On Family Values

Public domain Victorian postcard, via Wikipedia.

This post is a part of the Scarleteen Blog Carnival, in support of Scarleteen’s annual fundraising drive. In case you’re unfamiliar with the organization, you can read all about them here — but this is the short version: Scarleteen provides sex information to teens and young adults from a sex-positive, age-appropriate perspective.

The organization exists because of charitable donations, and it needs $70,000 to operate annually. This is a bargain for the world given the good that Scarleteen does. That good takes the form of sex-positive, diversity-positive sex information. Scarleteen believes, as I believe, that a diverse society is a powerful society, and that teens and young adults grow up healthier and happier if they’re given reasonable answers rather than misinformation and oppressive silence.

This perspective isn’t just some playful assertion on the part of a bunch of whack jobs. It’s a matter of life and death.

Some religious groups explicitly wish to send the message that the only result of diversity-positive, choice-positive sex education is suicide. Don’t believe me? In this NPR story, conservative religious leaders explicitly blame the suicide of gay young people on diversity-positive curricula that teach that homosexuality is “okay.”

And such apologism for anti-gay bullying is not confined to the most conservative groups like the clearly-flipped-out Tony Perkins of the Evangelical Family Research Council, who is quoted above saying that LGBT youths kill themselves because their desires are sinful. Anti-gay bullying is tolerated by teachers in many schools, and it was actively encouraged in mine. (To be fair — my sister and mother are both teachers — teachers are just as often or more often on the front line of sanity against oppressive family dynamics and home-based homophobia. Many teachers stand guard at the ramparts of tolerance armed with nothing more than a ruler and a conscience. But I digress.)

And it’s worth mentioning that homophobic epithets are just as often hurled at non-gays, especially boys, in what amounts to a snuffing out of the very potential of a gay-positive or gay-neutral attitude for many young men, before they even know what “a gay” is. In my school, the boys started calling each other “fag” in third grade and I seem to remember them following me home from high school graduation still spouting the word. Reading a book about horses? You were a fag. Reading a book about Greek mythology? Fag. Rocket ships? Fag. Guns, bombs and hacksaws? Fag. Lousy soccer player? You were a big screaming fag. Drop your pencil in class? Fag!!!!!.

I don’t know about you, but I was trained to be homophobic before I had the faintest idea what sex even was, let alone homosexuality. Nobody was trying to beat the homosexuality out of me; they didn’t have to. “Fag” was a dirty word for me well before it had a definition that had anything to do with sex.

In this climate, youth-focused sex education in this country is often hijacked by the hysterical promulgators of sex-negative, diversity-negative hysteria. Adults’ discomfort fuels an interpersonal climate where specific kinds of sexuality are seen as “outside the mainstream” and therefore worthy of ridicule. Any kind of sexual behavior outside of reproduction in a heterosexual marriage is too often explicitly considered by some authority figures as being in opposition to family life and the building of healthy communities.

But sex has been around for an awfully long time, and it just doesn’t happen between married couples in the missionary position with the lights out and thoughts of small bald progeny rampaging through both parties’ heads, and conception magically occurring without any awkward conversations. When it does, those married couples’ kids don’t always grow up to be straight, and celibate until marriage. If families are defined by the sexuality that builds them, why do many expressions of sexuality, to hear some people tell it, lead not just to disaster but specifically to suicide?

Conservative groups may see youth-focused sexual diversity education as standing in opposition to family values, but claiming this requires thoroughgoing blockheadedness. It demands a definition of “family values” so unbelievably narrow that it includes only a tiny percentage of families. Other families become suspect. It’s not just the kid with two mommies (or two daddies, or three daddies, or eleven daddies and a drag queen aunt) who gets excluded from this definition of “family.” It’s the child of divorce, the child of cancer, the child raised by grandparents, the kid with two parents in Iraq. It’s the kid whose parents sleep in separate beds, the kid whose parents have sex toys hidden under the bed, the kid whose parents don’t love each other and maybe never did, the kid whose parents are crazy-stupid in love with each other and embarrass the kid when they all go out for pizza.

It’s most of us, including the vast — vast!! — majority of Christians, conservatives, and even right-wingers. I sometimes wonder if Americans didn’t spend so much time telling their fellow Americans they’re not “perfect” within a very narrow set of expectations, we wouldn’t maybe realize that none of us are? If we didn’t spend so much time disapproving of other people’s choices, would we take more responsibility for our own?

Or, as this guy supposedly said once: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (He was a bit of a nut, though; listen to guys like Him and you’re flirting with disaster.)

How many families need to fall in some way outside the range of what gets called “family values” before we realize that lifestyle diversity doesn’t divide us; it unites us?

If we let it.

The attempt by some activists to place diversity-positive sex-education in opposition to family values is their choice, not ours.

By “ours,” I mean those of us who believe, as I do, that a inclusive society is stronger than an exclusionary one. We’re some real whack jobs, let me tell you.

If you’re one…then welcome to the family.


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