A Language of Love
I was nine years old when my family purchased its first television set. The year was 1968 and the popular series “Lost In Space” was in its final season on prime time T.V. I loved “Lost In Space” and avidly followed the adventures of the Robinson family through years of afternoon reruns. My sisters teased me about having a crush on Billy Mumy, the young actor who played Will Robinson. This charge infuriated and puzzled me. It infuriated me because I knew it wasn’t true, but it puzzled me because I recognized a seed of truth in their teasing. It was many years before I was able to articulate what that truth was: I didn’t have a crush on Billy Mumy. I had a crush on Angela Cartwright, the actress who played Penny.
I liked boys growing up. But I liked girls, too, and nowhere did I see that kind of liking reflected back to me in the models held out by my family, the media, and peers. Indeed, I didn’t have a name for what I was feeling for many, many years. How could I? The culture I lived in was silent. There was no vocabulary for the complex array of emotions that crowded my adolescent awareness. I decided that what I was feeling must not exist.
I don’t think things have changed a lot in the twenty-five years since I was coming of age alone and undefined. Sure, we’ve had Ellen. Gay men and women appear somewhat routinely in the supporting roles of movies and sitcoms. Lesbian sex is hinted at in music videos. It has become popular for young people to accept sexual diversity with a shrug and an “It doesn’t bother me.” But I suggest that underneath their nonchalent demeanor it does bother them, especially if they are the ones who don’t fit the prescribed ideal. One has only to look at the staggering suicide rate among teenagers who identify as lesbian or gay. If being a member of a sexual minority is no longer any big deal, then why are 30% of these young people driven to take their own lives?
We must continue to search for ways to make an “other” sexual orientation acceptable. And we need to do it long before our children reach the emotional minefield of adolescence. I suggest that it is the responsibility of every thinking, caring adult to examine her own heterosexist assumptions and to make visible for her children the wide range of romantic expression that exists.
I had lunch recently with my young son at his elementary school. The children tend to segregate themselves into the “boys” and the “girls” tables, although some overlap occurs. Another parent, seated with the boys, asked the children, “How many of you want to sit at the girls’ table?” His question was answered with a chorus of boos and vociferous “no”s, although not all the boys joined in. “Well,” this parent said, smiling, “I’ll ask you again in high school. You’ll all want to sit at the girls’ table then!”
If current statistics about homosexuality are right, one of the ten boys at the table will not want to sit with the girls, at least...