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Of course the “repression” of such feelings by the official culture took place in the context of a sexual ideal — sex confined to marriage — that, to put it diplomatically, wasn’t always lived up to. But that’s the point of having an official culture of the old type. It told you what the social expectations were even if it allowed for the possibility that those expectations would not be met. It’s this expectation which we have lost — and, with it, a mercifully fallow sexual period in which maturity and socialization can work on the youthful spirit in a way they no longer can.
Coincidentally, in the same day’s Post there appeared a sad story about an eighth-grader from California who was killed because he was gay. Or at least he thought he was gay. Encouraged by the official-unofficial culture to explore his “sexual identity” at an age when, not so long ago, most kids knew or cared little about such identities, he had decided not only that he was gay but that being gay meant that “with his school uniform [he] wore purple eye shadow, nail polish and pink lipstick. In the weeks before he died, he added purple boots with three-inch heels.”
What, I wonder, was left of the “uniform”? Pretty obviously the boy, Lawrence, “Larry,” King had been indulged by his teachers and parents in this conceit of himself as an outrageously camp figure, and this indulgence naturally encouraged him to make it known that he wished to declare as his “valentine” the classmate who subsequently shot him as a result. “Homophobia,” of course, is responsible, but homophobia is the product not just of irrational hatred but also of the kind of immaturity that is hardly surprising in eighth graders. Now one boy’s life is over and another’s is ruined because responsible adults in our culture have decided that experimentation with “sexual identity” is perfectly appropriate even for eighth-graders.
Thus, the Post blandly assures us that, “reassured by changing pop culture and easy access to information on the Internet, the age of sexual identification has dropped over the last few decades to the early teens and as young as 10, experts say” — as if this process were a social force as inscrutable and inevitable as homophobia itself. But are we quite certain that an official culture that had the confidence to reassert itself and set its face against the sexualization of childhood could have no effect, even against pop culture and the Internet? Or, to put it another way, are not pop culture and the Internet themselves in part the products of the official culture’s abdication of its responsibility to give moral leadership to society?