Why Public Speculation about the Duggar Children’s Sexuality Should Be Off Limits

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on January 5, 2016.

When Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar signed on with TLC, they put their family before the public as a form of entertainment, and that is how many Americans seem to view the Duggars—as entertainment. I’m not surprised, then, to see people publicly speculating about the Duggar children’s sexuality, but I am concerned. To be clear, I’m not talking about noting that the odds are one of the Duggar kids is going to be gay. I’m talking about public speculation about the sexual orientation of individual Duggar children. I’ve seen fans and critics alike analyze individual Duggar children’s dress, bearing, and other details looking for indications that this one or that may be gay, and then gleefully trumpeting their findings.

There are some very serious problems with public speculation about the sexual orientation of individual Duggar children, particularly those still living at home (whether or not they are minors). First, while Jim Bob and Michelle chose to sign with TLC, thrusting their family into the public eye, their children have never had a choice in the matter. Second, while it may not be obvious at first glance, speculating about the Duggar children’s sexuality is actively dangerous.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a teenage child growing up in a fundamentalist Christian homeschooling household. Imagine, now, that there are rumors circulating that you are gay, rumors based on your appearance or bearing, or your interests or likes. Think for a moment about how such rumors would impact you—because you better believe they would. These rumors might make your local homeschool and church community standoffish and suspicious, and they would certainly lead your parents to crack down on any sign of failure to toe the party line.

Your every move would be scrutinized. 

This is not idle speculation on my part, either. I know of homeschool alumni who experienced exactly what I described above. As rumors swirled in their communities, or as their parents became concerned that they might be showing gay tendencies, they faced consequences—whether or not they were in fact gay. They were shunned by their communities, or had their parents treat them with suspicion and quick judgement or even try to “cure” them of their tendencies. Speculation about a fundamentalist child’s sexual identity isn’t just harmful, it can be outright dangerous.

Roughly 40% of homeless teenagers are gay. Where do you think all those gay homeless teens came from, exactly? There are fundamentalist Christian families out there who respond to having a gay child very very badly. Remember Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen who walked in front of a truck a year ago? Her parents were fundamentalist Christians whose efforts to “cure” their daughter’s gender identity ultimately led to her death. There are other stories too. Homeschool alumni Susie writes this of coming out to her parents:

After a few weeks of gay therapy, I was still gay so my parents did the unthinkable. They both, in my opinion, totally slipped over the edge of reason. I had gone to my therapy appointment and when I came home, as I was pulling in the driveway I realized my driver’s license was not in the console of the car where I usually kept it. So I went inside and asked my mom if she knew where my driver’s license was. Long story short, in an effort to “protect me from myself,” my dad had taken my driver’s license, passport, social security card, birth certificate, credit card and debit card and put them all in a safety deposit box at the bank. I had no legal identity!

I am trying to share enough details to paint the picture, without boring you. So I am going to cut to the chase.

My mom ended up driving me two hours away, in my car, with some of my things and dropped me off with $7 to my name. Tough love is what they called it. I was lucky enough that a friend had a house with two of his friends and they let me stay in an open room. I had no bed, just a pillow and a sleeping bag with some clothes. I didn’t even have a blanket.

Tough love.

Leelah and Susie both chose to come out to their parents, on their own timing. Engaging in public speculation about the sexuality of children living in fundamentalist Christian homes risks forcing those children’s hands, which, again, is actively dangerous. Being a gay teen in a fundamentalist Christian home is a risky proposition even without having to worry about public speculation forcing you out of the closet, especially when the consequences can be astronomically high.

But wait, you say! Speculation about the Duggar children’s sexuality will never actually get back to the Duggars themselves! This is not at all clear to me. It’s fairly clear that the Duggars follow what the media says about them. After the news broke that Josh Duggar had molested four of his sisters as a teen, the girls themselves spoke of feeling re-victimized by the media. The Duggar children still living in the home do have internet access, albeit with certain restrictions. And even if such rumors never make it to the kids themselves, the same is unlikely to be true for the Duggar parents—or for others in their communities.

Perhaps you would still argue that the Duggars signed on for this when they signed with TLC? Public speculation about your personal life is just one more consequence of leading a public life, yes? First, let me repeat, again, that the Duggar children didn’t have a choice in the matter. And second, do you truly care more about your “right” to publicly snark and speculate about the Duggars than you do about the Duggar children’s safety or autonomy? I certainly don’t.

