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.