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Kirk Read

July 2000

[Ed. Note: This was submitted before the Supreme Court made its recent ruling]

Why I never made it to Eagle Scout

Brace yourselves, kids. The banished gay Boy Scouts of America are in court again. Normally, I might offer up some cautionary skepticism about fighting to be included in an institution that is so God-Duty-Family. But when it comes to the Scouts, I'm all about wild enthusiasm. We need to shoe-horn our gay kids into packs, dens, and troops by any means necessary.

Seeking justice through the legal system is never a quick and easy process. My oldest and craziest brother was a lawyer who got disbarred twice for thoroughly bad behavior, so I'm not keen on lawyers or lengthy legal tangles. Dating a lawyer is like waltzing with Bigfoot. But I'm willing to sidestep my admitted lawyer prejudice and say, without reservation, that we must win this one for the Gipper.

As one might suspect, the women are way ahead of us here. The Girl Scouts don't have any documented policy objections to lesbians in their ranks. They're not naming cookies after us yet, but they're not kicking sisters out, either. The diarrhea colored uniforms, however, have got to go.

I was a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. My mother was the den mother of my Cub Scout den. I savor the irony that nowadays I'm a different kind of cub in a different kind of den. My mother has also moved on and now runs a P-FLAG chapter. Cub Scouts was fairly benign. We boys got in fights, made wooden cars for the Pinewood Derby, and picked up trash all over Rockbridge County. The good stuff started when we became Webelos.

What is a Webelo? When a boy ages out of the Cub Scouts, he goes through a preadolescent period of preparation for the Boy Scouts. The final badge a Webelo earns before joining the Boy Scouts is the Arrow of Light. My Arrow of Light ceremony was the stuff of kiddie-porn. Boy Scout founder and boy lover Lord Baden Powell would have licked his lips over this one.

Five ten year olds stood shivering in the Virginia autumn chill. It was early evening and dark enough that we couldn't make out the faces of the assembled crowd of parents, friends, and family. All of the sudden, we heard drumbeats and roars from a nearby forest. A dozen Boy Scouts ran toward us, dressed in jock straps, makeshift Indian (they were Indians back in 1983) feather headgear, and tribal body paint. I was terrified.

In a booming voice, one of the boys delivered a speech about becoming men. One by one, we were picked up off the ground by one boy, then slammed hard on each shoulder by another. I had bruises for three days. None of us cried. Our parents watched proudly as we were ushered into manhood with a beating. Looking back on the experience, it was kind of abusive, thoroughly homoerotic, and definitely hot. It was the stuff formative erotic fantasies are made of. Very "Lord of the Flies," I remember thinking.

Once I was an official Boy Scout, I found myself on monthly camping trips in the nearby Blue Ridge mountains. Generally speaking, I packed two suitcases and a duffel bag for the weekend. I was eleven years old. My tendency to overpack has only gotten worse since then. When all the other boys were toasting wieners on the ends of branches they'd discovered in nearby piles of underbrush, I dove into my stash of real world foodstuffs. Even then, I knew a hygienic and dietary nightmare when I saw one.

I spent summers at Boy Scout camp, where we learned to whittle, build emergency shelters out of leaves and twigs, and identify poison ivy from five paces. The culmination of each camp session was the greased watermelon contest, a modified version of the more barbaric greased pig contest. Dozens of adolescent boys, stripped to their shorts, raced into Lake Shenandoah to retrieve a watermelon thirty feet in. The fruit had been slathered with Crisco, which meant that its retrieval would require a great deal of wrestling and softcore violence. A last-ditch tactic was pulling down the melon-carrier's swimsuit. Mortified before a beach full of onlookers, the boy would drop the watermelon and retreat into the water to regroup. A crafty tike, I tied my drawstring tightly to avoid such embarrassment. Perhaps Crisco is my cultural birthright as a gay man, perhaps I was just feisty. I won the greased watermelon contest, much to the chagrin of the more athletic boys.

Those camping trips and summer sessions were equal parts trauma and delight for me. As far as delight goes, I saw my first adult penises. As boys in close quarters, we changed and showered together. The older boys had pubic hair, which struck me as exotic and inspirational. I will never forget the sight of Charles Boggs' penis as long as I live. These were not experiences I was having in Vacation Bible School.

Unfortunately, I also took a lot of sissy-baiting and fagbashing on those camping trips. When I was 12, I'd been taking Tae Kwon Do classes and had somehow become a green belt. On one fateful eve, an older boy, Scott Morris, called me a faggot while he was munching on a can of Van Camp's beanie weanies. It was the summer of the "Karate Kid," and I curled my limbs into a convincing Ralph Macchio imitation and kicked that boy in the face so hard that his teeth shook. The incident drew a crowd, and no Boy Scout ever called me a faggot again.

I'm all for gay Scouts, but I'm also realistic. Screw hate crimes laws. Forget quiet, polite policy changes. If we're going to send our gay youth into the Scouts, the military, or marriage, for that matter, they need warrior training. We need to teach young queers to win fights.

I quit the Scouts when I became a full-fledged faggot by having sex with my first boyfriend. When you're a teenager getting regular nookie, who the hell needs merit badges?

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Kirk Read lives in San Francisco and can be reached at KirkRead@aol.com and www.temenos.net/kirkread

Copyright 2000 by Kirk Read


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