(This is a very brief slice of a very large topic. It deserves much more space; perhaps some day when life is less hectic. For now this is the extent of my available time and energy.)
A famous thinker once said: “God is in the details.” To which a noted architect responded: “The Devil is in the details.” Both were right. But in my slot at Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, I hope this bit of insight survives: “God is in the premises. The Devil is in the premises.” In the words of Rabbi Abba Berman, a great Talmud scholar who recently passed on: “From your viewpoint, you’re right. It’s your viewpoint that’s wrong.”
Indeed it is not too much to say that whenever the Reaganite position loses the debate in the public arena, it is not because it reasoned poorly from the premise. It is because the other side had managed to slip in an unchallenged premise that corrupted the entire dialogue.
And so the great adventure of reforming the culture is most challenging when the target is a premise that has hardened into a pillar. The most pernicious of these, the capstone of evil in our time, the rawest, crudest, crassest, grossest of them all is the one that was on display last week in the Day of Silence observed around the country’s schools. Sadly, sadly, sadly, conservatives have not mounted any resistance to the premise, so whatever quibbles they register against its offshoots are turned, win or lose, into an exercise in futility.
The Day of Silence is to empathize with the silence that is said to be forced upon gay and lesbian teenagers. The Ninth Circuit Court just issued a decision that schools may prevent students from making such statements as: “The Bible says that homosexual behavior is shameful.” Many conservatives are debating and appealing the ruling while decrying the Day as unnecessary and gratuitously provocative. But no one challenges the premise, the horrid, horrible, horrific premise. Namely, that there is such a thing as a “gay teenager”.
Don’t take my word for it. Open your ears, listen carefully. When a high school opened for gays in New York City in the late 1980s, the debate focused on whether isolating them in a separate school was helpful or counterproductive. When people call laissez-faire psychologists like Dr. Joy Browne or strict moralists like Dr. Laura Schlessinger to ask how to deal with their high-schoolers who have “come out” as gay, the only difference in the answer is that Browne says to embrace it while Schlessinger says to be understanding without endorsing. But no one, no one at all, no liberal, no conservative, has the simple honesty, sense and courage to say the commonsensical truth; namely, that every teenager is mixed up about sex and has no clue what he or she “is” or “is not”.
This is a subject that deserves to be treated in a very long treatise. But in our short format today, we can ask ourselves simple questions that highlight obvious verities. Who among us did not experience moments of utter humiliation in approaching members of the opposite sex? How many of us can declare that we never doubted our masculinity or femininity during such moments of humiliation? If a seducer of the same sex played his or her cards right in that moment, was there no vulnerability there? Be honest.
Or look at it from the other side. It is a simple fact that homosexuals try to seduce people to try their way. A practicing psychologist showed me gay magazines that specifically advocated “breaking in” new recruits. In my own life, I was hit on by men a number of times, and when I politely said “I’m not gay”, every one of them kept trying, saying it would be fun, etcetera. Quite a few girls have described to me the exact same experience, eerily almost word-for-word. So if some kid, lonely with rejection by the opposite sex, flattered by same-sex attention, indulges a time or two and thinks that he or she is now gay, should a responsible parent or teacher take that declaration as fact, not subject to discussions, counseling, deliberation and reconsideration?
Furthermore, most teenage socializing is in same-sex environments. Even in coed schools, kids generally cluster in gender-segregated packs. Small experimental ventures into sexual activity cannot reasonably be extrapolated into a lifetime preference. Things happen sometimes in schools, in armies, in jails, when access is more or less limited to the same gender, that do not reflect life in the bigger world. A youngster who had such an experience during a formative period is likely to think that this reveals his or her “true self”.
Truthfulness and compassion demand that we counsel those children, that we tell them they are still young, they are still confused, they do not have all their skills, they do not have all their maturity, they do not have all their resources, and that they need to calm down, get their schooling, not let their doubts fester in their minds, and work their way healthily toward adulthood without some label that was applied through ignorance and self-doubt.