The first night I went to college in 1960 a gang of us who had just arrived for freshman orientation decided to cross the quad and challenge the incoming freshmen in another dorm. When we got there it turned out the only resident was an upper-class dorm proctor who also happened to be a huge football player. He came out in response to our taunts, some words were exchanged and before anyone knew it the mob of us had pinned the football player to the ground, somebody produced a scissors and we cut his hair down to the scalp.
I don't know whether you could call it "bullying." The huge football player could have taken any one of us. I cringed the next day when I saw the shaven warrior crossing the campus, fearing he might recognize me. It was the kind of outpouring of exuberance common on all-male campuses of that era.
Little did any of us realize that such an incident might one day disqualify any of us from running for President.
The Mitt-Romney-at-Cranbrook issue and President Obama's awkward embrace of gay marriage have quickly turned an election that was supposed to be about unemployment and the ailing economy into a debate over the fate of people who believe they were socially abused while young. It seems almost absurd that such a pivotal election is even discussing such an issue but as long as we're addressing the subject, let's face up to a few things.
First of all, let's admit it -- childhood is a jungle. We come into this world not entirely civilized and childhood and youth is the period when these things are thrashed out with a vengeance. I remember during my first three years of grade school the consuming issue not learning to read or fashioning clay ashtrays in art class but who had the "cooties" of a girl two years ahead of us. She was a big, raw-boned girl whose name "Elizabeth" had been shortened to "Lizard." The most terrifying thing that could happen was to be given "Lizard's cooties." The rumor was that she went to the bathroom like a boy.
Sexual ambiguity is something that has always frightened children and primitive societies. Tribal cultures usually have elaborate taboos about what men and women can do, which building they can enter, even what they are allowed to touch. Such societies have elaborate initiation ceremonies to make sure young people assume the proper sexual roles as they reach maturity. It was Margaret Mead who in a moment of weakness once said, "The most stable societies are those that make the clearest distinction between men and women."
Yet every society also produces a small number of people who feel uncomfortable with traditional roles and incline toward what early 20th century anthropologist Edward Carpenter called "the intermediate sex." Most societies have created a place for them, often one of considerable honor. Men who feel uncomfortable with the traditional male role often become witchdoctors or priests or scholars, shunning the traditional male role but revered for their differences and respected for their wisdom. Women have done the same thing. Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, was born directly out of the head of Zeus without a trace of motherhood in her and was always represented as armed with a helmet and a sword. The Delphic Oracle, who virtually ruled Classical Greece, was a farm girl who had heard voices telling her to shun the female role and live among vestal virgins (or temple prostitutes, no one has ever decided which) spouting prophecies. Joan of Arc was another young heroine whose inner voice told her to assume the male role and rescue France. She became the national symbol.
Altogether, the progressiveness of a society can probably be measured by its ability to tolerate sexual ambiguity and grant flexibility in sexual roles. We are probably as tolerant as any society has ever been in this regard. But putting homosexual marriage on a par with traditional marriage is an entirely different thing. Marriage is a ceremony designed to bind the two halves of humanity together. Homosexual marriage leaves them further apart and isolated. Few societies have ever granted it, yet alone celebrated it, as we appear to be on the verge of doing.
There is very good reason. Every society blesses the yoking of male and female together as the crucible for the propagation of the species. This is no small thing. The Theory of Evolution is based on the premise that all organisms are driven by an irrational imperative to reproduce themselves and "spread their genes." Parents and other relatives do not want to see their children or nephews or nieces becoming homosexuals because it means they are not likely to have grandchildren or other closely related kin. This will be the basic biological response no matter how many "Proud-Parents-of-Gay-Children" organizations are formed.
But of course we are a super-progressive society that can by-pass all this biology with the simple question, "Who says you have to be married to someone of the opposite sex to have children?" And this is why homosexual marriage, no matter how innocently intended, inevitably challenges the whole principle of marriage itself. If any two people can yoke themselves together in an institution created for the nurturing of children, then why not any three or four or even one? With male homosexuals this may involve some complicated ju-jitsu but for lesbians and even for women who just don't have much tolerance for men, it all becomes surpassingly easy. Why not just pick an attractive man, get pregnant, have a baby and forget about all this social convention about getting married?
You don't have to look very far to see the results. It's on the cover of Time magazine this week. The controversial picture shows a blond young supermom breast-feeding what appears to be four-year-old boy. The headline claims it all has something to do with "Are you Mom enough?" but the subliminal message is clear. This is the new American family. This woman is "Julia," the Obama-administration-conjured "new woman" who needs no parents or husband or supporting relatives but can marry the government instead.
And who is this young man? Why he's the New Woman's sexual counterpart, an infantilized, totally dependent male. (It's no accident that it's a boy in combat fatigues she's nursing. If it were a girl in a tutu, the whole message would be lost.) This is a feminist dream, a world without adult men. And is there the slightest chance this little boy is going to grow up to be a husband and a father? Forget it. We've already created this kind of matriarchy in the African-American subculture through the welfare system. Now let's do it in society at large.
And this gets to the heart of the sickness in the Obama Administration. It is why the President and his crew will go on embracing gay marriage and single motherhood and every other form of deviance from the traditional husband-and-wife family, showering them with government blessings. Together they form a constituency that can overthrow the basic adult male-female relationship that has been at the core of every society in human history.
Homosexuals and people of ambiguous sexuality can and do play successful, even leading roles in traditional heterosexual society. Rock Hudson played a leading man and heartthrob for millions of women even though he was personally gay. Rosie O'Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres entertain millions in largely heterosexual audiences. Elton John and Lady Gaga have made their fortunes singing about heterosexual love. The whole arts community has always been filled with people who played one role in public while living entirely different private lives. But the question is not whether any individual should be praised or condemned for their sexuality. The question is whether the homosexual norm should stand on a par with the heterosexual bond. When any society reaches this point of challenge, it's worth pushing back.
So yes, let's forget about the economy for a while and conduct an election campaign over whether tradition sex roles can be defended -- whether boys can be boys or whether candidates should be ostracized for exhibiting traditional male behavior in their youth. It's probably more important anyway.