The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Bully for NARTH

I posted about this in the previous QKos roundup, but my mind has kept coming back to the story about NARTH basically endorsing letting students bully their gender atypical peers back into “that necessary boundary.”

A coalition of organisations monitoring groups claiming to convert gay people back to heterosexuality, have criticised the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) after a member advocated teasing transgender children to “re-establish that necessary boundary.”

NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member Joseph Berger said on a blog in reaction to a San Francisco Chronicle article on gender identity issues, “I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counselling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

“On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.

“Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.”

I actually kind of have to thank NARTH, because they’ve answered a question that’s long bothered me, even though I think I’ve known the answer all along.

About a year ago, I posted about a christian group that objected to anti-bullying programs that include protecting gay students from harassment and bullying. Before launching in to an account of my own experience with bullying (as a skinny, effeminate, nonathletic, bookish, bespectacled, black gay boy growing up in Georgia during the Reagan era), I tossed off this snarky summation of why this group and others like it would object to anti-bullying initiatives that protect gay students.

I can just see the flyers now: “Safe Schools for Sodomites is Sin!” After all, a good beating might be just what movtivates them to give up their abominable lives and turn to Christ. Just make sure you bash out of love.

Now, NARTH has pretty much taken my snark and turned into something closer to truth. By their definition, a little bullying might have been just what a sissy boy like me — who preferred dolls to dodge-ball, reading to recess, and folding paper fans to catching forward passes — in order to scare me straight, or at least back into the perceived “necessary boundary” of what a boy was supposed to be, want, and become. And considering how early kids learn homophobia, the teasing and taunting NARTH recommends can’t start early enough. Because it’s never too early for a skinny sissy boy like me to learn a healthy sense of self-hatred and respect for that “necessary boundary.”

After all, what’s a bloody nose or a bruised psyche if it saves a soul? If administering an extended beating to a random queer can be justified as an attempt to scare him straight, surely a few playground taunts and shoves are just a more benign way of extending a helping hand to a gender atypical kid whose identity or orientation threatens that fragile “necessary boundary.” To that end, maybe schools should give teachers a copy of James Dobson’s tips on spotting a queer, which includes “a susceptibility to be bullied by other boys, who may tease them unmercifully and call them ‘queer,’ ‘fag’ and ‘gay.'” For that matter, maybe all students should be schooled on how to spot, and target, their queer classmates, and make it a group effort to smear the queer in order to steer the queer back on the beaten path.

Seriously, it’s never too young to start.

I’ve always suspected that the conservative objection to protecting gays from discrimination and harassment stemmed from an unspoken understanding that discrimination and harassment were both part of the punishment for existing outside of the “necessary boundary.” By extension, to prohibit discrimination and harassment would have the same effect as, say, contraception in the arena of sex: getting in the in the way of divine punishment.

But NARTH has shown me how wrong I was. Now I understand why they object when legislatures pass bills like the one in California, to prevent anti-gay harassment and discrimination in schools. When conservatives harass us or discriminate against us, they’re only doing it for our own good.

Update: That didn’t take long. Box Turtle News notes that Berger’s statement has been pulled from NARTH’s blog, and NARTH has issued a statement distancing itself from the original comments.

Basically, the masked slipped, but this time they actually realized it.


  1. I wonder what the bullies who gave me shit from second grade all the way up through high school for being a skinny, nonathletic, bookish, bespectacled walking dictionary were trying to do. I got picked on and called “faggot”, but I was already straight. Maybe they wanted me to be somehow straighter. I can’t imagine how.

    Then again, one of the kids who bullied me became a born-again Christian, but the only effect of this on me was that he stopped picking on me, and turned into this all-around nice guy. I was pretty militantly anti-Christian up until that point, but that change softened me up. If it could turn him from a bully into a friend (if not a close one)… well, I wasn’t going to try and convert him away from it.

  2. A good article, though as I’m sure you’ll recognize it’s not all that new. Bigots have been talking about social pressure to bring nonconformists into line for a long time. My own first reaction is that social pressure cuts both ways. We should turn up our noses at bigots, give them the cold shoulder, deride and ostracize them. Remember: bigotry, like religion, is a *lifestyle choice.* You aren’t born a bigot, nor a Christian. You choose that lifestyle. Even if your parents indoctrinated you, at some point in your life you have to take responsibility for your own opinions, and change them if you realize they aren’t good. Lots of bigots are big on self-pity, as if they can’t help themselves, as if those who do give them a hard time are being somehow unfair. Not at all, and from what I can tell, they don’t get nearly a hard enough time.

