« "My life doesn't just revolve around you": a note of gratitude for a feminist mom | Main | Not saying anything... »

March 20, 2006

Comments

Paul

“Why would you never, ever be in that situation, but you expect Oscar to be?”

Why is Oscar supposedly comfortable in that situation? Or is he? Either there’s a great lesson to learn from Oscar, which I don’t think will sell with many parents, or modesty should be the general rule of adult leaders of either sex or sexual orientation interacting with youth.

Hugo

Oh, we are all modest. But you do enough youth work on camping trips, and go to places that have communal bathrooms, there's only so far modesty will get you.

Tracy

As a woman, I can imagine that I would be far more comfortable showering in front of a gay man than a lesbian. I don't think biology comes into it. And what about bisexual people? What we're really questioning here is whether or not it would just be best to separate out gays, bisexuals and heterosexuals, into their own restrooms, showering facitilites, whatever, and skirt around the issue of self-control. What Jim is saying is that he doesn't believe Oscar would have a suitable level of self-control, and that he knows that other parents would be worried about this.

Where there's smoke there's fire. I suspect Oscar knows he'd have a hard time controlling his own thought routines if he saw naked young women, so he's making assumptions for others based on his personal weaknesses. And for anyone who says such thought routines are natural, I say they need to take a deep look inside themselves. I've frequently encountered very attractive naked men (i.e., two naked men in their early 20s jogged past me on a forest running track the other day), but don't ever feel any sexual interest. Nudity shouldn't be such an issue. Also, I'd take the rule of "look but don't touch" as enough. We cannot control the minds of others, nor should we want to.

Hugo

Tracy, your first sentence about comfort levels sits in tension with the rest of what you say. Our kids comfort levels matter, their parents' comfort levels matter, as do the rights of youth workers of any sexual identity.

Bitch | Lab

I think it still boils down to the implicit assumption that queer desire is animal-like (or, at least, not human) and that it resists the boundaries the "normal" heterosexuals are assumed capable of establishing.

It's like I've said to my son's friends when they say, "I don't care if someone's gay, they just better stay away from me!"

Me: "Would you force a girl you found desirable to have sex with you? Do you want someone who doesn't want you and actually seems repulsed by you?"

Them: "No! Of course not! We're not animals!"

Me: "Well, why do you think a gay man will try to have sex with someone who doesn't want him back?"

That's not going to help you with folks like Jim, not immediately, but I think that worries like those Jim and others have are founded on the stereotype of unrestrained queer sexual desire -- a desire that is so powerfully "natural" (or so powerfully "supernatural") that it cannot be held in check.

Hugo

True, Bitch -- I agree. But would you feel comfortable with me in the same bunk house, and using the same showers, as your daughter and her girlfriends?

Bitch | Lab

From what I've read of you? Absolutely!

I think an equivalence is being made that is interesting -- and funny that, because today I spent my 'downtime' reading about queer's theorists' criticisms of feminist theory and the limitations of those criticisms themselves.

By the way, I couldn't remember your blog's address. So, I typed it in to Google to learn that some of your students have rated you Hawt Hawt Hawt at ratemyprof.com.

I don't know whether to be really happy to learn that men get the evaluations that my colleagues and I used to get and consider it progress -- or what. :)

Bitch | Lab

Oh, and all that in the previous comment by way of saying: let me put that on the backburned and think through it and maybe I'll blog on it later. I owe Kactus at SuperbabyMama a post on Lacan first though.

Hugo

Well, thanks for your trust -- but I still wouldn't put myself in that position.

Yeah, whether the chili pepper on the ratemyprofs site represents progress for men is dubious. Largely, it riffs on an old fantasy.

belledame222

Speaking as a lesbian who has managed years' worth of being in locker rooms with other nekkid women, much less children (um, ew?), without particularly feeling the urge to leap over and ravish, much less follow through on such, I really think some people seriously need to get over themselves. What makes you think you're so attractive, Nervous Straight Person? Much less your spotty, angst-ridden progeny?

And for that matter...oh, I don't know. This is so orthogonal to how I experience life that I honestly don't know how to answer it. Just basically: nekkid people, being nekkid around other nekkid people, really not that big a damn deal.

belledame222

(that was a general "you," directed mainly at Nervous Straight People of my past acquaintance who annoyed the shite out of me)

Hugo

nekkid people, being nekkid around other nekkid people, really not that big a damn deal.

