Back to Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen: Child nudity—a state of undress many toddlers prefer, often to the dismay of their parents—is salacious only in a mind driven by perversity. However, in the topsy-turvy view of social-religious conservatism there is no such thing as innocence, except when claimed by those already patently guilty.
Larry Craig, who was caught literally with his pants down engaging in overtly gay sexual behavior, stridently claimed not to be gay. In his own mind, he might not label himself “gay,” but that seems to be splitting hairs.
It has become a cliché that the most vociferous anti-gay politicians and pundits will, at some point, be revealed to be deeply closeted, self-loathingly gay. And those who beat the drum of “family values” most loudly seem invariably to be sleeping around or hiring prostitutes.
Many people in the United States, certainly not only conservatives, are deeply afraid of sex and sexuality. Conservatism merely captures this fear (and others) and raises it to a political art form. As Mrs. Reagan was promoting “Just Say No” to sex and drugs, her husband President Reagan was busy ignoring the AIDS crisis—for six years. (AIDS was first reported in the press in 1981; Reagan didn’t use the word until 1987.) Recently Texas Governor Rick Perry was stumped when trying to defend the state’s just-say-no abstinence sex “education” program in the face of the state’s rank as third-highest in teen pregnancies.
Secrecy, silence, fear, and denial. This is “good” and “proper”—and pervasive—in conservative speak. It’s topsy-turvy language, just the way that Pro-Life is code for anti-abortion (though scratch a pro-lifer and you’ll probably also find a supporter of the death penalty, which would be Pro-Death, wouldn’t it?). And, of course, Pro-Choice equates, in topsy-turvy speak, to pro-abortion. In fact, most Pro-Choice proponents are anti-abortion; they just want women to be able to make their own choices about their bodies.
Because social-religious conservatives are fearful about their own sexuality and so often, it seems, desperate to keep their unacknowledged proclivities secret, they espouse a philosophy that everyone should toe the same imaginary line. Thus when their political power is in the ascendency, we get all sorts of repressive laws regarding sex, sexual expression, and sexuality. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which punished military personnel if they were open about their homosexuality, is one example.
DADT was put into law in 1993, and it took nearly twenty years to overturn it in 2011. The conservative military brass hemmed and hawed, delaying the law’s demise as long as possible until it became all too obvious that claims of allowing openly gay service members would undermine the military were ill founded. Fear and hiding were, at last, trumped by openness and rationality.
A naked little boy in a children’s illustrated fantasy harms no one. Indeed, it does the opposite. It demonstrates that the innocence of childhood still exists, that nudity does not equate to sexuality or perversion, and that occasionally being naked is not a big deal.
What parent of a toddler hasn’t at some point turned around to find that the child has magically shed all of his or her clothes and is running around buck-naked? That’s not an occasion for scandal. It should provoke a smile or a giggle—and a resigned chase to get the kid back in some pants.
Making “innocence” into “perversion” is topsy-turvy language. Such nonsense is both silly and dangerous.
(Photo: The image above of a gay Marine jumping into the arms and kissing his boyfriend on returning home went viral on Facebook earlier this year.)