Sleepovers

There’s an interesting post over at Feministing on a scene from a recent episode of Glee, wherein a (straight) dad takes his girlfriend’s (straight) son to task over the teen’s use of “faggy.” I haven’t seen the episode yet (I haven’t been watching it live due to the timeslot conflict with Lost until recently, so I’m several episodes behind) and I have pretty conflicted feelings about Glee on the whole, but I’m intrigued by the discussion at Feministing about the context of the scene. While I was mulling it over, I came across this comment:

I was annoyed with the parenting that led up to this moment. What the hell kind of parent rooms two teenagers of sexually active age together, when you know that one of them could be attracted to the other? You wouldn’t ask an unrelated teenage boy and girl to room together, surely it’s a bad idea to ask unrelated gay teens of the same gender to do so. It’s just asking for trouble of some kind.

A couple of things strike me when I read this comment. First, apparently it’s only an issue when unrelated boys and girls (or pairs of any gender when one is gay) room together. And secondly, you should always err on the side of caution when one teen could be attracted to the other?

Maybe this just strikes a nerve with me because all too familiar with the perception that queer teens are sexual predators.

I understand that a lot of parents are uncomfortable with the notion of mixed-gender* teens rooming together, even if just for a night, because a lot of parents are uncomfortable with the idea of teenagers having sex. That’s why mixed-gender group sleepovers (at least adult-sanctioned ones) are relatively rare, and why most parents put the kibosh on mixed-gender pairs sleeping over once their kids hit puberty. I’m not saying I agree with this stance, necessarily, but I can at least understand it.

The tough part comes when you add queer teens to the mix. Because I was a queer teen once, and I experienced firsthand the way many adults decide that lesbian = boy–and, naturally, lesbians–like boys–can’t be trusted.

Look, I’m not stupid. I know that if teenagers are determined to have sex, they’ll find a way to do it. And I also know that sometimes teens–just like adults–have absolutely no intention of having sex, and it happens anyway. (I’m not talking about rape or assault, for the record–I just mean sex that wasn’t pre-motivated, if you will.) But I don’t think those realities preclude the possibility that sometimes groups or pairs of teens want to hang out, even spend the night, together in a non-sexual way.

I know that was certainly the case for me when I was fifteen, and my friend’s mom asked said friend to sleep in a separate bedroom when we had a sleepover. What was even more bizarre to me was that her mom knew I was gay, but either didn’t know or didn’t care that I was in a (monogamous) relationship; to her, any lesbian, just like any boy, posed a sexual threat to her daughter.

It’s really, really hard being a queer teen. Another commenter in that Feministing thread nails it here:

Being a gay teenager is incredibly confusing and unstable. You don’t know who else is gay and might be interested, who might beat you up, or who will support you. Many of us don’t feel safe in our own homes, let alone at school. For feeling the normal hormonal drive to be closer to a crush that every teenager feels, gay kids get beat up, murdered, and disowned by their families.

Since so much socialization in high school is same-gender–not to mention things like athletics, bathrooms, hotel rooms on a field trip–when you’re a queer teen you’re constantly living with the fear that your attractions will be discovered and policed, and most of us also had the confusing (heartbreaking, painful, embarrassing…) experience of at least briefly crushing on a friend.

None of this, I think, means queer teens should be denied the chance at healthy socialization–including sleepovers.

The original situation we’re all responding to (a situation on TV, sure, but one that happens in real life) is, I realize, slightly different; Finn and Kurt are dealing with the possibility of living together, not just spending a night or a weekend in the same room. But I think the reaction of that first commenter I quoted comes from the same place as the one my friend’s mother had. It’s the idea that a straight teen is necessarily vulnerable to the advances of a queer teen, and that if you’re queer any other member of your gender is a potential sexual target.

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