Sunday, October 29, 2006

Love Inaction

On Saturday night, I attended a Halloween party hosted by the glamorous Joe and Whit. Without doubt, Whit won the prize for best costume in my book. Who can cobble together an authentic eighteenth-century nobleman’s costume from things mostly found in his closet? That’s not just about planning and being clever – That’s an entire lifestyle choice. That’s deep, Holmes, and Whit deserves some props.

Despite my costume debating, I went with my old reliable. By “reliable,” I really mean, “the shit that I already own.” For me that’s the U.S. Sailor work uniform. Once you have the dixie-cup hat, you are pretty much good to go. Like so many things in life, it all comes down to what you want to say with your hat.

While at the party, one of my conversations turned to the current state of queer youth. The presumption in the nation today is that young queer folk have an easier time and are coming “out” much earlier in life. Without doubt, some of this is true. Clearly there is a different national perception and visibility of queer people than when I started coming out a short fifteen years ago. We have also already discussed the queer generation gap here at CoG.

Still, I wonder sometimes if we are becoming blinded to the struggles that continue to exist for most young people coming to terms with their sexuality. My party conversationialist suggested that those who are in strictly religious households are not being permitted to express their sexualities. They are still as likely as anybody from forty years ago to be trapped in the closet by social pressure and fear. I think that he was probably right. Given that Evanglical Christians are rapidly becoming a major population in states like Texas, it’s hard to believe that everything is sunshine and roses for queer young people.

While most of the media and much of queer activism has focused on the issue of marriage, another set of sinister stories have sporadically made it to the surface. Over the weekend, a group known as Love in Action International (LIAI) settled its lawsuit against the state of Tennessee. Last year, LIAI briefly caught the national media’s attention when a sixteen-year old blogger wrote of his despair over being sent to the LIAI camp. His parents sent him, against his will, in an effort to rid him of his homosexual desires. Sometimes I worry that we queer folk have become distracted by the marriage issue to the point that we miss other serious crap like this story.

Tennessee investigated the LIAI camp after the blogging story broke. Allegations arose that the LIAI employees kept young patients from doctor prescribed medication. In the end, the state of Tennessee also stated that the camp needed a state issued mental health license. Probably because the LIAI’s methods would never withstand the scrutiny of trained psychologists and psychiatrists, LIAI balked at the proposition. Instead, they filed a lawsuit against Tennessee, claiming that they had been discriminated against because of their religious affiliation. Tennessee backed down and decided not to require the camp to have an actual medical license.

Here’s the deal with my view of the “ex-gay folk.” Hey, if you’re an adult and you want to subject yourself to that type of nuttiness, I say go forth. If you think listening to some minister tell you over and over again that you are going to hell is more pleasurable than wrapping your tongue around another man’s wang, that’s your decision. That sounds sad and pitiful to me, but I really don’t care. It’s your life. Sexual liberation means that you should have the right to make that choice.

The “ex-gays,” however, have no authority to speak for other queer folk nor have they ever demonstrated any tangible ability to “change” their innate sexual interest. As far as the debate about queer civil rights, they have nothing to contribute and we need not consider them worth discussing. They are a non-entity, kind of like the EPA under the Bush adminstration.

Where my major concern comes in, though, is the attempts to control and damage queer youth. A screwed-up adult checking himself or herself into one these “camps” make his or her own choices. A teenager, however, sent to one of these camps has no choice and no legal recourse. He or she is at the mercy of the parents.

Won’t somebody think of the children? I mean, somebody other than Mark Foley.

Young queer people have faced different levels of medical experimentation in the quest for a "cure" through the twentieth century. It’s not that hard to find historical examples. Even as I looked through sixties-era newspapers for the previous post on Jenkins, I found such a case from right here in Boston. In December 1964, The New York Times reported on an experimental psychological program conducted on “delinquents” in good ol’ Cambridge, Massachusetts. One aspect of this program involved Dr. Ralph Schwitzgebel (if that was his real name) applying “behavior modification” treatements to queer men.

Schwitzgebel spoke of a particular 13-month program conducted on a young gay man. During this period, Schwitzgebel required the man to take an ipecac syrup concoction “whenever homosexual feelings were particularly frequent.” In other words, the good doctor literally made the man vomit every time he thought of hot man-on-man action. Schwitzgebel claimed success, pointing to the youth’s [heterosexual] marriage. My guess is the man was willing to do anything to stop vomiting. Hell, I have only had a cold for two weeks, but would gladly marry somebody if it meant I could get rid of it.

