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Gay Teen Suicide and Our Loss: A Personal Reflection

I’m cross-posting the following post from my Bilgrimage blog earlier today:

My stomach is wimbly this morning, and I have a sore throat and am sneezing my brains out.  So I conclude I’ve caught some bug, and decide to coddle myself with nostrums as the day begins.  What those nostrums might be, I have no idea—an extra cup of coffee, perhaps.  But I like the ring of the phrase “coddle myself with nostrums” in my slow, waking-up mind—something like “comfort me with apples.”

And as I tossed and turned through a sleepless night, trying to find a comfortable position for the groaning innards and a way to breathe through the stuffy nose, I thought constantly of the short lives of those young folks ended tragically by suicide.  And wondered what happened to me, that prevented such an outcome.

And here’s what comes to mind as I think about that question: I found amazing grace as a youngster in three areas of my life.  Grace to go on, to imagine a world beyond the world of shame and abuse.  And grace to see myself in a light other than that cast by shame and abuse.

Two of those “areas” were, in fact, people—two extraordinary, loving women who, without ever speaking this message to me, managed to communicate strongly to me, from the time I was very young, that I mattered.  That who I was, even when this who happened not to fit the norm, was precisely who God intended me to be.  And that I would betray God and everything God intended for me if I chose shame instead of self-acceptance, even when I paid a price for defying the demand of others around me that I be ashamed of myself.

I’m speaking of my grandmother and aunt here—my mother’s mother and oldest, unmarried sister.  Who lived together and who, in many respects, could not have been more different from each other, as cheese is to chalk or night to day.  My grandmother lived in a perpetual state of pique at my aunt’s ability to elude her understanding (and, more to the point, control), to think her own thoughts and go her own way—even when that way was “peculiar,” one of the most damning words a Southern family could use about one of its own, as I was growing up.

Peculiar was, well, peculiar: she was so peculiar, she served me fruitcake left over from Christmas on a hot July day; he sat and didn’t say pea turkey for several hours, as peculiar as he could be; he’s so peculiar, he doesn’t realize it costs nothing to smile and smiles woo friends more than frowns.  Or, as my paternal grandmother once said of a woman in our town who had—amazingly—written a tell-all book about the rest of us: Why, they say she’s so peculiar that she reads books while she washes her dishes!

My aunt was peculiar.  And wonderful.  Once she had worked out the right and wrong of a situation to her satisfaction, according to her own peculiar calculus hinged on metrics unavailable to anyone else in the world, there was no diverging from what she knew to be the case—from what she knew to be right.  And she’d defend anyone belittled by others for holding an opinion that diverged from the norm with a ferocity that flamed forth in her green eyes and red hair, as if it were inbuilt in her coloring itself and not merely her character of agate and steel.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that the cost of my aunt’s fierce loyalty to those she loved and defended was steep.  She arrived at her position of solidarity with outcasts by the steep route of suffering, as the only unmarried sibling of her family, and as the one sibling who managed—almost; she was two courses short—to complete a master’s degree.

Where her peculiar views of subjects like whether babies should be swaddled to the chin (Kat, no; sisters, yes) to prevent the unnatural tendency to explore their pleasure-producing nether bits (sisters, yes, clearly unnatural and clearly to be prevented; Kat, no, clearly natural and to be treated as the normal self-exploration of an infant) were only reinforced by dubious learning.  Peculiar learning that came from the outside, from books and professors with Northern pedigrees, and was ipso facto dubious and threatening, in a culture that prided itself on having inbuilt and ready-made answers to every dilemma.

And it may well be that part of the friction between peculiar, think-her-own-thoughts Kat and my imperious, loving-to-a-fault grandmother had to do with the fact that they were, as mother and daughter, two sides of the same coin—different sides, and therefore doomed to clash.  But the same coin, one that spent the same regardless of which side was up or down.  And one whose worth was based on the same characteristics on either side: unwavering devotion to loved ones, an unyielding commitment to making room for even the most inconvenient family member, a determination to instill courage, wholesome pride, and virtue and probity in each young family member in their charge.

Specific scenes flash back to me as I think about the influence both of these loving women had on me as a child—and, in particular, as a child growing up gay, who had no word for the difference that made him, at times, unpalatable to his own father.  And the object of derision and both verbal and physical abuse in school.  For years.  As teachers stood by in silence, observing the abuse and giving tacit approval to it.  Doing nothing to stop it.

One scene: the last time I ever saw my grandmother, on the Sunday before her death early Thursday morning the next week, Ascension Thursday.  I am leaving her house, begging her as I do so to come to my high school graduation the following Sunday.  She tells me she’ll do her best to come.

And then she calls me back to the screen door where she’s standing to say goodbye.  And tells me, “When you were born, you had eyes that seemed always to be searching for something.  Peering.  Looking.  I hope you find what you are searching for in life.  I expect great things of you.”

Those were her last words to me.  I have to think, knowing what I know now—that she was within days of her death—that she intended these words to be her legacy to me.  That she knew she was close to death and wanted to leave me with a final commission.

Which was all about saying and doing what she had said and done for years: affirming me—affirming me in my uniqueness and peculiarity—no matter what anyone else said about me or did to put me in my place.

No matter what my own father, who found it well-nigh impossible to accept and love a gay son who did not mirror to him his own idea of masculinity, said or did to me.  My grandmother absolutely did not meddle in the internal affairs of her children’s families.  She never said a single word of reproach to my father when he was brutal to me.

But she made it clear, by her eloquent looks and her very different way of dealing with me, that she did not and would not countenance the brutality.  And that it pained her to witness.

As did her peculiar daughter, who provided me with one book after another that permitted me to discover other very peculiar characters around the globe and throughout history, characters who had somehow run the gauntlet of their own cultures and managed not only to maintain their distinctive peculiarity intact, but who had also learned to celebrate that peculiarity.  To build healthy, happy lives around the stigma despised by everyone else, which turned out to be saving grace for them.

I will never forget my aunt’s words to me, in a letter, when I wrote to tell her I was gay.  She wrote back promptly: “This changes nothing.  I have always loved you and I will always love you.”

And that was that.  Nothing did change.  The love remained constant—as it had always been—a rock-solid foundation on which to build my self-esteem, precisely because it never shifted and could not shift, no matter who I was or what I might do.

And those books, which this teacher-aunt supplied with such perspicuous insight into just what I wanted or needed to read at the moment,  books she showered on me at every turn, tattered Victorian morality tales culled from her school’s library when they became too worn to remain on the shelves, books she sought in bookstores when I tried haltingly to explain what I wanted to learn, and no other adult understood my request: these are the third factor that somehow carried me through, as a gay boy susceptible to abuse at the hands of my father and school mates who had the tacit consent of teachers to inflict pain on me and other gay boys.

Books were a world for me.  A world of escape, yes, but also of redemption.  A world in which I learned that I was far from the only peculiar little soul in the world.  That the world was, indeed, full of peculiar souls, and that the peculiarity of other souls—of Thoreau and Emily Dickinson, of Hans Christian Andersen and Beverly Cleary, George MacDonald and Lois Lenski—was wonderful in the extreme, cause for joy and not for shame.  A world so engrossing, so redemptive, so available to me because of the loving care of my teacher-aunt that I was, my fourth-grade teacher informed my parents, reading at college level by fourth grade, according to the Iowa Basic Skills test that we took each year in school.

Through reading, I had built a world I needed in order to survive, at an early age.  With the encouragement and active assistance of my aunt.

And so when I dealt with the verbal and physical blows, I could escape through books.  I could touch my soul by encountering the souls of others through the words they had placed on a page for young people like me to read.

I am at a point in my life at which, honestly, I almost don’t remember the details of the abuse.  Perhaps I have chosen to forget.  Perhaps it no longer matters so much to me, that rosary whose decades are too full of sorrow, too short on the joyful and glorious mysteries of human existence.

Or perhaps it’s that, in the final analysis, the abuse is not what has mattered to me in the end, not what has determined the course of my life and the shape of my character.  As the love of my aunt, my grandmother, and other loving people has done, throughout my life.  Or as the souls I’ve touched through reading, dialogue, and loving relationships have done.

I can certainly remember, and if it helps anyone to know, I can share a few stories of the pain—of a kind of pain still all too common in our families and schools, which, shockingly, can result in the choice of young people who endure it day in and day out to end their lives.

