By this point, we’ve all heard about the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida. It was recently signed into law by the governor. The anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation is the first in a recent move to broaden targeting to the entire queer community. Previous bills tended to target trans people alone.
The bill, known among supporters as an “anti-grooming” law, purports to protect children in the primary grades. What are we protecting them from? Apparently, the horrors of learning about sexual orientation and gender identities.
Here’s the thing, though: they already learn about that stuff.
Gendering Starts in the Womb
Aggressive gendering and heterosexual messaging start even before birth. “Gender reveal” parties, anyone? You found out your fetus (maybe) has a penis, so now you’re buying everything blue and calling the baby “him.”
Reminder: “boy” is a gender identity, as is “girl”! People just don’t think of them as being “gender identities” so long as they line up with biological sex.
That’s because we think of it as natural and normal to have a 1:1 correlation between biological sex and gender identity. If you have an XY combo, you’re male, thus you’re “a boy!”
Gender identity, though, is a social construction. The idea of what makes a “man” or a “woman” varies across time and culture. That means you have to be taught how to behave as a man or a woman.
What you’re taught will depend on where you live, when you live, and your culture.
Trouble in Gender Identity Paradise
That troubles the narrative that gender identity is in our DNA. It troubles the idea there are “boy things” and “girl things.” It makes us question whether those with penises will naturally gravitate to “boy things.”
Welding biological sex and social gender together is dangerous. It allows for arguments like “sports make women’s ovaries shrivel up and die.” Under this ideology, people argue, “Women suck at logic and reason, so of course they can’t be good at math or go to school!”
This ideology looks at these ideas and says, “It’s just biology.” Sucking at math is so natural, it’s in your DNA. I mean, it’s not actually, but that’s what the bioessentialist model wants you to think.
That’s why recognizing gender is made up actually benefits not just genderqueer people but, say, cis women too. In the age of toxic masculinity, understanding that these codas are all made up helps men too. If men can recognize “you can never cry” and “you must always be angry” as scripts, then they can deconstruct that script and rewrite it.
Suddenly, new ways of being “a man” emerge. For any guy that’s ever been mocked for not being macho enough or even just liking his toy kitchen a little too much, that’s a big deal.
Heterosexual Mommies and Daddies
So, kids start learning about gender identities right away, often from Mommy and Daddy. They start learning about sexual orientation too. First, they might observe Mommy and Daddy. Friends and family may also aggressively push heterosexuality on kids.
What’s aggressive heterosexualization? I’ll give you an example. A friend of mine was having a baby, identified as “a girl.” Another friend had just had a baby, one who was “a little boy.”
“Wouldn’t it be cute,” the mom-to-be gushed, “if your little boy and my little girl became boyfriend and girlfriend and grew up and got married?”
“Oh, that would be so cute!” the friend replied.
Consider the Queers
Now, suppose the mom-to-be was having a baby boy. Can you imagine her saying the same thing to her friend? Can you imagine the friend’s reaction?
Neither of them would think it was “cute.” In fact, neither of them would likely even suggest it. So why is it cute when it’s a “heterosexual couple”? This one kid isn’t even out of the womb yet! We’d argue that we don’t know if the kid will be gay or not, so we can’t comment on “two boyfriends.” Equally, we don’t know either kid would be straight, yet we go ahead with that narrative.
Another example are onesies that declare “I’m a breast man.” Sure, we can all laugh at the joke. The baby is being breastfed! Most babies do like boobs, because they like to eat and keep living.
But this is another act of aggressive heterosexualization. This child might grow up to fancy boys or be a trans woman who considers herself a lesbian. In neither case is this child “a breast man.”
We’re not comfortable cracking jokes about two male babies growing up and getting married. And we wouldn’t be comfortable with a onesie that declared a baby “a breast woman.”
Why Are We Okay with the Heterosexual Crap?
If the suggestion that two baby boys might grow up to get married bothered you, it’s time to pause. Did the boy-girl suggestion faze you? If not, why?
Through this, then, heterosexuality becomes normal; homosexuality, abnormal. Heterosexuality is natural; if you’re homosexual, there must be something “wrong” with you.
