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    Slipping through my fingers

    Disconnected replies to M[a]me du Toit’s musings on how we’re socializing teenagers:

    I. Activists tend to argue (often implicitly rather than explicitly) that your gay/feminist/ethic-ness constitutes your entire individual identity, so when someone leaves the fold, it casts doubt on everything some people around them think they are. Hence the spazzy accusations of sell-out. My own solution is to begin mentally composing my grocery list when such people start ranting at me (Optional: shamelessly ogle them if they’re cute). Pointing out that championing non-conformist behavior has to cut in all directions doesn’t seem to have much effect.
    II. I think one big point that can’t be made too often is that we’re never going to make anxiety go away. Letting people forge their own identities means that we’re all going to feel a tension between the pull of the group and the pull of our idiosyncrasies. At this point in time, everyone’s so exhausted by developments since the ’60’s, a lot of people seem to have this idea that if gays and feminists just shut up already, children could grow up without questioning themselves. I think that’s a projection. Developing strong personalities, in nuclearized families, while moving around the country at will, is not compatible with effortless self-assurance that one is always doing what’s best. Personal liberty means living with internal conflict, in addition to the external conflict with the values of those who live differently.
    III. Someone in this skein of blogs referred to our culture as “sexualized” recently. That’s not an original locution, but it caught my attention more than it had before, and I saw it as curiously apposite. Like the way Hamlet calls Ophelia “beautified.” We have a real tendency to act as if life were intrinsically clean, safe, affable, and pleasant when–boom!–sexual maturation descends on a teenager and spoils the party. It makes life complicated, and man, that just isn’t fair.
    I’m not saying we need to…I don’t know…be more like Brazil, or anything. But I do think it odd and sad that when something like the Janet Jackson breast incident happens, you don’t have people just expressing indignation at the violation of community standards–that part’s justifiable; you have people saying, “My word. How can I possibly begin to explain what just happened on television to my child?” As if tits were agents of disillusion in and of themselves.
    None of this is to be taken to mean that parents should watch Debbie Does Dallas with their kindergartners, or that teenagers should just be indulged in the guise of nurturing their individuality. And it certainly doesn’t mean social-welfare programmers should be feeding school kids prefabricated political agenda. But it’s not hard to see how children hit teenage and are completely disoriented by the fact that what’s running through their heads isn’t always explicable.
    IV. While parents understandably want to believe that the changes they like in their teenagers are evidence of maturation and those they don’t are just passing phases, and while a lot of the teenage personality is in flux, it simply isn’t true that they’re at t = 0 in terms of identity formation. Encouraging teenagers to experiment when they can’t know what could result is ridiculous, especially when it goes behind the backs of parents. But–maybe you have be gay to recognize the distinction–there’s a difference in mien between the youngster who just wants to shock her parents and the one who’s gained a shaken but unashamed sense of who he is. Since the job of saying, “Who knows? Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow and decide you like girls after all.” is already filled many times over, my own inward thought on the matter is, “Good for you, bro. You’re already alive to the world.”

    10 Responses to “Slipping through my fingers”

    1. Auntie Mame says:

      I think there is some truth in your statement “this idea that if gays and feminists just shut up already, children could grow up without questioning themselves.” I know that some people feel that way.
      I think a more (I hope) enlightened bunch would wish they COULD question themselves. It’s the group wanting to question them that gets so irritating. Allowing something to occur naturally and on the kid’s timetable, without circle groups, questionaires, visits to school counselors, would be terrific.

    2. Sean says:

      Yeah, I love kids, but I am *so* glad I’m not a teenager now.
      BTW, when I figure out how to make that last sentence make sense, I’ll fix it.

    3. Nathan says:

      Well, it took three readings to be sure, but I understand it perfectly now:
      “There are plenty of people who treat homosexuality like a zit: a “that sucks”-level of sympathy with hopes they’ll “change back”; maybe what a teenager needs is a few more people who treat it less like an affliction and more like courage in finding yourself”.
      I’m not sure I agree. But it’s still far more sensible than most of the things I’ve seen.
      Personally, I think teenagers need is their loved ones treating homosexuality like an affliction and more like an attribute like hair darkening with age: it is part of that person, like it or not. Love and acceptance is therefore the best reaction.
      I’ll leave the discussion for whether it is as mutable as hair color for some other time. I will clarify my stance by saying that even if it is changeable, I’m convinced it could not happen without effort and pain; I recognize it sometimes isn’t worth the pain.