Of course, Schwitzgebel also acknowledged, “Not all of his homosexual impulses have been eliminated, but the youth, in his words, considers them ‘nostalgic reminders of the past.’” Um – Okay. In other words, despite vomiting constantly and having sex with women, this particular youth still wistfully remembered the days of yore when he yearned for the man flesh. I also can't help but wonder if it actually just made the man have a new Roman Shower fetish.

Keep in mind that Schwitzgebel’s study was one of the most mild and least invasive of the medical experiments performed on queer folk. We like to think of this 1964 study as “ancient history.” With all the queer visibility and alleged ease of high school students coming out today, we are told such events are part of an archaic past.

Yet, it’s not hard to imagine that Love in Action International using almost identical practices, or worse, on young people today. The vague references to “ex-gay” treatments all seem to revolve around the same type of coded language of “behavior modification.”

Before we go congratulating this nation about how easy young queer folk have it, I think we should make sure that all teenagers are being allowed to make their own choices about their sexuality. If we are committed to ideas of sexual liberation, then we might need to start digging into the murky and unpopular realm of parental authority. As long as parents are permitted almost total authority over teenagers’ lives, they will always be at risk of being subjugated to dangerous and damaging programs like Love in Action International. For sexual freedom to take hold, we might need to demand that the current laws be changed concerning teenagers and sex. They should not be subjected to the arebitary beliefs of their parents when it comes to decisions about their own sexuality.



marlan said...

Ah yes, QP, always insightful; however, the sentence in the last paragraph about allowing teenagers to choose their own sexuality is playing back into the hands of those who believe it is a choice. Perhaps saying something like allowing teenagers (and younger, I suppose) the right to develop their sexual identity would be a better way to put it.

The Persian said...

You look too cute in that picture Sailor boy :)

I think there are a lot of movements in our midst to try and assist young people coming to terms with their homosexuality. Yes it is horribly tragic that there is a resurgence of Evangelicalism in certain states, and yes (much like someone trying to come out in the 1950's or 1960's) this is certainly going to set certain areas back into a long surpassed period of ignorance and intolerance. I am reminded of something my mother told me once when one of my classmates committed suicide (and it shocked me that she came up with this, considering she did not know him)

"He was probably gay" she said

Yikes...but that was so often the case in teen suicides of her generation, she was speaking from her own experience. And if this movement continues to gain momentum I shudder to think of the cost.

Excellent Post, you really have a great way of bringing certain issues to light many of us take for granted.


Anonymous said...

Hiya, sailor. The whole 'ex-gay' thing scares me. Not that they're going to lure me in anytime soon. I can only imagine how f**ked up someone would have to be to consider 'conversion', only to come out of that experience even more confused and f**ked up than before... and, you know that they are probably pretty messed up before and even more screwy afterwards. I also have to agree with marlan and his point about people who think this is all about choice. And though I didn't choose my orientation, I wouldn't have it any other way. Delinquently yours...

Will said...

No matter that it may be easier these days to come out to general society, I don't think the most basic moment in a teen-ager's coming out--coming out to parents--is any less stressful. You still hear stories of teens being thrown out of their homes, disinherited by bigoted, vengeful parents, and traumatized by attempts to reprogram them into heterosexuality.

I see your point about parents having total control over teenagers. But in a country, and at a time, when American society has a huge problem with parents dropping the parental responsibility ball across all social classes, any proposal that the age when parental control ends should come earlier, or that parental control be legally relaxed in any way would, I image, release a fire storm of resistence.

Glenn said...

I agree with Marian about developing their sexual identity. Also, there will always be parents that have issues with their children becoming sexual, period. Education is the most crucial element.

Cute costume, by the way.

Christopher said...

Teens will never have those burdens removed from them until gay people stop giving in to fear that they'll be branded pedophiles for helping the teens. Most folks I know don't want to get involved with gay kids because of the perception that they're just pervy.

FYI, my Drugged-out Ex (Who Took Many Drugs) was a sailor, and told me once that whenever he wanted to get laid, he would wear the Cracker Jack uniform out to the bar for Halloween (or whenever!). He said it worked every time. So tell us, GayProf, how good was your Halloween? :-D

Wiccachicky said...

I do see a split between "older" and "younger" queer folk -- and it's even worse in academia. I actually equal the intellectual games being played to the freverent distrust between second and third wave feminists. The arguments and discourse around change between those in the feminist community and those in the queer community is eerily similar.

vuboq said...

Young people may not have it any easier, but at least they have an easier time accessing information about sexuality (yay for the internet).

GayProf said...

Marlan: Fair enough – I meant the choice in how to express or explore their sexual interests, not a choice over their sexual desires.