And note where and how this is happening. The examples I pointed out are happening to children who are infants or even still in utero. We’re not waiting until they’re in Kindergarten or—as one US government rep suggested—until they’re twenty-one to start teaching them about sexual orientation or gender identity.
We’re not even waiting until they’re out of the fucking womb!
One Sexuality, Two Gender Identities
The ploy here is clearly not to avoid teaching kids about sexual orientation or gender identity until they’re “old enough.” Rather, the entire aim is to teach kids about one sexual orientation (heterosexuality) and two gender identities that correspond directly to two sexes, and nothing else.
Kids can see Mr. and Mrs. Pop Culture making out on TV; they can see a girl bunny have a crush on a boy bunny in a children’s book; and they can be princes and princesses so long as their genitals look “right” for each gendered role.
But if we teach them anything else, suddenly it’s “perverse” and “unnatural.” Queer people, simply by living the truth—that heterosexuality and cisgender girl/boy identities aren’t all that exist—are now all “grooming” children to convert them to the queer agenda … or worse.
The 1950s Want Their Panic Back
The “or worse” is pedophilia. That’s been a common allegation against gay men since at least the 1950s. Conservative quarters have never fully abandoned the gay = pedophile argument either. Even in recent years, trolls on social media platforms have argued that one of the letters in LGBTQIA+ stands for “pedophiles,” that pedophiles have their own flag and that they’re welcome in the queer community.
This conflation is entirely untrue, but that doesn’t matter. The point is to position queer people as dangerous. According to this framework, queer people are unnatural, immoral, and they’re going to corrupt your precious baby angel.
This argument works well as a scare tactic among those who have imbibed the “cishet or nothing” attitude of modern Western society. They believe that cisgender identities and heterosexuality are the only options. Anything else is deviant.
The concern about corruption of children is particularly salient. It presents to parents a narrative where their children always turn out straight and cisgender. If the kids don’t, then some big, mean queer person must have corrupted them.
Queerness thus becomes a social disease, and parents are responsible for ensuring “the innocent” don’t catch it.
Kids Who Don’t Learn Are Easy to Exploit
There’s an dark underside to this. Children who don’t learn about sexuality in safe environments—such as being taught at home or in the classroom—are actually at higher risk of being exploited and manipulated later.
Sexual abuse is easier to perpetrate on children who don’t understand. Kids who aren’t given information may seek it out online. They are more likely to encounter information in “unsafe” spaces, such as adult chat rooms, via porn, or adults who later exploit them.
Kids who don’t understand there are identities outside of cishet normativity are also at higher risk of abuse and exploitation. First, they may end up in abusive relationships due to low self-esteem, trauma, dysphoria, and a sense that something is “wrong” with them.
These kids may have a serious sense of social isolation. That makes it easier for abusers to cut them off from important social networks. They may also suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Worse: they don’t even know what the underlying issue is.
So refusing to teach children, refusing to “say gay,” makes for a lonely, frustrating, sad existence of suffering.
Which is, of course, exactly how capitalism and patriarchy like it.
Cishet Kids Are at Risk Too
The patriarchal-capitalist bent doesn’t just put queer kids at risk though. It also hurts cishet children. How?
It crystallizes gender identities as biological fate. Heterosexuality becomes the only option. It is compulsory. In this climate, cishet children are often denied understanding of heterosexual sex. All we need to do is look to the current “groomer” and “pedophile” rhetoric. People are applying it to discussing anything about biological sex or gender with kids.
That shifts the burden of learning back to parents, who are often unprepared or ill-equipped. For example, many parents don’t realize even young children will masturbate. The Victorians had a whole panic about that; most parents today see it as bad or shameful rather than natural curiosity and exploration on the child’s part.
Taboos Lead to Silence; Silence Leads to Death
When something becomes taboo, we can no longer discuss it. When we can no longer discuss it, it becomes impossible to learn about it in safe environments. This leads to exploitation of little girls who do not understand that their male relatives are “doing bad things” to them. Adults can lie to and manipulate them.
Abstinence-only sex education becomes the only option in this kind of learning climate. The message is simply “don’t do it.” There’s no explanation of how it works. Discussing that might “encourage” young people to try it out. In current discourse, pundits would argue it’s “grooming” rather than simply educating.
