Absurd and Corrupt at Once

Not satisfied with a general failure to teach students basic arithmetic, the structure of the English language, the history of our nation, the rudiments of the physical sciences, and enough geographical knowledge to distinguish Sweden from Switzerland, the legislators of the state of California have determined to require that the public schools teach “Gay Studies.” Manuals, one supposes, need not be included. The actual behaviors in question, though no doubt neither their psychological etiology nor their deleterious effects upon the body, are already covered under the broad heading of “Health.”

Let me say at the outset that I find all bullying loathsome, since by definition bullying brings violence against someone who is peculiarly vulnerable — such as a lonely young man with feelings he does not fully understand and perhaps does not welcome, or an innocent boy in the period of sexual latency, before he has any inkling as to what it is that men and women do. If I see a couple of linebackers hulking over the outcast, sneering and pushing him into a corner, I know what they deserve, and may God give me the courage to give it to them. But what if I see a posse of legislators hulking over the child, assaulting him with “knowledge” it is not their business to give, holding out to him the possibility, which he is not old enough to understand, that he too may be “gay”? Who are the bullies then?

Proponents of the measure will of course insist that they are only imparting facts that should be known. But the argument quickly falls apart upon examination. For many are the sexual aberrations that have afflicted the human race. What is the point of showing them to children, or even to teens? Why should they be the objects of study? Consider first the irrelevance. You are standing in the Sistine Chapel with your twelve-year-old son, looking up at the Creation of Adam. Do you say, “Michelangelo seems to have lived a celibate life, though it was very possible that when he was young he was infatuated with a young male courtier.” Not if you want him to appreciate the wonder of the painting. And does that even “count” — a feeling not acted upon, whose precise nature we cannot specify? Would it have been “better” if the artist had given in to the unnatural desire?

John Maynard Keynes was a self-professed sodomite until his mid-20s, and then he married a woman, apparently happy with the change. Is this something that a teenager should know about John Maynard Keynes? Why? Siegfried Sassoon was sexually attracted to other men, until he fought alongside them in World War I and found the masculine friendship he had hitherto longed for. Does he count? Andre Gide was a married man who broke his vows, engaging in an adulterous relationship with another man. Is that a reason for students to know about Andre Gide? What if he had only broken his vows by committing adultery with another woman? Would that not be aberrant enough for notice? What if there is no evidence that a certain person has ever committed a single act of sodomy, but in one of his published works a narrative persona expresses love (though of a kind curiously indifferent to physique) for another man? If it had been a woman, should we feel that Shakespeare had disappointed us?

Next, why choose this aberration? Brigham Young was a notorious polygamist. Should students be encouraged to cheer for Brigham Young? If he had had only one wife, should we strike him from the syllabus? Clara Bow was a pornographer and, um, a loose woman. Should students then study the “contributions” she made during the first sexual revolution in America, in the 1920s? Should they bake cookies to commemorate her famous night with the footballers of Southern Cal? Elizabeth Taylor was married some 40 or 50 times. Does that make her 40 or 50 times more interesting to us, more worthy of study? Hugh Hefner grew so weary of cheap sex with women that he tried things with a man. Does that make him the more commendable? If he had repented of his ways one year into the publication of his smut, would we look down on him as unenlightened? What about the adulteress Katharine Hepburn? She never married, but she did help to ruin a few marriages. Should we watch Tracy and Hepburn all the more assiduously, because they were sinners with the zipper?

Or what about sex between an adult and a teenager? I know it is considered gauche at the moment, but there was a time not so long ago when the illuminati were waiting for us old believers to come around on this one, too. Why not include The Last Picture Show on the syllabus? That very fine movie fairly celebrates an adult-teen affair as about the only instance of genuine sexual love in a dead village filled with sexual aberrations — voyeurism, nudism, prostitution, rape, and so forth. What about “swingers”? What about leathermen? What about people who mutilate their bodies so as to pretend that they belong to the other sex, or to some vague intermediate betwixt the two? Why is it essential that a child know about these? If we found out that some man down the street had been telling our son about them, wouldn’t we call the police? What magic makes it all right if a schoolteacher does it?


Someone will object, “We are only teaching them about the contributions of a certain community.” Well, that is nonsense. What community, when there are no generations? There may be a high concentration of homosexuals in a town here or a neighborhood there, but that’s all. But again, why this “community”? Why not actual identifiable communities? Catholics in the United States were ten thousand times more influential and more identifiably belonging to a community than men beset with same-sex attraction have ever been. Why should we not then mandate “Catholic Studies”? Or Lutheran Studies? Or Baptist Studies? Or Jewish Studies? Because none of these groups has ever been the object of discrimination or opprobrium? Really?

But if we are going to study communities, why not study the habits of men and women who make for stable and wholesome communities? Would that not be the more reasonable thing to do? Why not then hold up for the student’s admiration the examples of men and women who fell in love, who kept themselves chaste before marriage, and who thus had no need for child-murder or hormonal trickery or the lying to oneself and to one’s partner that fornication necessarily involves, who then married and stayed married, and raised their families by their best lights, and taught their children in turn to do the same, making their boys into men and their girls into women, comfortable with friends of their own sex, and attracted in love to the other? Why not talk about the natural virtues of manhood and womanhood? Why not — if we are going to talk about sexual desire at all — hold up for emulation those men and women who lived virtuously, like William and Ida McKinley, or Robert and Elizabeth Browning? That is, if we did have time for such, having ensured that we were not turning out illiterates by the millions.

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Anthony Esolen is the author or translator of 28 books, most recently In the Beginning Was the Word: An Annotated Reading of the Prologue of John (Angelico Press), No Apologies: How Civilization Depends upon the Strength of Men (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord, a book-length poem made up of 100 poems centered on the life of Christ. He has also begun a web magazine called Word and Song, on classic hymns, poetry, language, and film. He is a professor and writer-in-residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts.

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