There’s been a story circulating around the Internet about how the principal of a South Carolina high school chose to resign when students chose to form a GSA (Gay Students Association). Now I personally don’t have a problem with the man’s choice. It seems like he handled it very well – he made it clear that it was for personal and religious reasons that he was leaving, he decided to stay out the term until 2009, and he indicated that he wouldn’t be mentioning to the students his specific reasons for leaving when he made the announcement to the school. He also, as far as I can tell, didn’t block the formation of the GSA in any way.
The part of this news that made me think, though, was something in his letter of resignation. What troubles him is that this and no other club deals with students’ “sexual orientation, sexual preference, and sexual activity” and that the way he sees it, the club requires acknowledging that students are sexually active with a certain sex, whether the same, different, or both.
Wait, what? Back that train up, please. Besides the obvious problem that others have pointed out in blogging about this article with sexualising the gay movement in general, I’m a little concerned about this specific context. Coming out, to yourself or to others, doesn’t mean anything about how sexual you are. Whether or not you are attracted to someone of the same sex is relevant, but sexual experience is in no way required to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between – including straight. If sexual experience were the only indicator, I’d be straight, and I’m sure as hell not.
But it’s not just that alone that bothers me, it’s the inherent assumption here. In order to be gay, he seems to be saying, you have to admit that you’re sexual with someone of the same sex. Is the same true in order to be straight? I actually think it might be almost all right if we just said, no one is anything until they have sex (putting aside the obvious huge problems with basing orientation entirely on experience). It wouldn’t really be accurate, but at least it would be equitable. Instead, I think what we obviously say in society is that everyone is straight by default. Straight is the presumption, that has to be rebutted. How do we rebut it? By having sex. Hmm.
So what we’re saying, I suppose, is that people are straight until they have a same sex experience. You can’t have an abstinent gay person. And I suppose it would be problematic to require straight people to have sex to prove their straightness, because, well, if you fall into a certain religious group, they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place until they’re married. Queers can’t get married, so they might as well go have sex? Oh, I don’t even know.
Thinking back, I realise that I encountered this attitude quite a lot when I was younger. I said I was bisexual (which is how I identified till I was 21 or so) and people would say oh, okay, that’s great, well you don’t really know until you’ve tried it, but good luck! Even people who were completely okay with LGBT folks, my family included, would put it that way. This may have been because I very aggressively tried to be cool as a kid, and cool included being girly and boycrazy, so I seemed rather obviously straight, but even so, I think all this really does is encourages kids to go out and have sex to prove you wrong (whether they’re ready or not). Now that I’m older, people assume that, because I say “I’m a lesbian,” that I’m sexually experienced with women. The fact is that I’m not really, mainly because of timing (my one serious relationship with a girl was in high school) and the fact that I’m very picky about relationships and enjoy being single, so I’m less experienced than some people my age. I don’t really mind that assumption so much, but I think that in general it’s a good rule of thumb not to assume. Sex and sexuality are obviously related, but there’s no correlation between sexuality and how much sex you have.
Just food for thought.