    But overt bigots aren’t the only people who need to take responsibility for their opinions. As I point out in my article, which I’ve linked to here, gay people are just as prone to attack the sissy, the bulldyke, the gender non-compliant, the STEREOTYPE, as NARTH is. Yes, I know we have all internalized our oppression, but at some point we need to think about what we’re saying. We can’t really fight back if we share the bigotry of our enemies.

  3. I was bullied daily in school. I would be held down by groups of guys on the playground and taunted with kisses from the girls. Then they would break my glasses, punch me, insult me, laugh at me, trip me in the cafeteria, the list is endless and I endured this daily for years.

    It didn’t scare me straight, it drove me as a preteen to attempt suicide. NARTH needs to be shut down.

  4. The mask slips, Terrance?

    I do believe you are marking a path more radical than your claims on NARTH. It would be hypocrisy, but only if the NARTH blog commenter actually was condoning bullying.

    I mean, after pointing out the actions of the Massachusetts gay community to bully, harrass and otherwise intimidate through the Know your Neighbor site, I didn’t hear any distancing from yourself. The NARTH folks seem to have at least forwarded that courtesy. Or the recent pogrom on a church where ex-gays were having a convention?

    Not hypocrisy, but I fear, and correct me if I’m wrong, that there is asynchonous messages being reported here. A sort of bias that violence and intimidation are okay if you can convince people the enemy is evil enough.

    NARTH was not, from the report, calling for bullying. For instance, check out the Veggie Tales (a widely circulated christian cartoon) on bullying: Minnisota Cuke. Most of the time when you are bullied the advice is to head for a teacher to fix the problem for you. In that cartoon the advice for a child being bullied is to stand up for themselves, and not pursecuit someone back. While NARTH and Veggie Tales are seperate ventures, it seems reasonable that they are only asking for people to do for them what they want for themselves. In other words, if their children are (and believe me they are) being bullied at school do they want the teachers to stop them from being ridiculed? Or do they want them to turn the other cheek?

    I hope, Terrance, that you can show more responsibility here on your site to be objective and fair. Lest the pursuit of your goals turn into a witch hunt, or even a white-whale hunt. Like it did for those pursecuting the Catholic Church (who are now not allowed to do adoptive serviced due to political bullying) and the afore mentioned others in Massachusetts.

  5. Only in the delusional mind of someone who is going to try and turn a leftist blog into something where the right ideology has the last word would turn this:

    NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member Joseph Berger said “let the other children ridicule the child”

    to this:

    NARTH was not, from the report, calling for bullying.

    And of course, in order to do that, we would pull Veggie Tales, which has NOTHING to do with the situation, into the mix to try to confuse and ‘soften’ the blow. Whatever. Terrance is talking about apples, so let’s bring up oranges and remind everybody how sweet they are.


  6. When it comes to On Lawn, I keep returning to my earlier thoughts on dialogue.

    Let me explain it this way. When I first came to D.C. to work in politics, and to work specifically on gay rights issues, I was told and came to understand that people fall into three categories when you’re working for social change:

    1. The people who are on your side.
    2. The people who aren’t on your side, but could be if they’re persuaded.
    3. The people who are not on your side and never will be.

    The first group you need to talk to in order to keep them informed and motivated. The second group you need to talk to in order to make your case and move them to your side. Talking to the third group is a waste of time and energy better spent shoring up support in the first group and winning support in the second group.

    Then the people in the third group come and comment on your blog. For the most part they drop by for one comment and then leave. But some of them keep coming back and keep commenting, which leads me to believe that they know talking to them is a waste of time because they know they’re never going to change their point of view. Sometimes they monopolize the discussion. Sometimes they’re even abusive to some of the regulars. (I banned at least one person from commenting for exactly that reason last summer.)

    So I start to wonder, given all the above, why they’d want to waste their time in a dialogue where both parties are immovable. It’s then that I wonder if, for the third group, engaging in dialogue or at least pretending to is a tactic because if you’re talking to them you’re not talking to the people in the first and second group. And if you’re not talking to the people in the first and second group, spending your energy arguing with the third, then you aren’t making any progress on your goals.

    And I begin to wonder if I haven’t been to indulgent. A while back, I had a commenter who defended the anti-gay religious death squads in Iraq. That person doesn’t comment here anymore.