Well, that's swell for some folks. But I don't know too many parents at even my own liberal congregation who would happily apply that philosophy to their children's relationship with their youth leaders!

Tara

I had this conversation with one of my first friends who came out as lesbian (after she came out). Ironically, it was in a changing room of a department store that we were sharing. She brought it up because of her questioning, because it didn't make sense to her why she should generally be more comfortable changing with/in front of women than men, but not all the time - specifically, not in front of another woman she knew to be lesbian that she had a crush on, and why I was comfortable changing in front of her.

From what we could hash out:

women are generally more comfortable changing around women for two reasons.

1) the familiarity, everybody's got the same parts, and we're all used to seeing our own and each other's.

Natural or not, good or not, we're segregated from each other by sex pretty early on, and taught to be shy of each other. A girl goes to the bathroom with her mother, a boy with his father.

2) the lack of judgement/scrutiny and the sense of comfort that creates.

She was nervous about changing in front of her crush because of the sexual tension (that would be there for her, even if the crush was completely unreciprocated). She was worried about being found not good enough, or not attractive enough.

I have no idea whether she found me attractive or not, and I felt comfortable changing in front of her because I knew it wouldn't be an issue. I realized that a big part of the reason why I'm not comfortable changing in front of men is because I worry that it would be an issue, like he'd have to comment on it, or it would create awkwardness between us, or something, because he'd seen me naked and he wasn't supposed to! But I also realized that if I were confident that the changing would be taken in stride and treated as normal, and not sexualized, I wouldn't have any problem changing in front of men, gay or straight.

So I guess I think that it's the fact that it's social convention that makes changing in same sex groups comfortable, regardless of the sexuality of the people involved. And social convention can be very important, especially during one's teens when so many things are changing and your body is changing and you're not necessarily so comfortable with it and not really sure which social conventions you want to flout, or what the social consequences for it are, or confident in your ability to tell when someone's being inappropriate, etc.

I guess I would ask that parent how he would draw the line. For example, would he be okay with a straight male counselor seeing his teenage daughter in a bikini? In a one-piece? In a mini-skirt? With a gay male counselor seeing his son in a speedo? In swim trunks? In running shorts? If it's all about the possibility of lavisciousness, how can you draw the line?

It's not though, it's about social conventions that say certain things are respectable and certain things aren't.

And I think in our culture, it is respectable for same sex people to be naked together but not different sex people.

I hope that makes some sense.

sophonisba

I'd say exactly the opposite of what Tracy said. As a straight woman, I'm much, much more comfortable being seen by women than by men in naked but non-sexual contexts (so I'd prefer a lesbian to a gay male gynecologist - not that I'd seek to know my doctor's sexual orientation before trusting them! Just as a hypothetical.) I'd feel much more strongly if I were a young teenager. I'd take it as a given that I wouldn't be sexually appraised by a non-child-molester, so sexual orientation is a complete non-issue. Because it's not about the adult's feelings, but the child's - and if the child is straight (a big assumption) he or she will be more troubled by the presence of an opposite-sex adult, if troubled at all.

Tara

I agree with Sophonisba. I'm also generally more comfortable being naked around lesbian women than gay men. I think maybe part of it is that I'm straight myself, so what if I'm attracted to him? Or maybe it's even the other way around. What if he's ugly??

For whatever reason, and I realize this might sound kind of bad of me, I'd much rather see naked ugly women than naked ugly men. Maybe it's the familiarity thing? Or the identification with them thing? I'm not sure.

NancyP

I guess the question ought to be, is the adult ever alone with a single child out of sight or hearing? That would be my #1 consideration.

I have to say that as an adult, I would prefer not to shower with a bunch of pre-teens or teens staring at me, and I assume that goes both ways. There's a generational ick that goes both ways and has little to do with orientation - straight women aren't necessarily thrilled to have a bunch of teen girls giggling over the cellulite, straight men aren't necessarily thrilled to have boys commenting on size or lack thereof, potbelly, etc. Sleeping - I presume they are all in a common room and have their own bunks, or all in a common outdoor campsite and have their own one-person sleeping bags. Changing clothes - why can't counsellor just step outside the room for a second while the boys change - or just turn his back and ignore them.