    4. Sean Kinsell

      You’ll find him linked over at the right as “White Peril”. I linked him as soon as I saw he had a blog, because I knew from his comments at Dean’s World that he is a thoughtful, intelligent, patient, reasonable…

    5. Auntie Mame says:

      Sexual preference is either mutable or it isn’t. Your words. It can’t be mutable in one direction and not in the other. If you contend that a man can be married to a woman, have had a family, and then decide he wants a man, then you also have to grant that someone can (for whatever reason) think they are gay, and decide they are no longer.
      It is perfectly reasonable to assume, based on what we know about human nature, that someone could adopt a persona and not MEAN it (or feel it), just to get something in return for it (attention, money, community acceptance, children, etc.). We know, for a fact, that there are male and female prostitutes that have cross-gender sex for money. They don’t consider themselves gay (or even bi-sexual). Their preference is not impacted.
      We know there are gold digger types who can fein an attraction. We know there are men, for example, giving all appearances of being straight, having a few boys on the side. Is that man gay, sraight, or bisexual? Could he stop doing one of them? Would it be appropriate to call him on his infidelity? Because it’s a male partner? Only if it is a female partner?
      I think the long point is that appearances don’t mean anything. Public disclosures don’t mean anything. The only person who can truly know their heart-of-hearts, understand their motives, and their intentions is the person feeling it and living it. Asking and prying can’t be of any benefit to anyone, certainly kids.
      It’s all terribly complicated and the more we try to address it, to rescue those who might be hurt by someone not taking them seriously, or using 100% the right words, the more we risk. Then we have to guard against saying too much–not being clear about our expectations with kids, competing with other people who think raising someone else’s kid is their business, or their right.
      Show me a kid who thinks their parents understand them and supports every single thing they do–under the age of 30.

    6. Sean says:

      You both bring up a cluster of about six or seven important issues. Let me just address one while I roll my eyes at the morning paper (our social insurance premiums are going up again–can we please, please, please just admit that the system is FUBARed?):
      When gays get to know each other, a question that always comes up sooner or later is, When did you figure it out? Nearly everyone I’ve met gives an answer like mine: “Well, I first referred to myself…chokingly…as gay when I was 22. But you know, I worshipped the Go-go’s and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper as a teenager. Whenever homosexuality was mentioned around me, I pricked up my ears; I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to listen. And I was always taking the Sears catalogue somewhere I could be alone to look at the guys’ underwear pages. (How’s that for pathetic?) It was there all along, I just wasn’t honest with myself.” This was a town outside Allentown, PA, so trust me, it wasn’t that the free-spirited cool people were all queer and I wanted to be like them.
      This doesn’t mean sexuality is immutable as a blanket statement, of course. Some people are more adaptable than others in all kinds of ways, and when, say, Susie Bright or Joanne Loulan gives up writing how-to’s on hot lesbian sex to be with a man, I think it’s wonderful. But it’s wonderful because she’s doing it mindedly. (I don’t seem to have comments set up to allow HTML tags, but Loulan writes about her experience here: http://members.tripod.com/up_sappho_society/identity.html.)
      I also think it’s great when Dan Savage tells a fifteen-year-old that she has plenty of time to figure out her identity and shouldn’t box herself in as a lesbian. But that’s because if she’s still in doubt, that’s an obvious indicator that she could be wrong, not because there’s no way she could already be a lesbian.

    7. Auntie Mame says:

      I think most reasonable people understand that, Sean. That time will reveal the truth for each individual–if left alone to grow on its own.
      You can’t have known too many gays or lesbians without knowing that some didn’t figure it out until much later in their life. But we don’t know the truth of that either. Maybe something changed. Maybe one of nature’s ways of controlling later births is to change the brain dynamics of attraction as people get older. Maybe it isn’t that they were living a lie–maybe they are just different now.
      But I’ve also known a number of folks who were bisexual (or gay or lesbian) who did see it as a phase. I knew one guy who said, in a group of gays, that “sex was better with women,” but that he’d been living as a gay man for so long, it was too difficult to change. He’d have to change friends, etc. etc. He’d thought he was gay because he was stereotypically feminine and arty. It was easier being gay in his profession.
      I think the problem is that most folks are not as bold as my friend. They don’t tell everyone, send out “Come to my going back in” party invites, they just disappear and go off to a new place and start over again.

    8. Sean says:

      Oh, totally. I could round up the lot of the po-mo crowd and *shoot* them for distorting the idea of knowing your own truth and poisoning it for sensible people. The overwhelming majority of people want to live conventional lives, and why shouldn’t they? Teaching people to treat every option that presents itself as equally feasible is just nuts.
      And yet…
      Figuring out you’re gay (even if, unbeknownst to you, your orientation is going to shift later) seriously remakes your world. I don’t think of my sexuality as an amulet against boring normalcy, but…well…let’s just say, not even if Barbara Stanwyck were reincarnated and wanted to carry my children would I welcome *another* life-upending journey of self-discovery. (And that considers the issue in a solipsistic vacuum–it doesn’t even take into account my commitment to my boyfriend.)

    9. Auntie Mame says:

      Be honest, Sean. Barbara Stanwyck, the pack leader of the Four Horsemen? Come on… you’d consider it!

    10. Sean says:

      Well, okay. You got me. But she’d have to promise she’d wear her wardrobe from The Lady Eve, even to fetch the newspaper.
      Of course, she’d never have to fetch the newspaper.