Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.” That’s taking things a far sight beyond the categorical imperative. But if TMI is a universal law, then (as it turns out) the emotionally spread-eagle American public and its Orwellian overseers cannot be said to have disregarded all of our third president’s advice. And though whether and to what extent to telegraph or conceal our sexual inclinations remains largely a matter of personal choice, when it comes to others’ choices in these matters, we mustn’t mind being made captive audiences. For instance,
At Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in Laurel Canyon, there are lesson plans on diverse families — including those with two mommies or daddies — books on homosexual authors in the library and a principal who is openly gay. But even at this school, teachers and administrators are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students — from kindergartners to 12th-graders — about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in history classes. (LA Times, October 16, 2011)
I’m going to assume that Laurel Canyon skews a bit left. But for the past several decades, parents in certain less enlightened school districts have proven liable to voice opposition to their first and second-graders receiving instruction in such sensitive subjects, and this legislation of California’s is designed as a sort of preemptively lubed-up middle finger to such small-minded recalcitrants, whom progressive policymakers apparently consider inveterate bigots entirely unworthy of regard. (Not their kids, though.)
Ironically, the periodic, local culture-war skirmishes this California mandate is designed to forfend place gay advocates in the once-counterintuitive position of challenging public lack of concern for what goes on in other people’s bedrooms. After all, parents who object to the topic of homosexuality figuring early in elementary school curricula never (but never) demand their views, nor any particular view of gays, be taught, at least not in the public schools. In fact, I think all will agree that socially conservative parents are generally less likely to discuss birds and bees with their school-age kids at all.
But even within more liberal families, sex can be a hugely uncomfortable, generally unnecessary and potentially harmful topic to broach with a small child, which is why most parents (whatever their politics) would probably prefer to limit their children’s exposure to the topic as they see fit. Of course, such parental discretion can never be absolute, but plainly it cannot be maintained at all if a public body is empowered to override it. To cede this discretion is to relinquish the necessary intimacy of a time-honored dialogue through which children’s personalities negotiate family dynamics with those of their parents. Such delicate developmental processes cement familial ties which serve (even under far less-than-ideal circumstances) to outweigh relationships that don’t sufficiently take a child’s best interests into consideration. Interference in them is characteristic of autocracy, no matter the rationale.
So when those who demand that other people’s six-year olds be compulsorily taught about a single, narrow facet of sexual identity insist that their purpose is merely to foster recognition of “families [that] come in all shapes, sizes and configurations” (as one school official told the author of the LA Times story block-quoted above), they’re being disingenuous, because although their program promotes diversity of sexuality and “configuration”, it enforces homogenization of otherwise idiosyncratic family dynamics that depend on the initiative of childhood curiosity to inquire, and the prerogative of parental care to determine when and how best to reply.
On the other hand, on the cultural left it’s axiomatic that children are already becoming aware of sexual identity at very young ages, since awareness of heterosexuality is filtering in through every aspect of their lives—often with adult intervention via children’s literature taught in school that refers to mommies and daddies, princes and princesses, etc. But to suppose this necessitates the provision of comparable information about gays doesn’t follow. Regaling children with tales of princess and princesses follows upon the emergence of inklings of concepts that are beginning, gradually, to dawn upon them without formal elucidation; whereas getting very young children to grapple with concepts that are significantly less readily apparent and comprehensible to them represents not a response to their pace of perception and inquiry, but an imposition of adult interests in rank disregard of that largely self-directed process.
Regardless of politics or sexual orientation, adults should not need it explained to them why, by-and-large, naturally procreative relationships are of greater societal import than the alternatives, and that the practices of the vast majority of people are more liable to garner children’s awareness earlier than less prevalent ones are. Either way, what small children don’t inquire about in these areas, they generally aren’t ready to learn. Gays who feel this falls short of affording them all the validation they’re entitled to would do better to look to themselves for equanimity, rather than to other people’s children. Sexual identity is a mighty idiosyncratic lurch toward enlightenment to be setting collective timetables for.
Of course, other than LGBT advocates, practitioners of precisely zero minority romantic arrangements are agitating for the inclusion in first-grade lessons of information about the life-patterns arising from their novel inclinations. Neither are most alternate family configurations’ demanding their arrangements be formally elucidated as part of fucking kindergarten curricula. Is there really such harm in awareness of homosexuality setting in later that’s egregious enough to justify granting it so high a priority?
