Reflections on what we share in common

(This post from occasional contributor, clinical psychologist David Blakeslee, covers some similar territory as conservative gay blogger, GayPatriot on the Kevin Jennings controversy.) 

I have been a bit agitated lately, it is probably my own problem, but instead of being internally ruminative about such sensations I decided to find some object to focus these feelings on.  It didn’t take long, all I had to do was visit Warren’s blog .  There I could find a few outlandish assumptions, hypocritical comments and distortions of fact to justify ventilation.  Apparently that was not satisfactory enough, so I am writing this posting after a couple of years of absence (Warren, I don’t know how you do this day in and day out, your energy and integrity are deeply appreciated). 

Rationalization, minimization, and justification are not scientific arguments; they are psychological defenses to ward off anxiety.  Sometimes they are so effective that we feel quite calm when a grave injustice, which we should agonize about, has occurred.  Instead of tossing and turning at night, struggling with headaches and pacing the floor, we sleep quite soundly.  Sometimes they are so effective that the weak and the vulnerable are left without an outraged and strong protector; instead they get a philosopher, who through his mental games ends up functionally being a passive collaborator with a predator. 

Are gay teens vulnerable? Absolutely.

And just to whom are they vulnerable?

Some would have us believe that it is just the Christian right.  They conflate hate crimes with Christian opposition to gay behavior (Christians, by belief, are equal opportunity opposers to all sorts of sexual behavior, something that is easily forgotten in this debate–perhaps by design.  They have lost the argument about premarital sex; they have lost the argument about casual sex; they had lost the argument about extra-marital sex, but seem to have reclaimed some of that ground–oops, here come the polyamories).

I would argue that gay teens have much more to fear from adult sexual predators than they do from the Christianity.

The story of “Brewster” highlights this issue remarkably.  A lonely, searching 15 year old adolescent is seeking something as he wanders the streets of his home town late at night.  He finds an older man who willingly helps him sexualize his yearning (Nicolosi would make an easy interpretation of this).   It disrupts this child’s life academically, immediately.  As part of that adjustment, he seeks out a teacher at school.  The then teacher, now Obama appointee Kevin Jennings of the Office of Safe and Drug-free Schools, interprets this event (incompletely) as a problem of gay secrecy and isolation.  He repeats this interpretation and describes such children as “naïve” as he climbs the political and advocacy ladder for 20 plus years (he never supplements his interpretation).  His interpretation has some usefulness, but it is also politically and personally propels his career. 

A number of years ago Warren and I were working to correct flaws in the proposed Montgomery County sex education curriculum.   One of the studies we referred to was quite remarkable; it correlated teen sex with increased rates of depression and suicidal thoughts.   It seems that sex, for some adolescents, is destabilizing and correlates with despair, even when it is with peers.  The study did not examine “age-discrepant” sexual relationships.

Do some adults recognize this vulnerability? Yes, and many respond with alarm, compassion and heightened supervision.

Do some exploit this vulnerability?  Absolutely, and in the past, outraged adults wrote laws to protect such children who are manipulated into entering into “consensual” sexual acts with “age discrepant” partners.

When sexual exploitation of minors does occur, some wish to enforce the law as a means of both protecting the child from further acts by the perpetrator; but also validate to the victim that they deserved supervision and care from this adult, not sexual exploitation.

But others begin to engage in an odd dance of rationalization, minimization and justification.  They use words like “consensual” and they begin to focus obsessively and curiously on how close the victim’s age is to the age of consent.  Perhaps they wish to establish how old the child looked.  Or that the child never should have been in that location, unsupervised by their parents.  Some argue that such outcomes are an unavoidable casualty of an isolated, marginalized community that has few public figures to act as mentors for gay youth (The Sam Adams, Portland Mayor, manipulation)

Kevin Jenning’s error is profound.  Gay children and adolescents are at risk due to his profound, enduring lack of outrage at how an older gay man shamelessly exploited an isolated, vulnerable gay youth, whatever his exact age.  Kevin never “got it.”  It is not a defect due to his being gay that kept him from understanding this, it was a profound defect in his ability to empathize with that adolescent completely and accurately.  It makes him a poor choice for the leadership position he now holds.

It is the same defect exhibited by Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Allen and others in the case of Roman Polanski (then age 44) and Samantha Geimer (then age 13).  If Samantha or her 2009 equivalent comes to a teacher and describes an event similar to Brewster’s, will Jennings counsel teachers to interpret this as being due to minority related issues (that we need more women in teaching positions)?  If a Muslim adolescent is exploited by a Muslim adult in the deep South, will Jennings argue that this is due to Muslim isolation and minority status?

Or will he reach to a common bond between men and women, gay and straights; a bond that goes across cultures, across ethnic groups and across religions.  Sexual exploitation by adults of adolescents is wrong…first, last, and always.  It is a primary concern to creating “safe schools” where teachers are all too often perpetrators.   Protecting adolescents from sexual exploitation: it is a common bond that both heterosexual and homosexual children and their parents share.