So the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts to be scouts but not troop leaders. Baby steps have not been uncommon for the scouts when it comes to social change. It wasn’t until 1974 that the scouts became fully integrated. Jewish, Asian and African Americans were often forced into their own troops. In fact at one point when African American scouts were forming troops there was a move to ban them from wearing the uniform. Separate but unequal or just plain discriminatory was common in the scouts. My mother didn’t let me join because the recruiter at my school told me I had to have a haircut. That didn’t sit well with my mom born in 1935 Germany. But the scouts should be praised for taking what I am sure is a chance on this change. Let’s be clear, there have always been gay scouts, and gay scout leaders. There always will be. When a young boy joins the scouts in 1st grade he may not know his sexual orientation. Most kids don’t. Moving up through the years he may not encounter attraction until well within the high school years and by then with most scouts I have known it is just part of who they are, and a big part. I have helped scouts attain Religious Badges for Judaism and have been to several Eagle Scout ceremonies over the years. The scouts I encountered in that time have scouting in their blood. Being gay hardly enters into the mix for them. Just like being gay doesn’t have a huge impact on being a football player or swimmer.
What I find amazing is the backlash that can only be described as bigotry. People are melting down their scout medals and burning patches in protest. They are disassociating themselves from scouting and spreading lies about sexual abuses that have been a problem for scouting being the result of gay scouts and leaders. The sheer hate being spewed blinds them from the very essence of what a scout is suppose to be. But leaving that all behind, they call this the end of scouting, while participating in its demise by not continuing their support. Basically what has happened is that Boy Scouts of America will allow troops to enroll gay members and not kick out scouts who identify as gay, while maintaining that individual troops can still discriminate. It is a move that inches toward full inclusion but actually just ends what was a defacto Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
But probably the most ridiculous of the comments I see on this is that somehow allowing gay scouts is sexualizing scouts. This is not a new argument. The very act of acknowledging gay people is seen by some as sexualizing the situation. Recently I went to buy perfume with Dianne. This has been a chore because we don’t seem to like the same things and my favorite perfume never really seemed right on her. So we sprayed a few on various spots to test, I would lean in to smell or take the wrist to my nose. When we settled on one she hugged me tight and gave me a big kiss. Right there in front of God and everybody. The woman selling to us smiled and made a comment about love. I described a similar scenario only with two married men I know to someone who then asked me why they have to show their sexuality in public. When straight people hug, kiss and hold hands in public it is a sign of love. When gay people do it there are many who see it as sex. That is not only a double standard it is frightening as to what those people think love is.
Love, sexual attraction and sexual acts are not the same thing and can be mutually exclusive. From a purely biological perspective, love is the result of interpreting the arousal you feel due to sexual and emotional attraction to a particular person or persons. It is somewhat hard wired. We see someone who we think is attractive; it causes a series of autonomic responses in our body due to chemical releases in the brain and endocrine system. We approach that person and if they return any interest, those physical feelings continue and get interpreted in that context. A deep attraction finds one thinking about getting that feeling back and contact with the object of that feeling brings it on. As this continues and the two people involved share more about themselves, both physically and in their minds (likes, dreams, desires for future) those feelings move to be what we call love. While some see this as a blending of souls it has been studied and while we can’t explain all the whys and wherefores we know that the initial response is not under the control of the person. Attraction is not something you can decide. That goes for gay people and straight people.
Physical sex is a different thing entirely. Sex is more the product of physical desire for release and the stimulation that gets you there. Without getting too graphic, what stimulates and how is not about attraction, desire or orientation. Many times people have had a sexual encounter with someone they have not found attractive. In fact people will have same sex encounters given the right set of circumstances. Prisons are often mentioned in this context. Prison same-sex encounters are highly complicated because while some are simply for release others are about power and control over another prisoner. Those that aren’t usually involve straight people who want a partner and there are few female opportunities. In fact in some of these encounters in men’s prisons the more dominate prisoner will find was to feed the fantasy that the other prisoner is a woman with makeup, lipstick and hair dos. But a clearer example is the large number of gay individuals who grew up hearing how horrible being gay is trying to build a straight life. This often includes marriage and children, only to run out of patience and announce the truth or worse carry on affairs that can be dangerous for many reasons.
Defining a person by who they are sexual attracted to is not only unfair it is ignorant and bigoted. Gay people are no more likely in most settings to be overly sexual. While it is true that in certain contexts gay men tend to flaunt sexuality. But this is more a protest to a culture that never saw them as appropriate for public viewing at all. I would argue that when gay couples are more normative, men in chaps and tight shorts will be LESS likely to be walking down 5th Avenue in a parade and the Castro district will be just another funky neighbor. Anti-gay culture drove gay men underground and when they came out, some wanted to be in your face about it. Many, many, many more just want to be able to be listed with their partners in company directories and obituaries of their parents without losing their jobs, positions in their community organizations or getting kicked out of scouting. What the people who are so dead set against gays being treated as full humans tend not to understand that their double standards are slowly being lost to history. But in the mean time the pace is still not fast enough.
I am both amused and frightened by the growing anger of people who are anti-gay. I hope for dialogue. But until that is possible I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for their thoughtful approach and while half a loaf, it is on par with how they have historically expressed change. Now if the Supreme Court does the right thing in the coming weeks we might all move into an era where gay people are seen as people. Where the old couple holding hands is cute regardless of whether they are two men, two women or a man and woman, and that the marriage of two people of the same sex is celebrated in every college newspaper as much as a straight couple. I can hope. Join me, it is more fun than holding onto anger.