COVER STORY It's a queer theory, with 51 closets to come out of (Part One of two parts)
by Patrick J. Byrne
News Weekly, May 21, 2016
Queer gender theory is at the core of the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program, says Monash University feminist writer Laura McNally.
Many genders: but only one reality.
McNally says that if this term is unfamiliar, there is a good reason: “Queer theory is a highly contested and relatively recent development in the sociology academy.
“Queer theory propositions – such as the 51 gender categories, and growing – are more likely to be found discussed on Tumblr than in any empirical study. That hasn’t stopped them from being rolled out into schools in various countries,”
In the Safe Schools Coalition Australia program:
Resources include OMG im queer and OMG my friends queer;
These texts link to major queer sites with countless resources on the issue;
Children are encouraged to adopt a label such as gay, lesbian, queer or “pansexual”;
The program views all forms of sexual activity as acceptable, normal and safe;
The Minus18 website contains highly sexual resources. The article “When are you ready to do it?” provides no minimum age for sex but does give a range of other advice: “It may come as a surprise, but there is no strict definition for virginity, especially if you’re queer. Penis-in-vagina sex is not the only sex, and certainly not the ‘ultimate sex’.”
The law, sex and identity
Our laws and culture define sex as male and female. The genetic difference between male and female may be small, but it clearly defines male and female.
The few exceptions in law relate to a tiny minority of intersex people, and/or to laws that have succumbed to queer theory and recognise anyone self-identifying with any of several sexual orientations and 50 plus sexual identities (transsexual, gender questioning, male to female, etc).
An example of the latter is Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which says that discrimination occurs when someone “engage(s) in any conduct which offends, humiliates, insults or ridicules another person” on the grounds of sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual) or self-defined gender identity. Gender identity is said to mean “the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth, and includes transsexualism and transgenderism”. How is this determined? Well, it’s how you feel.
These are vague concepts in law, wide open to interpretation, with the effect of silencing freedom of speech on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Queer theory analysis considers a wide range of sexual issues, such as cross-dressing, intersex, gender ambiguity, hermaphroditism, gender corrective/changing surgery, to reject the idea that biology defines sexual identity as male or female. It focuses on an array of sexual identities that are mismatches between male/female sex, gender and desire. It goes far beyond the idea of gay, lesbian and bisexual, to include over 50 sexual categories, like agender, androgyne, pangender, transgender, two-spirit, non-binary, gender questioning, and many more.
It argues that gender identity is independent of sexual biology.
The Safe Schools All of Us Unit Guide invokes queer theory, saying: “Sex is about the body you are born with (male, female or intersex [see lesson 6]), while gender is about your identity, or how you feel inside. Gender refers to the way that you feel on the inside. It might be expressed by how you dress or how you behave and for some people these things may change over time.” (p30).
OMG my friends queer, says: “Some people identify with aspects of none or both traditional genders and feel they are ‘genderqueer’, ‘gender neutral’, ‘inter gender’ or feel like they are another gender altogether …
“Some people have a ‘fluid’ gender – it changes over time … Some people have surgery to alter how they express their gender, some people have hormone treatment.” (p9)
There is a fundamental problem with separating sex (male and female) from gender (genderqueer, gender fluid, inter gender, androgyne, etc). Sex is genetic (males have XY and females XX chromosomes), affecting every cell in the human body, as well as body shape, function and psychology (on this last aspect, see also the two-part series “The scientific objectivity of gender difference” by Glenn T. Stanton in the last issue of News Weekly (May 7, 2016) and in this issue on pages 15-17). In contrast, the idea that gender is how you “feel” is a highly questionable, controversial theory. It’s not science.
Yet, queer theory treats over 50 sexual identities based on “feelings” as “normal”, normal enough to be taught as fact in schools and universities. It denies that these “feelings” could be just the teenage working through of hormonal, developmental, environmental and cultural issues; or more serious traumatic experiences.
Of concern, the Safe Schools program gives no recognition to overwhelming social research showing that there is a strong link between early sexual debut and attempted suicide and between early sexual debut and same-sex attraction. Significantly higher rates of attempted suicide and self-harm have been observed among sexually active adolescents than among adolescents who are not sexually active. Neither queer theory nor Safe Schools adequately rescognises that the risk of self-harm is grounds for counseling and possible police investigation in cases of sexual abuse.
Instead, Safe Schools seeks to turn what are private concerns into a public issue for the whole classroom and the school. It wants to exploit both gender-related conditions and students’ sexual attractions to confirm as “normal” all forms of sexual identity and a vast array of sexual practices as part of a sexual revolution.
To this end, various Safe Schools resources recommend to students organisations that link them to adult sex shops, sex groups and porn sites.
Safe Schools advocates that schools promote the extremist queer theory agenda, and take sex education out of the hands of parents. It links students to the Minus18 website which instructs them how to hide their online browsing history (“Cover your tracks”). And resource Guide to Supporting a Student to Affirm or Transition Gender Identity at School advises that it may be possible to consider a student a mature minor and able to make decisions without parental consent in the matter of gender-transition treatment.
The child as agent
Indeed, queer theory views “the child as agent”.
Under Australian law, young people are generally defined as children until the age of 18. They are minors deserving protection from abuse and exploitation sexually, in the labour force and in many other ways.
Consequently, as a result of community outrage over child sex abuse, a long-running royal commission has been exposing the widespread sexual abuse of children.
