Paige Schilt

How Homophobia Hurts Everyone

Filed By Paige Schilt | December 21, 2008 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, The Movement
Tags: boys and masculinity, homophobic behavior, parenting, sexism

Yesterday I spent the morning perched on a tiny plastic chair, observing my son Waylon's yoga class. Although I have studied yoga for years, kindergarten yoga was most enlightening. For instance, I learned that the lotus position can also be called "criss-cross applesauce." And kindergarten apparently presents an exception to the ancient injunction that yoga must be performed barefoot. (I suspect that convincing a group of five-year-olds to put their shoes back on would challenge the inner calm of even the most accomplished yogi.)

But the most fascinating lesson occurred when the class paired up for "buddy time."

The girls ran to their girlfriends with wide eyes and huge smiles. They hugged and swayed and held hands while they waited for the teacher to call out the next pose.

And the boys?

Same exact story. From the looks of joy on their faces, buddy time might have been Christmas morning. I watched as Waylon and his friend Charlie wrapped their arms around each other's waists. Between poses, Charlie rested his head on Waylon's shoulder.

I checked the other pairs of boys and found that they, too, were beaming and clinging to one another. Their happiness was infectious, but it also made my heart hurt. I took a deep breath and tried to stay in the moment, but I found myself already anticipating a future when this easy intimacy between boys would disappear.

Waylon is my first child, so I can't say exactly when it might happen--second grade? fourth? middle school?--but I fear that, far too soon, the majority of these boys will have internalized the implicit and explicit rules of our culture's version of masculinity. No more lounging with their head on their buddy's shoulder, no more looking deeply and directly into his eyes.

Watching their little bodies lean against each other in supported bridge pose, I grieved for all that they might lose: the sense of trust and openness, the comfort of a friend's touch. Girls have their own real and harrowing challenges in our culture, but I don't think they are expected to eschew intimacy with same-sex friends as a rite of passage.

As adults, we sometimes defend against the awfulness of this loss by telling ourselves that these gender differences are inevitable, natural, even biological. But I defy any observer of kindergarten yoga to tell me that boys do not have the capacity to develop close, nurturing friendships with other boys. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that it is cultural forces--namely sexism and heterosexism--that threaten to impoverish the emotional lives of our sons.

At the end of class, the instructor asked the kids if they remembered the intention that they had set at the beginning. "To be happy!" they called in chaotic harmony.

As I walked out the door, I wanted to collar every parent in that class and plead with them:

Don't teach your sons that boys can only touch when they are fighting or playing sports.

Don't teach them to hold themselves stiffly and keep their eyes to themselves.

Don't teach them by teasing and example.

Don't do it for their future friends and lovers.

Don't do it because you want them to be happy and because it diminishes the sources of comfort and support that are available to them in this hard and crazy world.


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Angela Brightfeather | December 21, 2008 5:11 PM

Thank you Paige,

The wonderful example you have described with your son, puts so much into perspective doesn't it?

Being Transgender myself, it is very emotional to read your experience and not associate the loss of intimacy you anticipate for your son, with the losses I expereinced throughout my youth in connection with wishing to be a girl and never being able to express it.

However, I note that when you stated taht the gils paired up with the girls and the boys with the boys, you must realize that the process has already begun for your son and those girls by way fo grouping into gender specific groups as you described.

As a Transgender child, there was a point when I did not know where I beleonged and therefore I felt taht I did not belong anywhere.

That manifests itself even today. When I go to a GLBT event where there is dancing, I notice that the boys dance witht he boys and the girls dance with the girls, ;and usually the Transgender people are dancing with themselves.

I asked a friend of mine why he thinks that is and he told me, that we look to much like women for most gay men to dance with and we don't have the right "plumbing" for lesbians to dance with.

I think that probably true intimacy is the hardest thing to achieve in life with even one other person. Perhaps that is why marriage is such an issue now for GLBT people. At least in their minds and due to the gender training that they carry in them, marriage is the recognized state that condones the official saction of true intimacy between two people. But to people who are not GLBT, only between what others seem to think should only be between a man and a woman to be legal. Limiting intimacy, limits relationships and limiting relationships allows people to use fear to control others.

The problem seems to be, where do you interced as a parent in the process forced on everyone by society. Which in your case is stated in the aged old questin of "Whats a mother to do?"

Angela, I completely agree: gender segregation on the playground and in the classroom has been one of the most triggering things about parenting for me because it assumes such a binary view of gender. I am constantly questioning how much the kids are choosing gender-segregated play and how much they are being channeled into those patterns by adults who may not even recognize what they are doing.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 21, 2008 6:57 PM

Paige, what you say is so right on! I would only add that as boys grow, they are taught to "toughen up," which means cut off from all feelings except anger. It's a crazy way to raise half our children. As a result, among other things you end up with adult men who possess immense power in society yet who are unable to identify or express any feelings except anger. This has serious repercussions for the women in their lives, as well as for society in general.

