The Invisible Boy

We must now pretend that boys are not boys, just some neutered youth

The press release of the Boy Scouts of America, announcing that they will admit boys who declare themselves to be homosexual:

“For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training.

“Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization’s long-standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting’s mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change.

“Today, following this review, the most comprehensive listening exercise in Scouting’s history, the approximately 1,400 voting members of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council approved a resolution to remove the restriction denying membership to youth on the basis of sexual orientation alone. The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting (emphasis mine).  A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place. The BSA thanks all the national voting members who participated in this process and vote.

“This policy change is effective Jan. 1, 2014, allowing the Boy Scouts of America the transition time needed to communicate and implement this policy to its approximately 116,000 Scouting units.

“The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive, and unresolved societal issue. As the National Executive Committee just completed a lengthy review process, there are no plans for further review on this matter.

“While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in Scouting. Going forward, our Scouting family will continue to focus on reaching and serving youth in order to help them grow into good, strong citizens. America’s youth need Scouting, and by focusing on the goals that unite us, we can continue to accomplish incredible things for young people and the communities we serve.”

What underlies all this puffery?  Everything is vague, like the speech of a foolish politician who struts and frets his season before the teleprompter, and then, alas, is elected, so that we must hear him for years to come.  What are the “goals that unite us”?  What are “the virtues of Scouting”?  What is “values-based leadership training”?  Who is to be leading whom?  What is to be valued, and why?  What “incredible things” are to be accomplished?  Building a fire?  Pitching a tent?  Learning to write a single rational sentence to be understood by rational people?

The Boy Scouts of America have long ceased to speak the language of Christian or Jewish or solid old Roman virtue.  They, like the schools, have veered away from any of the specifics of expertise, like teaching boys how to shoot a rifle or how to find edible plants in the woods, or, from my March 1, 1911 issue of Boys’ Life, the first issue ever printed, how to drive cattle across the outback of Australia.  There was only one reality that kept them reasonably sane when all the world around them had gone quite mad, and that was the boy.  And now that one reality has been forgotten.

There’s one word in that official statement that is conspicuous by its absence.  It’s boy.  The word appears in the name of the organization, just as young, men, and Christian appear in the name of the YMCA, even though that organization is now largely a consortium of secular day-care centers and health spas for middle class families and the elderly.  The Boy Scouts of America are apparently no longer about boys.

I am aware that girls are admitted to some of the Scouting programs for adolescents.  That doesn’t change the nature of this abandonment.  For if the Boy Scouts of America had remembered that they were, first of all, the Boy Scouts and not the Youth Scouts, they might just have remembered also the realities of sex – that is, of being a boy, and not a girl, or a neuter.

Perhaps then they would not have put forth a sentence as absurd and incoherent as the one I have italicized above: The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.  What can this possibly mean?

We can guess, and say that the Boy Scouts of America affirms that teenagers should not be engaging in “sexual conduct,” that is, sexual intercourse or the mockery thereof that is sodomy.  Really?  And what if the eighteen year old boy marries his high school sweetheart?  I am quite aware that that is not common nowadays, but it does still happen.  Does the BSA mean to imply that age is decisive here, and not whether one is married?  At what age, then, does the Eagle Scout earn his sexual furlough?  Twenty one?  Twenty five?  When he is old enough to pay child support to the unwed mother? 

What virtues of Scouting do those activities violate?  Purity, self-control, chastity, obedience to the laws of God, chivalry to women, manliness?  One could find all of those virtues promoted in the literature of the Scouts, a hundred years ago, but I daresay if anybody tried to press a single one of them now – purity, for example – he’d be branded as antisocial and not in keeping with the virtues of Scouting. 

But it is not true that even boys who are not married must abstain from any sexual conduct, that is, any conduct that is proper to a boy as a sexual being.  No one who actually has a real boy in mind could write something so perfectly stupid as that. 