In contrast, a central tenet of queer theory is childhood “agency”, or the “child as agent”. An agent is one competent to make a decision. As a real estate agent is competent to value and arrange the sale and purchase of land.
In queer gender theory, childhood agency means treating children as competent to make their own (sexual) decisions.
Safe Schools exposes children to a wide range of sexual activities and sexual identities. Does this make them informed “child agents”?
The degree of children’s agency is one of the cardinal questions advocated and debated by queer theorists. By definition, this questions or rejects the idea of childhood latency, when a child is yet to develop hormonally, physically and sexually.
Logically, queer theory questions using the term latency or even the category of childhood – that time when we should “let kids be kids” and not burden them with the social and sexual concerns of the adult world.
But if children are really agents capable of making their own (sexual) decisions, then shouldnt they just be treated as little/mini adults? Does this mean that children can consent to sex with adults and/or with other children?
Well, this is where views vary and queer theory discourse typically reverts to literary and artistic criticism, or to quoting other academics. However, some queer theorists do seem to indicate answers.
Victoria is home to a number of academics who are on the cutting edge of queer theory and its application to education and public policy.
Dr Steven Angelides is recognised internationally for his contributions to queer theory. He is based at La Trobe’s Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS).
In his article, “What’s behind sex panics? The Bill Henson scandal”, Angelides argues that the public outcry, or “sex panic” – caused when a 12-year-old child agreed to have her nude photograph publically exhibited – was a mask for society’s fear of recognising children’s sexual agency:
“Buried beneath the palpable fear of child sexualisation and abuse by adults is an underlying and perhaps more primary fear of the sexualities of children.”
Angelides argues that children do consent to sex: “What to do with the fact that the sexual child, such as N, is not the passive recipient of the adult gaze or adult sexuality. Often she looks back, speaks back, touches back, and indeed initiates and colludes with adults, not to mention often strips for them or has sex with them voluntarily (with or without parental consent).”
Angelides’ article, “Feminism, child sexual abuse, and the erasure of child sexuality”, has been hailed as a “landmark contribution to queer theory”.  He advocates “critical scrutiny” of the “sociopolitical, legal, and institutional formations” that maintain “arbitrary distinctions between linear and chronological stages of individual development”.
Gary Dowsett, also from ARCSHS, openly advocates the legalisation of pedophilia. In “Boiled lollies and Band-aids: Gay men and kids” (Gay Information, Spring 1982), Dowsett argues that pedophilia must be legally recognised and depicts it as part of a wider sexual liberation.
He wrote: “We need to protect the youthful partners in pedophilia against the legal and social management systems which treat them as delinquents. But for all kids there are rights to be won, and struggles to be waged against institutions that deny them power and their sexual rights, viz schools, reformatories, churches, scouts and guides.”
In his 1996 PhD thesis, Practicing Desire: Homosexual Sex in the Era of AIDS, Dowsett describes “sexual encounters of various kinds” between “adolescent (and occasionally younger) boys” … “and to a lesser degree, with men, in and outside family life. This homosexual activity is more commonplace and normal, even worthy of being thought of as altruistic.”
How does Dowsett’s promotion of legalised pedophilia sit with a society so outraged by child abuse that Australia has a royal commission into the issue?
 Laura McNally, “Does imposing queer theory really lead to safe schools?”, ABC Religion and Ethics, March 14, 2016.
 “When are you ready to do it?”, 1/10/12, accessed January 6, 2016.
 “Here's a list of 58 gender options for Facebook users”, ABC News, February 13, 2014.
 WichstrømL., HegnaK., “Sexual orientation and suicide attempt: A longitudinal study of the general Norwegian adolescent population”, JAbnormPsychol. February 2003, 112 (1), pp144–51.
 Rector, R. Johnson, J.A., Noyes L.R., “Sexually active teenagers are more likely to be depressed and to attempt suicide”, 2003. Accessed December 22, 2015.
 Sansone, R.A., Wiederman, M.W., Barnes, J., “Diverse sexual experiences and self-harm among women in an internal medicine setting”, Psychiatry, September 2008.
 Micah Scott, “Cover your tracks”, December 31, 2012, accessed January 7, 2016.
 Roz Ward, Joel Radcliffe, Matthew Parsons, Mel Gaylard, Dani Wright Toussaint, Guide to supporting a student to affirm or transition gender identity at school. Accessed February 3, 2016.
 Accessed 8 May, 2016.
 Angelides, S., “What’s behind child sex panics? The Bill Henson scandal”. Lambda Nordica (Sweden), Issue 2, 2011.
 Angelides, S., Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse, and the Erasure of Child Sexuality, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 10, Number 2, 2004, pp141–177.
 Shaw, J., Review: “Queer theory and the child”, accessed May 6, 2016.
 Dowsett, G., Boiled Lollies and Bandaids: Gay Men and Kids, Gay Information, Spring 1982, pg. 34–38.
 Dowsett, Gary, W., (1996), Practicing Desire: Homosexual Sex in the Era of AIDS, Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.
See also, other Dowsett articles:
Dowsett, G. W., Chapter 1, “Body play: corporeality in a discursive silence”, in (Ed) Parker, R., Barboso, R.M., Aggleton, P., Framing the Sexual Subject: The Politics of Gender, Sexuality, and Power, 2000, University of California Press.
Gary Dowsett, “Monsters or mentors”, Outrage, Issue 2, May 1983, p41.