son gay and molest our two young children.

By the time my husband and I made the invitation for this young man to live here, we had very little concern about what psycho-sexual harm he would do to our children. The more we've come to know him, and now his partner who also lives with us, the more ridiculous the whole idea is. I trust these young men with my children's lives. (Though I don't think I'd trust the children with the young men's lives. These kids are wild!)

As far as how to kill this elephant? One bite at a time. No, wait, that's how one eats an elephant. In my experience, the best way to banish the pedophilia fear is to make friends with the fearful. Educate them one by one. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I became friends with a gay young man, and I don't fear that any gay man or lesbian would molest children. I know better.

angryyoungwoman said...

My parents are in there sixties--and they have that deep, ingrained fear of homosexuality. All the while I was growing up they would relate it to pedophilia--but, to be fair, anytime anyone (who'd been around us kids) committed a sexual sin, they'd ask to make sure that person hadn't molested us--they were a bit paranoid. If I ever do talk to my dad about gay rights, he goes down the gay=pedophile road, though. I can't think of any way to teach them anything else.

angryyoungwoman said...

oops, sorry for the typos

Molly Sue said...

Yes, unfortunately it is still a stigma that youth today encounter. I hate that.

Being gay is being attracted to other MEN not little boys and a lot of people in religious circles have a difficult time making this logical leap. They can't get beyond the bedroom issue when they hear that someone they know is gay. They fixate.

I have a great book for you and your kids that I think can be helpful in a hundred ways, one of which is to dispell the notion that gay men are pedophiles. It addresses the idea that two men can love, be commited and in a healthy monogomous relationship and also raise children. It's a true story and I hope you either have or will get it...."And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell.

I'm sorry about the pedophilia thing. I hope it helps that this individual believes in relationships like yours. Hope to see you at Pride Festival this year!!

Paul said...

I left a very long comment -- but I think Blogger ate it.

In summary, I really like Java's comment: "make friends with the fearful."

More gays need to get out of the gayborhood and mingle.

Peter said...

unfortunately this seems to be my mother's favorite ammunition against me. How is a man who is attracted to men different from a man who I'd attracted to children? In her mind the only difference is that one goes to jail. She tells me frequently that I am just as bad as a pedophile and that homosexuality is just as "sick." I don't get it. I don't see any logic in that reasoning, but I still have to live with the fact that my mom associates homosexuality with pedaphilia. I too wonder how many others make that connection in their minds.

Scot said...

Wow, thank you all for the many great comments.

In general, though, it’s disheartening to learn my suspicions are justified.

Kengo: I get what you mean. Britney Spears does a whole naughty catholic schoolgirl thing and it's in the middle of pop culture.

Chedner, I don’t know what to say. That’s just awful and I hope they soon come around to realize you (their brother!) didn’t change into something else the moment they learned you were gay.

And Peter, wow. I share your confusion; a moral code that puts rape of a child anywhere near loving intimacy between consenting adults is not near reasonable to me. It seems doubly strange coming from women, who generally experience that same attraction to men we do. Maybe she is trying to shock the gay out of you by such a hard line, and doesn’t truly think that?

Craig: “It's really no surprise”

But I wish it were. I wonder in your line of work if higher-ups ever make an issue out of this for gay people.

Vanson, at least we can count you and I in the group of those not treated awfully in this area by family. Fortunate.

Java, I absolutely love your input. You are such a sweetheart and I hope the gay tenants of your home know how lucky they are. If not, I'll give'em a talking to.

I get what you and Paul mean, friends with the fearful… It’s not easy though, to socialize with someone if that elephant is indeed in the room; there are countless other biases I’d rather fight and have hoisted upon me. But, as you say, one bight at a time :-).

angryyoungwoman : “they were a bit paranoid.

And you know, that’s probably where I can best find some common ground and swallow my anger at being so associated. I can be a paranoid parent in this general area too; heck, just a couple posts ago I expressed my fear of letting our boys sleep outside for the idea of them being abducted.

oops, sorry for the typos

Oy, you should see my posts before spell-check gets a hold of them.

Molly: "And Tango Makes Three"

:-) It’s one of our favorites. It was a great way to give our boys an age appropriate example near how our family came about.

“I hope it helps that this individual believes in relationships like yours. Hope to see you at Pride Festival this year!!”

It does help, and you can’t miss us. We look just like our picture :-). We should be walking with Equality Utah this year.

Once again, thank you all for the great comments; it helps me wrap my head around such frustrating issues.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

It's not even just that people think gays are paedophiles, but also that they think that being sexually abused by the same sex will make a person gay, especially when done to a child. Believe me, this is an especially harmful lie.

Scot, what brought you to post about this?

Scot said...

We had close family and friends over to celebrate my graduation and all the parents began talking about the appropriate age for allowing sleepovers, as our kids are all about the same age and none of us had allowed them yet. A friend asked if I thought other parents would see sending their children to our home differently for such biases, and I wasn't quite sure how much things had changed. For example, there seems to be no issues now with having school friends over for play dates.

The scenario of our boys making friends and then their parents trying to keep them from doing stuff together for such a horrible association stuck in my craw, though. The question alone told me it may still be a problem and it brought that whole incident in that women's study course to mind. Nevertheless, I think we've been lucky so far with the parents at their school. The thing with this issue, though, is that it seems like it'll be tough to tell if there's a problem with a particular parent in need of address.