A Scout Is

Bear with me. This is a long post as I am bringing several elements of thought together.

In my e-mail this morning I received a survey from the Boy Scouts of America regarding the decision to change national policy of not allowing openly gay/homosexual people, youth or adult, of either sex to participate in the Boy Scout experience. I was glad to have the chance to express my opinion to them. I come from a rather unique perspective. I’ve been a registered volunteer in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for the last 13 years. To my mind exclusivity in any form, whether for race, religions, politics, physical or mental ability, or sexual preference, or any other difference, is a form of aggression and bullying, and not a good application of scouting values.

Wait a minute. Hold the presses. We haven’t talked about sex before. Sex is a part of health. It’s not as if the sexual part you own is outside your body somewhere, holistically speaking, being all part and parcel of the body package, one must pay enough attention to it to at least make sure the plumbing is working properly. Any woman who has ever experienced a urinary tract infection or a yeast infection can tell you about maintaining the physical part. Men get some ookie infections too. The emotional health part of sexuality is WAY too complicated to address in this post.

Get out that sturdy chair again or that sturdy stepstool if you are afraid of heights, and step up there and repeat the exercise we did with the word FAT. Stand on the chair and say the word sex. Then say it louder and louder until you are shouting: sex. Sex. Sex. SEX. SEX. SEXSEXSEXSEXSEX.

Yell the word until it is rendered just a sound. A word without meaning, a mere vibration. Don’t forget to step off the chair when you are done.

SEX. We all have something “down there” in the area between our legs. We use it for the daily activities of plumbing and elimination. Well, right there, they seem to be private areas. Then we sometimes choose to share those private areas intimately with other people. Kinda ewww, you know? But sharing can be pretty cool too. Whether you use it for sharing is up to you and should be your PRIVATE business.

See that’s the thing. We make way too much of sex, giving it far too much power over our lives. How can we not? We all have a body with a sex of one sort or t’other, but in our culture, sex, instead of being your private business and sexuality about loving, is a marketing tool used to sell everything from yachts to toddler clothing. From food to wine to cars to clothes to careers and everything in between. Two- and three-year-old baby girls are put into costumes jaded prostitutes would not wear and are called “adorable”. The children are adorable; forced early sexualization is abominable.

Too much is made of sexuality; if we made less of what everybody has it would lessen the stigma of difference. Certainly there are other marketing tools available to advertisers. Like the quality of their product.

Reality is sex and sexuality is not a simple dichotomous case of pink and blue. People are born with all manner of physical genitalia and a wide variety of genetic combinations. XX and XY is not all there is to the bodies in our world.

The notions we use to express current attitudes regarding sexuality are recent inventions. Salon’s recent interview with Hanne Blank about her excellent book, Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, talks about the historic and cultural implications of sexual constructs. Her book should be required reading for all health classes beginning in sixth grade or whenever they start showing the menstruation films now. Fascinating scholarship on Ms Blank’s part along with pointed non-violent discourse about the science of why the difference isn’t much of a difference.

I shall digress. I’ve been involved in scouting for more than fifty years. My younger brothers joined scouts early in their elementary years. I was raised in the scouting family, with scouting ways and values. Both my brothers are Eagle Scouts, the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve. Mark Hatfield spoke at one of my brother’s Eagle Court of Honor. The leadership and outdoor survival skills and values taught in scouting have served my brothers well in their adult lives. Most of my male cousins were involved in scouting also.

My brothers’ scoutmaster was like a member of the family. He was an internationally famous photographer; we had dinner at his home and he at ours, we went to school with his children, and his son went on to be a nationally famous blues harmonica player. Our scoutmaster was an accomplished musician, he played the saw with a bow and entertained class after class at the elementary schools in the area to introduce children to the idea that music is everywhere. He took family portraits for my family at no charge. At eighty years of age, long after retirement he became a Senior Olympic swimmer. Many years after his death, during the flurry of accusations against scoutmasters, some man reported this scoutmaster as an abuser, but I’m pretty sure there is nothing he could say to make me believe it of a person I knew so well. I suspect this accuser wanted a piece of the money called litigation pie.