What to say to a Jim? Perhaps that gay guys come in a wide variety, and the great majority prefer either adults within about 10 years age difference, or occasionally May-September pairings of 30 year old and 55 year old. And that the average reaction to the idea of schtupping a 12 year old is EWWW! (to quote a previous post).

FWIW, there are a fair number of out gay and lesbian pediatricians.

jic

It seems to hinge on the reason for the separation of the sexes: If we truly believe we are segregating the sexes based on possible sexual desire in either direction, then we should lean toward Jim's argument. (And when I add the phrase "in either direction," it's because I remember being among 8th grade girls infatuated with the new male science teacher. Regardless of his orientation or restraint, their feelings would have a definite impact.)

If, however, we recognize the fact that orientation toward one's own gender is completely separate from(though, sadly, not mutually excluse with) pedophilia; and further recognize that some conventions are in place to preserve appearances more than for any other reason -- I can see a benefit to continuing to segregate the genders and include homosexual adults in the sleeping quarters of their biological gender.

One: for the same reason you promote men-only groups, where men can share male experiences and be accountable to other men, and yet it doesn't matter whether the men in those groups are straight, gay, bi, or a mixture. The important thing is that they share a male perspective, can be comfortable speaking candidly with other men, and are less ready to discount other views based on gender ("You wouldn't understand; you're a [insert opposite sex here].")

Building on that is two: the dark of night in shared sleeping quarters can make younger folk (and here again I'm remembering my juvenile days) more comfortable confessing insecurities they wouldn't voice in the light of day. Many of these have nothing to do with sex, and those young people can benefit from having an adult of the same gender - regardless of orientation - available to respond to that in the security of a single-sex group.

Hugo

JIC, I really, really like your two reasons. Thank you!

jimbo

Turn it around on him. "Jim, if you are confident I'd be appropriate and restrained in the girl's cabin (and I am too), than why do you (and I) think that arrangement would be inappropriate?"

The answer, of course, is the broader social context of gender relations, which have (sadly) sexualized (young) women's bodies in such a way that extra precautions are the norm, and probably should be until we can change the gender constructions we've got.

Furthermore, instead of focusing on the perceptions of the negative, turn it around. What a unique opportunity to teach the lesson that gay men are nothing to fear, sexually or socially. I imagine it's much less so than in most Middle/High school communities, but I can't imagine those kids aren't getting some homophobic messages somehwere. What a powerful way to fight back with a good gay role model of normal, appropriate behavior.

temp

I would never go to a male gynecologist. Gay, straight, bisexual...doesn't matter. I would have no problem with a lesbian or bisexual female gyn, though. It's hard to explain. It's just a gut comfort level. Not a sexual thing at all.

I think whoever mentioned that perhaps this guy was projecting a bit might've been on to something. Something about the fact that we can't or wouldn't let a male youth leader sleep or use the bathroom in the same space as the girls bugs me. I understand it - no matter how innocent, it just *looks* bad - but it looks bad because our society seems unable to imagine males and females relating to each other in non-sexual ways. To some extent, perhaps the better question is why the straight leaders can't hang with the opposite sex kids.

I remember being young (third or fourth grade) and wanting a male friend to spend the night. We wanted to stay up and watch movies and the rest. Totally innocent - I didn't even know what sex was. Anyway, I remember my mother telling me he couldn't sleep over because only girls could sleep over. It just didn't make any sense at the time, and I mention it because it illustrates how we're taught from day one that male-female relations are to some extent always inappropriate, even when they're obviously not. (I'm thinking now of my female friends who go nuts over the fact that their boyfriends have female friends.) Maybe straight people are just applying their hetero social baggage (for lack of a better phrase) onto gay relationships here.

And, if you do agree that the gay leader should be separated from the same-sex kids - what about the gay kids? Should a young gay woman sleep and use the bathroom with the boys? I mean, after all, you wouldn't let a boy sleep with the girls, would you?

I guess that's it right there, though. She's NOT a boy. Being a lesbian doesn't make her a boy or even "like" a boy. She's still a 100% girl.

