The other day I happened to find out about the recent death of the first person who ever approached me and asked for sex.
I am sorry to put it in those ugly words, but it was a pretty tawdry thing, and sad. I was a senior in high school and had been going steady with a girl for a year. It was a medium-sized Catholic school, about ninety in each class, so most people knew who you were and that meant they knew who were “items,” as my girl friend and I were.
I was minding my business one day, and walked into the boys’ lavatory, when the younger brother of a classmate (neither of whom I knew at all), followed me in, and in a hoarse and nervous voice asked the question.
I told him to get lost, but I was rattled by it. When I talked to my father that night, he told me that something similar happened to him when he had just gotten out of the army. He was working in New Jersey at a factory, coming home to Pennsylvania on the weekends, while he and my mother were waiting for her younger sister to graduate from high school so that they could get married. That was because the family needed one girl to be working in one of the dress sweatshops that had been sprouting up across the county, as the coal mines where shutting down. The foreman noticed that he was alone, so he invited him to his flat for dinner, and my father—who was as normal as the day is long—accepted. Then came a proposition.
My father quit that job. The point of the story was that I wasn’t to think anything of what had happened, that some guys are confused and get into filthy habits, and that that was one of the things they did. Sure enough, in the next couple of days word got out at school that the same kid had approached a few other guys. The Dean, a good Catholic and a sensible man, took the boy out of the school situation, which had gotten like a hothouse. No noise was made about it. The aim, as I saw then, was to help the kid if possible, not to expose him worse than he was exposed already, remove him as a moral threat to others, and protect him from cruelty and ridicule. I thought they did the right thing, and I still do. His obituary suggests that he never married, and the farewell words of his family wished that he might find peace at last.
That happened forty years ago. I imagine that nowadays such confrontations in school are as common as mud, and that any good-looking boy will have to be instructed by his father beforehand on how to deal with them. I doubt he would get any sympathy from the teachers.
Do you notice anything odd about these stories? It is easy to notice the unexpected, and sometimes hard to notice the commonplace. What’s odd is that not one reader in a hundred will have found what I said to be odd. If a boy followed a girl he did not know into a private place and asked her point blank for some sexual favor, you’d hope she had immediate means to call the police. If a girl followed a boy she did not know into a private place and did the same, you’d hope that he would do something other than leap for glee within. You would hope that he’d see that she needed psychological help, and would, far from taking advantage of her, find a way to talk her down and take her home.
But male and male—we shrug. Why?
When people praise me for perspicacity, I shake my head and reply that almost all of what I do is to notice what is in front of my nose, and write about it. Almost all of what I do is to refrain from shutting my eyes toward what is right there, plain as day. It’s not that I notice it and others don’t. It’s that I won’t un-notice it. I won’t pretend not to see what I do see, and what everybody else sees too.
What would you say if a group of married men and women were to parade down the street nearly naked, in garish outfits, some with spikes and whips, others simulating sexual congress in front of children? Wouldn’t you say that there was something wrong with those people? Of course you would—and you would be right. Well?
Sometimes you meet Christian men and women who say, forthrightly, that sexual congress before marriage is a grave sin, and so for two thousand years it was held to be, consistently and with culture-changing results even when half-pagan converts took some centuries to get the idea. Then why will you never find a “gay” man or woman who says the same? A lefty, as I am, understands as well as a righty that he shouldn’t go around punching people in the nose. An Italian, as I am, knows that it is wicked to spread evil rumors about somebody in Italian, as well as a Frenchman knows it is wicked to do so in French. If, as people have been cajoled into repeating without bothering to notice that they do not for one moment really believe it, a certain sexual predilection is just a statistical variation and is therefore no different from the natural predilections that prompt men and women to do the child-making thing, why then does it seem to rule out as unthinkable the normal Christian disapprobation of sexual activity before marriage? Or if the natural predilection is just like the other, why does that rule out as indecent and ridiculous my imagined parade of half-naked or naked Misters and Mistresses Anderson and Cleaver and Stone?
If the loosening of sexual mores was a good thing, why do men and women, outside of their own marriages, spend so little time expressing gratitude or admiration for the opposite sex? Let’s suppose that you have two tribes, the Comanche and the Shoshone, and that before some particularly bloody battle, the Comanche used to say good things about the Shoshone, and the Shoshone used to say good things about the Comanche; and that they generally did so, though they did not always get along. Wouldn’t you conclude that the battle had poisoned their relations? Suppose the feminist insists that relations between men and women have never been better, because before she came into the world to enlighten us, all they did was quarrel and abuse whatever power the one had over the other. That’s absurd, but grant her the jaundiced view not only of history but of every single human culture that has ever existed and that exists even now, besides that of the feminist-influenced west. Fine; now we ask the feminist the obvious question. “If what you say is true, why don’t you spend most of your time expressing gratitude or admiration for men—for their accomplishments, their strengths, and their gifts to women? Why are you not in a tizzy of wonder? If your movement has sweetened everything, why are you so sour?” She is a walking and talking self-refutation.
Normal people want young people to get married, have children, and stay married. They may differ on what to do in the case of extremely difficult marriages, but at base they agree that marriage is a very good thing, and should neither be rare nor fragile nor subject to needless threats from without. Now, it is clear that in the aftermath of the sexual revolution marriage is in steep decline. Normal people would view that as at least worrisome and at worst calamitous. The question to ask, when the town sewer has backed up and water of dubious color is spurting out through everybody’s kitchen sink, is not, “How should we label our outhouses?” Anybody who would distract you from the main question, the pressing trouble, is either a fool or a knave. The question is, “How do we repair the town sewer?”
The question for us is, “What customs, and the laws that corroborate and promote them, give young men and women the best chance of getting married, bearing children within wedlock, staying married, and raising their children in a clean and sane household?” If, when the water is foul, somebody at your ear persists in asking about what to do with old paint or whether mixed-use zoning is a good thing, you will look at him as if he had lost his senses. “Now is not the time for that!” you would say. If he were at your ear saying that the new kind of water was really pretty good, and that only prejudice kept you from liking it, you would be sure that he had lost his senses, you would order him off the premises, and you would return to your task at hand.
Clear your heads, my good readers. Some things in life are complicated. These things are not. Do not pretend that you do not see what you see.