Stop Treating Kids Like Sex Objects

Stop Treating Kids Like Sex Objects

Children, like the little boy crying in New York, can’t know their sexual identity because they don’t have one yet.
Bethany Mandel
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Children are not sexual beings. Repeat after me: Children. Are Not. Sexual. Beings. That simple fact appears to have been forgotten in this world of gender-bending and gay-pride parades. For a while now, we’ve heard about transgender kids being given hormone treatments and transgender bathrooms in schools. Each story fails to spark the general outrage it merits. It’s come to the point where the Washington Post shames parents who dare speak out against their children sharing a bathroom with a member of the opposite sex.

Last week, the Facebook page for a photographer famous for capturing everyday New Yorkers, Humans of New York (HONY), posted a photo which has gone viral like few of his images have. Hillary Clinton personally commented, as have Ellen DeGeneres and hundreds of thousands of other Americans.

"I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me."

Posted by Humans of New York on Friday, July 3, 2015

The image is of a “teen” (as the Independent described him) fearfully decrying future treatment he might experience as a homosexual. He is tearful, and the image is powerful. But there’s one problem. He is not a teen. He is a child of, I estimate, eight years old at most. Maybe ten, being generous.

I Didn’t Fit Gender Norms, Either

If you’ll permit me, I would like to share a personal story. When I was around this age, my mother had an incredible friend whom I greatly admired. I saw in her an adult version of myself. She didn’t like to dress up, she didn’t like makeup. Unlike all of the other tomboys I knew, she wasn’t into sports. She was a lesbian, so I became convinced I was, too. If I had been born in 2006 instead of 1986, I might have thought I was transgender instead.

If I had been born in 2006 instead of 1986, I might have thought I was transgender.

At that age, I, naturally, had no sexual drive, no sexual preferences. How was I supposed to know to whom I would be attracted as an adult? I had crushes on girlfriends and boyfriends, but I thought a crush merely meant I thought they were cool and liked to be around them.

The vast majority of my friends were boys, and I was treated as one of the boys, only amplifying my feelings of different-ness from my female peers. It further solidified my feelings that there was something deeply wrong with me. I heard my mother’s friend discuss the incredibly difficult decision to come out to her friends and family, what that process was like. I grew up surrounded by friends whose mothers were lesbians. I went through my preteen years assuming I would come out eventually, too.

Fast forward to today, and little has changed outwardly. Several weeks ago, I went to a fancy event at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I left the house wearing makeup and heels, two items my mother-in-law told me she didn’t know I owned when I walked out of my bedroom. Even to my own wedding, I wore sneakers under my dress, which was ill-fitting at best; my sister-in-law thoughtfully brought me nail polish because she knew it wouldn’t occur to me to get a manicure before my wedding day (I didn’t end up using it). My wedding was to a man, and the father of my two children.

Biological Maturity Develops One’s Sexual Identity

I don’t fit conventional gender norms, which is what makes stories on transgenderism so frustrating to me personally. When the Bruce Jenner story first broke, The Federalist published a fantastic article by D.C. McAllister that perfectly summed up my feelings on the subject. Yes, he wears dresses and now has breast implants. He, I admit with no small amount of shame, dresses better than I have on my best days (although he has the benefit of a stylist, I’m sure). That said, however, he will never know what it is like to get his period, to wait for boobs, to carry a life inside of him, to push a watermelon out of a lemon-sized hole. All of these experiences, and more, are what it meant to me to grow up and develop a sense of my own sexual identity. Without these steps, or the male equivalent, without doing the actual growing-up part, it’s impossible to know how one’s sexual identity will develop.

Without doing the actual growing-up part, it’s impossible to know how one’s sexual identity will develop.

One of the many reasons I’m glad to have been born in 1986 instead of 2006 is that the Internet was in its infancy when I was growing up. My mother never posted bath pictures of me on Facebook, never complained about the trials and tribulations of potty training on Twitter. Images like HONY’s could never have gone viral. This young boy, no matter how he grows up, or who he grows up into, will always be that boy HONY posted about on Facebook. The image has been shared almost 60,000 times.

Had I been a young crying girl on a stoop, would Brandon have stopped, photographed me, and told my story? Perhaps. If he had, how would that have molded my identity? Would I have been comfortable deciding to date men later, lest I lose my poster-girl status as gay America’s Wunderkid?

As a society we still, to some degree, decry the sexualization of children. Blog posts about inappropriate clothing sold for girls at Target still go viral, even if we’re allowing our sixth graders to have intrauterine devices implanted without parental notification or consent. Publicizing and cheering children making sweeping statements about their still-nascent sexuality is a bridge we’ve crossed, somewhere along the line. As a parent, that is deeply troubling. As a child who once questioned her own sexuality, I can only feel relief that my parents’ generation was more level-headed than my own.

Bethany Mandel is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist and a freelance writer on politics and culture.

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