Anyway, sorry to ramble, just random thoughts.

drdanfee

I am happy to see that this question could come a bit out, more into the open. I am not certain that one position or conclusion is something I would urge or force upon all local church communities.

But I do think several themes might need to be commonly explored and discussed in reaching particular local conclusions or positions.

First off. I agree that nudity should not be such a big deal. A naked human body is not so immediately and especially sexual in only that way, so that everybody who ever sees another person naked simply is and must be overwhelmed to the point of sexual harassment, or goodness knows, rape. As the granny says in the sweet-hearted French film, Adventures of Felix, or Drole de Felix - the sight of an attractive naked man is charming. Presumably naked girls and women are equally charming without any of it having to be about harassment or the sexual abuse of minors or even having sex. Among the people who still feel overly vulnerable to the folk idea that nudity must equal exactly the malevolent sorts of sensuality that led unwisely to sex are many religious people who have never wholesomely hung out for any length of time at a nudist beach or a nudist camp.

(I know a thing or two about sexual assault, having survived it myself in a Bible Belt small farming town - the biblical boys were all nominally straight and going to give the sissy a lesson in the prerogatives of heterosexual manhood according to a skewed spontaneous group reading of Deuteronomy. I've also been an advocate and counselor for other assault survivors, both in hospital and in community services settings. This basic folk idea that assault stems from overwhelming sensual or sexual urges just isn't supported by the empirical facts, no matter how persistent our folk notions are. What gets people assaulted is vigorous notions of other people's innate inferiority, along with vigorous notions that you have innate privileges to define the other people, and attack them in this or that way under at least certain privileged circumstances. None of that complex of stuff is very logically related to nudity, or even to sex per se. Just because rapists typically fight off any impending sense of weakness or inferiority or vulnerability, by mixing up sex and violence in their own favor, does not mean that the rest of us are doomed to walk like zombies down this awful path.)

Secondly. Common sense suggests that if a teen boy or girl is attractive, other people are going to notice that to some degree, including other adults who may be their own parents, their family friends, their coaches, their teachers, or their leaders. We commonly allow our sense of people's attractiveness to warm and imbue our social relations with each other, but that does not nearly amount to most of us hanging by the skins of our teeth on the cliffs of impending child abuse with nothing but air beneath our feet as we kick and scream.

Thirdly. Somebody who is more comfortable with his or her own sensuality is much more likely to guide himself or herself appropriately according to contexts and situations. Most gay men or lesbian women who mentor can take a serious crush in stride, whether from a boy or a girl, without foaming at the mouth, without losing their ethical and interpersonal boundaries, and without needing to get the infatuated adolescent into some kind of inappropriate sexual or social situation. What am I suggesting we explore and discuss here? That gay men and lesbians are no more likely to behave in a harassing or assaultive manner than is the average straight priest. We all know of clergy who took sexual advantage of somebody, but don't try to resolve that tragedy by setting up rules that say clergy should be prohibited from being alone in the same room with somebody else, because we fear what will have to happen, otherwise. I've known some married clergy who found occasion to press against me as I stood at the youth ministry office counter when I was a college intern in the local church. I did not conclude that the moment was about me, or about us needing yet more taboos and prohibitions. Legal approaches to unfinished human business that is mainly related to maturity, ethically and of personality, do not go the true distance, most of the time in my experience.

Paul Goodman who wrote Growing Up Absurd once said that of course he was somewhat attracted to the adolescent boys who eventually comprised the raw life data from which he drew his sociology book on boys' adolescence. So what? Liking somebody whom you also know it is inappropriate to actually date or get sexual with, well that is actually in many instances a positive and good part of life. How deeply charming it is, in fact, not to have to actually get physical with every single possible person that you might ever feel attracted to over a long, modern life.

Fourthly. Some folks are less attractive with their clothes off, than they may look to someone else when they are all covered up. It all depends.

Fifth. Thought policing people's spontaneous sensual perceptions or passing thoughts or fantasies is typically off limits for a reason.