It's both sad and tragic.

My son likes to play with his baby doll in her pretty purple jumper (he says he's her himdaddy and she's his babygirl). He has a fluffy pink kitten that is one of his best friends. He hugs, kisses and loves based on how a person makes him feel and not their gender. Of course he is only 2 1/2 and someday that will all likely change but I won't be the cause of that. I don't 'gender train' my babies and I never ever will. Your article is touching and incredibly astute. Thank you.

It's definitely cultural. In many parts of sub-saharan africa, it's not uncommon for two grown men to hold hands, just as friends. In Italy men who want to hold hands will usually have one man put his hand in his pocket and the other will drape his hand over the other's wrist.

We do impoverish ourselves by creating these silly rules about how and when we can touch. I remember back when i ran cross country in high school (waaaaaaaaay back when), guys would pat each other on the ass all the time. It was, bizarrely, an accepted release. I guess because they all needed it.

Angela, even when the plumbing is "fixed", many lesbians still will not dance with the trannies.

There are cultures that do not "traumatize" their boys and young men, and force them into emotional straitjackets. It has mainly been our "anglo-saxon" and "white northern european" based cultures that emotionally castrate their males in some mis-guided belief that it is "godly" and natural.

In many ways, we are living a legacy of Victorian misogynistic and perverted gender and sex roles. The US may have won a revolution and gained political freedom, but culturally, we have followed closely in the footsteps of our past colonial masters.
The thing is, now, when merry old England is finally making a break from her Victorian past, the "colonies" are not following her lead.

It's funny. I'm a "touch" kind of guy. I hate it when people are so stand-offish that they refuse to make the barest contact. Whenever I'm in a store and get change, or have to take something from someone, I usually try to just brush their hand lightly. 98% of people won't really notice, but their facial features will soften slightly.

Jerame always complains that I am usually more popular than he is. "You have that perky personality that I don't," he'll grump. I think the secret to my success is that I always try to engage others as a human being with basic needs. Look the person in the eye, smile so they know you're not a threat, and give a slight touch. By meeting those primal needs, people subconsciously will respond.

It's a downright shame that masculinity has become synonymous with suppressing our need for "intimacy" - even with a casual interaction.

Great post, Paige.

gregory brown | December 22, 2008 11:25 AM

These are good comments. I recall reading a couple of books (which I'm too lazy to retrieve as titles this morning) about the changes in American culture that pretty much put an end to friendly homosociality among men. One was a collection of photos from mid-19th century onward, showing men in affectionate, close poses. Whether there was anything specifically sexual between them is ambiguous. The other, oddly, focuses on changes among Mormon men. As recently as the 1950's it was common for traveling church officials to share a bed, and photos of high school athletic teams show young men leaning closely together, even holding hands. And there are some fine photos of US servicemen during WW2 enjoying similar closeness, unselfconsciously enjoying the safety of brotherhood in arms.
The loss of this easy comradeship has been debilitating for all of us, emotionally and physically.

Julia Johnson | December 23, 2008 11:34 AM

Thanks, Paige. Your essay made me cry with joy and sadness. Julia

still-in-the-middle | December 24, 2008 11:39 AM

That was beautiful Paige. It makes me think of my childhood and where I am on the spectrum of things, as a generally closeted Bi woman in a straight marriage with similarly identified male. I grew up as a semi-tomboy with friends of both genders who I was very affectionate with. This continued to adolescence, being friends with misfit, sensitive, geeky kids who tended toward bi-experimentation, but more often than not, playful multi-gendered dog-pile affection at parties. In out 20's most of us paired up monogamously with one side or the other of the gender spectrum. Some are still trying to make poly arrangements work, but it is difficult in our society. We are the ones whose identity as Bi or Poly complicates G/L political attempts toward societal legitimacy as we just appear promiscuous. So often-times we pair up into hetero marriages with likeminded partners and can't help but feel sad and one-sided. :(

still-in-the-middle | December 24, 2008 11:42 AM

That was beautiful Paige. It makes me think of my childhood and where I am on the spectrum of things, as a generally closeted Bi woman in a straight marriage with similarly identified male. I grew up as a semi-tomboy with friends of both genders who I was very affectionate with. This continued to adolescence, being friends with misfit, sensitive, geeky kids who tended toward bi-experimentation, but more often than not, playful multi-gendered dog-pile affection at parties. In our 20's most of us paired up monogamously with one side or the other of the gender spectrum. Some are still trying to make poly arrangements work, but it is difficult in our society. We are the ones whose identity as Bi or Poly complicates G/L political attempts toward societal legitimacy as we just appear promiscuous. So often-times we pair up into hetero marriages with likeminded partners and can't help but feel sad and one-sided. :(