Johnny, Are You Queer?

Via MetaFilter comes James Dobson’s checklist to help you find out if your kid might be gay.

I thought I’d go down the list and see how I did.

1. A strong feeling that they are “different” from other boys.

Oh yeah. Starting in kindergarten. It became more noticable as I got older. Believe me, other boys picked up on it too. The thing is, that it took some time before I absorbed the idea that there was anything wrong with being different from ther boys. It took some time for the other boys to absorb that idea, but they managed it sooner than I did. And when they did, boy did I get it. Before I could name my "difference" I was reminded of it, and punished for it on a daily basis. 

2. A tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.

Again, I came up against this rigid idea of what a boy is "supposed to be." I was awful at athletics, and disliked them instensely. Even now, as an adult, I stay away from competitive sports because suddenly finding myself on a softball field can give me flashbacks to the fourth grade. Anyway, I was, for some reason, disinclined to join the rest of the boys in a game of "smear the queer."  

I got it at home too. I remember once my Dad being concerned about the way I ate an apple. I sliced it up and cut out the core, instead of just biting into it. If people saw me eating an apple like that, they might think I was queer.  

3. A persistent preference to play female roles in make-believe play.

I don’t know about a strong tendency to play female roles, but I did enjoy playing with my sister’s dolls. I remember once sitting in the family room, happily combing and styling the hair of one of those dolls while my parents carried on a conversation like I wasn’t in the room. It went something like this. My dad was concerned that I shouldn’t be playing with dolls. My mom rationalized it by saying that I might have a daughter someday, and I’d have to know how to do her hair. (Turns out, mom was right. I may very well have a daughter, if the next kid turns out to be a girl, just not the way she had in mind.) 

4. A strong preference to spend time in the company of girls and participate in their games and other pastimes.

How can I put this? It’s not so much that I prefered the company of girls as it was that it was just easier company for me to be in. Guys tended to steer clear of me, because I was different in a way that made them uncomfortable. And, frankly, it was easier for me not to be around guys, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about my attraction to some guys being obvious. And, anyway, girls found me less threatening to be around.

5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

Oh yeah. I got this big time. By the time I got to 8th grade, I was severely depressed. I’d pretend to be sick just to stay home from school. When I went to school, I’d absolutely refuse to participate in phys. ed., because that meant going into the locker room. Once was enough to teach me what I’d have to face in there, with no adults around to inhibit the other guys. I flunked that course one semester, because I wouldn’t go into the locker room and therefore couldn’t "dress out." I cant’ remember what I told the teacher, except that it wasn’t the truth, because I didn’t think anyone would be on my side at that point. I’d invariably come home depressed and angry.

Had things gone differently, I would have "pulled a Columbine" years before that event actually happened. Fortunately, I landed in therapy, where I ran into the first adult to ever even suggest to me that there might not be anything wrong with being "different," being gay, that is.

6. A tendency to walk, talk, dress and even “think” effeminately.

I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I walked, talked, dressed and thought like myself. It took other people to decide how I should walk, talk, dress, and think, and to decide that I was somehow defective. It took years before I was able to hear anything else. That’s a hard place for a kid to be; "defective" and unable to do anything about it.

7. A repeatedly stated desire to be — or insistence that he is — a girl.

This one gets and unqualified "not me." I never had any desire to "be a girl."

What’s interesting about these questions is that then tend to focus more on behavior than orientation, as to most "reparative therapy" programs these days. The focus is more on changing the individual’s behavior, not changing their insides, except to leave them even more confused and torn-up than before. Some such programs, almost comically, focus intensely on gender behavior as the answer, to the point of dragging the gay guys to sporting events (but no touching allowed) and giving the lesbians make-up tips.

Add it all up, and what do you get? These questions seem more oriented towards an extremely stereotyped idea of what a "real boy" should be like. They also seem designed to torture the hell out of any boy who does not, or is constitutionally incapable of conforming to that stereotype — even if that boy is actually heterosexual. You see, the traits listed above are just as likely to be possessed by a straight kid as a gay kid.

Or, as Kevin puts it:

The implication is that gays can choose to not be gay. And the implication of that is that your 5 to 11 year old boy is choosing the wrong gender identity, which will cause them to choose homosexuality when they become adolescents. It’s insane.

It is more than insane — it is cruel. Dobson is telling parents that they must crush any child who doe snot conform to the very narrow notion that Dobson has of what a little boy should be. Any deviation from that template, even in children as young as five, is a dangerous sign of gender confusion, worthy of “professional help”. Dobson is allowing his own twisted readings of scripture and the bigotry those readings engender to warp his duty to protect children. He is so afraid of homosexuals that he is willing to crush little children’s sense of themselves and belief in their own personality to combat it.
 

That’s the ultimate outcome, of course. To crush a kid’s spirit, and distort his or her identity beyond repair. In that sense, I guess I’m lucky I got through it. A lot of kids, some of whom I knew personally, didn’t.

Quick hint to those who might be parents to such a boy as described above. Be on their side. Accept them for who they are. If they get picked on or called "fag" or "queer," don’t respond by asking them "Well, you’re not, are you?" Just work with the school to make it stop.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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8 Responses to Johnny, Are You Queer?

  1. donna says:

    That’s the ultimate outcome, of course. To crush a kid’s spirit, and distort his or her identity beyond repair. In that sense, I guess I’m lucky I got through it. A lot of kids, some of whom I knew personally, didn’t.

