It was one month after my 15th birthday when I decided that the closet was more suffocating than anything homophobia had to offer. Out of frustration, I came out to friends and classmates at my high school.
I fully expected antigay insults, taunts, and jokes. Being called a faggot only strengthened me and encouraged me to become louder and more visibly queer.
What I didn’t predict was the reluctance by otherwise queer-positive people to accept my sexuality. For many, I was simply too young to be out.
“You can’t tell if you’re gay until you’re 21,” was the response of a fellow geography student.
Being told I didn’t have the right to decide my own sexual orientation gave me second thoughts like no homophobic bully could. I was a fully sexual being, but I was denied the right to assert and express my sexual identity in the way I chose.
This refusal to recognize the sexual autonomy of young people is exactly the motivation behind Stephen Harper’s proposed increase to the age of consent.
His bill specifically targets consensual, non-exploitative sex involving 14- and 15-year-olds. The proposed law starts from the assumption that these teenagers are less capable of making decisions about their sexuality.
And just as a straight teen’s sexual identity is rarely called into question, an increased age of consent will be primarily used to police the decisions of queer youth.
For me and many other young queers, drop-in groups and queer-positive youth centres were life-saving resources during difficult times. We relied on these services for our information. Straight teens at my school could ask their peers and sometimes their parents about the basics of heterosexual sex.
When it came to questions of sexual identity, I wasn’t about to rely on classmates who thought sexual orientation was magically decided at the age of 21. I also wasn’t going to get any answers from a sex-ed teacher who believed that condoms were an ineffective method of contraception.
When I needed support during the coming-out process, I relied on youth workers. When I wanted to meet other queers, I went to queer youth drop-in groups. It was in these settings where I felt most comfortable discussing sexuality in a safe, non-judgemental environment. Queer youth are invariably much more dependent on social service providers, and an increased age of consent would jeopardize the trust younger queers place in these services.
I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for me to trust a counsellor if I believed that my activities fell outside of the law. It’s also easy to understand why youth workers would feel pressured to limit the information they share with 14- and 15-year-olds.
The results of this legislation will be younger queers pushed back into the closet, and prevented from asking the questions they need to ask.
Unfortunately, it appears that many people, including queers, are willing to ignore these realities in order to appease the illogical hysteria surrounding youth sexuality.
At a recent activist meeting, I brought up the issue of the age of consent. An out fag approached me afterward, saying that relationships between older and younger gays (presumably men) were a problem in our community. “It makes us look bad,” was his reasoning.
Since when do queers give a fuck what other people think about our relationships? Isn’t the whole queer movement based on the idea that we are entitled to our consensual relationships, regardless of how disgusting anyone thinks they are?
Queers today are reaping the benefits of generations who fought for the right to fuck and build relationships with the people they chose. Now it seems that many are willing to let go of these gains and sell queer youth down the river to score a few respectability points.
Alice Walker once said, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” In the same vein, fighting this repressive bill is what we owe to those who fought for our sexual freedoms.
All queers — even younger ones — have the right to seek out consensual relationships with anyone they choose. To deny them this right threatens our own sexual liberty.
It should worry all of us that some progressive politicians are willing to side with anti-sex, homophobic Conservatives on this issue. This legislation threatens to deny young people choice, stigmatize queer youth, and criminalize relationships that are — by legal definition — ‘nonexploitative.’
As someone who had the privilege of being in a situation where I could come out at 15, I am not willing to let politicians turn the clock back on youth rights and drive queer teens underground.