Persian: Sadly, many teens still consider suicide because of the hostility they face in exploring their sexual desires.

Steve: I would rather spend my time with delinquents. I am just sayin’.

Will: Yeah, if they thought were ant-family before, just imagine what they will think when we start assailing parental authority. Still, I think parental authority is way out of control in this nation. Over the past decade, we have seen measures that eroded the rights of teenagers including measures that prevent young women from exercising the right to choose.

Glenn: Education is key, but the evangelicals are also targeting access to information. Schools are no longer able to present an accurate assessment of sexual options.

Christopher: I agree that the fear of being labeled a pedophile is severe and probably keeps some queer folk from working with teens. Still, I think we should try being on the offensive sometimes.

Wiccachicky: I don’t recognize the “third-wave” feminist nonsense. Then again, maybe that’s just more proof of the generation gap.

V.U.B.O.Q.: Yes, the internets and even popular media provide more information and queer voices than any time previous. Still, access to this information can easily be controlled, which is why we all must be vigilant.

Dharma said...

I do think that the marriage makes it easier for other concerns to fester in the corner, for some but not all of us. Personally, I would like the whole marriage thing for everyone revoked and a new model created entirely.

As far as easier, yes in some ways it is in terms of having more access, more role models, however I think the innate internal growth and societal tapes still exist.

Do those adults who "chose" to go to those programs really choose? I mean isn't it likely that as teens they were shamed, mistreated, etc which makes them vulnerable to the programs after the age of 18.

I agree that Schw-whoever's whole study was seriously flawed as are many studies today surrounding sexual identity. All he did was potentially change behavior not identity.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I remember that study, it was one of the first I found when I was looking for ways to God to like me by being like the rest of the drones. If ex-gay ministry was about people choosing to try and be ex-gay, that would be great - the problem is that since VERY few gay and lesbians go to ex-gay or stay there, ex-gay movements have instead moved to being information and training centres for the massive numbers of straight evangelical and conservative Christians - enabling them to "get the truth" out - as well as working in concert with christian lawyers to get things like "Homosexual is a choice, a choice harmful to the individual and society" put in school curriculum, getting legal protection for "Day of Truth" events and such garbage.

This weeks report on Christian "Hell Houses" has shown that the key to these Christian "alternatives" isn't about converting gays, but about teaching the youth to hate gays. In a twisted connection - the more a teen is likely to believe there is a Satan, the more likely they are to be intolerant of gays and lesbians.

Anonymous said...

Hellooooo, Sailor!

Very insightful post, as always. As I often say, though I've been lucky and it's true that my generation of queers has been lucky, doesn't mean it's all sunshine and roses. We can be far away from the nightmare-times of yesteryear while still being lightyears away from perfect!

Rebekah said...

Again and again, I have to wonder why the hatred of gays and lesbians even exists.

It truely makes no sense to me.

Now, if I told my mother I was an ax murderer, then I'd understand her disdain... but gay?

Then again, I have to be careful what I say at school. We tip toe around the subject, for fear of offending someone's religious beliefs. We talk about tolerance, but allowing other's intolerance? Isn't that worse?

I can look out at my students, all 186 of them, and already, there are boys who are coming to terms with their homosexuality; it pains me how difficult the next few years are going to be for them.

Doug said...

Saying gay kids have it easy today is akin to saying the 8th level of hell is a pleasant place to be. Just because they're not staring into the 3 faces of Satan doesn't mean they've got it easy.

Oh, wait, they are staring into the 3 faces of Satan: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice. Looks like Satan grew another face.

Earl Cootie said...

Hm. I thought there was nothing meaningful I could add to this discussion (well, remains to be seen, yes?), but I was thinking this morning about an article I read a decade or more ago (in Rolling Stone, I believe) by a writer who spent some time hanging out with queer teenagers. One thing about the article that struck me in a big way was when he related an incident when at a "Gay Denny's" he (and the group of queer kids) were threatened by redneck bigots. He was shocked. He had never before experienced first-hand this threat! Can you imagine? I can't recall an extended period in my semi-long life where the threat of a potential bashing hasn't been present. What a charmed life these straight, white guys must lead.

MEK the Bear said...

The Ex-gay movement is nothing more than the modern witch-hunt, our ancestors suffered accusations of being "possessed and sick" then they were tortured until they were either "excorcised" or killed.

I have the feeling if the ex-gay people running the show could kill instead of leaving someone "suffer in homosexuality" they gladly would.

There's nothing scarier than a fundie... hmmmm... maybe that's what I'll go as for Halloween Next Year.