Friday, November 30, 2012

Students in AZ Punished by Holding Hands in Cafeteria... Wrong on so many levels.

So I read this article today:

Boys Made To Publicly Hold Hands As Punishment For Fighting

And it angered me, because it's wrong on so many levels.  So I posted it to my Facebook wall and a friend came back saying that:

"Some things are homophobic and some things are simply the way straight males are. Assuming the boys aren't gay then this was probably an effective "silly" punishment. Holding hands like that with another dude is awkward sauce in only the way straight males can understand, and it's unfair to label it as homophobia. This bothers me because it vilifies certain ideas, feelings, notions a straight male is supposed to feel. I think our society, in an effort to erase homophobia wants men to interact the same way women do. I think it's important to recognize where we're different too. Most women have no problem holding hands with other women. Most straight men would find this to be awkward in a lighthearted way and they may be perfectly cool being around gay men. It's not awkward simply because it's the same's awkward because it's not masculine. De-masculinity is an issue in our generation, so why are we trying to erase these feelings from our men? Being accepting of homosexuals and not fearing homosexuals is great and should be encouraged. As to students teasing "are you gay lolz?", it's honestly quite funny if directed towards straight guys. A friend signed my yearbook...."we all know you love the cock" I laugh at it every time. The insult is not that being gay makes you less than. The insult is that the hot shot straight masculine fist fighters in high school secretly wear pink underwear. It's a rare exercise in bringing guys like that back down to earth.....the level of the guys around them. Punishments like this are rare because our school's are so careful. How often do we get to use public embarrassment? Being gay is not what's being put to shame's tearing down their masculinity by accusing them of being the opposite of who they are in a humorous way to all who know them. I think the more we attack things like this we lose sight of what's really important, and the haters will just hate more if the innocent things are attacked. My 2 cents."

I understand what he's trying to say, but white straight privilege gives you odd blind spots into the lives of others.  So I replied, trying to help him see that maybe the punishment worked, and maybe the boys will laugh it off, but there are much more dire consequences:

"Everything you said rides on the assumption that masculinity is at least partially defined by lack of male physical intimacy. You say that the shame they felt comes from holding hands with another man because it diminished their masculinity.
But why?
Because we as a culture in the United States have decided it. However, in many cultures, men are much more comfortable being naked around each other, or holding hands or hugging or what have you, because that is not included in their definition of Masculinity. (In particular, male hand holding occurs frequently in countries in the Middle East, that are predominantly Muslim, and generally anti-gay, yet no one there fears for their masculinity.) No, this punishment is only a punishment because of cultural ideas about what it means to be a man and the subtext of weakness associated with that behavior.As a straight man, you can certainly laugh at the statement in your yearbook, but it isn't an identity that you are living--it's a joke. There are boys and girls at that very school, hiding in the closet, and trying to find the courage to be who they really are, but feel threatened because they see how their classmates treat these two boys for holding hands, even when everyone 'knew' they weren't really gay.
Imagine the fear an ACTUAL homosexual couple would have in that environment. One boy actually said in the video on the article that he skipped school the next day because the teasing was so bad. That's the REAL fear that young gay and lesbians have in these environments have. And it's not just kids teasing--it's sanctioned by the administrator of the school, whose duty is to provide for a safe, comfortable learning environment.
It's not a joke they get to laugh off.
In a few days or weeks, most of the kids will be back to arguing about which Jonas Brother is hotter or whatever kids talk about during lunch, but gay students will still remember how the teachers and administrators that are supposed to be there for them and educating them and providing for a safe learning environment encouraged students to taunt and tease classmates for exhibiting a stereotypically gay behavior. The principal picked holding hands because he KNEW it would result in maximum shame... but again, HOW DID HE KNOW THAT? Because it's a cultural understanding. Gay students now know how they will be treated if they ever express even the smallest display of their affections.I don't believe that the boys are personally homophobic for being ashamed to hold hands. That's not why this is wrong... It's wrong because they are ashamed to hold hands in the first place because they know as all school kids know, that gay people are fair game for taunting and bullying. Not a one of those students will get detention for picking on the boys, whereas if I started taunting a straight girl in lunch about how she was a slut and got a big group of kids around her and pointed and laughed and yelled and teased, you can bet we'd all be punished. It's a double standard the propagates the unwritten code of the school yard, that being gay is NOT OKAY.
The fact that a public school would allow kids to taunt and bully as a punishment is akin to teaching people murder is wrong while executing prisoners (death penalty) and fighting wars of aggression. It's counter productive and harmful to students who now know with certainty that their school is NOT a safe environment for them."

Do you think that makes sense?  I am close with this friend, and I don't want to be antagonistic--he's come around a lot from many open discussions we've had.  But it's really hard to fully grasp how behavior is learned by example when you don't get how anyone could see it as more than a joke.

I have a memory of riding in a van with a friend from church, and there was speculation about whether or not someone at another school was gay.  She said "He's Mormon, he can't be gay!" and it stung, because I was Mormon and gay, she just didn't know it.  But it sunk deep within me that she and other Mormons would never accept me as a gay man, even though it was never said explicitly.  Kids are like that.

Words do matter.  Why not make them stand in the middle of the cafeteria and apologize in front of everyone, maybe ending with a handshake?  That's pretty embarrassing to ALL teenagers, regardless of gender or orientation.

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