I remember, for instance, the two cousins in my hometown, Mark and Randy J., who had a sadistic streak a mile long, and were permitted to manifest it frequently, because they were from the town’s “old” families, wealthy families that did as they pleased.  One of their favorite pastimes was to fill tow sacks full of stones and bricks and then climb into trees and drop the heavy bombs onto the backs of unsuspecting dogs and cats.

I endured the torments of the damned at their hands for years—particularly at the hands of Mark, who was in my class and obsessed with me.  With what he imagined my non-existent sex life to be all about.  And with his taunts about that non-existent sex life which ended only when I pointed out to him that his fantasies might say more about him and his own hidden desires than they said about me.

And here’s the scene that stands out in particular: it’s 1964, and I’ve gone with some of my classmates on a trip to New York to attend the world’s fair.  Along the way, on the bus, Mark and Randy constantly torment my best friend John and me, intertwining our arms if we fall asleep on the bus, putting lipstick onto our faces while we nap and then informing the husband-and-wife chaperone team of teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, who are accompanying us that we’ve been kissing.

Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, who receive this news in silence, sneers on their faces, cold blue disdain staring out from their eyes at John and me.  Who are fourteen years old and who do not have a clue what any of this talk about sexual orientation means.

And then we stop for the night in Virginia, where the room in which John and I are staying has a bathroom shared with Mark and Randy’s room.  And Mark and Randy imagine that John and I have locked the door of the bathroom, so that they cannot use it—and why do those two queers need privacy, anyway?

We tell them repeatedly that the door isn’t locked.  If they can’t open it from their side, the problem is not with us and not on our side.

But this fails to satisfy the J. cousins.  They run to get Mr. Barnes.  Who stands watching as they batter the door down, knocking me down in the process and then pummeling me for having locked the door—which had been stuck and not locked all along.

And as this happens, and as the vile taunts about sexual orientation pour forth, the adult, Mr. Barnes, stands by in stony silence, permitting them to punish me for something I haven’t done at all.  For who they imagine me to be.

And this doesn’t end with junior high school.  It continues all through high school, particularly in p.e. class.  Where a mean, bitter little thug named Lavon P., who is like a character from a Flannery O’Connor short story, repeatedly launches into me from behind, knocking me down, if I make a mistake in a volleyball game.  As the coaches stand by in silence, doing nothing, while he rails at the limp-wristed queer who can’t even punch a volleyball right.

Lavon P., who helps found and is vice-president of, a Christian prayer and bible study club at our public school, a club that sponsors daily flag ceremonies the whole school is expected to attend, to satisfy the “Christians” who sponsor them.  And who quotes bible verses at me as he punches me in the face on the floor of the gym.  While the adults, the gym teachers, stand by in silence.  As they do when he and other boys come up behind me in p.e. class, and then reach around and twist my nipples as they proclaim that they have to feel my titties to see if I’m a man or a woman.

Yes, I can remember.  And I have no doubt at all that the pain those precious young people who have now ended their lives endured was real.  And fierce.  And daunting and unsolvable enough that they made the tragic decision not to endure the pain any more.

If my experience is any indicator, I suspect that the worst of their pain was not precisely the taunts and the abuse of peers but the refusal of adults with authority to stop the abuse.  The tacit approval of adults.  The loud, clear message that adults continue to give bullies of gay youth, that they are doing a holy and righteous thing in pummeling the queer.

Because his or her life is not worth anything at all.  And he or she is better dead.

Where my experience differs—and this I can’t explain: it is grace, amazing grace—is that, early in my life, I encountered countervailing forces that allowed me to surmount the indignities, no matter how gross they were.  Because I knew, due to those forces and the grace they brought into my life, that nothing could touch the soul shining bright inside me.

Where love lived.  Which was full of love.  Which no amount of hatred or abuse or taunting could quench.  Because the source of that love is not inside me, but is entirely outside and beyond my control.

I am deeply pained that the irreplaceable young people we have lost in recent weeks do not now have the chance to shine forth in their own souls in life—as I have no doubt each would have done, given the chance—but are able to shine for us now only in death.  It should not be that way.  And I hope that the many adults who stand by in silence and permit these tragedies to occur will look at the shining and ask how much the world is losing when they permit bullies and thugs to drive these valuable youth to early graves.

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32 Responses

  1. People need to hear the stories of abuse more. When they realize that their “loving” intolerance of an atypical sexual orientation is the root of all this hate and violence, maybe they’ll realize that you can’t lovingly tell someone that there’s something evil about who they love. You cannot do that without hate.

    • Carla, thanks. I agree. I think it helps for people to hear these real-life stories for two reasons.

      As you rightly say, they flesh out precisely what happens when people (many of them people of faith) claim to love while they enact hate. These stories unmask the hate for what it is, and allow young folks still coping with the claims of religious groups to own God, love, and truth, to sift and make critical judgments that may save their lives.

      The other reason I think telling our stories in all their specificity is important is that I suspect many of those going through these experiences feel totally alone. I never discussed any of these experiences with anyone–friends, family, parents, teachers. I just endured. In silence. I knew that if I turned to my parents for help, they would in all likelihood take the side of the bullies. And years later, when I finally shared some of these experiences with my mother when I was an adult, that’s precisely what she did. She turned these stories into parables about my weakness, lack of masculinity, and inability to stand up for myself.

      Hearing that others have gone through this and survived makes young folks who hear feel less alone–I hope.

  2. Oh Bill, how moving that was. The worst to me is to hear of how your dad treated you and that your parents didn’t seem to care about how you were mistreated. Also, the attitude of the teachers is hard for me to understand. But I am learning to understand more of this attitude. Today I read this comment to a news story. “Archbishop Nienstedt has refused communion to sodomites at a college Mass.” A reply – ” How did he know they were sodomites? Hidden cameras in their dorm rooms?” First poster replies – “When it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the good bishop knows it’s a duck.” So here we have an Archbishop who is a bully. Just like some of the teachers that you had, perhaps worse. I am glad that I didn’t know too many like some of your teachers or that Archbishop. I had lots of nuns who treated kids, including me with respect. I think it is important to share these stories but sadly those that need most to hear them won’t listen.

    • Mark, thanks. Perhaps one message of many stories of teens bullied because they’re gay or perceived to be gay is that parents are often ambivalent. I had a call a year or so ago from a mother whose son has been bullied for being gay–or perceived to be gay. It’s a serious situation, and she wants legal action about this and has gotten much media attention.

      But she is adamant about insisting that her son is not gay, only perceived to be, and so she is extremely ambivalent about any support from the gay community. And I’ve read that this sometimes is the pattern even when teens commit suicide after persistent bullying based on the perception that they’re gay. Even then, some parents refuse to accept that they might have had a gay child.

      So part of the problem is dealing with parental enabling of bullying. In my parents’ case, it was, of course, a different era, and culturally, Southern men are historically inclined to want sons that mirror their own idea of masculinity. And Southern mothers often collude in this game. So you’re right, my parents weren’t inclined to challenge bullying of gay teens–rather the opposite. They saw the bullying as making a man out of the bullied boy.

      That’s a great parallel, between school bullying and the behavior of some bishops. I’ve seen Nienstedt’s behavior being called bullying now on several Catholic blogsites. And yet, there are posters, including ones even here at this site, who persist in saying that there’s nothing menacing or hateful at all about what Nienstedt is doing.

      I suppose the lesson is that what’s hateful depends very much on who’s being hurt. My parents would not have seen my bullying as hateful or hurtful, sad to say. But, then, they weren’t the object of the hatred.

  3. What a tragically beautiful post. Are you a participant in Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project? I haven’t seen it, only heard about it. I’m sure all the rock stars and actors are there, but maybe your story would resonate with a bookish kid who doesn’t care about Hollywood. On a related note, I saw the discussion on the “America” article related to the gay suicides, and I thought you represented the sensible viewpoint of so many of us admirably. I am not gay, but I do what I can to educate and grow compassion. I can’t do it as poetically as you, but one of my friends (a 30-something conservative) recently told me he was always against gay marriage until he really started reading and paying attention to my Facebook posts. That to me was the win of all wins. Slowly, the rest of the country will come around, I am certain of it!!

