i have adventures (sometimes)

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Letter to an Almost-Teenage Boy

I had a silly post all lined up to finish and post tonight. It had board games, and self-portraits of me pulling faces, and enough Caps Lock to eclipse the sun. And, don't get me wrong, those things are important. But then I got to reading things that made me realise that, just this once, I had to put my serious hat on.

Rick Santorum. But no, it's not about him. Sure, he thinks women should accept getting pregnant after being raped as God's gift. And yeah, he thinks contraception is a bad thing. But it's not about him. It's about the warped, damaging, and indescribably dangerous mindset he represents. And it's about that fact that people like him are allowed to control the discourse by virtue of the power they hold. Which means that the sort of toxic crap they say is what people get to hear. Which, in a very real way, legitimises that selfsame toxic crap.

I find it hard to express my thoughts about this man and everything that comes out of his mouth without the use of four-letter words (not "cake" or "hugs"), and the odd creative 22-letter compound.  But this blog has to stay relatively family friendly for the straightforward reason that, well, my family reads it, and I probably shouldn't call Santorum a ********************* in front of my 12-year-old brother or my grandparents.*

But I have to say something, because it frightens me that these views are not just out there, but being put forth by very powerful people in what is arguably the most powerful country in the world. And it frightens me to think of the sort of lessons that someone, especially someone on the cusp of teenagehood, might take from a man like Rick Santorum about what it means to be a man, and, more importantly, what it means to be a person.

So here is a letter to an almost-teenage boy, about life, personhood, and everything.

Dear Almost-Teenage Boy

So, you're a teenager! Well, more or less. It's a scary time, but I hope mostly an exciting time. It's around about now that you're going to have to start thinking for yourself, which really ties the exciting and the scary up in a great big knot and gives it to you to unravel.

So now I'm going to talk to you about sex. I won't pretend you don't know what it is. Don't be embarrassed. (But you may not want to read this with your parents looking over your shoulder.) Maybe one day, when you're 17, or 20, or 35, or 80, you might want to have sex with a woman, or a man, or both, or neither (and it's all ok, as long as the other person is ok with it too).

And especially when it comes to sex, you're going to hear and see a lot of things about what should and shouldn't be allowed, and this is where thinking for yourself really starts to matter. I can't tell you what's right and what's wrong. A lot of people are going to try to do that. A lot of people are probably going to tell you that sex is bad, or that who someone has sex with is bad, or that how someone dresses is bad. I don't think any of that is true, but that's not what I want to talk about right now.

One of the things that a lot of people, important people, are going to tell you is bad, is abortion. You probably already know what that is: it's when someone ends a pregnancy on purpose. There are a lot of reasons that someone might want to do this, and it's not for you or me to say if those reasons are good or not. And there are a lot of reasons that some people think it shouldn't be allowed. Those people might say it's murder. I don't think it is. But I can't tell you what to think. All I can tell you is what I think.

I think that no one should have to be pregnant if they don't want to be. I think that having an abortion is not the same as killing a baby. I think that no one should tell girls what to do with their bodies. I think that every child that's born should be wanted and loved, not born because someone told a girl she had to have a baby.

So that's what I think.

Maybe you don't have to think about this right now. That's fine. But this is a question that, one day, people are going to try to tell you the answer to. The more you think about it for yourself, the more you'll be able to decide if their answer is a good one or not. But when you do think about it, there's just one thing I want you to consider.

This is all I ask: treat girls like people.

Treat everyone like people, but right now, I especially want to focus on girls. It sounds obvious, right? But there are a lot of people who want to treat women like they're things. A lot of people want to tell women what to do. When you have to think about big questions like this, remember that every girl is someone's daughter, or sister, or mother, or best friend. If you feel like someone's trying to make you think that girls are less important than boys, or shouldn't be allowed to do the same things that boys are, then I hope that you will think very hard about what they're saying. Don't think that someone has to be right just because they're a grown up.

Don't believe everything people say. Ask questions. And if the answer to your first question is "Because God says so," or "Because we've always done it that way," or "Because it just is," then ask more questions. I spent my teenage years accepting the easy answers because I thought that people who were older than me or seemed to know more than me always had to be right, and I believed a lot of stupid things because of that.

Trust yourself - but know that sometimes you'll be wrong. And don't be afraid to tell people when they're wrong, especially when you think the things they're saying might hurt other people. If you can, do this graciously and politely. I hope you're better at that than I am.

Read books. Read books about boys and girls, and boys who like girls, and girls who like girls, and people who start out as boys but end up as girls, and everything else in between. Remember that people want different things. Not all boys like the same things that you do. That doesn't make them any worse. Not all girls want what some people think girls should want. Some boys like to wear pink. Some girls like to kiss girls. And that's ok. Everyone is different.

There's a quote by Walt Whitman on my fridge at home, which says "re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem." I never paid it much attention, but I should have done. I should have asked more questions, and when the answers insulted my own soul, I should have asked more questions. I wish I'd done that when I was your age. I hope you'll do it much more. Ask questions until you're blue in the face. (Then breathe.)

I don't want you to be a great man. Instead, I hope with all my heart that you will be a great human being. Be good to other humans. Treat them with respect. The world is not a very safe place for a lot of people right now, especially girls. Boys like you can grow up to be the human beings who make the world safer for other human beings. Never let anyone tell you that you can't change the world. You can. You can make it better.

I hope your flesh will be a great poem.

(And don't join a gang.)

Yours in sadness and hope

A fellow human being

*If you are my 12-year-old brother or my grandparents, that word is, of course, "kittenhuggingbuntcake".


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