The Queer Issue
We've made it through another year, we've made it to yet another Pride celebration. Some of us will spend a lovely day on the newly mown grass of a public park, where we'll wave rainbow flags and listen to great music, terrific comedians, and stirring speakers. But one thing will be missing from our celebration of Pride: the children.
I'm not talking about the kids born to or adopted by same-sex couples. I'm talking about the genderqueer kids, the pierced, punk, and goth teens and preteens. Where are they on "Gay Day?" Where are the queer kids who get thrown out of their homes because their parents would rather see them dead than queer? Many of them can't attend Pride. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among Americans aged 14 to 25. Queer and questioning kids compose 30 percent of all suicides in that age group, and the total number of teen suicides has more than doubled since the 1970s. What of the kids who manage to stay alive, but live in fear, despair, and hopelessness? Why aren't they sitting out on the park lawns with us? How is it that we, of all people, can leave these children—our children—behind?
"No Child Left Behind" is a right-wing battle cry meant to tug at the heartstrings of the mothers and fathers inside all of us—queer and straight alike. But the Bush administration has hoodwinked the nation into believing that children are left behind for no other reason than reading, writing, and arithmetic.
As sex positivists and gender activists, we've all gone through times when we've been left behind because we pursued the free expression of our harmless desires and identities. We've all been stripped of whatever power we'd managed to secure for ourselves because we're two or three bubbles to the left of what's socially and religiously acceptable. But we've somehow managed to stay alive, and it's gotten a lot better—that's the message our kids need to hear during Pride.
We have to let our kids know that it's worth staying alive long enough to get past adolescence, because life improves. We're not doing that. We're focused instead on same-sex marriage, to the exclusion of all else. If we care about our kids, we'll do all we can to make sure the idea of Gay Pride extends beyond the notion of living, looking, and loving just like everyone else, married or not. Before we spend any more of our already scarce resources on marriage, wouldn't it be wise to widen our base of support and get more people involved in our movement? How can we do that?
For starters, I think we should hijack the "No Child Left Behind" program. We can openly and noisily join hands and resources with other sex-positive and gender-rights movements of all stripes—socially acceptable or not—to defend the rights of our children, to ensure their safety and well-being.
The LGBT movement needs to get beyond the public ideal of soccer parents and junior-executive gay men and lesbians who shop at Banana Republic. Our movement needs to embrace the sex workers, S&M players, polyamorists, polygamists, fetishists, genderqueers, third-wave feminists—everyone of all races, ages, and classes who has a stake in sex and gender freedom.
That way, we'd have a power base large enough to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, and love for the sex- and gender-curious kids who get thrown away by their parents. We could make life worth living for those kids while they get through the worst times of their lives. Who else is there to do that for them but us? If we save those kids' lives, there will to be more time and energy and people in our movement to support the right to marry, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or number of partners.
So this Pride weekend let our fabulously queer kids know that we welcome them in our movements, that we want them to have a strong voice, that we want them to live, and that we look forward to the wonderful new ways they'll find to celebrate sex, gender, and chaos—just like we did when we were kids.
Kate Bornstein is the author of Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws, from Seven Stories Press, due in bookstores by mid-July.