    • Erin, I’m glad you found this worth reading. No, I haven’t sent a video to “It Gets Better,” though I am promoting the project on my blog, and think it’s very valuable. I’m not very tech-savvy, and am not even sure how to make a video, to be honest. And I also tend to think of myself as boring in person; I can sometimes write okay, but speaking stymies me and makes me very tongue-tied and self-conscious. So I tell myself I would be a video flop.

      But you’ve made me think: yes, there may well be some young folks to whom I could speak directly. So I’ll see if I can challenge myself to work on that–and maybe my partner Steve would collaborate. He’s far more photogenic, and we laugh about the fact that at gatherings where there are photographers and reporters, they sometimes photograph him or ask him for information, while they wave me right out of the camera’s range!

      Thank you, thank you very much, for doing something to raise awareness of the need for compassion. With young people who deal with gender issues dying, I think it’s important for all of us–young, old, gay, straight, male, female–to do something to address these issues. No other child or teen needs to die because of our callousness.

  4. Erin I think the rest of the country will come around for a number of reasons. The first is because we all went through high school and whether we actually bullied other kids or not, most of us didn’t exactly bend over to stop it. There is a kind of connection whether one wants to admit it or not.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that folks in the older generations are starting to take a look at the circumstances surrounding suicides in our time and drawing different conclusions as to why they might have happened. These are more than likely far more accurate conclusions. Yesterday’s ‘sissy’ boy or ‘unpopular’ girl might actually have been gay. Back in the day bullying was a gender issue, as no one actually computed ‘gay’. I actually don’t think today’s bullying is much different. It’s still about appropriate gender roles more than it is orientation. Same thing, different names and this culture and this Church still have to grow up.

  5. Colkoch, I was about to say what you said in your second paragraph! Thank you.

    I am homosexual, but the fact is…all the “gay bashing” bullying has little to do with homosexuality in itself, and everything to do with constructions of masculinity. 8 out 10 of the boys taunted as gay, or queer, or fags in school…are actually heterosexuals.

    I was/am a rather masculine-typed person, and I was never picked on in school even though it was a pretty open secret that I was homosexual in the 90s. On the other hand, I had weaker, quieter, more sensitive, more “feminine” HETEROSEXUAL guy friends, and they WERE the subject of this sort of bullying.

    I have been appalled lately by how so many gays seem to be wanting to capitalize on these suicides for political gain. In reality, turning this into a “gay issue” largely misses the point about bullying in our schools, which has little to do with sexual orientation in itself, and everything to do with the male wolf-pack power hierarchy among boys.

    In my experience, boys aren’t picked on for being homosexual, they’re picked on for being effeminate. As William Lindsey had to phrase it above, “or perceived to be gay.” And that’s the real crux of it, isn’t it? And where a lot of intellectual dishonesty comes in. Boys are seen to be effeminate and thus called “gay” and so adults assume it has something to do with homosexuality. Really, the boys have little concept or concern with that, and it’s about gender roles.

    So often I hear from gay men about how they were picked on as kids, and they then connect that to the fact that they are homosexual in a big Persecuted Minority complex. At the same time, they say they weren’t “out” until their 20’s!! So I have to wonder…”Then how could you have been picked on for being gay? No one can know that unless you disclose it.”

    The language of sexual orientation is used in the bullying, and so boys who also (coincidentally) really do happen to be gay may understandably make some sort of connection internally. But really the use of the terminology of homosexuality is a red herring because of how “sexual orientation” as a construction of homosexuality and heterosexuality has blurred the question (wrongly) of sexual preference and gender typing.

    I remember a case a (gay) friend told me about. At his high school, a (heterosexual) friend was beaten up by some “jocks,” called a faggot, etc. Well, the school administration freaked out, the local media was throwing around talk of “hate crime,” they called in the local Gay Rights group and had all sorts of sensitivity training…

    In the meantime, the ACTUAL victim of the beating and teasing (a straight guy) was furious. His sentiments were basically; Great, you cause this big hullabaloo, basically imply that I really am gay, call in the gay army, concentrate all on the political correctness aspect of all this, concentrate on being sensitive to the gays…when no gays were actually involved in this incident!!!

    Homosexuality in itself was neither here nor there in his situation (he knew he wasn’t gay), it was about the devaluation of his manhood by other males in the dog-pile…and yet the school pretty much left the actual individual victim to the side while being distracted by the political incorrectness of the terms of ridicule used. More concerned with a perceived sleight against a “group” (not even involved in the actual incident) than against the individual actually victimized.

    The use of homosexuality as a discourse in bullying has little to do with actual sexual orientation. Many gays would suggest that, if a boy comes to us and says that the other boys were calling him gay or faggot or whatever…that we should respond by telling him that being gay is okay! That there are lots of positive gay role models!! This is incredibly misguided. As at least 80% of the time, this boy will in fact be heterosexual!!! The “politically correct” gay-positive answer will just confuse him or embarrass him further. Because his concern is the sleight against his masculine status, not anything having to do with actual sexual orientation.

    Believing the solution for these suicides is gay political equality is naive. I’m not saying that isn’t a worthy cause too, but it has little to do with the bullying in school, whose connection to homosexuality is accidental or at the very least highly complex. It remains mainly a gender issue, not a sexual orientation issue.

    • Colleen, this comment is addressed to you, though it’s on my thread. So I’ll leave the responding to you.

      My observation: it’s interesting, isn’t it, how those who listen to the screaming memes of right-wing talk radio (it seems to go everywhere, even north of the U.S.-Canadian border) will do anything at all to bend over backwards and deny reality. In order to buy and disseminate the current party line.

      And that mean-spirited right-wing talk radio party line, when it comes to gay suicides, is — astonishingly — that LGBT teens are not killing themselves at a higher rate than teens in the population at large are. But that gay and lesbian people concerned about these suicides are “politicizing” this issue.

      Which, of course, the Christian right and its talk-wing radio noise machine have never done.

      The depth of the malice in these lies is breathtaking — unfathomable. And the lies really twist the minds of those gay folks hapless enough to become enmeshed in this political-religious world, for whatever reason.

      Meanwhile, there’s work to be done to educate society at large, which is finally waking up to the reality that gay teens are extremely susceptible to abuse in our society, whether they’re butch or femme, and that those teens are committing suicide at a rate higher than the rate of suicide of heterosexual teens by three to one. I’m delighted to see the public beginning to be aware of this undeniable, well-documented fact, and to see the mainstream media finally reporting about this issue.

      I’m shocked, frankly, to see those on the Christian and Catholic right continuing the mean-spirited rhetoric against gays, even as the suicides continue. And trying every trick in the book to distract the attention of the rest of society from the reality that is now becoming clear to many folks — a reality that many people are now realizing has much to do with the poisonous rhetoric of the religious and political right, when it comes to their LGBT brothers and sisters.

    • Trento I noticed the same thing in both high school and college. The more ‘masculine’ looking and acting the guy the far less likelihood of abuse, irrespective of orientation. I also think the recent emphasis on this issue is highly one sided in that no one is talking about girls.

      For girls the abuse is almost always the direct result of physical appearance. Fat girls are the equivalent of the ‘feminine’ guy. Bullying amongst girls is just as emotionally devastating, even if it doesn’t get quite as physical. All one need do is look at the statistics for eating disorders amongst teen girls. I suspect if one looked at the statistics for deaths from eating disorders the numbers would be just as disconcerting as the incidence of suicide amongst gay teens.

      I have written before and I will keep writing it, that the issue with gay marriage isn’t so much about the sin of homosexual sex as it is the about the threat it poses to traditional gender roles. This threat is truly a threat to patriarchally based institutions and cultural systems. When marriage is truly about equals with shared roles the children are not enculturated in an environment which gives automatic assent to the authority of males. These children won’t allow either gender to shirk responsiblities based on gender definitions, nor will they let their potentials be constrained by these definitions without serious reality checks.

      I believe that the RC Church has to make gay marriage a major political and religious issue precisely because it needs the traditional patriarchal family in order to survive as it’s currently constituted. This is also why they are perfectly willing to sacrifice the social mission over gay adoption or partner benefits, as both threaten traditional gender roles.

      Right winger will spew what ever they have too in order to cloud the issue of gender roles. Focusing on ‘gay’ marriage is really all about men and their gender roles and conveniently leaves women out of the equation. On the other side of the equation we get agitating about femi nazi’s and the grave moral evil of the ordination of women. These are two issues which have nothing to do with orientation and everything to do with traditional gender roles for women.

