As a special feature, we have two Plumb Lines contributors and a couple newcomers talking about what’s in the news.
KS: The sky grows darker yet, and the sea rises higher: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/magazine/27out-t.html?pagewanted=1&ref=us
DS: The article KS links to is extremely interesting. The weirdest angle is the ubiquitous bisexuality, which has fewer immediate political ramifications and so is talked about less, but is perhaps more ultimately significant than the mainstreaming of conventional homosexuality. The most telling quote in the article: “he’ll make out with anyone.” Might our society eventually come to see any orientation at all as an intolerable limitation of desire? I often think of that splendid line from Troilus and Cressida when contemplating these end-of-civilization moments: “And appetite, a universal wolf… must make perforce a universal prey, and last eat up himself.”
BHD: Encouraging tweens to cement a sexual identity is surely a kind of child-abuse.
DS: BHD, I would be interested to know whether you believe this to be true of heterosexual identity as well. Presumably we all find the article’s token conservatives’ lines about how tweens shouldn’t be thinking about sex at all unconvincing, but it’s unclear to me how one should in fact go about encouraging the cementing of a particular identity, if we think that one best, or discouraging cementing of identity without implicitly endorsing ‘experimentation,’ even if only experimentation of desire.
BHD: A good question, and one that I was thinking about shortly after I wrote that.
I think it’s healthy and prudent to promote tweens’ growing sense of masculine or feminine self; and my pet theory of psychosexual development predicts that this would tend to reinforce their heterosexual identity as an important but appropriately indirect effect. Parents and mentors should model distinctly masculine or feminine virtues. They should encourage tweens to look forward to and prepare for, and eventually embrace, the distinct privileges and responsibilities of their sex (whether these are dealt them by nature or by benign nurture or cultural fiat–the duties of marriage and parenthood being, however, always chief among them). They should more directly foster in tweens the kind of identity that doesn’t develop naturally–supernatural identity as a son or daughter of God, which elevates and perfects whatever other identities do develop naturally, and prepares them to deal adequately with any misshapen identities.
In short: father-son fishing trips; bar mitzvahs; other cultural and religious equivalents of these; and their feminine counterparts. Actually, I think this is less developmentally necessary for girls than for boys, which by the way may account for some of the qualitative differences between male and female homosexuality, but that’s all for another discussion.
WK: I agree with BHD that the most healthy sexual identity develops naturally. But to bring that point out a bit, perhaps the mere practice of self-consciously “cementing a sexual identity” is a bad idea for the vast majority of normal boys and girls. Other pursuits should take up all of a tween’s – and perhaps anyone’s – life, such as identifying one’s vocation, abiding by our responsibilities to God and man, participating in wholesome endeavors among friends, growing in knowledge and wisdom of life (including the proper exercise of our sexual faculties), and fulfilling family and community duties. A good healthy sexual identity seems incidental to a life well lived, whereas a warped sexual identity often seems to be the result of hyper self-consciousness.
DS: The question hinges on what is meant by “natural,” I suppose. It seems true that a healthy sexual identity should generally develop unself-consciously. This doesn’t mean, though, that sexual identity could develop “naturally” in the sense of “independently of culture.” The mechanisms for the development of healthy sexual identity, some of which, I presume, are those that BHD described, seem to have altered, or to be no longer effective in the same way. The challenge, then, might be to make explicit what was formerly implicit — to preserve, or invent anew, mechanisms for the transmission of the right kind of sexuality from generation to generation. What’s particularly challenging is that these new kinds of mechanism must be oppositional, in that they must provide not just an unself-conscious, virtuous sexuality, but a mode of articulation with public perversity, a counter-discourse of desire. These mechanisms might turn out to be things like going on fishing trips, but I doubt it.
Keith Staples is a contributor to Plumb Lines
David Schaengold is a contributor to Plumb Lines
B. Higgins Dass is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy
Will Kane is studying law