Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
No Recruiting (2019-07-30)
World war one recruitment poster from canada directed at irish immigrants and descendants, archives of ontario
war poster collection (C 233-2-4-0-198).
Honestly, I don't know what to make of it. Way back in the bad old days, when people my age walked uphill both ways to school and had to listen to cassette tapes through mini-muff style headphones, there were a few topics considered absolutely verboten in schools, right up to senior high. Even more verboten if you had the dubious fortune to attend a parochial school. Sex period, let alone sex outside of marriage of course – even in the 1990s. Any sexually transmitted disease or infection, communism and socialism, and any suggestion that people below the age of majority could ever be activists or politically curious in their own right. I got roundly scolded in junior high for asking concerned questions about nuclear weapons, because how dare I ask or think about things that shouldn't have been my concern. Never mind that these questions came up after a school assembly was called so that we could be subjected to a lengthy talk from a nuclear industry advocate. (Seriously.) But if you really wanted to get your figurative clock cleaned, all you had to do was hint even vaguely at the idea that there are people in the world who are not heterosexual. You could poke at sex-based stereotypes if you insisted, but to question heterosexuality was a serious taboo. Meanwhile, a moral panic was still in full swing, in which various talking heads insisted that even the slightest mention of such a thing around the tender ears of people below the age of majority, especially children in primary grades, was tantamount to recruiting and bending them into sexual perverts. Totally ridiculous, but a real thing. People get embarrassed and insist that such claims are indeed foolish now while also understandably reserving the right to ask tough questions about what is age appropriate and reasonable to tell young people about homosexuality and whether they have to live according to sex-based stereotypes or not.
Now, in the good new days I guess, there are in many english-speaking countries entire curricula put together by people who may or may not be educators, actively spreading new narratives about "gender identity," how to recognize yours, how to behave according to it (this part confuses me because if you just need to recognize it, surely you don't need lessons on how to be what you are?), and how to go about getting it validated by others. When I was in school, if there had been course packs and posters and things put together to tell you all about how you could be homosexual, how to behave to demonstrate your homosexuality, and how to go about getting acknowledged as one by all and sundry – well, it would not have ended well. It is one thing to acknowledge that people are homosexual and even bisexual via children's books or courses carefully graded according to the age and level of understanding of children, with the aim of teaching them not to treat such people with fear, contempt or violence. But attempting to influence children's sense of their own selves is a whole other ball game that makes even me pretty uncomfortable. The lines aren't easy to draw here, especially in this strange time of resurgent sex-based stereotyping driven by capitalism and authoritarian impulses.
Let's consider things from a slightly different angle. Like most people, I was completely oblivious to sex or sexuality until I hit puberty. That's pretty ordinary. As that uncomfortable process went on, I was struggling to make sense of how and why my experiences were so different from those of many of my peers. I didn't want anybody to try to tell me what I was or should be – let me tell, you, I was mightily sick of being told every day that I must be a heterosexual female who had a pathetic inability to act and dress according to sex-based stereotypes of females and must really be interested in sex with boys. I wanted to be left alone with some trustworthy information to sort things out. Knowing that there were other ways to be a woman and that women could love each other in fulfilling emotional and sexual ways was a real life saver. It was hard to find information that simply set out the possibilities, instead of trying to persuade me of something. It was also hard to find information that stated clearly and unequivocally that nobody had the right to treat me or anyone else badly because we weren't much interested or able to perform certain stereotypes. I didn't find any of that until well into my adulthood, which is really too bad. Overall, I came out of all that (pun not quite intended) thoroughly untrusting of attempts at recruiting anybody for anything, in any of its forms, from proselytizing to military propaganda.
So personally I would be totally comfortable with books and classes that teach children of all ages that nobody should ever be bullied or otherwise ill-treated for not behaving according to a sex-based stereotype or ideas about what their "gender" is supposed to be. Makes good, solid sense. As children enter puberty and begin to have questions about sexuality, that's where things get tough because it seems that adults have a terrible time refraining from trying to push kids in particular directions that are not necessarily respectful of their boundaries. In english-speaking societies, the principle that people below the age of adulthood should be protected so that they may grow into full-fledged adults sometimes seems more honoured in the breach than the practice. It is hard to figure out how to set out information and possibilities without slipping into more or less subtly pressuring pubertal children in particular directions. Being older and at least a little wiser, I realize part of the challenge is that puberty is also right around when we begin making more decisions for ourselves, and the adults in our lives need to step back and let us take those decisions on. But there are still decisions we can't make on our own for awhile longer, no matter how sure we are we know what we're doing. I have to agree that it takes awhile for us to be able to successfully make life-changing decisions in an informed way and then manage the impacts of those decisions.
All of which is to say, I still disagree with people who try to claim that merely acknowledging the existence of homosexuals and anybody else who does not live according to sex-based stereotypes is recruiting and a danger to children. Not all of them are raising the issue in good faith. But on the other hand, there are genuine concerns about what is appropriate and respectful of children as they grow into adults and begin to deal with questions about how to comport themselves and what their sexuality is. I can agree that we need to be careful and rigorously examine materials intended to teach children about sex, "gender," and the various stereotypes they are presented with from day to day. It's not always comfortable to carry out those examinations and debate the materials, but then again, discomfort does come with stepping up to tough questions.