      The gay battle is important because it does impact directly on gender roles, but the real threat to the Church isn’t so much gay marriage, it’s the trend towards androgynous gender definitions and the increased importance and acceptance of the feminine in Western culture. An all male authoritative structure can’t be having that. Why they might be forced to re evaluate their vengeful God of retribution, dominance, and dog piling.

      • Your eating disorder comment is an interesting one, Colkoch, and I think makes a good point. I’ve never heard of a girl picked on for being a lesbian who wasn’t also butch. But I think lesbianism is less a concern to people in general. The “gut reaction” against homosexuality that many people have…is primarily against male homosexuality, and originates primarily in men (even if it seeps into the women in their sphere of influence). If people have a problem with lesbianism, it tends to be less visceral disgust, and more a sense of feeling threatened by the “feminist”/misandrist currents in some constructions of female homosexuality.

        And William, I don’t think I’m part of any right-wing agenda. I just believe in intellectual honesty. You posit that gay teens commit suicide at much higher rates than the general population. I’ll accept that as true, though (as I said) I sometimes wonder how we KNOW that ALL these suicides were really gay when so many people are still closeted until their 20s, etc. Sometimes I think people make assumptions about the dead that they can’t contradict.

        The connection made between gay men who weren’t out at the time, and bullying received as a child…are self-conscious (though understandably so) interpretations that ignore the fact that a bunch of their peers were ALSO being picked on for the same reasons and called the same names. Except most of those peers were, in fact, heterosexual!

        So it doesn’t prove that the difficulties they faced were the direct result of homosexuality in the abstract, and not an indirect result due to gender transgressive mannerisms. Likewise, it doesnt take into account the question of rates of suicide among effeminate HETEROSEXUAL boys, which I’d bet are likewise higher than “the rest” of their peers.

        And, while I’m not saying anyone should be picked on, it is also true that while one cannot choose ones sexuality orientation…it IS relatively easy to conform to the conventions (a mere external script, mind you) of masculinity and femininity. As a masculine-typed homosexual male who gets rather annoyed myself with effeminate homosexuals for reinforcing what I think is a harmful stereotype…I can tell you, it just isnt that hard to sit a certain way, stand a certain way, have a certain posture, walk a certain way, modulate ones voice in a certain way, and avoid gesticulating or dressing in certain ways in order to type as masculine and be left, largely, alone.

        So when people don’t, then there is a question of being deliberately provocative through the affectation. Why some gay men do feel a disproportionate need (even when not out) to express themselves in such a way and why there is such a resistance to simply conforming to conventions. Again, they’re mere external, culturally determined tropes about posture and voice which should be emotionally neutral, so I don’t understand why the idea causes such dissonance for some gay men (who do not claim, after all, to be transgendered). This is a psychological and sociological question that needs exploring. Certainly I think exploring that would be much more helpful for getting to the heart of this bullying issue than trying to use it to score political points.

        Bullying is horrible in any context, but trying to make this into being all about gay persecution…is not going to get to the real heart of the issue (which involves how masculinity is constructed among boys), nor stop the bullying, nor really help anyone who is being bullied. To think the solution to this sort of dominance-asserting gendered violence is to legalize gay marriage and normalize homosexuailty (not necessarily bad goals in themselves) is simply naive, and IS an example of politicizing these deaths.

        Further deliberate dishonesty is evident in trying to connect homophobia to abstract religious teachings on homosexuality as if the latter causes the former. Even if we disagree with the religious teaching, it simply isn’t true that it is a source of homophobia, or that changing it would end it. No one is making fun of the children of divorced and remarried parents, no one is making fun of contraceptors or masturbators, and heterosexual fornication and promiscuity is positively PRAISED by the current popular constructions of masculinity; so I fail to see the connection between Church teaching and homophobia. Again, this seems a convenient way for gays to roll all our enemies up into one big ball, when really there are a variety of phenomena going on here that need to be addressed if we really want to save lives.

        • I’m not sure where to begin, to be honest, as I read and try to respond to you, Trento.

          I wonder if you are totally unaware of the huge blame-the-victim script in the following observation:

          I can tell you, it just isnt that hard to sit a certain way, stand a certain way, have a certain posture, walk a certain way, modulate ones voice in a certain way, and avoid gesticulating or dressing in certain ways in order to type as masculine and be left, largely, alone.

          That comment does two malicious things at once. It blames gay males who are bullied for inciting their own bullying — by being themselves. And it also smugly pats on the back those gay males (like you say yourself was) who manage to conform to gender stereotypes.

          The obvious question is why anyone who thinks he’s promoting moral discourse would want to impose a standard of behavior on other human beings that asks them to pretend to be who they aren’t. Rather than change a system that promotes savage bullying of males who seem substandard in the area of masculinity, you’d prefer to demand that those males try to arrange how they sit, behave, speak, and so forth to fit the standards of bullies?

          Something’s spectacularly wrong here. And that something radically undercuts your claim to be promoting a critical analysis of heterosexism that provides power and entitlement to males.

          What I think you’re really doing, if you would be honest, is trying to beat up on “gay culture” and the “gay political movement” in the name of a patriarchal religion that wishes to repress the feminine. You conclude that “abstract religious teachings on homosexuality” are not “a source of homophobia.”

          By contrast, Rev. Jack McKinney, a Baptist pastor in North Carolina who is also a therapist, and who recognizes that there’s an epidemic of suicide going on among LGBT teens today, concludes that at the root of this epidemic is “religion-based discrimination and defamation.” Some people of faith are willing to see and admit that a large part of the bullying that drives gay teens to suicide is religion-based.

          In my experience, those who are unwilling to admit this, and who want to play malicious political games to disguise the fact that a large proportion of teens who commit suicide are either gay or perceived to gay, are people of faith who have a political agenda that is all about stopping movements of women’s liberation and gay liberation in their tracks. In some faith traditions, those who espouse these positions — including some gay men — are allied to movements to restore the “old” liturgy and to keep women away from the altar. They are allied, that is, with a social agenda of repression of women and those who are gay that, in my view, has little or nothing to do with what religious traditions are all about, in their core meaning and core ethical imperatives to us.

          • “That comment does two malicious things at once. It blames gay males who are bullied for inciting their own bullying — by being themselves. And it also smugly pats on the back those gay males (like you say yourself was) who manage to conform to gender stereotypes.”

            I wasn’t trying to blame. But I was saying that addressing this as a question of gender typing rather than sexual orientation would be much more helpful in terms of getting to the heart of the bullying than thinking it has anything to do with gay political equality.

            You say “by being themselves,” but what does that even mean in this case?!? I don’t consider speaking without affectation or walking from the shoulders instead of the hips to be big deep identity questions. It’s just…I dunno, polite. It’s just a culturally determined script for males, so why NOT go along with it? It’s really not a big deal.

            And so I think it IS a HUGE psychological question why that is taken so personally by some homosexual males. i fail to see how speaking or walking a certain conspicuous way is “being oneself” anymore than certain hygiene practices or etiquette; they’re just cultural expectations, but ones that should be emotionally neutral.

            I also don’t wear dresses because that just isn’t done by males in our culture, but if I lived in a culture where flowing garments were the norm, I would. I believe sexual orientation itself is innate, but I find it hard to believe that something like sitting with ones legs apart or together, or intoning speech in a certain way…are innate or some big part of personal identity.

            If gender is, as many posit, just a social construct, then the external manifestations have nothing to do with “being oneself” (unless you’re transgendered) and everything to do with merely conformity vs transgression of certain cultural norms, but ones which don’t really “matter” at all. Having to pretend you like women would indeed be a betrayal of ones own desires and feelings. Not acting swishy, on the other hand, that’s just a question of what script regarding minor externals (voice, posture, mannerism) are considered socially appropriate.

            The scripts should be interchangeable. I CAN act swishy if I want to, and sometimes do for humorous affect around gay friends. But that’s because it is merely an external mask one can put on or off as convenient, something totally accidental. It has nothing to do with “being my true self.”

            People who treat it as if is part of their essence…well, at the very least, it raises some serious questions about the consistency of such an idea with their simultaneous claims that gender scripts are just an accidental construct anyway. If they’re just an accidental construct, why not conform?