    That’s what conservatives do to all their children, except for those they deem to be worthy of being alpha males. Girls, it’s just sort of automatic to put them down, lesser sons, the same. Only the alpha males are praised and told they are worthy and better than everyone else, and then we see how they grow up – too arrogant to be bothered with the details of running the country, fighting a war, or meeting dead soldier’s mothers. They are simply Too Important for such things.

  2. R. Warner says:

    That’s what conservatives do to all their children, except for those they deem to be worthy of being alpha males. Girls, it’s just sort of automatic to put them down, lesser sons, the same. Only the alpha males are praised and told they are worthy and better than everyone else, and then we see how they grow up – too arrogant to be bothered with the details of running the country, fighting a war, or meeting dead soldier’s mothers. They are simply Too Important for such things.

    I was going to comment on Dobson’s list itself, but the response I’ve cited above has changed my mind. I now realize that what I really want to comment about is: what I believe to be (not the reasoning, but) the motivation behind Dobson’s list. (And, by extension, the motivation behind documents which resemble it.) I mean, what does a grown man hope to achieve by–well, by spewing–such arrant nonsense? What can it possibly get him? Better reproductive opportunities? Prettier women? That doesn’t seem likely to me. If the theory is that the reason men tend to spout off is because off-spouting turns them into more attractive sexual partners, then all I can say is that Dobson proves the theory wrong. His is a branch of rhetoric which (in my judgement anyway) doesn’t improve his chances with women and absolutely ruins his chances with men.

    Maybe he’s planning to profit materially from parents’ putative efforts to prevent their sons’ (and presumably also their daughters’) prospective gayness, and he’s counting on the money to render him more vendible. Or maybe all this is merely some kind of pure and unadulterated power trip. Frankly, I wish I thought it were that, but I’m afraid it’s not.

    I think Donna is right about the effects of the familial/cultural regimen that the far right is even now seeking to impose first upon America and later upon the world. And these effects, though Donna is too nice to come straight out (as it were) and say so, are–what? Are CHAOTIC. Are DESTRUCTIVE. When almost no women and relatively few men are considered socially worthy, and when the few men who are considered socially worthy are so bred and treated as to turn out effectually to be madmen–for by what other term are we to describe persons who either can’t deal with reality or who don’t deign to do so?–the whole of the social fabric begins to fray and to degrade, and the human world becomes unliveable.

    I think that Dobson and his ilk realize this. I wish I thought their behavior were unaffected by the realization, but I don’t. People like us get puzzled by them because we see clearly that, should their policies be implemented, should their wishes be followed, to anything like the extent that they desire (nay demand), the result would be ruin. And don’t they want to avoid ruin? My answer, to which I have come with great reluctance and over the course of several years, is–no they don’t. They want ruin. They want destruction. They understand what will inevitably be the result of their getting what they want, and–they want that result. They want to bring it on and bring it down. They want to see a Bully Band Of Brothers demolish every human soul deemed unworthy of joining that band, and then perish proudly atop its self-ignited pyre. Nothing else will satisfy the drama-lust of such people; nothing less. Only this.

  3. Joan says:

    I have been saying for years that I would not be shocked if one of my kids (one in particular) revealed to me that he was gay. There has always been an air about him, more nurturing and empathetic, more sensitive and a little effeminate. He’s grown up to be a bit more boyish, wanting to play fight and play video games, and has ‘guy’ friends that he didn’t have in earlier years. In any case, I am Much more horrified by the idea that any mother could turn her back on her child for being gay, than I am of having a gay child! I am shocked that that would make me a minority among parents!

    As for Dobson, *shudder* That guy is so far out of touch with reality that it’s not funny. I was talking with a family member recently about how scary it is to have kids that are heading into the sexual years and pondering how best to help them navigate it. Her opinion, ala Dobson was to teach her kids Purity and shame them into thinking sex is so gross and so wrong and shameful that they would’t even dream of doing it until they were married. Here I am worrying about balancing my discussions with just enough warnings to keep them safe but not so much as I warp their adult sex lives into a horrible, shamful nightmare, and she is TRYING to build her kids up with shame so they will want to avoid the behaviors and stay pure. I can’t tell if that’s going to make her a grandma Sooner, or simply NEVER! Either it won’t work at all (because it worked so well in the 50s and in Victorian times, right?) or it’s going to screw those kids up for life and they will never have a healthy sex life! So, yeah…Go Dobson!

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  5. Susan says:

    5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

    This passive wording is interesting: it’s not that other kids bully the gay kid, it’s that the gay kid is “susceptible” to being bullied. The gay kid is the one doing something — being vulnerable. Maybe he’s constructed the sentence this way for stylistic reasons, but he’s written about bullying in a way that makes the target responsible. I hate the implicit message: bullying is natural and inevitable for gays kids, and we aren’t going to try to stop it, because they deserve it anyway.

  6. Terrance says:

    Excellent point!

  7. Jeff L. says:

    A nice blog entry; I agree with most of the sentiments here and am thankful you’ve expressed them (I’m not gay and I’m not conservative, nor am I a liberal for that matter). Dobson and his crowd are indeed frightening and deliberately ignorant. I do have to quibble with this statement however:

    “You see, the traits listed above are just as likely to be possessed by a straight kid as a gay kid.”

    I’d suspect there’s plenty of statistical evidence that render that assertion false. Otherwise keep up with the good entries.

    -Jeff-

  8. jnelson says:

    5. A susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them “queer,” “fag” and “gay.”

    I don’t know about anyone else, but in elementary school through high school, these types of names were thrown around as insults whether a boy was actually gay or not. While the whole list is weak, this one is weak in particular.

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