Sunday, March 19, 2006

59. Homophobia

So… here’s my second set of blog-themed thoughts brought on by two separate incidents at the school I’m teaching at.  Before I describe the incidents, I should tell you something about Korean children, or at least about the Korean children at the school I teach at. They all seem to be miles ahead of their Western counterparts when it comes to the birds and the bees.  It’s not that they’re having sex in kindergarten (the level of all of our students, ages 5-7), it’s that they are kind of dating already.  They hold hands, they kiss, they buy each other gifts, they carry each others books, they caress each other (a sentence that has actually been heard in my class on several occasions: “Shawn, stop stroking Ashley’s face and pay attention!”).  I find it so strange, because I have no recollection of having any sort of real crushes or romantic feelings (straight or gay) at that age.  Anyway, the incidents are as follows.

Incident 1:  Happened in the class of the little lesbian girl I’ve now mentioned twice.  A new boy arrived in their class and decided he had a crush on her.  So one day after he was finished his work, he walked over to her and started stroking her hair and telling her how pretty she was.  She, of course, ignored him completely.  Before the teacher could say anything, another boy in the class piped up, “Oh… no. She likes girls.  She doesn’t like boys.”  

The thing that was so interesting about it was how matter of fact it was.  It was not said in a mocking way, in fact, this girl doesn’t get mocked at all for liking girls – whether or not she turns out to actually be a lesbian, the fact is that these kids know what it means to have crushes, and they just accept the fact that this girl has crushes on other girls.  They readily accept her for who she is.  

And it can’t possibly be that Korea is a tolerant society… in fact, anything official you read here will tell you that there are no gay Koreans.  It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  Even that sermon I mentioned before, the pastor who mentioned gay people wasn’t talking about Korea; he was talking about a vacation he’d been on in America.  Homosexuality is seen as a “Western Problem”.  Of course, that’s all crap.   I think I was chatting with Eric from Two World Collision at the time, but when I was sifting through Korean job offers I was looking up various Korean cities to see what they were like and one particular city (can’t remember which one), the very first site to come up was a site listing gay venues in that city.  And these weren’t gay venues set up by foreigners (yes, I checked out the site, I was curious), these were Korean gay venues set up for Korean gay people.  Anyway, the point of this is to explain that the attitude of this particular class is not the attitude of the country.  These children haven’t been indoctrinated yet.  

Incident 2:  This incident happened in my class.  And I actually didn’t see it happen, I came in right after and heard one of the little girls in my class explaining the finer points of heterosexuality to a little boy (these kids are 5 and 6).  The explanation went something like this, “No, no… boys kiss girls.  Girls kiss boys.”

One of the other girls in my class actually rolled her eyes as she explained to me “Brian kissed Ian.”  I’m not sure what annoyed her, the boys kissing, or the explanation.  

This is hardly the first time two boys have kissed in my class.  Two boys who have since left my class (at the end of the last term) used to kiss all the time.  And as long as they weren’t kissing while I was teaching I didn’t actually care.  At least not after I got over the shock of it… not that boys were kissing, but that 5 year olds were kissing each other with anything more than platonic pecks.  I should point out that I had plenty of boy/girl kisses to contend with too.  

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about homophobia, and where it comes from.  Many on the religious right insist that it’s innate.  I know that many of them would probably resent the use of the term “homophobia”, but well, I don’t know what other term to use to describe the attitudes I hear from that camp.  The thinking there is that homosexuality is just ‘icky’ – of course, this is because they can’t think of homosexuality without thinking about ‘the gay sex’… and, yeah, I can see how that would be unpleasant if you are not inclined to enjoy ‘the gay sex’.  But why do you have to immediately go to thinking about gay sex?  I mean, I don’t see a straight couple and start thinking about them in bed together.  Seriously, if that was they way I thought, people would say I had a problem.  Yet this is what straight people, particularly the religious right, do whenever they think about gay people… so I think that’s more their problem.  One of my best friends’ husband actually put it rather succinctly one time – “Straight people are obsessed with gay sex.”

Okay, I keep veering off on tangents.  The thing I am now curious about is when does this homophobia set in?  Is it innate?  Was that little girl who explained that girls kiss boys just parroting something her parents said (which seems like an odd thing for the parent of a 5 year old to say to a child), or was she actually expressing her innate distaste for what she saw?  The children who just accept the little lesbian girl (who are a year or two older than the kids in my class), is that attitude going to change naturally?  Or are they going to have to be taught that they should disapprove?

I feel like I should say that I don’t necessarily think these kids are gay.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t think they are… the only one I even remotely suspect might be gay is the little lesbian girl, but even then I have some doubts.  It could be just that she doesn’t like boys yet and sees everyone else kissing and stuff, so she does it with girls for now.  Who knows.    

Part of the reason I’m so curious about this is because my first memory of knowing that I was gay came in the wake of some homophobic comments.  I remember it quite distinctly.  We were all standing in line outside of our grade four classroom when Kimberly Eyers decided for some reason to kiss everyone in line, boys and girls.  Just on the cheek, nothing like what these Korean kids do, but still, someone called her a “homo”.  I’m not even sure how I recognized the word, but I distinctly remember thinking “Oh, right, I have to keep this a secret.”  And there began my life in the closet.  I wonder how different my life would have been if I had had a class like the one our little lesbian girl has.  Or would I have eventually ended up in the closet anyway because the kids would have eventually ‘matured’ and turned on me?      


Boo said...

Dang, you got some horn-dog little kids there, JJ.

"Anyway, all of this got me thinking about homophobia, and where it comes from. Many on the religious right insist that it’s innate."

Like they used to say racism was innate, and sexism was innate, and antisemitism was innate, and every other "ism" was innate. 30 years from now when homosexuality isn't an issue any more the fundies of the future will have found another ism that it's natural to despise.

Actually, there might be a germ of truth there. Call it the left-over tribal instinct, if you're into that (or a result of The Fall, perhaps). One could argue that it's something of an innate response to fear that which is different from your primary reference group because for most of human development, close-knit tribal bonds were the only way to ensure survival. Where the RR does a bit of slight-of-hand is trying to discern a moral basis for that, since that would mean it's equally "innate" for both groups to hate and fear each other. That would also explain why the younger generation seems much less homophobic- it's not so alien since it's something they grow up knowing about.

Plus part of it for guys is the fear of being treated by a guy the way they treat women.

Angel said...

I don't think homophobia is innate--it's taught.

Two little girls holding hands? Aww, isn't that cute. But in a few years, it's "not appropriate."

One of the blogs I read has photos of the couple (women) and their adopted daughter. My son *loves* looking at pictures of the baby, and I've told him that she has 2 mommies. My kids are cool with that.

Did you catch all the hoopla a year or so ago about a kids' show that featured 2 lesbians? My kids watched it like it was any other show.

Too bad all kids don't grow up as tolerant.