            So it is a legitimate question why some gay men (even who are hiding their homosexuality in itself) find it so hard to conform to these conventions (and arbitrary conventions about trivial externals is all they are; they are not deep identity questions) when not doing so draws so much negative attention. To me, it does almost seem self-destructive (even if it “shouldn’t” be, that’s just the practical reality).

            “you’d prefer to demand that those males try to arrange how they sit, behave, speak, and so forth to fit the standards of bullies?”

            I never said that either. But I said that it’s THIS discussion that we need to be having (ie, a conversation about gender) rather than one about the question of sexual orientation. If we want to understand (and thus stop) the bullying, we need to address THESE issues (ie, issues of gender typing and how masculinity is constructed). The homosexuality question, in itself, is really neither here nor there in it.

            “Should” feminine boys “have to” conform to these standards to be free of bullying? Of course not!! But, it does raise questions on both sides. For one, it raises the issue of how the bullies view masculinity and how the male power systems are constructed in schools based on such typing. But, two, it also does raise the issue of why some boys (even who aren’t out, or even who are heterosexual) don’t conform even though it draws such negative attention not to (and even though conforming doesn’t take that much effort). The psychological question on both sides needs to be opened up rather than ignored in favor of a political persecution discourse.

            “Something’s spectacularly wrong here. And that something radically undercuts your claim to be promoting a critical analysis of heterosexism that provides power and entitlement to males.”

            Not really. I just believe that heterosexualization and homosexualization are two sides of the same coin. That the problem may, in fact, lie in the modern construction of sexual preference as “sexual orientation” which has blurred the categories of gender. For example, manhood status is now linked with heterosexuality, while former “third gender” categories have been identified with homosexuality. Male space has been replaced with mixed heterosexual space. This all causes a lot of problems and tension, as I see it from a sociological and anthropological perspective, and is riddled with contradictions.

            “Some people of faith are willing to see and admit that a large part of the bullying that drives gay teens to suicide is religion-based.”

            But it’s just not, in my experience. You can quote some random pastor all you want, but the bullies I saw…were not particularly religious. Nor is their rhetoric that of sin or immorality. It’s devaluation of other boys’ masculinity. But their system likewise devalues male virginity (so there goes all your celibate priests) and goes hand in hand with the sexual double standard that conservative religion actually doesnt have (ie, the idea that men who are promiscuous are players, but women who are, are sluts).

            “a large proportion of teens who commit suicide are either gay or perceived to gay,”

            Again, “perceived to be gay” means nothing unless you’re admitting some sort of link between homosexuality and effeminacy. I find such a link insulting, and yet obviously it’s being made for SOME reason by these bullies. But, at that point, one needs to ask…are they teasing because of sexual orientation, or is that really just a way of talking about gender type?

            “are people of faith who have a political agenda that is all about stopping movements of women’s liberation and gay liberation in their tracks. In some faith traditions, those who espouse these positions — including some gay men — are allied to movements to restore the “old” liturgy and to keep women away from the altar.”

            Hmm.

            What I would posit is that the deconstruction of gender typing is ultimately inconsistent with homosexuality itself, at least as I experience it.

            As most gay men (including most of the effeminate ones) in my experience are, in fact, attracted to masculine typed behavior. One only need to sample homoerotica to see how true this is. So even the effeminate gays themselves clearly value masculinity more and find effeminacy unappealing (in terms of their attractions).

            Trying to deconstruct masculinity is, to some of us, a threat to homoeroticism itself! Because what is homoeroticism (in males) if not a love of the masculine??

            This is why I think the LGBT “alliance” will eventually fragment into its respective separate groupings, as there are serious tensions between the specific philosophical presumptions of each of the four.

            The very notion of homosexuality is based on the presumption that there are two genders that can be distinguished and that one is more appealing to me than the other, that I can make a value judgment along a spectrum of masculine and feminine when it comes to my attraction.

            If we deconstruct gender, then I might as well be attracted to either sex equally! And yet, that’s the very opposite of the notion of homosexuality! At least, my notion of it. I love men. I don’t want them made into women, or for the very categories to be made irrelevant.

          • Again, I’m not even sure where to begin in replying, Trento. But I’ll try, by isolating one central point.

            You say,

            I don’t consider speaking without affectation or walking from the shoulders instead of the hips to be big deep identity questions. It’s just…I dunno, polite. It’s just a culturally determined script for males, so why NOT go along with it? It’s really not a big deal.

            And I’d start by asking why what you consider a big deep identity choice is to be imposed on anyone else. Who appointed you the person to decide what “affectation” or way of carrying one’s shoulders is or is not an identity question? Who gave you the right to decide what choices or questions about identity are big and deep?

            You seem oblivious to the fact that what strikes you as a choice, as an affectation and therefore a refusal to conform to the “culturally determined script for males,” may not strike every male or female as a choice. Some people may simply, by nature, not conform to a script that seems clear and obvious to you.

            And so it’s just one small step from your talk about that culturally determined script for males (your script) to the blame game you play with your previous statement,

            I can tell you, it just isnt that hard to sit a certain way, stand a certain way, have a certain posture, walk a certain way, modulate ones voice in a certain way, and avoid gesticulating or dressing in certain ways in order to type as masculine and be left, largely, alone.

            Want to be left alone? Conform. Want to be left alone and not bullied? Learn to walk right. Learn to talk without affectation. Learn to lead from your shoulders. Stop the “gesticulating” and “dressing in certain ways.”

            There’s a whole world of repressive discourse built into all of those stipulations, and into the blame of bullied youth that the stipulations imply, with their talk about choice and conformity to scripts. And it’s simply baffling to me that anyone would try to deny that this repression — this attempt to beat up on the feminine — is rooted in religious attitudes, convictions, practices, and prejudices. The proof for that correlation is so abundant that trying to deny the correlation strikes me as akin to an attempt to deny that the earth revolves around the sun.

            Why some believers — including some gay men — have bought into this toxic system of patriarchy, with its privileging of the male and its denigration of the female, is another question altogether. But it’s certainly a strong strand in some movements within various churches today, perhaps notably in the back-to-the-future movements that want to rehabilitate older forms of worship in Catholicism and Anglicanism. And it’s actively aided and abetted in those movements by the political right, which constantly seeks to drive wedges in Christian churches to try to delegitimize the social teaching of those churches, including their critique of patriarchal power and privilege.

  6. “And I’d start by asking why what you consider a big deep identity choice is to be imposed on anyone else. Who appointed you the person to decide what “affectation” or way of carrying one’s shoulders is or is not an identity question? Who gave you the right to decide what choices or questions about identity are big and deep?”

    Well, I admitted that these things might become big and deep for, say, someone who is transgendered. But gays are not transgendered. At that point, I don’t see what big deep aspect of personality or identity is being expressed by not conforming. Seriously, explain it.

    The fact is, society has certain scripts about what is appropriate and what is not. We don’t spit on the floors. We raise our hand before speaking in class. The Japanese take off their shoes before entering a house. These things are by nature just convention, just externals, to be adopted and adapted in context. If I go to Japan, it’s just polite to take off my shoes. I’m not going to refuse defiantly in order to assert my Western identity. And if a woman goes to a Muslim country, it’s just modest to wear a headscarf of some sort, and most women travelers do. It’s a question of modesty really.

    No one is asking anyone to pretend they like women (or sports, or cars). But I guess it’s just a question of who gets the default or benefit of the doubt in our minds. I think that certain social cues (even if gendered) are simply accidental, and that the burden of proof is on someone to show why it is so unacceptable to them just to go along with convention rather than draw attention to themselves.

    On the other hand, you seem to be saying that no particular explanation is needed for being provocative like that (and it is conspicuous, and does draw attention) because it’s just “being yourself”…while refusing to explain the connection between these minor externals and deeper structures of personality or identity. I still fail to see how talking in a certain way (basically an arbitrary distinction) has anything to do deep identity unless you have essentialize a certain way of talking as expressive of something else. But in that case, I’d argue it’s the essentialization that is the issue.

    “Some people may simply, by nature, not conform to a script that seems clear and obvious to you.”

    I never claimed that the initial nonconformity is a choice. Obviously, children pick up on things through their environment and some may develop certain mannerisms just as they may pick up on a certain accent depending on where they live when they speak. But continuing in such mannerisms even in the face of the negative attention it brings, that does become a choice. If you’re claiming it is impossible for someone to not get their hair frosted or to learn to intone their voice in a masculine typed way…then you have a very sickly notion of human free will and agency.

