19 October 2012


My Scouting Experience

Earlier today, I posted a link to this New York Times article about the Boy Scouts, how they had protected Scoutmasters who preyed on boys. Here's what I wrote there:
More people need to understand how for generations institutions like the Boy Scouts, the Roman Catholic Church, prep schools, and sports programs have protected men in their organizations who prey on boys. Leadership in those institutions has not only protected the abusers, it also has worked to ensure that there are roadblocks that prevent out-of-the-closet gay men from advancing within those groups.

The abusers are overwhelmingly not gay men: Outside the ostensibly celibate priests, most of them are in traditional heterosexual marriages, and they are not at the same time seeking emotional or sexual relations with a same-sex someone else of legal age. They are using positions of power to fulfill their own effed-up wants, leaving behind boys who became men unfairly burdened with overcoming emotional scars they shouldn't have. There's no evidence that gay men who are out of the closet have the same history of preying on boys and teens as these ostensibly normal creeps do.

It's understandable that the victims of these abuses would focus on the perpetrators, but we collectively need to step back and see that at a cultural and political level, the institutional stances of organizations like the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts are intimately tied to cultures of abuse of boys by men using the power that comes with their roles in those organizations. We need to rein in the power of those institutions: Instead of letting them set the tone for moral discussions, we need to send them to the cultural dog house for a generation or two until they can demonstrate that they've changed their ways.

Here's my personal reasons for having strong feelings about this.

I was briefly in the Boy Scouts back in my hometown of Centerville, Tennessee, during fall of 1967. I was in the 6th grade at the time. I had previously been, off and on, a Cub Scout, largely because our mom was, off and on, a Den Mother. I don't recall the pack number or the troop number, but this was the Boy Scout troop that met in the basement of the Methodist Church on Monday nights.

Let's be realistic: I wasn't the most butch sixth grader in the world. I was what I think is pretty typical for one category of proto gay men at that age: Minimal interest or success in sports, played the piano, sang in the church choir, liked to read books, liked being in the kitchen, liked to play games, liked movies and TV shows. I was in 4-H for photography and electrical stuff, and I didn't object to playing outside with friends -- almost all boys -- making up sci-fi scenarios that usually ended in imagined death, dismemberment, and planetary annihilation, but we didn't play touch football or baseball. Most of our little gang were well on the path to being band fags (of the true homo variety), and I was a pretty soft compared to the ideal boy on his path to manhood.

But I wanted to do Boy Scouts because friends from school were doing Boy Scouts. And our dad had gotten himself into some kind of role as lead for fundraising for, I think, the entire Middle Tennessee Council. So I went to the Monday night meetings, learned to tie some knots, read the Scouting Handbook for the juicy parts about wet dreams and masturbation, etc.

Some time that fall, there was a Camporee held over at a park in Waynesboro. Not sure of the regional extent of troops invited, but it was a big gathering. For those of you who might remember, this was the Camporee where David Patton got bit by a black widow spider and had to be taken to the emergency room. Also, people went swimming downward of the Waynesboro sewer treatment plant and discovered leeches in the water. It was already too cold to be swimming if I recall, but I was tempted until I heard about the leeches. The spider thing didn't bother me.

The Camporee was two nights, I think: Friday and Saturday. (The internal timing of that weekend is a unclear to some extent, but I remember getting home on Sunday morning and being exhausted.) It was already getting dark when we got there on Friday, so I think that night we just ate some kind of supper -- hot dogs? beanie weenies? -- and crashed after setting up camp. I remember digging a trench around the tent I shared with Rusty Bates, and I think it rained that night.

Saturday was Scout stuff: The thing I remember is some reconnoitering and estimating the height of a telephone pole. I wish I had better memories of the rest of that day.

That night, the older boys in our troop took the younger boys on a so-called snipe hunt. Yeah yeah, standard hazing. They took us out onto a woody hill on the side of Hurricane Creek, gave us a bag, told us to wait for snipe, left us, etc. No flashlight, no nothing. Each of us solo from the rest.

Okay, maybe the more butch thing to have done would've been to stumble down the hill in the darkness, but what the hell did I know. I was alone, at night, on a hill, in the dark, with a bag. I wasn't going nowhere. I knew the snipe part was bullshit, but the message had been to be quiet or else.

I'm not sure how long I waited. I remember Bill McDonald finally coming and retrieving me. Everyone thought it was a good laugh, and it didn't bother me. I could've stayed out there all night.

But it was clear to me that this was not something that was to be reported to anyone else. It wasn't made explicit, but the vibe was that this stays within the troop.

Later that night, just like the night before, the bigger boys and the Scoutmaster stayed up. I wanna say there was an open-sided tent with several Coleman lanterns shining. I had never seen Coleman lanterns before, and they were so bright. I came to understand somehow that the Scoutmaster had Playboys for the bigger boys to look at. There was a lot of laughing and fun coming from the area around the Scoutmaster's tent. Was there beer, too? I don't know.

Like I said, we got back Sunday morning, and I was exhausted. I slept the rest of that day. The following day was the troop meeting, and I didn't want to go. It was one of the few times I can remember butting heads with my father. He was embarrassed that his son didn't want to go to Scouts when he was raising money for them. I knew I wasn't supposed to tell of the snipe hunt or of the boys staying up with the Scoutmaster looking at dirty magazines. I just said I wanted to say home and watch "Laugh In" instead, but what I really wanted was just not to go to Scouts. I thought the whole operation was bogus, and I didn't like how I was treated, but I couldn't articulate that.

Years later, if I recall correctly, said Scoutmaster was arrested, tried, and sentenced for exactly the kind of behavior one might think a grown man sharing horndog material with teenage boys might be geared to lead to. I am not sure if this recollection is accurate, and I don't see any value in trying to name names.

A few years after that, the Centerville Church of Christ stood up its own Boy Scout troop. I hope and presume that troop didn't have the kinds of issues I recall. I never heard of such.

No big summary here, but I've had my doubts about the Scouts ever since that Camporee. It's not hard to imagine that others similarly disposed but better geared towards organizational leadership as that Scoutmaster could rise to power within the organization and lead the organization toward protecting the abusers. Given what I know of the sexual peccadilloes of Scouting's founder (regardless of how he was portrayed by Fred McMurray), maybe it had been that way forever.

Scouting needs to quit blaming gay men for its troubles. It needs to stop throwing out gay scouts. It needs to be completely open about how it's been protecting sexual predators, possibly forever, instead of fighting court cases about such. Otherwise, it has no credibility with this one.

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