By Kelly Jean Cogswell
This week, I'm sick of straight people and their carefully guarded innocence. First a friend's mom asked, "Homophobia, is it really a problem?" Then, after Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an eleven-year old boy, was literally bullied to death, killing himself after months of getting called "faggot" and "gay," we had the article, "Dude, You've Got Problems," in the New York Times.
The nice, straight, disgustingly innocent Judith Warner asserted Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover didn't really die of homophobia, but as a result of the hyper-masculinized American society where church-goers and intellectuals are automatically consigned to the faggot bin. She wrote, "Being called a "fag," you see, actually has almost nothing to do with being gay."
With that little phrase she erased all of us queers that grew up getting called "homo," "fag," "lezzy" and "dyke." Sure, idiot homophobes use "faggot" as an epithet for any male they want to taunt because, well, people hate faggots. But the word is used with the most hatred, the most virulence, and does the most damage, when they think the target actually is gay.
Unfortunately, our enemies often know our eventual sexual identity before we do. Those girls at school that called me "lezzy" were dead right, way before I had a clue. Ditto for those guys that threw bottles out the car window at me and screamed "dyke!" when I was just barely considering "bi."
Young Carl could well have turned out to be gay. Is that any better than being hated by mistake? Does Judith Warner need to believe he was one hundred percent straight to denounce his torture and death?
You get exceptions to every rule. There are female pedophiles and women that beat their husbands. Some tormented kids maybe are straight and just pegged as effeminate. Some may be transgender. But the majority of the ones getting tormented as gay usually are, or will be. It's time we admit it. It's time we admit how early our differences begin to show. And how soon we are hated.
And just redefining American masculinity to include intelligent, "good" or religious-inclined boys won't help gay children much at all. In France, despite the adoration of skinny intellectuals, and a preponderance of boys with androgynous haircuts, bigots still beat up queers, and queer-supportive politicians get packages of human feces in the mail. In Senegal, where religion is a masculine province, society still conducts witch hunts, condemns faggots to years in jail, while imams in dresses encourage the government to execute men having sex with men.
No, the main reason kids get harassed as faggots, or lezzies is because they very well might be. And the only thing the world hates more than homosexuals are the little kids who might grow into them. That hazing, that bullying is a brutal attempt to enforce heterosexuality among possible citizens of queer nation that haven't yet applied for their permanent resident cards.
Which is why we need programs like the Rainbow Curriculum (remember that?) which was meant to teach elementary school kids to respect each other no matter what. I would only change the emphasis from Heather's Two Mommies, to Heather has a Mom and Dad, but herself is a lesbian child. Sexual identity, sexual orientation doesn't just emerge with body hair. It's there in the background, shaping who we are, what we care about from our very first years.
And I am infuriated by everyone, gay or innocently straight, who are intent on denying that a little black boy interested in the church, good in school, might really turn out to be gay like a certain James Baldwin. How simple it is. No gay boy, no homophobia to fight both among students and school staff.
Denying the reality of homophobia, denying the existence of gay children only means more destruction, more deaths.
"...this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime." Props to James Baldwin. He was talking about racism. But dude got it right for queers, too.
It's time to acknowledge gay kids and teach even presumed hetero ones that the only answer to charges of "faggot!" "dyke!" is a, "So what if I am? Big deal."