    I expect that if I went to another country, I’d pick up on the accents and manners of that country soon enough so as to not stand out. If that’s impossible for these men for some reason, I’d like to hear why.

    But even that’s a distraction, as I’m not saying they “have to” conform or even that they “should”…but merely that the question of WHY they don’t is one that needs to be explored, but which is too often simply dismissed as an “it shouldn’t matter” sort of thing. And very probably it shouldn’t, but the fact is, in cases like this sort of bullying, it does. It’s extremely salient to the whole question.

    And so the refusal to explore that, and instead pretending like gay-positive messages in school will address the issues, is naive. That approach is just going to lead to, at best, boys continuing to tease the effeminate; they’ll just invent new, more precise, words to do it that have nothing to do with homosexuality in itself.

    “There’s a whole world of repressive discourse built into all of those stipulations,”

    Yes, society does limit people, and should. How much is a question, but we do have certain codes about what is appropriate in dress, in register of speech, in etiquette, in conventions of conversation, etc…that are simply there for social order, but which are no big deal really. The fact that some of them are gender-specific shouldn’t be either. It’s not repressive, it just is custom.

    “And it’s simply baffling to me that anyone would try to deny that this repression — this attempt to beat up on the feminine — is rooted in religious attitudes, convictions, practices, and prejudices. The proof for that correlation is so abundant that trying to deny the correlation strikes me as akin to an attempt to deny that the earth revolves around the sun.”

    There is no proof for a causation, though. As I said, as far as I have seen, the homophobes are for the most part men who also value multiple sexual conquests among heterosexual males (something many of the religions certainly disapprove of).

    Are their religious homophobes? Of course. Strange alliances between social conservatives and the religiously conservative have definitely been made due to these “culture wars.” But the religious are simply not at the root of what’s going on in our schools. Boys pick on effeminate boys for being “queer,” not because they think they’re immoral.

    Really, you’ve refused to engage the issues here, instead dismissing the objections entirely and stick to your talking points. So be it.

    • Trento, you say, “I don’t see what big deep aspect of personality or identity is being expressed by not conforming. Seriously, explain it.”

      Don’t you see that you’re making an assumption about behaviors that you consider non-conformist–that is, that these behaviors are deliberate attempts to avoid conforming to your norms? They may well appear quite different to someone else. They may, in fact, appear natural to someone else. And when you then take the further step of blaming those who don’t conform for bullying based on their non-conformity, you’ve redoubled the harm to those who may have no concept at all that they’re not conforming to your standards simply by being who they are naturally.

      “The fact is, society has certain scripts about what is appropriate and what is not.”

      And in the area of gender roles and conformity to gender roles, those scripts are being renegotiated, despite the repressive and even violent attempts of religious groups and secular movements aligned with them to stop this renegotiation process. Because they have to be renegotiated. Because those scripts have caused and continue to cause a tremendous amount of suffering to all of us. Because those scripts are not imposed on high, by divine dictate, but invented by those with power to oppress others who lack power.

      “I’m not saying they ‘have to’ conform or even that they ‘should’…but merely that the question of WHY they don’t is one that needs to be explored, but which is too often simply dismissed as an ‘it shouldn’t matter’ sort of thing.”

      “Merely . . . the question of WHY they don’t [conform]”: even to ask this question is to assume that the behavior of others which strikes you as non-conformist is a deliberate choice on their part. That they are choosing not to conform. That they know a script which is obvious to you and they’re not following it. They may not see it that way at all. And why should they see it that way?

      “Yes, society does limit people, and should. How much is a question, but we do have certain codes about what is appropriate in dress, in register of speech, in etiquette, in conventions of conversation, etc…that are simply there for social order, but which are no big deal really. The fact that some of them are gender-specific shouldn’t be either. It’s not repressive, it just is custom.”

      I think a great many people around the world would heartily disagree with you here, particularly about the little throwaway admission that you’re also including gender-specific social dictates here, and for the reasons I’ve outlined above: gender roles and the “scripts” that dictate them are under radical renegotiation at this point in history for good reason. They’re being renegotiated because those scripts have caused incredible suffering to all of us for a long time and continue to do so. Your “social order” may well be someone else’s prison and nightmare.

      What you regard as not repressive, as an alpha male, may strike a woman or a male uninterested in alpha status as extremely repressive. My grandfather did not permit my grandmother to cut her hair, because the Victorian culture in which he grew up operated around a notion of “social order” and “gender-specific” scripts that dictated women have long hair. When he died, she cut it, and found she had been having headaches for years because her hair was so heavy it weighed her head down.

      She never went back to that prison. Wild horses could not have dragged her back.

      My grandfather would never have dreamed of allowing his daughters to wear “men’s clothes.” After he died, they wore slacks without a thought in the world about his taboos. Wild horses would not have made them return to the Victorian patriarchal assumptions by which their father governed their lives when he was alive.

      Wild horses won’t drag many women around the world back into the prisons of “gender-specific” “social order,” no matter how much we talk about social order and scripts and divine imperatives to behave this way or that way. And doesn’t it strike you as just the tiniest bit strange that your fixations have to do with men violating scripts you take for granted by behaving in feminine ways, and not with women doing so?

      If women wear pants, are you inclined to say they’re choosing not to conform and to observe the scripts that dictate that men wear pants but women don’t? And that if they get bullied as a result, they’ve earned their lumps?

  7. “Don’t you see that you’re making an assumption about behaviors that you consider non-conformist–that is, that these behaviors are deliberate attempts to avoid conforming to your norms?”

    I never said that. My whole point is that, obviously, something deeper is going on. If people did see these things as just norms, then they would just conform. And yet, that often doesn’t happen. The question becomes, then, a psychological one about why that is so hard to some boys. Why some boys cannot or do not bring themselves to conform in these relatively minor and easy ways (considered objectively) even given all the negative attention it draws to them (however unjustified it may be).

    But I never said they were trying to be deliberately provocative. Merely that their transgressive behavior in this regard (which indeed may be just subconscious or unintentional) IS attention-drawing and conspicuous. And it is. So there is a question of why, even in the face of all the pressure, they don’t just conform. To me, that indicates that there is clearly something deeper going on socio-psychologically, because if it were just a question of these minor external mannerisms, people would just change them for the sake of avoiding all the trouble.

    Now, many gays seem to link such mannerisms to homosexuality, and thus portray it as if the boys are being picked on for “being gay” or “perceived to be gay”…and that sexual orientation is the part of themselves they’d be denying if they just conformed in affect. Yet, as I said, at least 8 out of 10 of the boys picked on for being “gay’ in school…are heterosexual.

    The fact that the terminology of sexuality is sometimes used…is a red herring. You assume (perhaps logically; but children aren’t logical) that the bullies take these mannerisms as indicative of homosexuality, and that’s why they pick on such boys (and call them gay; ie, taking the term literally). The reality is the other way around. They have no real thought of actual homosexuality or care for attacking it in itself; they pick on these boys for being effeminate, and use the language of homosexuality to do so because gays have already apparently made that link.

    “you’ve redoubled the harm to those who may have no concept at all that they’re not conforming to your standards simply by being who they are naturally.”

    But that raises some serious questions! Are they really so oblivious that they don’t realize that they’re sending off a vibe that is attracting all sorts of negative attention to them. If I walked into a synagogue without my head covered and eating a pork-chop…I’d notice if everyone was staring at me, realize I was doing something taboo, and change my behavior accordingly.

    And as I said before, I’d question the notion that anyone “naturally” speaks a certain way or walks a certain way. Unless you can demonstrate clear physiological differences in skeletal or larynx structure…such behaviors are culturally and socially learned. And so there is a real psychological and sociological question about why the boys (heterosexual and homosexual) lower down the school-society totem pole…learn or tend to adapt the feminine script (even when they aren’t, themselves, transgendered).

    I’m not saying they should have to use the masculine script or whatever. Merely that THIS is the discussion we need to get the bottom of when it comes to analyzing and preventing the bullying: a gender roles discussion, NOT a sexual orientation discussion.

    There have been plenty of societies (think the Greeks) where gender categories had little to do with sexual preference. It’s our modern essentialist construction of “sexual orientation” which has harmfully linked the two.

