I’ve been having a think about adult habits of disappearing childhood sexuality, and what this means for queer sexualities.
You know when adults like to pretend that sexuality suddenly appears in the teenage years? And it’s troublesome and deviant and something to be highly regulated or at which to be despaired? I’m not sure about any of you, but I remember having the – there is no good metaphor here that is not a sexual one, the seeds, the roots – the origins of romance and sex and longing in me when I was younger than that. I think some people get uncomfortable remembering that because childhood and sexuality are supposed to be separate. Or else they have trouble acknowledging it as valid in the face of active, expanded, and more knowledgeable adult sexuality.
Lots of people say they have known they were same-sex attracted from when they were very young. That’s not the universal story of queerness, obviously, because lots of people do not realise or acknowledge it until much later, and sexuality changes and grows. Hey, lots of people aren’t sexual at all, and lots of straight sexual people didn’t understand themselves as sexual when they were children. I think the knowledge of childhood queerness is important, because it intervenes in the homophobic protests that a lot of teens and twenty-somethings face when they come out. It’s just a phase, how can you know if you’ve never had sex with someone of your own gender, and so forth: these assume youth queerness is something new and confined, something relegated to active sexuality. And acknowledging the queer knowledges of children and childhood is important because it opens up the kinds of knowledges that are generally thought of as legitmate. Children and newly out queers are thought of as not knowing, and here is the double queer/young whammy of I know, I have known. It throws off straight adult claims to the ultimate knowledge, straightness as the only real sexuality, adulthood as the realm of fearfully-kept, regulated sexual knowing.
So I think proliferating stories of queer childhood is a positive thing for children more generally, in acknowledging that who they are, sexually or otherwise, doesn’t just pop up with proximity to adulthood. I also worry that this might backfire. Homophobes might use this to say – I mean, I’m sure they do – that queer stories of childhood plus the “unnaturalness” of childhood sexual identity means that queerness is unnatural. What goes unspoken is that straight childhood is actually a thing, just an invisible, privileged thing. And, at times, not even that: adults fake-pairing up their children, teaching them about how they will grow up and marry someone of the opposite (assigned) gender, and terming friends girlfriend and boyfriend is forcing them into (straight) sexuality, which is frankly wrong and sick-making. Things that are not on: forcing people into kinds of sexuality, demarcating adulthood and childhood in ways that don’t acknowledge the formation of sexuality. Things that are okay: having consciousness of yourself as a sexual or romantic person at a young age, being allowed to develop that privately until the time comes.