Perhaps, yes. But that’s a highly debatable supposition for which there’s no conclusive evidence. So by demanding formal elucidation (however gradual) of sexual orientation in first grade classrooms, gay advocates are implicating the pace of children’s maturation in a dubious definition of societal ill. The corrective measures they’ve managed to implement in California are adult initiatives to conscript children to the cause of affirming the emotional needs of select adults, designed without the slightest real consideration of actual children’s (pawns) needs in mind.
Again—if we’re going to teach public school pupils that “families come in all shapes, sizes and configurations”, all equally deserving of respect, then why does only one such configuration merit mandatory formal elucidation to six-year olds? I understand that gay couples parenting children are sometimes denigrated or excluded on the basis of their sexual orientation, while divorced or adoptive heterosexual parents are not usually shunned or condemned in the same way (i.e., because of their sexual identity), but isn’t this about children before all else? If the dubious starting assumption is that elementary school is ground zero for redress of social maladies—a sort of pre-reeducation program—then is divorce, domestic turmoil or the absence of one or more biological parents in the home really less traumatic for a child, and therefore less deserving of some emotional redress by the school authorities, than having gay parents or experiencing same-sex attraction in a less-than-accepting world?
Interestingly, not all gay activists are quite so circumspect as to demand mere equality. Author Dan Savage is one of a handful of high-profile gay pundits (Masha Gessen and Andrew Sullivan among them) who have famously advanced one form or another of the thesis that, because adultery and divorce are so common, monogamy is inherently untenable. Moreover, he suggests that, because gays (particularly gay men) tend more than straights to openly eschew exclusivity even with long-term partners, the mainstreaming of gay marriage holds out the benefit of eroding monogamy’s demands by diluting them with the less exacting standards that more often pertain among gay men.
In other words, sex is far less relevant to our familial and social bonds (i.e., to love) than we’ve been led to believe by nefarious white church fathers who want to control us through our loins, and we would all be happier if we were to scrap the mutual self-sacrifice and impulse control that marriage entails and just act more like feral dogs, who don’t hold out for approval in these matters from arcane authorities. (It gets better): to that end, we need the highest, most arcane authority, the state, to approve our updated definition of marriage, because we’re pro-marriage. As an added bonus, straight people, whose intimate pursuits we have some opinions about, will get divorced more.
This is precisely the kind of high-hatted meddling in the private affairs of strangers that gay advocacy once claimed to stand against. Indeed, Savage is keen to argue that nearly any kind of sexual relationship whatsoever must be worthy of outside approval as marriage if the parties to it so desire, because peoples’ private lives are not to be meddled in by high-hatted outsiders bent on fashioning society the way they see fit. By this formula, gay marriage is less a diffusion of the power to rank and sanction social arrangements than a reallotment of it. And despite the past two decades’ increasing affirmative publicity regarding gay monogamy, gay advocates like Savage can hardly be expected to face accusations of slander when they assert, in making their case, that gay marriage is often anything but monogamous.
But Savage’s point, shopworn though it is, cannot be brushed aside peremptorily. Of all the features of American life, divorce (the fate of roughly 50% of marriages) is far more prevalent than any societal ill that might conceivably be imputed to gays. Why the resistance to the mere mention of gay marriage in public school classrooms when we’ve got an epidemic of straight divorce on our hands? (What’s the big deal, guys? All we want is to mold your friggin’ children. We swear: we’re good).
The motive imputed most often to social conservatives is vestigial bigotry, and there may be many, many people who are anti-gay because Leviticus, or somesuch. But the uncomfortable question (muted though it often is) that divides gay advocates from social conservatives is not a purely moral one. It’s whether and to what extent human sexuality is malleable, and what’s divisive about the question isn’t its answer, which is obvious. It’s why that answer disconcerts us.
The fact is, parents who wouldn’t like their first graders being taught in school that some boys like other boys just aren’t entirely confident that their kids are impervious to being turned through early normalization because, like gays, they see sexuality as inextricably linked to values systems.