You can bet that if a crowd of people is watching a high school or college gymnastics meet; or a track and field meet; or a swim meet - at least some of the people sitting in the stands are sensually enjoying the beauty and the athletic grace that is being demonstrated by the athletes. The Dallas Cowboys football team has women who are almost pole dancing cheerleaders for a reason. So what? Any harasser or rapist who tries to blame his or her bad behavior on the Dallas Cowboy's cheerleaders is not going to get much traction from most of us.

We rightly attend to behavior, to ethical boundaries and values with one another. We rightly refrain from thought policing, except when certain Puritannically inclined or alarmed folks get all caught up with the silly idea that having sensual perceptions of one another automatically leads to harassment and rape. Adopting jaundiced baseline views of the human body, and of our human sensuality, is probably not going to be the fix that Puritans regularly seem to presume it will be, if only we can roll in stinging nettles until we have converted ordinary sensuality into just those types of sadistic-masochistic satisfactions that many traditional believers like to dress in what they call original sin, and orthodox religion. Getting sex negative and body negative in this way may be in itself a much more problematic form of twisted sensuality, than the sensuality that the Puritans have diagnosed as problems in the first place.

Sixth. It could even be a positive developmental learning experience for some boy or some girl to realize that they are perceived as sexually attractive to another teen or adult; while at the same time, learning that the boundaries are clear and strong, regardless. I would go so far as to say that that step is probably happening all over the place in our schools and churches and teen athletics. To the extent that this may be occurring, everybody involved is that much better off for learning this good, welcome human lesson about sensuality and boundaries and so forth.

Seventh. It is not generally the adults or even other teens who need to be protected from - gasp - seeing other naked teens or naked children. Nor is it generally the child or teen who needs to be puritannically protected from ever being nude in front of somebody, anybody who could conceivably find him or her attractive or likeable. Instead, we need to have strong values and boundaries with one another, organized around knowing what sexual harassment is, and how it looks and sounds, and what to do if you experience it.

In my view, the father in this example sounds like he starts out being worried about the protection of his son from an openly gay youth leader. Is that a passing prejudice, connoting old stereotypes that fags in particular cannot be anything but completely out of control when it comes to their sensual and to their sex lives? Are we dealing with a touch of that bitter herb which - like the current Vatican pronouncements - tries to lay child abuse mainly at the feet of gay men especially?

Then the father seems to go the next step, wondering what the openly gay man's experiences of his son's nudity might be, and that could get to be an icky fantasy all too quickly. Why go there? The father does, so we might explore how.

If you have indications that some man or woman is a pedophile, in which case you hopefully did a background check, then you can debrief and inquire into the matter further.

This all sounds like a passing case of heightened father concern, momentarily in a prickly fever whose chills might involve more than a touch or two of exactly those heebie-jeebies that straight men are overtly afraid they will get if they ever imagine a gay man is looking at them in the shower room - at the gym? in the military barracks? in their sport locker rooms after winning the Super Bowl?

Okay. Just calm down, fellows. You are not that attractive, even if you are pretty good looking according to modern standards of beauty. Even if your innate heritage of straight male privileges has pumped up your own erotic egos to the point that you presume you - or your son? or your daughter? - must be so irresistible that a passing glance must quickly and surely lead to harassment or sexual assault.

Yeah I know. What the hell am I looking at. Who do I think I am, looking.

Relax, bud. I am not actually looking at you, or your son, or your daughter - in the ways some men might look at some women walking down the street in front of the construction site.

You see, heterosexisms preserve and express and transmit this cultural or religious notion that if you are certain sort of privileged male, then the passing sensual perception of somebody innately confers upon you the right to harass or attack that person - because you can, because you need to, because being the master in charge will feel ever so good. In the Old Testament, I believe, if a man forces himself upon a girl in that way, then he ends up married to her. At least then she is not damaged goods in front of the rest of the clan or tribe.

My very tentative and provisional diagnosis, from afar, then might be: this father is suffering from father concern, malignantly complicated by inadvertently bumping into a hidden little piece of his own religious and cultural superior male privilege. Even if a gay man looks at his son and thinks he is attractive, with clothes on or naked, the son doesn't get contaminated by nasty queer filth juices because he got looked at. Only a gay man who is living like a heterosexual master male could possibly think that noticing somebody is attractive or likeable innately confers this sort of out-of-control impetus, which is basically traditional male privielge in action. Ditto, for daughters.