    “And in the area of gender roles and conformity to gender roles, those scripts are being renegotiated,”

    See, I’d like to think that’s true, that all that was happening is an evolution or renegotiation (which have happened tons of times throughout history) but I’m not so sure. What it looks like given your rhetoric here is that there is an attempt to deconstruct gender once and for all as a meaningful category entirely! Not merely to reassign the scripts, but to carry out a total leveling where there will be no difference in the male and female script at all, where they will be totally interchangeable or equivalent.

    And, as I said earlier, that attacks the very foundations of my homoeroticism as much as anything else. The very concept of homosexuality (mine, at least) implies that there are and should be a masculinity and a femininity that we can make value judgments about and see people as more or less conforming to (and see less conformity as less appealing).

    “That they know a script which is obvious to you and they’re not following it. They may not see it that way at all. And why should they see it that way?”

    Because the script is obvious. I could teach it to a boy in less than 5 minutes, and if he’d follow it…he’d get picked on less. If these boys are for some reason THAT oblivious to social cues, that raises some questions about their own social myopia in itself.

    “And doesn’t it strike you as just the tiniest bit strange that your fixations have to do with men violating scripts you take for granted by behaving in feminine ways, and not with women doing so?”

    No, because manhood status is traditionally earned or conferred by the other men in the community through a rite of passage, whereas womanhood sort of just happens by default. I don’t know whether this part of human nature, or merely a social construct…but it is certainly widespread in the world.

    As for women wearing pants, things have been renegotiated in that regard, that script HAS changed, so it’s no big deal anymore. If a woman wore pants back in the day, however, well…she shouldn’t be surprised if she raised a few eyebrows. And if she then complained about that…she’d better give me a pretty damn good justification for why she did something so provocative, as I refuse to believe that a specific style of clothing is essential to anyone’s personal identity, given how culturally constructed a thing clothing is anyway.

    • “Why some boys cannot or do not bring themselves to conform in these relatively minor and easy ways (considered objectively) even given all the negative attention it draws to them (however unjustified it may be).”

      Trento, again, what may seem relatively minor and easy for you may not appear that way at all to many other people. Indeed, what you see as a question of why some boys choose to conform or not may not even appear as a choice to them.

      “So there is a question of why, even in the face of all the pressure, they don’t just conform.”

      I think the question, instead, is why we’re so obsessed (as a culture) with assuring gender conformity, especially when males seem to transgress the lines set by the “script” for males and to adopt female postures. If we pursued this question and the question of why some men don’t conform to that script, we might find the answers more illuminating and healing for all of us than pursuing the question of why some men don’t conform.

      “As for women wearing pants, things have been renegotiated in that regard, that script HAS changed, so it’s no big deal anymore. ”

      Precisely. And that’s one of the points I wanted to make by using that example. What we now take for granted was once regarded as so shocking that women who adopted “men’s” clothes, posture, mannerisms, or roles (in the workplace, e.g.) were savagely repressed — thrown in prison, sent by their families to mental hospitals for aversion therapy and even lobotomies, force-fed in jail, slathered with feces and beaten and stoned as they marched for suffrage and the right of women to determine their own destinies.

      We’ve been in a process of renegotiating gender roles since the modern period began. And it has been a bloody process. The current renegotiation of male roles is a new facet (and logical extension) of the previous renegotiation of women’s roles, which — to a certain extent — we’re beyond, at least insofar as we pay attention to women wearing “men’s” clothes, adopting male postures, taking male roles.

      One day, if the religious and political groups intent on stopping this renegotiation don’t succeed, we’ll also be beyond the absurd repression of males those groups regard as deliberately transgressive. Meanwhile, the repression continues to be savage, as the sodomizing and beating of a gay teen in New York City a day or so ago by a gang proves. And I have to admit, I prefer to be on the side of those challenging the social conventions that legitimate such oppression, than on the side of the oppression.

  8. Trento I think you’re leaving out an important component in the suicide issue, and it’s one that is almost always religion based. That would be rejection by one’s family for being gay, or the family’s refusal to do anything meaningful about bullying.

  9. I’m not sure the rejection by family is particularly religious either, many times. It often has to do with the father seeing his son as betraying or rejecting his own manhood in being gay, the shame of having a “failed man” as a son, not being able to give him grandchildren or pass down the family blood-line, etc. If religion is used as a cover sometimes, I don’t think it’s the root of the issue which, again, I think has more to do with gender expectations than sexual orientation in itself. But then, many fathers are also jerks to more feminine sons who are, in fact, heterosexual.

    “Trento, again, what may seem relatively minor and easy for you may not appear that way at all to many other people. Indeed, what you see as a question of why some boys choose to conform or not may not even appear as a choice to them.”

    Again. Show me a difference in skeletal or larynx structure and maybe I could believe you. Or at least explain specifically HOW or WHY spreading ones legs when sitting instead of crossing them tightly, or not wearing a side-satchel messenger bag…is not minor or easy psychologically, and I’ll believe you.

    I really am open to hearing, because on face value, it seems ridiculous. If they can teach different mannerisms in an acting workshop, they can’t be rocket science. What you say suggests some sort of underlying (and overwhelming) emotional explanation or origin for the mannerisms, which I what I’d like to see fleshed out, explained, discussed.

    “If we pursued this question and the question of why some men don’t conform to that script, we might find the answers more illuminating and healing for all of us than pursuing the question of why some men don’t conform.”

    Fine, but either way you concede my point about the bullying: it’s about gender-typing, NOT sexual orientation in itself.

    And these things ARE relative to culture. The fact that women do wear pants now has nothing to do with the women who did it back when it wasn’t acceptable. Someone who (without good reason) asserted that aristotle’s science was wrong in the ancient world…probably WOULD have been a crazy person.

    Because psychological health is, in some ways, relative to society. It is one thing to wear pants when all the other women are doing it. But it is quite another psychological phenomenon to do so defiantly when you KNOW it’s going to get you thrown in jail or a mental hospital. At that point, it does become antisocial behavior.

    Which is what all these positions really are: antisocial. They want to define the individual radically without reference to society’s norms. But society made and owns the individual, not the other way around.

    • “Which is what all these positions really are: antisocial. They want to define the individual radically without reference to society’s norms. But society made and owns the individual, not the other way around.”

      Trento, we’ve pretty much reached the same impasse we reached in our previous conversation, the last time you logged in to this blog under another username, to discuss liturgy.

      There, too, you argued that the generation of Catholics prior to you, who lived through the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, have contributed nothing to your life, and simply need to shuffle off the face of the earth so that you and your generation could make things right. But as I pointed out to you in that conversation, your contention that we are all made by society and by the church sits very uneasily with your contention that you and your generation have magically discovered the key to all knowledge — and that you owe nothing to those who have gone before you.

      We’re made by society. Society owns us, you say. But please don’t tell us that we owe anything to the courageous people who have gone before us and have dared to question social conventions as women were hanged for witchcraft, ducked in ponds to prove their practice of witchcraft, locked with scolds’ bits to stop their tongues. I have nothing to do with those women, who did not accept that society owned them. I myself and my generation have discovered the key to all knowledge for ourselves. We don’t need these foreparents. We don’t want them. They were just radical quacks. Women who dress “like men” today and who “play men’s roles” owe nothing at all to their courageous foremothers who defied the social dictates of their day . . . .

      For someone so absolutely certain that you and the generation for which you claim to speak are finally overcoming the rebellion of a previous generation, that you’re returning to proper social dictates and recognition of the social ownership of all of us, you are astonishingly unaware of and ungrateful for those who have paved the way for you. My own penchant here is very different. Precisely because I believe in the communion of saints, I also believe I’m surrounded always by an invisible cloud of witnesses, by those who have gone before and paved the way for me, to whom I owe everything.

      I would not be here had many of those witnesses not bucked the social trends and norms of their day and done what is right, regardless of social dictates. Good luck with your attempt to build Jerusalem anew in your own generation.

