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Apr 26 2011

Good Idea; Bad Idea – the gay edition

And now it’s time for another Good Idea; Bad Idea

Good Idea: Providing counselling and other support to gay kids to reduce their risk of killing themselves

Several international studies have found higher attempted suicide rates among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth compared with heterosexuals. Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24, researchers say. The study in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics found LBG youth living in a social environment more supportive of gays and lesbians were 20 per cent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.

I am not gay, nor have I ever had any serious questions about my sexuality or gender. Due to what I hope is just a weird set of coincidences (rather than a subconscious bigotry), I’ve never had any close gay friends. As a result, it’s difficult for me to truly empathize with gay youth. Insofar as being a young person sucks in general, I can connect to my own struggles to establish my identity and my feelings of alienation, but to add to that being a gay kid in a society that still treats being gay as an “alternative lifestyle” rather than simply the way some people are (although, to be sure, this is changing rapidly) – it’s got to be extra tough to be a gay kid.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that living in an environment where you constantly have to question and hide a part of who you are – from friends, from family, to even have to deny it to yourself – makes gay kids more likely to turn to self-harm and suicide. Conversely, being in a place where being gay is seen as just another facet of a person’s identity – like their race, height, sense of humour, whatever – must take an enormous amount of pressure off of gay kids. It would, at the very least, remove some of the alienation and feeling of “otherness” that can come from a non-supportive environment. At its best, it helps balance out the hateful speech coming from various corners of society – equating homosexuality with unforgivable sin or some sort of deep character flaw.

Bad Idea: Sending gay kids to correctional camps to ‘fix’ them

Sixty-six Muslim schoolboys in Malaysia identified by teachers as effeminate have been sent to a special camp for counselling on masculine behaviour. They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education. An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back “to a proper path in life”.

Ah yes, we can always count on Malaysia to drag humanity kicking and screaming back into the dark ages – when men were men, women were women, and fags were persecuted and killed for having the temerity to try and live like everyone else does. It is stuff like this that makes me cringe any time someone raises the idea of promoting “traditional gender roles”. For many people, there is no conflict between how they behave naturally and what tradition would dictate. However, there are many others that strain against the expectations of historically-established behaviours. This isn’t simply a matter of education or conditioning; forcing yourself to rebel against instinct – especially in something as fundamental as sexuality, a characteristic that underpins the entire human experience – can be incredibly disruptive.

Picking young kids out of school and sending them to gender re-education camps as a way of stamping out ‘teh ghey’ is about as egregious a breach of trust and duty of care as you can get. The news report suggests that the children are attending voluntarily, but you’ve got to question how ‘voluntary’ it could possibly be when you’re being singled out by your teachers and coerced by your parents for being a little too queer. Of course we know at this point that religious education is almost useless in changing gay kids straight, and gay people can also be in typically “manly” professions – education has nothing to do with it. This is simply psychological abuse perpetrated against those who are the most vulnerable.

I do pick on Christianity for a variety of reasons – chief among them being that I am most familiar with it, and it is constantly all around me. However, for all its flaws as a movement, there are at least some moderate/liberal elements within Christianity that help balance out the more destructive factions. Islam, at least outside of North America, doesn’t have anything that approaches a moderating force capable of balancing out such blatant hatred and stupidity. However, to be fair to the good people of Malaysia, there does appear to be some backlash within the country:

But the women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, said singling out these children based on perceived feminine mannerisms was traumatising and harmful to their mental health. The camp violates the Child Act, which protects children without prejudice, she said.

Once again, it is the women to the rescue. This should help clear up any potential confusion over why I, a straight, cissexual (identifying with the gender into which I was born), man would spend so much time talking about women’s issues and gay issues – because I am not completely insulated from what happens to other people in the world. Despite the various flavours of privilege I might enjoy, I’m still acutely aware that not everyone sees the world through the same lens I do.

When we fail to protect those that don’t count themselves among the majority, we invite those same to fall through the cracks of our neglect.

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4 comments

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  1. 1
    Amanda

    hey Ian-

    You’ve conflated sexuality and gender in your analysis! The second article mentioned really discusses gender presentation, not sexuality (though, of course, the fear of the Malaysian officials may be that because the boys are ‘effeminate’, they may end up being gay).

    But in your analysis you mention that the Malaysian officials intend to restore traditional gender values, etc etc, but then go on to discuss it in the context of sexuality, not gender representation, as when you say “.. especially in something as fundamental as sexuality.”

    Amanda

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    Good looking out, Amanda. However as you say, the stated goal of the program is to ensure that boys don’t grow up to become homosexuals or transpersons, so the conflation is not authentically my own.

    By ‘sexuality’ I wasn’t referring explicitly to sexual preference, but perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully. I meant how one thinks of her/himself in terms of her/his sexual identity, of which gender is an intrinsic component, as well as is sexual preference. Is there a better word or term to use for this kind of over-arching concept?

  3. 3
    Matt

    Great article. I’ve been staying in Malaysia for awhile and there are news items in the papers almost every day about men being dragged through the courts for being involved with another man. I understand that it’s the Muslim belief however their gay suicide rate must be high… although if you attempt suicide and fail they will throw you in jail for a year too! It was heartening to read the comment from the women’s minister. I doubt much will change in the long run in Muslim countries though.

  4. 4
    Crommunist

    Thanks for your comment!

    The fact that a high-ranking member of the government said something publicly is encouraging, but you’re right – it’s not the dawn of a gay-friendly day in the Muslim world.

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