  7. I hate going to a site I love and getting all tense just when I see a name, I don’t even need to see what is said. If I wanted to understand the rationale as to why I must be condemned to second class citizenship, I would go to a blog of bigotry, but I don’t visit OnLawn’s blog because I’m not interested in the vomitous spin.

    It’s your blog to do with as you will, but I think I will have to avoid expanding the posts if I see his name attached from now on (which is probably a major intent going on here). I can understand debating with a number 2, I do not understand debating with a number 3. My comments to/about him, I do not consider debating.

    I get confrontational to the number 3’s precisely because they cannot be convinced. So there are two options, walking away or venting. Venting is better for my psyche, and since nothing else can be gained, I choose to release my anger to the recipient who deserves it and not carry the anger into my household. That’s why I speak the way I do to a number 3. But I think it would be far better if there were no number 3’s at all.

    I’m getting older, I’m getting to the point where I’m tired of asking/begging for what I am unjustly denied.

  8. To speak of the third group further,
    while you may not ever change their minds, it is sometimes helpful to know what they are saying. It is a pretty good assumption that your second group will have heard the 3rd group’s arguments/beliefs, and it may be good to know what these are when you are talking with that second group.

    As for bullying, I have no remembered anecdotes. I just realized somewhere along the way that people mock what they are afraid of so they do not look afraid. My life in school was built on looking non-intimidating.

  9. True, although it’s possible to know what they are saying without them having to say it on your blog.

    I’m not a political blogger, but if I were, I would find out what they are saying by visit their sites, then my site would offer the counter (actual facts) and then the number 2’s will probably visit both, right?

    If a number 1 and a number 3 endlesslly debate on a blog, I would imagine the number 2’s won’t stick around.

    I’m not qualified to offer a professional opinion on this, just my own personal one.

  10. What I know is this. The hairsplitting about saying that NARTH didn’t “advocate bullying” but simply recommended that bully “not be stopped” when it comes to these kids is the worst kind of abstractionist bullshit; the kind that literally ends up costing lives.

    I know because I was one of those kids. For three years during middle school, I faced they daily psychological warfare of my classmates taunts because I didn’t live up to the masculine ideal for boys at the time, and because I finally (inevitably) came out as gay. Unfortunately, that was in a time and place where there wasn’t any support for gay students.

    I was in the south, during the Reagan era, for crying out loud. No one was on my side, or made it clear they wouldn’t be if I actually was gay. My own parents, in response to my telling them the names I got called every day, merely asked “Well, you’re not. Are you?” And it was clear that my answer had better be “no” and that I’d get even worse at home if I answered “yes.”

    I started getting sick just thinking about going to school, and I would make up excuses not to go whenever I could. I flunked phys. ed. because I refused to go into the locker room, because the verbal harrassment turned physical there once the gym teacher retired to his office. I same home angry every day, and eventually developed depression.

    I was suicidal. Finally my mom overheard me say that I wanted to take a gun to school, blow my classmates away, and then use it on myself. I don’t know if I’d have done it, but I knew where my Dad kept his gun. I didn’t have a chance to find out, because that remark landed me in a therapists office. That got my folks’ attention.

    My therapist — once he got over the shock of having a 13 year old sit down in the first session and tell him “If we’re going to work togther, you need to know that I’m gay and that I’m not here to change that” — took a deep breath and answered “Well, let’s just work on the whole person, and lest that part fall into place where ever it will.”

    He was the first person I met who indicated to me that it was OK to be gay, or at least that it wasn’t the of the world. That, and changing schools, saved my life.

    But I was lucky. Plenty of other kids weren’t. Plenty still aren’t. NARTH’s Dr. Berger would almost certainly push some kids over the edge that I narrowly avoided, if his recommendation were to be applied.

    Kids shouldn’t be bullied in school because of who they are. Period. School officials and administrators have a responsibility to make sure that all students have a safe, non-hostile learning environment. Period.

    Recommending “not stopping bullying” is the same as advocating bullying itself. Change the verb. Is recommending “not stoppging murder” the same as advocating murder? Does it produce the same results? Is advocating not stopping harm the same as actually advocating harm? Or even doing harm?

    Once the dialogue has degenerated to that level, as far as I’m concerned the dialogue is over. Anyone who would support or even downlplay the kind of harassmentn I experience and that other gay kids still experience today, isn’t someone I care to engage in a dialogue with.

  11. Thanks. I really enjoy your writing. And I appreciate your logic. To riff on your previous comment.

    Is “not stopping rape” if a teenaged girl wears sexually provocative clothing a good thing because it will teach her “appropriate boundaries” and “appropriate attire”?