  10. I’ve been a high school drama teacher for 30 years at international schools worldwide – where we have little of the virulent homophobia that rules in many US schools. So here’s a bit of reality-check. The more masculine acting ‘gay boy,’ who may be a star athlete in varsity sports, may have an easier time making friends and integrating himself into the teen community – until he shows up at the prom with another male. Then the friends he thought he had fly away from him like bats leaving the cave. Not all, but many boys immediately distance themselves. Believe me the issue is most definitely same-sex attraction and not gender typing. Try housing that star athlete on the boys’ varsity basketball team when on school trips. Doesn’t matter how he swaggers and struts, no one, NO ONE, wants to share a room with him in a hotel – and quite frankly, I can understand their discomfort. This is a guy who likes other guys. Fortunately, I’ve always been able to find a tolerant male on the team to help out – but it’s usually an Asian! And the gay jokes still fly all over the place… Then I wait until the ‘MOM’ shows up, saying she doesn’t want her son rooming with ‘the gay boy’ – (I’m sure he’s a very nice boy, but…). So you wind up housing the gay kid in a room of his own, which is a very lonely place to be, and all of his swagger has come to naught. Sexual orientation definitely is THE issue, body mannerisms are a minor adjunct. Boys have an instinctive recoil from another boy who likes guys. Feminine mannerisms may cloud the issue with a further layer of distaste, but the bottom line is same sex attraction. Tolerant boys can transcend this recoil, but the queasiness remains. Intolerant boys are enraged by the very thought of same sex actions (repeat: same sex actions) and voice this disgust very explicitly in the face of the gay student, no matter how macho he may be. Their disgust is visceral and no amount of macho swagger on the part of the gay boy can eliminate it. I have heard MANY of these conversations. And I haven’t even talked about what goes on in the showers with athletic teams!

    And then we have the Mormon boy who came out to his parents (wisely after he graduated and was no longer under their financial control). They cut him off completely for ‘defying God, ‘ held a solemn religious funeral to which all their family relations and friends were invited and erected a tomb to symbolize that he was now dead to them forever – a degree of virulent hatred that was all religion based.

    I will not comment further on this issue. Too much denial and rationalization going on here and it just goes round and round and round. There comes a time when one must accept one’s true nature on a profound level and not disrespect one’s more feminine acting gay brothers – because that is what they are – your brothers in pain.

    • Jayden, thank you for this extremely valuable perspective from a seasoned teacher of high school students. And I apologize to you and the rest of the readers of the thread for trying everyone’s patience by being argumentative.

      • This has been an enlightening conversation. I think for girls and women the issue is far more about gender and body type than it is for men, at least on a ‘gut’ level.

        In grad school I did a study in which we found that men determine their self worth on their impression of how other men ‘see’ them. Women also determined a large part of their self worth on their perceptions of how men ‘see’ them. In both cases the results were significant. What Trento is describing does not surprise me, it is important to him to be ‘seen’ by men as conforming to a masculine social identity. Other gay men should conform so that gay men can be ‘seen’ by straight men as worthy of acceptance. Given this it’s not surprising that Bishop Eddie Long paraded in front of his congregation in a muscle shirt. Same idea of being ‘seen’ as masculine.

        But Jayden has it right. I too have seen ‘masculine’ jocks dumped like so much garbage when their orientation became known. It’s different for women. Most of us didn’t give a damn if the point guard was a lesbian. We only cared if she could sink a three pointer. Maybe that’s because so many men were coaching women’s athletics that we were all fending off unwanted sexual advances anyway and most gay women I played with already had partners.

        The point that I am trying to make is to refuse to acknowledge that male opinion is the driving force in societal opinion and gender roles is pure folly. I could make a very good case that the increase in women’s eating disorders is tied to the body shape trumpeted in the fashion industry, and that is a gay male industry. My daughter’s drama coach traced this influence out for women and noted how destructive it’s been for actresses. The ideal body for women is that of a young male. I could take that thought further as it pertains to Catholic sexual teaching, but I’ll refrain.

        Men rule women, and that has to change. As Bill says, this reflexive distaste for the feminine does no favors for the future of humanity. There is a whole host of women saints who fought for the voice of women in the Church and the marginalized in society. They fought against the prevailing masculine social order which put men, and only some men, in position to determine cultural norms. It’s the whole history of the LCWR.

        One last thought, I bet Georg Ganswein is a hero for Trento.

        • Right on, Colleen – and that brings to memory another story of a very ‘large’ girl actor of mine, madly in love with a brilliant male actor – but no chance in hell getting his attention. Too convoluted for me to go into, she was also a brilliant dancer, longed to get onto the dance team, got rejected and wound up in my office weeping and weeping because the dance coach suggested she ‘lose some weight.’ Next year the new dance instructor accepted her onto the team (very competitive – heading towards a dance competition) but costumed the entire team in flimsy, revealing costumes with bare midriffs. The ‘large’ girl had to be equipped with a little flap that covered her rolling stomach, but it still showed, terribly humiliating. I really felt this was the dance teacher’s way of getting revenge for being pressured into accepting her. Might have been better not to have accepted her at all…I just don’t know. But I thought she was fabulous – rolling that big body of hers around on the stage with panache and style and basically saying, “F… it,” to anybody who couldn’t handle the sight of her. It was a lesson to all of us, but painful to consider.

          • Thanks, Jayden and Colleen both–for very insightful contributions to this discussion.

            Something that puzzles me (I’m keying off your final remark about Gorgeous George, Colleen): I notice in any movement of the oppressed as they seek liberation that there are those within the community of the oppressed who work actively, and even sometimes fiercely, against their own liberation. And against the liberation of their brothers and sisters.

            Why is that, do you think?

        • Colleen, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the fashion industry is a “gay male run” thing and this therefore is the root of female body dysmorphia. For one thing this is kind of painting with a broad brush, sure there are gay men in fashion but by sheer weight of numbers alone there are going to be more straight men in fashion and in society in general. I would say that the collective straight society has a much louder voice when it comes to this issue.

          I’ve read the terrific biological history book, “Eve’s Seed” (has nothing to do with the bible story) and the male author has an interesting idea of how something like this happened. He claims insecure men who define themselves primarily as “notwomen” must have a clear black and white separation between them and feminine things, so what easier way to do that then with a radical body dimorphism? Like what is seen in our cousins the great apes, where the male is a great deal larger than the female. (No mistaking whom is whom in that kind of system you see.) Hence we see impossibly (and frighteningly) large musclebound men on the covers of Men’s Health and undernourished waifs on every women’s mag.

          Incidentally, I would heartily recommend “Eve’s Seed” to anyone for a great indepth read on the sexes and sexual politics.

      • Thanks, Bill. I didn’t find you argumentative – just being responsible to other readers of this blog who may stumble into this thread.

  11. Bill, I think it’s because they seek personal empowerment in acceptance by the majority rather than freedom from the oppression of the majority.

    The safety and security in being accepted is more important (and ego bolstering) than the freedom and creativity in the transcendance of the accepted norms.
    Fowler’s concepts of spiritual maturity explain all this better than I can.

    In many respects the truly spiritual person is anti social by definition in that following the spiritual path of any true tradition means you have to go beyond the norms that bolster the ego. Feeding the needs of the ego is not spiritual. See Jesus in desert.

    • Colleen, powerful. And richly evocative for me.

      Yes, Jesus was always heading into the deserts to escape the claims of his society on him — notably, in his sojourn in the wilderness in which is call to ministry took shape, but in Luke’s gospel, constantly, when the demands of the crowds became too intense.

      And Hebrews emphasizes that he deliberately went outside the city to die — definitively repudiating the claims of the power center of his society and religious group to control the meaning of his death. And the lesson that Hebrews draws from this is that we have no lasting city in this world.

      The reign of God to which we are called constantly calls us beyond the confines of the social expectations and rules of every society and culture.

  12. Short correction, I should have written ‘feeding the deficits of the encultured ego’ is not particularly spiritual. You can’t move forward when your focus is exclusively on fulfillment of what you think you’re missing.

  13. I agree with Colleen. This has been very enlightening. Trento’s comments are very interesting. I never really thought about how I walk. I don’t know if I walk correctly or not. I usually cross my legs as this is just natural for me. I don’t know why. In regard to larynx structure, I don’t have a visible larynx. A lot of people mistake me for a woman on the phone but usually I don’t try to butch up my voice. Since I went to a small Catholic school, bullying wasn’t really an issue for me but I was kind of an outsider. I think kids should just be allowed to be who they are and not try to fit into a stereotype. I think in some ways I conformed and in other ways I didn’t but also I didn’t know a lot about human sexuality so that was another issue.

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