There is supposed to be a distance between being perceived as attractive or likeable, and being harassed or assaulted - big enough to drive several semi-truck trailer caravans through without touching either side.

Just as there might be issues for the father to explore, so there might be issues for the son to explore assuming he was conscious of any of this stuff. That son may have passed blithely through showering and getting dressed without batting an eyelash about any of it. There may also be issues of heterosexist superior male privilege for the gay guy so involved, although not necessarily. And, naturally, there may be similar issues for any straight man who is a youth leader.

It is all good grist for the mills in our current pilgrimage away from the lasting and deep legacies of heterosexism, and just that sort of presumption of superior male privilege to shift gear from sensually noticing somebody, to harassing them, or even assaulting them - for all the journeys we are all making in one way or another, away from religious and cultural sources of dominance and playing master to other folks' slavehoods, traditionally defined.

So far as our group data goes, it is men of this sort of privilege who get to sexualy harass and assault women in the most traditional cultures and the most thoroughly traditional religions. Witness the so-called honor killings of sisters and daughters and wives that is still occuring around our planet. Small wonder that a father who begins to glimpse a hidden piece of this, circling almost just outside of consciousness, will begin to feel uneasy. This stuff is uneasy stuff.

But it is not mainly about queer stuff, now is it?

mythago

When I was in youth group, we changed in front of each other.

Well, there's your problem right there.

I mean, forget the youth leaders for a minute. Do you think that your teenagers all feel 100% comfortable getting naked around each other? How do you think a closeted gay teen feels? Or a heterosexual teen who isn't developing as fast as her friends? How about a teen who's a little on the heavy side? Is it really so hard to provide privacy for teens on retreat?

As Paul says, modesty would solve the problem. "Are you decent?" is a measure of respect, not a warning that the adult might see something arousing if they didn't knock first. Yes, Oscar should be knocking before walking into the boys' quarters; so should you.

Do you know what Oscar really thinks when he sees my son in the shower?

"Probably the same thing you'd think if you accidentally walked in on Bob's daughter in the shower, Jim."

sophonisba

A naked human body is not so immediately and especially sexual in only that way, so that everybody who ever sees another person naked simply is and must be overwhelmed to the point of sexual harassment, or goodness knows, rape.

Sure. But that's got nothing to do with why most girls would be uncomfortable taking their clothes off in front of adult men, or (I presume) boys in front of adult women, or even boys and girls in front of adults of the same sex. Kids are afraid of bodily judgment, sexual assessment, silent mockery, and humiliation, not - for the most part, and if they have not been previously abused - assault. I think most teenage girls would be afraid of what an adult would see and think, not of what he'd say or do. It may be an irrational insecurity, but certainly an understandable one that merits sympathy and accomodation.

Oriscus

If one showers with large goups of persons of one's own sex, whether it be at camp or at the gym, PE class or what-have you, it is statistically probable that one has *already, on numerous occasions, shared a shower or changing/locker room with a gay person unawares.

My advice is to get the heck over it and get on with life.

Helen

Huh. I've thought about this a couple of times myself, as a gay woman who hits the gym five times a week and, yes, sees other women naked. For me, it boils down to this: woman first, lesbian second. That may seem oversimplified but basically the way that society separates the genders out from a very young age, by the time you realise you're into other women there are tons of scenarios that have been desexualised. Changing rooms are one (and I also echo the people above who've talked about the "I'm such a hot hetero that all the gay folk must want me" because *eyeroll*). When I'm changing, that's what I'm doing. If I see naked bits, I respectfully look away because, hey, I'm just there to get changed and go and work out. I don't know how to explain it better than that. It's not sexual; it's the gym.

One's gender takes dominance over almost everything in day to day life. I mean, most people are going to be confused as hell if they can't figure out a person's gender upon meeting them but their sexuality? Who cares. We walk through the world being divided into male/female (I don't intend to ignore the transgendered - I disagree with this rigid gender conformity) and everything else is secondary. Jim's response is a natural one within a system that separates girls and boys from day one and uses sexual dominance as a way of proving masculinity. The fact is, though, that the social situation gay people are raised in is different to that of straight people. By the time sex enters the picture we're already very used to being aligned with our own gender in completely non-sexual ways.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004