Monday, October 03, 2005

This is Time, Right?

Entitled "The Battle Over Gay Teens," the cover story in the October 10th issue of Time Magazine takes on the contentious issue of gay youth and the political and cultural struggle to influence them. We know Time is deadly serious when they put the gayest youth they could possibly find in the cover shot. Honestly. A pink-striped shirt and a necklace rejected by Hot Topic for being just a little bit near.

The author gets the broad point out of the way right from the start:

. . .last year's big UCLA survey of college freshmen found that 57% favor same-sex marriage (only about 36% of all adults do). Even as adult activists bicker in court, young Americans--including many young conservatives--are becoming thoroughly, even nonchalantly, gay- positive.

Gay marriage is a foregone conclusion in this country. It is important to remember in a world of hyper-hysteria over the issue that young people in this country will pass gay marriage bills without blinking.

Still, the article is bizarrely balanced, even for Time. After noting the increasing acceptance of gay peers by heterosexual youth and the explosion of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools, the writer, John Cloud, turns endless sympathetic paragraphs over to the ex-gay movement and attendant Christian ministries.

Thompson never accepted a gay identity--"Heterosexuality is God's design," he says--and today he is a leading spokesman for young Christians rejecting homosexuality. Thompson says a new kind of bigotry has emerged--among gays. "Those of us who have chosen not to embrace this orientation are often misunderstood and sometimes even ridiculed," he writes in a pamphlet he distributes at campus speaking engagements.

Not only does he give religious conservatives equal time, the writer humanizes them:

Even those point scholars with the darkest stories of adversity, like Emory's Bryan Olsen, seem more buoyant than Point lets on. I heard Olsen speak to Point donors twice, once in New York City and again in Michigan. Both times he said that after his Mormon family learned he was gay when he was 15, he was sent to a boot camp for wayward teens in Ensenada, Mexico. Olsen says the facility, Casa by the Sea, required residents to wear shoes without backs so they couldn't run. He says that as punishment for a three-meal hunger strike, he was forced to sit in a stress position--cross-legged, with his nose touching a wall--for two hours. Olsen's small face, which is framed by a pop-star haircut that makes him look as though he's still 15, scrunches with tears when he gets to the next part: "I could only come home when I wrote my parents and promised to be straight and Mormon." There were gasps in the room the first time I heard him tell that story.

But much has changed since Olsen returned from Mexico in 2000. He and his parents haven't completely reconciled, and they aren't paying for his education. Olsen says they told him he had to choose between their financial help and "this lifestyle." But Olsen and his partner, Kyle Ogiela--they met in 2002--are welcomed at the family table every Sunday. Ogiela, 26, even works for Randy Olsen, Bryan's father, as the office manager of the family pest-control firm in Woodstock, Ga. As a Mormon, says Randy, 53, "I don't believe that men should be together. I never will. But I love him as my son. And he and his partner are good boys." Randy says his first reaction to Bryan's teen homosexuality was, "I'm going to find him the best hooker I can." But he says he and his wife sent Bryan to Casa not because he was gay but because he was a "totally unruly kid" who was "just so mean ... To go get that scholarship, I understand he had to be the poor little victim. But for three years, my wife and I were the victims." Seconds later, though, Randy yields again: "It's like God put a pair of new glasses on me ... I thought I could talk him out of [being gay]. But it's not something you can talk someone out of."

Time pulls off a near media impossibility in this article. It presents both sides of the issue, introduces both pro and anti gay figures as complex individuals rather than chariacatures, and reveals sexuality as a complicated social and familial issue rather than a mere label. People are allowed different beliefs and opinions without being labelled unmitigated human evil for having a disagreement.

A paragraph towards the end states it best:

Yet, according to Savin-Williams, most gay kids are fairly ordinary. "Perhaps surprising to researchers who emphasize the suicidality, depression, victimization, prostitution, and substance abuse of gay youth, gay teenagers generally feel good about their same-sex sexuality," he writes. A 56-year-old gay man with a slightly elfish mien, Savin-Williams has interviewed some 350 kids with same-sex attractions, and he concludes that they "are more diverse than they are similar and more resilient than suicidal ... They're adapting quite well, thank you."

If you find yourself with a little time near a news stand, give the entire article a read.