Yes, it is likely, given the sheer number of Duggar children, that one of them is gay. But we need to give that child the space they need to decide when and how to come out, on their own terms, and without having to worry about public speculation about their sexual orientation. This isn’t just about privacy, though it is about that as well. This is also about basic personal safety. Growing up gay in a fundamentalist home is hard enough without the risk of being forced out of the closet by rumors fed or created by public speculation. As homeschool alumni Andrew Roblyer put it:

I often equate growing up gay to growing up in a warzone, where bombs fall all around you day after day after day.  Eventually the abject terror you feel when one lands nearby fades into a constant clenching in your stomach that you don’t even realize, because while you can’t entirely relax, you can’t afford to run at full alert at all times.  I saw and heard so many gay people attacked and condemned by the people I grew up with that my stomach was perpetually clenched, terrified that their rhetoric and doctrine would be used to attack me if they ever found out.

How can we make things better for children like Roblyer? And, presuming that at least one of the Duggar children is gay, what can we do to support that child?

To begin with, we can stop making children’s sexual identities a thing of snark or speculation or a “gotcha” against fundamentalist Christian parents and instead demonstrate our support for LGBTQ youth wherever they are found (and that includes respect for their self-determination of when and how to come out). We can prove ourselves safe people by being safe people. And while we’re at it, we can deconstruct myths about homosexuality or queer identities and criticize the Duggar parents’ anti-gay rhetoric without putting their children in the firing line.

If we care at all about the safety and wellbeing of the Duggar children, and not just about the entertainment value they provide, we need to end public speculation about whether this or that one may be gay.

Incorporating Thinkers: When Communities Are Unsafe or Unwelcoming

thinkersincorporated

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on August 14, 2013.

In a series called “Homeschoolers are Out,” Homeschoolers Anonymous told stories of the life of conservative Christian homeschooling from the perspectives of LGBT individuals.

It was interesting to me that while bloggers such Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism were used as mini props to parents who rallied against gay marriage, individuals like me and Melissa of Permission to Live were sheltered from learning that gays existed. The stories had a lot of diversity like that because our homes were all so different.

But there is always the party pooper. Not too surprising is that this series is quite controversial. This is what a group called Thinkers Incorporated said.

HA, specifically in their series of posts on the experiences of homeschoolers of alternate gender and sexual orientation, paints a picture of homeschooling that is foolishly simplistic. All religious homeschoolers do not believe that homosexuals should be stoned in the streets and bullied into oblivion. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a group of any size comprised of homeschoolers that really believes this hypocrisy.

While I do not doubt that real abuses have occurred, it is unfair and slanderous to claim that homeschoolers have some type of cultural mass objective of slamming the LGBT community. The underlying principle of home education is that full parenting control is in the hands of the parents. Thus they may choose to bring up their children however they see fit. Therefore, making any kind of generalization at all about homeschooling is fallacious. We are all different to some degree, and that’s frankly the point of the whole idea. We don’t have to subscribe to anyone else’s views on any subject.

I’d bang my head against the wall, except I need to use my head to write this. The whole point was that you don’t have to believe that gays should be stoned in order to not foster a safe environment for LBGT individuals. The point of the whole series is that bigotry is always bad whether we are talking stoning, shunning, or just not welcoming. Bigotry does exist in the Christian homeschool community. Those who do not welcome gays into their community are, actually, part of the problem.

I’m not speaking for the writer Luke Adams at Thinkers Incorporated; he may be very welcoming.

But just in general, most people I know don’t believe in stoning gays; yet, most conservatives I know are not overly welcoming gays into their communities. (Some might say it’s an oximoron for conservatives to welcome gays. But just ask Frank Schaeffer that who grew up in the 60s as the son of the fundamentalist parents Francis and Edith Schaeffer and saw lesbians kissing in their missions house. We conservatives make our bed and lie in it.)

I am not gay or bi, but I am scared to talk to old members of my homeschool community about what I believe about hell or life because I know people will judge me for it. In fact, Thinkers Incorporated themselves already judged me when they critized H.A. for their universalist bloggers, aka, me. [HA note: Lana is our only blog partner who self-identifies as a “Christian universalist”].

Homeschooling isn’t a very “safe” place to come out as anything not conservative: universalists, gay, lesbian, atheist, democrat, whatever.

This does not mean every homeschooler is bigoted or sexist or racist or whatever (although I think we all are more of those things than we care to admit – I include myself). But the Christian homeschool community is not safe for me, and I’m a straight Christian who does missions work.