My favorite uncle (I’m lucky to have several uncles) was gay. Let me say that again so you hear me loud and clear. MY FAVORITE UNCLE WAS GAY. I never knew him other than the way he was. He loved beauty and scholarship and religion and me and knew all the Latin names for every flower he saw. He was the original green recycler in my life, drying yard twigs in paper bags to feed his tiny wood stove with which he heated his little World War Two tract home. He spoke French and when I began learning French in seventh grade insisted on speaking nothing but French when we were together. Our own private language.

As a child growing up I never heard the words gay or homosexual or fag or queer or queen or any of the other words to designate difference. He was my beloved uncle, my mother’s older brother. I don’t know when she knew of his ways. He was married to a strange woman, who was a second or third cousin two or three times removed, genealogically related in a way I have not figured out yet. They had two boys.

Favorite uncle and strange cousin wife divorced. Strange cousin wife moved in with new man and uncle got custody of the two boys. In my family this was like having two more brothers, as we often had uncle’s boys at our house. Whatever we did they did; if we were going to a scout meeting so were they.

By the time I was a teenager, uncle had had a couple male “roommates”, which was never made a big deal of until the day uncle came over with a cast on his arm. The latest “roommate” had shot him and broken the bone. My father was a deputy sheriff and we constantly had guns lying around the house, but this was the closest I’d come to violence directly related to my insulated suburban life. A violence of passion over sex was a whole new concept to me; I’d only just learned the words rape and molest. My parents thought it finally time to discuss differences in sexuality. I didn’t care much. My beloved uncle was still my beloved uncle and I was upset he’d been hurt.

The younger of my favorite uncle’s sons was gay. There is little documentation on the reproductive patterns of homosexuals and whether of not they reproduce more homosexuals, or if it is indeed an inherited trait. I’m not sure what to say about how that falls out in my family but I’d been through enough babies by that time – my sister, two brothers, and two other male cousins – when this baby arrived and was different from day one, it gives me pause about the nature vs nuture argument. For lack of words I would have used when I was eight, when he was born somehow this boy baby was sweeter and softer and gentler and cuddlier than the other boy babies I’d been around. He grew up to be a sensitive man who loved music, and could play piano by ear with a natural gift though he never took a music lesson. He loved to cook and style hair and was accomplished at all these endeavors. And he loved other men.

Both cousins were sexually violated by the “roommate” who shot my uncle. My younger cousin was soon experiencing extreme health problems and indications of undue stress. Both boys were spirited away to their mother who had created a temporary stability in her life. At least it was a better enough stability to be the better place for the boys rather than to continue being abused while my uncle got his life arranged.

My grandma raised her children in the Nazarene church. When we visited her on Sundays we always attended her church. Hot Idaho Sunday mornings and old ladies in their best dresses waving fans in the heat and the joyful noise of voices raised in music of praise and worship will forever be in my neurotransmitters thanks to her, my mother’s mother. My uncle was a practicing Catholic all his adult life and my mother has often wondered if that early conversion was because of my uncle’s being introduced in some way by the often unreported and silently condoned sexuality of so-called celibate Catholic priests. I do not intend to cast aspersions upon the Catholic church as uncle’s full story has died with him. The whole story doesn’t matter to me. I would never love him or my cousins any less.

Growing up with the cousin who was different from birth and the favorite beloved uncle who was just who he was all my life gives my a slightly different perspective toward how we place importance on the difference of sexes and sexuality. What I mean to say is that just like religion and politics, or eye or hair or skin color, or height or body shape and size, everybody is different. The same, but different.

In scouting difference should make no difference, if we are courteous and kind and trustworthy and loyal. People of all religions, politics, systems of belief, and sexual expressions are capable of learning and adhering to scouting values which are based in trust and respect for each other and being prepared for dealing with the real world both indoors and out. Sexuality is only a difference because we make it so.

One of the scout laws says scouts are “reverent”. When I counseled scouts for Merit Badges or to prepare for Eagle rank, scouts often asked how to address that law when their family didn’t even go to church. My response was respect for other people and nature, this earth and the energies that power the earth, whether called “God” or “the universe” or a “higher power” is reverence. If we can respect different ways of worshipfulness and different politics and different races we can respect differences in sexuality.

Families are boycotting scouts because of the “ban” on gays. Janelle, the Renegade Mama at renegade mothering, recently wrote an excellent guest article addressing many of those concerns for allparenting.com. Take the time to read her well written article. She’s serious. She wrote the whole article without one f-bomb or expletive, so I know she’s serious. I read her blog because of her wonderfully honest, wild ride posts about the joys and frustrations of parenting and living. I enjoy her because like many people of the generation or two younger than me, she is comfortable using all manner of expletived, colorful trucking language in polite company. To tell you the truth, my mouth is similar and that’s why I love her, but I try to restrain my essays. Because I can. While still defending her right to say it like it is. And maybe being a little bit jealous, cause I love her style; she makes me laugh and we need all the humor we can get to get through most days.

I vote: don’t boycott scouts. Try them out. See for yourself. Fully participate and do your homework before you make up your mind. I also vote for inclusivity. All are welcome in scouts.

In fifty years of scouting I have seen boys and adults of all kinds go through the scouting program. When my son first joined Boy Scouts, I was surprised to meet out new scoutmaster. He was effeminate, had a soft voice and softer handshake, and such a gentle manner of looking at you from under his eyelashes I was sure he was gay. We often judge by appearances, right?

Then I met his three sons. His wife. His daughter. I got to know the man. And you know, mannerisms are really no indication of what knowledge a person carries. Our scoutmaster is a highly educated minister with his own church. His wife is also an educated minister. Two of his three sons are Eagle Scouts and the third made Life rank (almost Eagle); all three are college graduates. He can fix any vehicle, car, truck, lawnmower, or bicycle, on the fly wherever and whenever it dies or know the reason why. He can survive in the woods in all kinds of weather and can make sure the scouts who are with him come home safe and sound. He probably knows more about cooking than most women I know and can do it over an open fire. He put his wife through college after she put him through college. He is diplomatic and supportive and listens in a way you know you’ve been heard. He remembers what we talked about the last time we talked and the time before that. He loves his family, his scouts, and his congregation. He’s tougher than the Boy Scouts he leads and is a gentle and loving leader.

It’s none of my business but I’m pretty sure he sleeps with his wife and I don’t care. Really why should any of that matter? I would trust this man with my life and with my son’s life. Who he sleeps with is his OWN PRIVATE BUSINESS.

At my son’s Eagle Court of Honor the only people who attended from my work (I’d been there twelve years at the time) was one co-worker, a long time volunteer in scouting who promised to take pictures (her thing), and two volunteers who’d seen the invitation posted on the staff wall. I suspect they came because they’d never been to an Eagle Court of Honor before, which can be a simple affair or a really big event with mayors and congressmen in attendance. These two volunteer friends are gay and very much in love with each other. Since my beloved favorite uncle and my beloved cousin have already passed away, I was grateful to have these two friends attend. For me, I felt their attendance was in memory of my beloveds and supportive of the future of inclusion in scouting. And they are REALLY NICE AND CARING PEOPLE.

So do we just come down to judging by appearances or do we get to know our fellow person before making judgment? Do we judge because somebody lives life differently than us? When a new dad recently joined our troop many of the boys came to me concerned he “looked” like a pervert. My question to them was: what is a pervert and what does he “look” like? This individual is darkly handsome, with a distinctively chiseled appearance and is very accomplished with his Harvard education and professional career. His polished appearance and manner may be different than what the scouts are used to but that does not make him a pervert, a child molester, or gay. How do we teach our children to not make these flash judgments if we do so ourselves? Just as the fat person is not necessarily lazy, a difference in appearance is not an indicator of habits or orientations.

NOW all that being said, sexuality has no business in the business of scouting. That’s not what scouting is about. Scouting is about leadership skills and surviving in the world both indoors and outdoors. Our job as adults in scouting is the prevention of harm, and early sexualization or sexual violation is traumatizing and harmful and has no place in scouting. That’s why we have background checks and rules like two-deep leadership so no one adult is ever alone with a scout. That’s why we meet in public places and in groups. That’s why we show the film to the scouts every year about how to recognize abuse and when and how to tell. That’s why ALL parents are encouraged to participate.

And that’s EXACTLY why inclusivity honors the very tenets of scout law. Every adult who participates in scouting regardless of religion, race, politics, or sexual preference/orientation can be trustworthy and moral by preventing harm. When you walk in the door at scouts you leave your religion, politics, and preferences at the door. And if you are a scout, regardless of any religion, politic, or preference, you live your life, your whole life, according to scout values. We are trustworthy and loyal and kind. We help other people at all times.

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