I’m looking at a picture from a time when people cherished the sweetness and goodness of what was simply normal.  It’s a Rockwell illustration called First Love.  The boy and girl can’t be more than ten years old.  They are sitting on an old bench, their backs to us.  He’s got his arm around her, and she’s leaning his way.  She’s got daisies in her free hand.  His fishing tackle lies on the ground behind the bench, where his beagle is sitting, looking sad, because it doesn’t look as if there’s going to be an adventure at the pond after all.  What about that, Boy Scouts of America?  Does being a normal boy violate the virtues of Scouting?

When I was eight years old I had a crush on a girl my age who had just moved to the neighborhood.  She was the first cousin of my first cousin, and the family spoke German, as her father had met her mother while he was in the service in Germany.  She was perky and bright, with long brown hair.  She could play a little baseball, so that was good, but she also liked to do girlish things, like setting up a big concession table across from our playground – her “store,” where she sold lemonade and candy.

I was a shy kid, but not so shy that I didn’t go to her birthday party that year, dressed in a coat and tie – probably the last year any child in America would go to a party dressed so formally.  Her mother’s parents were visiting, speaking only German, but even I could tell that they were delighted I had come.  So they played some music, and there’s a photograph somewhere of this girl and me, dancing in the living room, arm to waist and hand in hand.  What about that, Boy Scouts of America?  Does dancing with a girl violate the virtues of Scouting?

What can the answer be?  Of course not?  But why not?  I daresay there is not a single male scoutmaster from coast to coast who would put on his wall a picture of his eight year old boy dancing with another boy, like that.  We would view with deep suspicion any mother who encouraged it.  That’s simply because we understand what a boy is.  A boy is that being who is to become a man; and to dance with a girl, to have a crush on the pretty girl down the street, and to act on that crush, with flowers, or with tokens of affection, is a normal and decent thing.  It is a kind of play that prepares the boy for the future, when he will be a man, marrying a woman and having children of his own.

“Well, we aren’t talking about that!” I hear them say.  But what, pray tell, are you talking about?  Only things in bed?  Not marriage, then, and all the preliminaries to marriage?

Does it violate the virtues of Scouting if a teenage boy has a steady girlfriend, as I did?  If they walk hand in hand?  If they sometimes sit by the lake, and spend an hour talking, and kissing when they run out of things to say?  If he gives her presents on her birthday?  If he writes poems about her grace and beauty?  If he declares his love?  Do these things not constitute sexual conduct?

Of course they do.  And if kept within the bounds of purity and self-control, they are more than pardonable; they are right and good.  They are the kinds of things that the Boy Scouts of America should be encouraging the boy scouts of America to do, when they are older, by sponsoring ice cream socials and concerts and other events that bring boys and girls together.  But we must now pretend that all of this is wicked, or we must ignore it altogether. 

Meanwhile, what of the sexual conduct of the boy who is attracted to another boy?  Is that the same kind of thing, you confused scoutmasters?  You are happy to see young love, are you?  The older boy with a crush on another boy, holding his hand, giving him presents, writing poems about his grace and beauty, and declaring his love?  You’re the father of the boy winning all that attention, and you say, proudly, “My son, already he’s turning heads!”  Is that what you do?

Of course you don’t.  You put a stop to it.  You understand, though these days you hardly have the words for expressing it, that the whole thing is sick.  You also understand how vulnerable boys are, how easily they can be enticed or induced into doing things they shouldn’t, regardless of whether those things are sexual.

But we must live in a Never-land, in which boys who declare that they like boys will be as pure as the snow, will never flirt, will never try to draw other boys into their ambit, will never show off a bad habit, will never seek for company in the unnatural desire, or in those vices to which they have already submitted (for otherwise they would never make that public declaration of homosexuality) and which hold them in the grips of a nervous compulsion.

And we must pretend that boys are not boys, just some neutered youth, who will grow up to be this or that; nobody knows, and nobody cares.

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About Anthony Esolen 20 Articles
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. His latest books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child and Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. He also translated Dante's Divine Comedy for Modern Library Classics. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire.