Adult Sexuality for Kids & Adolescence for Adults
Before his presidential campaign officially fizzled out and Pete Buttigieg stepped down, he received some major headlines by "helping" a 9-year-old boy, Zachary Ro, come out as gay on national television.
During a Q&A session at a political rally in Denver, Colorado, moderator Jena Griswold announced, "The next question comes from Zachary, age 9." She added, "And this is a really touching question. He says, 'Thank you for being so brave. Would you help me tell the world I'm gay, too? I want to be brave like you.'"
At this, the audience collectively cheered and "awwwed," as if the moment were cute, on par with telling the world you like puppies or love your little brother or sister.
Buttigieg stood still for a moment, looking touched, then asked Zachary to wave if he was in the audience. All too quickly, as if scripted, Zachary himself was ushered onto the stage. His face was somber, and his chest was rising and falling heavily. He gave Pete a bracelet—again, as if he knew he would be meeting Pete at this rally—and Pete immediately put it on.
"Well, I don't think you need any advice from me on bravery," continued Buttigieg. "You seem pretty strong. . . . It took me a long time to tell even my best friend that I was gay. Let alone to go out there and tell the world." He then went on to give the boy some advice. It wouldn't always be easy, but "that's OK" because the boy knew who he was, which gave him a "center of gravity." And he never could know who would be watching him, and who might be encouraged because of him. Lastly, Buttigieg told Zachary he would be rooting for him, and also jokingly asked him not to run for president quite yet—because the boy would probably do better than Buttigieg himself.
Treating Children Like Adults
There are a lot of things about this whole incident that don't ring quite true. First, the speed with which Zachary was ushered on stage, and the fact that he brought the bracelet, suggest some prior political orchestration. When a reporter caught up with Zachary later, the boy stated, "I just feel inspired by Pete being openly gay and running for President at the same time, and some day I want to be like him." That is pretty adult language, describing adult ideas.
But the thing that should be truly disturbing is what this whole escapade tells us about the sexualization of children in modern American society. Can a 9-year-old boy really know enough about himself to declare, unequivocally, on a national stage, that he is solely attracted to other males? Is a 9-year-old boy "sexually attracted" to anyone, in the way that adults understand the term? And what happens if, in a few years, he begins to wonder if he made a mistake, that he didn't really "know himself" after all? How difficult is it going to be for him to go back on this? How will his school friends treat him in the meantime?
We've set Zachary up for one hot mess of an adolescence by imposing very adult ideas of sexuality and maturity on a mere child. This happens in countless other ways today as well. One example is state-mandated sexuality education, which is increasingly graphic and adult-themed, and which teaches mere children that to question their sexuality, or even what sex they are, is a normal part of growing up. Another example of our sexualization of children is providing them with contraception: 21 states allow minor girls to have a long-acting contraceptive (usually an intrauterine device, or IUD) implanted without parental consent, and many schools also hand out contraception of other kinds without parents' knowledge.1
We say, out of one side of our mouths, that sex is serious, that we should be careful, that consent is crucial, and so on. And yet we entrust mere children with powerful hormonal drugs and devices, and we give them confusing information, telling them they may or may not be a boy or a girl, and that they may or may not be attracted to one sex or the other. Everything is up for grabs.
Treating Adults Like Children
Ironically, at the same time that we push sexual and gender identity on mere children—in spite of research that indicates that many people who identify as gay or trans eventually "grow out of it"2—we are also seeing more adults identifying as children.
A popular concept today is that of "emerging adulthood," what psychology professor Nancy Darling calls "The Twenty-Something Stage of Life." In a piece for Psychology Today,3 Darling writes, "Although one can argue that historically the transition from childhood to adult responsibilities was long, uneven and muddled, certainly in the mid-century United States it was pretty clear: you became an adult when you (1) finished school, (2) got a job, (3) married, and (4) had children." No longer. Now, the path to adulthood is much less clear. Now, after adolescence, we have a phase called "emerging adulthood," which is characterized by "diverse experiences," "lack of long-term commitments," and "unstable romantic relationships and employment." College students are taking longer and longer to complete their degrees, more young adults are delaying marriage and children, and increasing numbers are even moving back in with Mom and Dad.
Sounds fun, right? Darling also points out, "Emerging adults use mental health services at high[er] rates than those older or younger than themselves. They have more mood disorders, greater anxiety, and higher rates of substance use." Our prolonged period of pre-adulthood isn't making us any happier.
Why not? In a paper entitled, "Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century," researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton explore why Americans are dying at younger ages than they were just a few decades ago. As one possibility, they point to young adults' increased dissociation from family life, from fixed employment (as when a man followed his father into a career), and from the religion of one's parents. Case and Deaton posit:
These changes left people with less structure when they came to choose their careers, their religion, and the nature of their family lives. When such choices succeed, they are liberating; when they fail, the individual can only hold him- or herself responsible. In the worst cases of failure, this is a Durkheim-like4 recipe for suicide.5
The Wisdom of the Traditional Markers
We have, one might suggest, too many options available. We impose adult sexual options on children. And we refuse to take on the responsibilities of adults, letting ourselves be children longer. But the traditional "markers of adulthood" existed for a reason. God has given us a structure of life that works quite well, that in fact makes most of us happier than remaining single, sowing our wild oats, or trying to figure out who we really are at 29 years old.
It is time to return to a world where adults are adults, act like adults, and step up to protect a child's right to be a child.
1. Jacoba Urist, "Schools, Birth Control, and Parental Consent," The Atlantic (Sept. 8, 2015): theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/student-health-centers-schools-contraception/403954.
2. Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences, special issue of The New Atlantis (Fall 2016): thenewatlantis.com/publications/executive-summary-sexuality-and-gender.
3. (March 11, 2018): psychologytoday.com/us/blog/thinking-about-kids/201803/emerging-adulthood-the-twenty-something-stage-life.
4. This is a reference to Le suicide, published in 1897 by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, which is widely regarded as the first methodological study of suicide.
5. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, "Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife Among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century," PNAS (Dec. 8, 2015): ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4679063.
is the managing editor of the Howard Center's quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy.This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #53, Summer 2020 Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo53/coming-out-wrong