And when that happens, young folks are left in the dark. Another Victorian example illustrates this. Young women were so poorly educated, they often didn’t know how a baby exits the body until they were in labor with their first child. And that was because it simply “wasn’t polite” to discuss!
The Ignorant Masses Shall Reproduce in Misery
When there is no sex ed., young people still engage in sex. They don’t know about safe sex or natural desire. They feel shame and uncertainty about it. It’s notable here too that people who have low self-esteem and other mental health issues may engage in risky behavior as well, such as unsafe sex.
Teen pregnancy rates skyrocket. And then we’re also banning abortions, which leads to more unwed and teen mothers, high school dropouts, who are …
Impoverished, desperate workers that are easy for capitalism to exploit! AFAB people are especially vulnerable in these regimes, particularly as patriarchy seeks to control female bodies and female reproductive capacity.
We can see current legislation in some states endorsing no age requirements for marriage as part and parcel of this too. Cut off education, present heterosexuality as the only option, allow older men to exploit young AFAB individuals, take away abortion rights, and keep them right. Under. Your. Thumb.
This is a much, much broader attack than simply one against queerness alone, although that’s certainly one prong. Arguments against queerness put people in cishet boxes to encourage further (miserable) reproduction.
It also encourages risky behaviors among children of all identities and sexual orientation, including seeking “education” from unsafe sources. And it makes so many, many people vulnerable to real exploitation.
If “knowledge is power,” then this outcry is much more about power and who has it than it is about actually keeping children safe. And that’s vile—certainly more vile than a trans person using the bathroom or Mr. Teacher mentioning his loving husband.
In the Midst of a New Historic Panic
There is good reason to fear this rhetoric; it is designed to be a zero-sum game, much like the anti/proshipping debate in fandom. (That can be read as a precursor to this—and indeed, all demands for purity culture from various corners of social media and the internet in the last ten years have been building up to this.)
And this is a gamble for power, remember—it is not actually protecting children. It is, in fact, harming them—all of them, from real CSA survivors to queer children to the little “princesses” to boys who will imbibe toxic “boys don’t cry” rhetoric.
But this rhetoric loans power to the “anti” group in their crusade.
We often look back at history and think, “That’s a bit over the top,” like when we think about the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s. It’s hard for us to recognize how people get so swept up in that kind of fervour; from the outside, it looks like sheer insanity.
But we are standing here now, and we are seeing precisely how these sorts of panics are constructed and executed. This is a panic, much the same as the Satanic Panic in the 1980s, perhaps as sinister as the Red Scare of the 1950s.
Gender Identity Powerplay
If there is any upshot, though, it reminds us that there is power in being queer, in being a woman, or even in being a child—otherwise, these groups would not be so fucking virulent in their rhetoric. That is why they are undertaking these attacks.
The fearful part is that, so far, it’s working. That’s why we need to stand in solidarity—no LGB without the T, if you will, because the T is often merely the test group. Once the “anti” crowd demonstrate that their tactics can corral trans people or sex workers, they then broaden the attack to curtail the rights of even larger groups.
The idea that teaching a child about “gender identity” is somehow abuse is ludicrous. We teach them about “boys and girls” and “men and women” all the time. The idea that a gay teacher saying “I have a husband” is somehow harmful when a female teacher being called “Mrs.” (which implies her marital status) is not is beyond the pale is absurdity.
The Edge of Logic
But, to wit: if we take these laws to the letter, then no one in a public school can discuss “men and women” or “husbands and wives” or even “boys and girls” at all. Those are all gender identities. There can be no discussion of “mommies and daddies” at all or discussions of boys bullying girls because they have crushes on them.
That, surely, must fly in the face of conservative doctors who feel young children need strong guidance on developing “appropriate” gender identity. The logic breaks down. Resistance becomes possible.
Make no mistake. These bills and laws are meant to make it impossible to discuss queerness, but in the language, cisgender identities and heterosexuality can be banned as well. Given that, we might be hurtling toward gender nihilism instead–an outcome that resists the narrative of compulsory heterosexuality.