When I say that Christians/social-conservatives and gays/progressives both share a sense that sexuality is linked to values systems, I’m reiterating what you already know: that a gay dude’s values wouldn’t be quite the same if he wasn’t gay, and a Christian’s would be quite different if he was (for our purposes, gay Christians worshipping among liberal denominations fall in the former category). So, while the gay guy’s kid, through some innate personality quirk, might have in him the seeds of a rabid right-winger and will one day decide to become a Catholic and consult for the Heritage Foundation, in the meantime that gay guy wants to teach the kid acceptance and openness. And while the Christian’s kid might one day be gay, or might have been born gay already, in the meantime the Christian wants to encourage his kid to one day marry and procreate.
Ironically enough, gay advocates who advance the proposition that we’re all more or less bisexual, and that traditional discouragement of homosexuality explains its lack of prevalence, are actually in agreement with social conservatives. But when it suits them to drop this meme about heterosexuality’s predominance being culturally determined, gay advocates insist that homosexuality arises less in response to environmental factors than hereditary ones. Well, which is it? We just don’t know for certain. If most people had to bet, no wishy-washing, I think they’d say it’s hereditary. On the other hand, most every aspect of behavior is malleable. Putting aside questions of degree, it would be odd indeed if sexual behavior is exceptional in this regard, or impervious to prevailing norms—which is why God learned Greek when he wished to become an author*, right?
Those who would implement a sexual-identity curriculum so early are driven by the conviction of their values system’s superiority. They’re proselytizing, and they want captive audience—the more tender, the better. By comparison, socially conservative parents opposed to these curricular innovations exhibit far greater reticence in the face of all the information we have yet to uncover about childhood development and human sexuality. Even supposing some of them believe gays should be stoned to death—at least they aren’t proposing that the topic be broached with everyone else’s five-year olds.
But supposing there are parents who actually prefer to see heterosexuality take root and, in that interest, wouldn’t like their kids being taught an inimical set of values. Is that so strange? After bare survival, procreation is the highest priority of billions of years of our evolution, all the way back to those ignominious first protozoa. Of course, children who exhibit homosexual or gender non-normative tendencies should be afforded all the love, acceptance and protection that their parents would extend to them if they were straight. But it would be odd indeed if it isn’t embedded in many of our hardwirings for parents to want their kids to procreate naturally, far before they want them to find strictly romantic fulfillment, or professional success, or to marry inside the religion of their upbringing, or whatever. Leviticus has fuckall to do with this, because modern civilization can’t possibly stray farther than it already has from monotheism’s original strictures, yet gays (of all people) are jumping at the chance to mimic Eisenhower-era family values. This is Frankenstein’s monster seeking a mate, it comes not from a place of love, but of hate. The system rejected me, so I’m going to fellate it. Love wins, according to five of out of nine jurists emeritus. It just requires approval now.
Considering the extremely high relative incidence of mental illness, pederasty, suicidality and venereal disease among sexual and gender non-normative communities—which have remained constant in spite of over half a century of changing attitudes, and which do not present among comparably marginalized minorities—proponents of gay-friendly elementary school curricula may be motivated as much by the promise of inoculating children against a deeply cultural animus toward gays as by a taboo cognizance of a widespread, innate, evolutionary aversion to homosexuality itself that cannot be readily done away with, but can be further repressed by making it a grave social liability. Perhaps in some sense this is a worthy endeavor, though I doubt it, and I hope I’ve made clear here what other important societal interests are at stake in its pursuit.
Of course, many gay advocates would argue instead that homophobia of any variety stems in significant part from self-identified heterosexuals’ terror of their own latent passions, and that in order to preempt intolerance these must be gently validated before small-minded parents have the chance to discourage them. Such certitude about the inner lives of others is classic projection that shouldn’t ever contribute to informing any school curricula, anywhere.
For the foreseeable future the jury is out when it comes to the nuances of nature’s and nurture’s respective contributions to our indices of sexual proclivities. But to the extent that behavioral outcomes can be molded and attitudes inculcated, responsibility for attempting this should rest primarily with parents, and with the community only secondarily. This is the least that gay partners raising kids together are asking for their families, and traditional families have at least as much right to it as they do.