Shortly before schools started closing because of the coronavirus outbreak, students from a Brussels school visited the Rainbow House. And I had the pleasure of being there. A class full of 15-year-olds, excited because they didn’t have to go to school, and at the same time nervous because they clearly didn’t know what to make of all that rainbow stuff.
Out of the comfort zone
Their teacher thought it was fine. “Let them leave their comfort zone,” he said. “Otherwise it is ‘gay here, pédé there’…It’ll be good if they confront their clichés with real people.” And it soon became clear that a lot of clichés were still alive. There were a few young people in the class who decided to go for a ‘daring and big-mouthed’ image. So it was obvious that their questions were mainly about sex (How do you get your penis in? How do lesbians have sex?). Moreover, they often asked the questions in a (slightly) provocative tone, looking at the teacher from the corner of their eye, hoping for a reaction. But as the honest answers kept coming and they got more information than they had expected or perhaps even wanted to hear, they calmed down and the chat became more serious.
And soon it wasn’t about sex anymore, it was about relationships. One guy tried saying “that it was the same thing.” If he was in a relationship, he and his girlfriend would have sex all day long. The rest of the class made it clear to him that he was dreaming. According to his neighbour, sex lasted for 12 minutes. “Because that’s how long an average pornhub movie took.” So that left a lot of time to do other things. But what do you do together? The funny thing was that when asked whom they would like to spend their free time with, the boys mainly thought about boys and the girls about girls. It confused them when they realised that they might not be as different from their non-hetero colleagues as they had thought.
“But what if that best friend falls in love with me? Because sex…never,” said a boy. “Then you just say no,” replied a girl. And went on to tell him that it would actually be a compliment if someone fell in love with him…That last bit was to provoke her classmate (which, predictably, also worked right away). But it’s also very true. It’s not a threat, it’s a compliment.
However, the problem wasn’t very real in their eyes because they didn’t know any LGBTI+ young people. “And what if it were your own child?” I tried. For most of them, it seemed like an unreal question. The idea of having children seemed furthest from their minds. Except for one boy. He definitely said, “That’s impossible. I will put him in the basement until he regrets it.” He wasn’t kidding.
I gasped for breath. I hadn’t seen this coming after the talk about love, relationships and respect. Luckily, the teacher jumped in. He didn’t respond to what the boy had said, but started a discussion about parents and children. Did they think their parents gave them enough freedom? Clearly no. Did they think their parents were allowed to decide which friends they could have? Again, no. Could their parents choose who they would marry? Yes and no – they were allowed to give ‘advice’. And lastly, were parents allowed to force their son to marry a boy or their daughter to marry a girl? That last question was good for an “absolutely no way!” At the same time, they could clearly see the resemblance with the basement story. “He’s got you cornered,” said one of the classmates. The boy himself wasn’t prepared to give in immediately, but there were lively reactions from the rest who seemed to go along with it.
Not cast in concrete
What might have happened if we had gone straight into the counter-attack? Well, a large part of that group of adolescents might have chosen to react by defending the basement approach at the end of the session. But instead of launching a counter-attack, we opened up the story and broadened the context, and by doing so we were able to debate. Too often, we have the idea that positions are cast in concrete. If you attack people for their ideas, then that’s probably how things will be. But respectful discussion does make openings. I already knew this, but it’s nice to experience it once in a while.
This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. The original can be found here: http://brunodelille.eu/als-mijn-zoon-homo-is-dan-sluit-ik-hem-op-zizo/