Just stop and imagine what it would be like to come out gay in a conservative homeschool community, or any other religious, conservative, non-homeschool community, and then tell me we are over generalizing this, and that we don’t need to tell stories from LGBT individuals.

This is from Andrew, on growing up gay.

But from the moment I learned what “homosexual” meant, I knew that I would never truly be the person they wanted me to be, because I knew that I was inherently flawed. And as is often the case with things like this, once I knew what the word meant, I began noticing it everywhere. But in the conservative Christian circles (including homeschooling support groups) I was a part of, it was rarely something I heard in its entirety. Instead, it was like something just out of the corner of my eye, a fleeting shadow in the midst of a conversation. It was that-sin-which-must-not-be-named.

….

I did everything I could to try and “fix” myself, including looking into electroshock therapy, though thankfully I had to have a parent’s consent and there was no way I wanted to tell my parents. Eventually, after a failed attempt to turn myself straight by dating my then-best-friend (a woman) in college, I reached the end of my rope.

I fell into a deep depression, was suicidal on multiple occasions, and through it all was desperately trying to reconcile my faith (and thus the large majority of my friends and family) with my sexuality.

Now to be clear, Andrew has already said that this is not uniquely a homeschool problem. He wrote,

“In other words, I realized that I can’t blame ‘homeschooling’ or even ‘the homeschooling movement’ for the majority of my struggle in coming to accept and love the person that I am.” 

But the point is that the messages he received was that he was flawed and needed fixing, and whether that battle comes from homeschooling, fundamentalism, secularism, or internal, it is always a toxic feeling. It is always a story that needs to be told, so we can heal of our bigotry together.

Everyone who shared their stories on H.A. has a different story. Some tell stories of people who welcomed them, and some tell stories where people shut the doors behind them. The point is that where bigotry exists – even if it’s not in Luke’s church – it is wrong. This is not a generalization; it is not a generalization about anything at all.

It is just individual stories, stories that need to be heard and told.

I’m listening. What about you?

Resolved: An Index

Resolved: An Index

*****

Call for Stories

By Nicholas Ducote: Resolved: That We Should Talk about HSLDA Debate, NCFCA, STOA, and CFC/ICC, Part One

By Bethany: “Resolved: That We Should Talk about HSLDA Debate, NCFCA, STOA, and CFC/ICC, Part Two”

***

Debate History and General Topics

By R.L. Stollar: “A Brief History of Homeschool Speech and Debate”

By Nicholas Ducote, “A Letter of Gratitude, A Call for Dialogue”

By Luke: “Debate As Socialization: Luke’s Thoughts”

By Andrew Roblyer: “Angry Emails And Thoughts On Why They Happen: By Andrew Roblyer”

By Alisa Harris: “The Shining City’s Superman: By Alisa Harris”

***

NCFCA/STOA

By Libby Anne: “The Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute: NCFCA and Growing Up in a Conservative Bubble — Libby Anne’s Thoughts”

By Finn:

“Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part One”

“Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two”

By Philosophical Perspectives:

“Of Love and Office Supplies: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts”

“How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts”

By Andrew Roblyer: “The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts”

By Kierstyn King: “Teenagers Taking Over the World: Kierstyn King’s Thoughts”

By R.L. Stollar:

“The Most Controversial Thing I Ever Wrote, Part One: By R.L. Stollar”

“The Most Controversial Thing I Ever Wrote, Part Two: By R.L. Stollar”

By Jayni: The Space To Be Human: Jayni’s Story

***

CFC/ICC

By Krysi Kovaka:

“I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part One”

“I Was A Problem To Be Ignored: Krysi Kovaka’s Story, Part Two”

By R.L. Stollar: “I Was The Original CFC Fuck-Up: R.L. Stollar’s Story”

By Marla: “Competence, Not Character: Marla’s Story”

By Michele Ganev: “CFC Gave Me Confidence: Michele Ganev’s Story”

By Renee: “Sharing the Burden of the Pedestal: Renee’s Story”

***

Great BJU Protest of 2009

By Joe Laughon: “Engaging the World — Debate and the BJU Protest: An Interview with Joe Laughon”

By Ariel: “The Embarrassment of Protesting Racism: Ariel’s Thoughts”

By Krysi Kovaka: “When I Recanted What I Truly Believed: Krysi Kovaka’s Thoughts”

Angry Emails And Thoughts On Why They Happen: By Andrew Roblyer

Angry Emails And Thoughts On Why They Happen: By Andrew Roblyer

This past week, Homeschoolers Anonymous has been featuring articles written by former students about their experience in competitive forensics.  These articles have mostly focused on the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA) and Communicators for Christ/Institute for Cultural Communicators (CFC/ICC), but many of the concerns raised in those posts can be found throughout the site, not just in this series.

