Coming out in middle school
The writer remarks, “[t]hough most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations. Though gay kids in the South and in rural areas tend to have a harder time than those on the coasts, I met gay youth who were doing well in socially conservative areas like Tulsa and others in progressive cities who were afraid to come out.”
Many young men in this situation find support from their parents, particularly the mothers. Peer groups can also be helpful, especially it seems those made up of young women, many of whom regard themselves as bi. There are also support groups that organize dances and other get-togethers.
This development is particularly notable in view of the widespread bullying that has been rife in these schools. It is almost as if the coming out was a kind of act of defiance. It may be protective as well, because of the support that these young people are getting. They no longer have to face the dangers alone.
“As a response to anti-gay bullying and harassment,” Denizet-Lewis notes, “at least 120 middle schools across the country have formed gay-straight alliance (G.S.A.) groups, where gay and lesbian students — and their straight peers — meet to brainstorm strategies for making their campus safer. Other schools are letting students be part of the national Day of Silence each April (participants take a vow of silence for a day to symbolize the silencing effect of anti-gay harassment), which last year was held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old gay junior-high student in Oxnard, Calif., who was shot and killed at school by a 14-year-old classmate.”
Denezit-Lewis says the many of the young gay men he interviewed “seemed less burdened with shame and self-loathing than their older gay peers. What had changed? Not only were there increasingly accurate and positive portrayals of gays and lesbians in popular culture, but most teenagers were by then regular Internet users. Going online broke through the isolation that had been a hallmark of being young and gay, and it allowed gay teenagers to find information to refute what their families or churches sometimes still told them — namely, that they would never find happiness and love.”
For understandable reasons, the article shies away from the following question. Are these young--some very young--men having sex or not? It seems that for some individuals it is enough to establish their status (orientation)--to know who they are and let others know. Yet others are apparently engaging in sexual activity. Assuming that there is a positive family and societal response to begin with, few eyebrows seem to be raised if the age of the two partners is close. One individual profiled by Denizet-Lewis who is 13 has a boyfriend who is 14. The connection may have a sexual component or it may not. But in any case, sex or no sex, if the “boyfriend” was 24 instead, there would be universal cries of horror.
Evidently, these coeval relationships fall into what is sometimes called the Romeo-and-Juliet exception. Still, the activity is illegal under current age of consent laws, at least in most states.
It has occurred to me that in the long run this teenage coming-out phenomenon may be the equivalent of medical marijuana. That is, it may serve as a way to acknowledge the undeniable fact that young people--including gay teenagers--are sexual beings, and are likely to act on these feelings. Still, in view of the widespread horror about sex with youngsters in other contexts, the outcome is uncertain, even though the prospects are potentially interesting.
At all events we are confronted with a paradox. The television series “To Catch a Predator” continues to draw large audiences, showing the entrapment procedures deployed against adult males who would have sex with thirteen-year olds. To me, these programs are salacious and disgusting, because the individuals are enticed into committing a crime--which in fact they haven't committed, since once they enter the stake-out house they are humiliated and charged before anything sexual can occur. Where is the ACLU when we need it?
Mine seems to be distinctly a minority view. Apparently most viewers feel satisfaction at the witch-hunt therein depicted. "These monsters of depravity are getting what they deserve." That is one mindset. Yet it seems to coexist uneasily with another, which evidences growing toleration when actual thirteen-year olds openly proclaim their gay orientation and proceed to date other teenagers. There is something here that doesn’t compute.
I am not a boy lover (despite the malicious slanders that occasionally surface about me on the Internet). But it does seem that there is a puzzle here, one that may, just possibly, cause some changes in our view about sex and the age of consent.
I am not legislating such changes. In fact I am fairly agnostic: I have no particular investment in attitudes shifting on these issues. I am just observing.
For some the change would be a real boon; for others, though, maybe not. So, as I say, I am not prescribing--just attempting to peer into a very cloudy crystal ball.
One thing is sure. Attitudes may change, but the law will only follow long after.
UPDATE (Oct. 1). As if on cue, an old case has surfaced in which an adult had nonconsensual sex with a 13-year old girl. The man of course is the film director Roman Polanski, who has been arrested in Switzerland. What Polanski did in Los Angeles was clearly a crime, and he should have been made to do his time. Why did it take so long to catch up to him? This aspect suggests that class differences in the administration of justice played a role. There is one rule for the rich and famous, another for the rest of us.
If anyone doubts that Polanski's charmed life as a fugitive from justice is not an instance of class privilege, just look at those poor slobs on "To Catch a Predator." They haven't even done anything sexual, but they are arrested an prosectuted anyway. What would happen if Harvey Weinstein had showed up at Entrapment Villa? That is just a rhetorical question.
And there is another difference as well. If we heard of a Catholic priest who had forced himself on a 13-year old and then gotten away abroad, where he prospered, even receiving awards from Catholic groups, we would be appalled. But someone who is admired by the politically correct in Hollywood gets different treatment.
Still, the case is hard to understand completely--and this I suppose is emblematic of the whole matter of teenage sex. Consent, we generally agree, is essential. Obviously (I would think) an 8 year old cannot give informed consent. At what age though can one be deemed to do so? Maybe there is a gray area between say 14 and 18 where the matter has to be judged case by case. However, this murky concept just will not do where the law is concerned.
One thing seems certain. Almost anyone who attempts to grapple with these issues will end up with egg on his face--or worse. That includes yours truly.
Labels: teenage sexuality