Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Could You Be Loved?

It’s Valentine’s Day, our annual celebration of romantic love. Given that our deepest insecurities are typically tied to sex and love, it is more than a little ironic that Saint Valentine is the name of several Christian martyrs who died in the name of the man who taught people to love even their enemies. The name comes from a word meaning “brave” (as in “valiant”). The historical figures themselves have virtually no connection with romantic love whatsoever, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales appears to be the earliest known reference to Valentine’s Day as a celebration of romantic love. Did he make it up, or did he know of traditions the rest of us don’t? 

Just last week it was Bob Marley’s birthday, and countless multitudes of dancers around the world were probably moving at one point or another to the joyful reggae funk-riff of his song “Could You Be Loved.” I’m willing to bet that a significant number of those dancers were or are in love with someone of the same gender as themselves. And I’m willing to bet that most of those same-sex lovers have spent significant time during their teenage years asking that question of themselves.

Teen suicides and bullying over sexual orientation have been all over the news this year, sadly. Over this same time PCVS itself has been under attack by conservative managerial forces who seem to be happy to disperse what is apparently one of North America’s few high schools to have made a successful effort to encourage acceptance of people engaged in same-sex love.

With the suicides of Jamie Hubley and Marjorie Raymond, the bullying issue became the first hot potato on the plate of new Education Minister Laurel Broten. Read about these tragic situations here and here. Both the PCs and Liberals have put forth anti-bullying bills in the legislature. It became apparent to many PCVS supporters early on that if the government of Broten and Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal were to let PCVS be closed, it would become impossible for their anti-bullying legislation to be taken seriously.

This isn’t to say that PCVS has got the problem beat. But they’re way ahead of the pack in the race to catch up with the problem. It’s not unusual for lesbian PCVS students to be obviously “out” – even onstage. Male students can do "drag" dance performances without getting beat up after school, regardless of their sexuality. We need PCVS not only as a haven for those discriminated against at other schools, but as a role model for those other schools. An atmosphere like that at PCVS doesn’t develop all by itself. Staff and students alike have been making a concerted effort for a long time to make sure PCVS students feel safe regardless of whether they’re male or female, and regardless of whether they love males or females (or both).

In a society so obsessed with sentimentalized romantic fantasies as ours is, it’s easy to forget that women have been loving other women and men loving other men throughout recorded history and certainly long before. It might surprise some people to realize that there are lesbian grandmothers out there. And gay grandfathers.

Everyone needs to be loved, and everybody needs to give love. The more you give, the more you get – ten times more, says the famous Cree playwright Tomson Highway in his cabaret-style musical Rose, sequel to the more-famous Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing and The Rez Sisters, the latter of which was staged at Peterborough’s Market Hall less than two years ago by a talented local group including Patty Shaughnessy and James Whetung. In Rose, Tomson picks up the story of one of his Rez Sister characters, a lesbian biker. Highway himself, like many in the theatre world, has a same-sex partner.

Last week, a high court in the western US ruled that California’s recent “Proposition 8,” a bit of legislation banning the granting of marriage licences to same-sex couples voted in by popular referendum during the last election, was unconstitutional. Why? Because it took away rights from a distinct group of people on a discriminatory basis. Same-sex couples had previously been granted the right to marry by the state legislature, and once those rights had been granted, it became unconstitutional to remove them. But this doesn’t mean that other states are now obliged to grant those rights. In fact, the conservative forces in the other states will now be digging in their heels even harder to prevent those rights from being granted in the first place, since they obviously can’t be removed again. Read all about it on this LA Times page.

One of the best stories of the week came not from San Francisco but from San Diego, where the Republican mayor, who had formerly been against same-sex marriage, heartily applauded the court ruling. His prior views had suddenly been challenged when his daughter had “come out” to him as a lesbian. The LA Times ran this lovely photo of the mayor, his daughter, and her female partner. The mayor had been forced to recognize the injustice of his former prejudices when he met with neighbours and friends who were in same-sex love relationships.

While adult lesbians and gay men are still battling for the right to marry, their teenage counterparts are still battling for their right to exist. PCVS supporter Marc Bilz recently posted this powerful news story of a year of teen suicide after teen suicide in Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s home turf, most of them due to unrelieved bullying over sexual orientation, real or perceived. Bachmann’s ultra-conservative crew pressured a central Minnesota school board into making it against policy for teachers to talk to students about homosexuality in any way at all that might be construed as implying that it was okay. So when a large, bisexual girl went to talk to a staff member after being called a “fat dyke” first thing every morning for two months, the person to whom she spoke was afraid to respond to anything but the “fat” part.

Premier McGuinty, an Irish-Catholic whose wife has been a teacher in the separate system, has tried to force the province’s Catholic school boards to permit student clubs known as “Gay-Straight Alliances.” The Catholic trustees, sticking to the Vatican line, won’t have any of it. They’ll accept “Respecting Differences” clubs – but those clubs won’t be allowed to do any activism. The problem with the trustees’ position is that they’re trying to run their schools by Catholic rules using public money. But the Catholic school administrators aren’t the only culprits. There are plenty of principals and administrators in the public boards who wish the whole problem would just go away. Just using the word “gay” in the name is enough to turn off the Catholics, but put the word “sex” instead in any club name and the public schools administrators will be nervous too.

Why is homosexuality such a contentious issue at high school? Largely because sexuality itself is.

During their high school years, almost everyone is full of powerfully fluctuating hormones, trying hard to establish their identities as young adults, and dealing with the heavenly heights and desperate depths of the first discoveries of love and sex. Social norms are constantly being negotiated by groups of friends and classmates in conjunction with mass media memes, and everyone’s jockeying for position in the race. High school halls are the most important cauldrons of identity formation and social training anywhere in society. They deserve our greatest efforts in promoting not just the acceptance of sexual diversity, but the essential understanding that we are all more alike than we are different.  

There has been a campaign to assure young people being bullied over their sexuality that “It Gets Better.” But why would we just accept that looking for love from someone of the same gender in high school is bound to be a bad experience? What motivates some students to mercilessly pick on others over choices that don’t appear to affect them in any way? Why are principals and administrators so often walking on eggshells when it comes to dealing with the problems that result?

In the next post, we’ll analyze the dynamics of male and female social groups regarding sexuality. We’ll attempt to figure out why, even in 2012, so many high school students the continent over will show up at school today afraid to show the people they love that they love them, or indeed afraid even to love at all, or indeed even doubting whether they can be loved.

Let’s everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, recall the valour of Saint Valentine, and stand up, courageous, for love in any form that it happens to take.

And remember that Marley’s song (just like the gospels) implies that the answer to the question is “yes.”

1 comment:

  1. Your essay addresses this important issue head on. Thanks for the enlightened perspective.