The legalism, the double standards for men and women, the focus on controlling external appearances and behavior, the desire to appear as put together and perfect as possible to the outside world and especially to other homeschoolers; these are all common threads throughout this tapestry of stories we are weaving here on HA.

And I have some thoughts about why that is.

As I was reading Ryan’s excellent duology about a controversial article he wrote (you should take a moment to read both posts if you haven’t already), I found myself asking why so many people were and are so terrified of criticism within the homeschooling community.  More specifically, why are so many parents scared to hear someone suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should think about things in a different light?

Because in reading Ryan’s article, I saw nothing that attacked or demeaned individual parents, leaders, or students.  I saw nothing that advocated for the dissolution of the competitive NCFCA environment.  I saw nothing that assigned motives beyond that which all the parents I knew in the NCFCA would have willingly reminded students: we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.  What I saw was a young man imploring a group of people he knew and loved to be compassionate.  To be understanding.  To live out the love of Christ towards those students that they lauded as representing the epitome of what they hoped their children would be.  It was a criticism of perfectionism and of the very real danger that perfectionism brings.  One would think that conservative Christian homeschooling parents would have eaten that stuff up.  So…why didn’t they?

To find an answer, I turned to the public school system (blasphemy, I know).  Critiquing the public school system in this country does not yield the same percentage of outraged responses from educators as criticism to institutions like the NCFCA yields from parents, in my experience.  I know plenty of teachers who will join with you in listing the flaws of the public school system and their frustrations with the things that prevent them from doing what they love: teaching students how to think.  So why is homeschooling any different?

The difference is that the public school system is separate from the teachers who make it up. The teachers are not the system, they are but one piece of a greater whole, and so, for the most part, criticism of the system is something that they can at least tolerate and even share without any cognitive dissonance.

Homeschool parents, on the other hand, are their own educational system.  They are their schools.  They are entirely responsible for their children’s education, and so it is much harder to separate the teacher from the parent from the education.

I think I first started to realize this a few months ago when I was discussing my public accounts of coming out with my mom.  She told me that she felt like I had painted my “education” and “childhood” with such broad strokes that, for a reader who didn’t know me, it would be easy to assume my parents had contributed to many of the problems that I perceive with both.  And, as she felt that she and my father had tried very hard not to be the cause of problems like my negative self-worth and depression/anxiety, she felt hurt by what I had written.  I quickly tried to reassure her that I didn’t blame her or dad for any of that, and have since tried to do a better job delineating between the loving, supportive home life that I had growing up.

This, I would imagine, is not a unique situation.  I would imagine that, for many of our parents who have poured so much energy and time into us as children, fretting over curriculum and wanting us to be good, Godly people, their methodology is all-too-easily conflated with their intentions and personal character.

I spoke about this exact phenomenon in my article for the Homeschoolers Are Out series, when I struggled to separate the structure of homeschooling from the conservative Christian religious community I was raised in.  To me, homeschooling and NCFCA and CFC/ICC are all structures first and foremost, but I realize now that they are structures informed by a very personal passion of our parents.

As I told my mom, it was true that they never spoke negatively about gay people at home, but we never really discussed it at all.  This meant that I was hearing one message denigrating my self-worth from external sources and silence on the subject at home, so the external message was the one I internalized.  I don’t blame her for this, nor am I in any way upset about it, but it’s something I have to recognize and process as I become more self-aware.  And while it was easy for me to see that this was not a personal failing or character flaw of my parents, I think it was much harder for them not to see that criticism as such.

I say this not to suggest that we should cease criticism of these institutions and structures; quite the opposite in fact.  We should continue to offer thoughtful criticism and tell our stories in full, with the hope of provoking thought and change to those institutions.  However, I think that we must be cognizant of the ease with which a structure like homeschooling or the NCFCA can be conflated with the hearts and souls of those parents who created them.

After all, most parents are not bad people with evil intentions (though as the stories of abuse on this website show, some of them can be), and by working to differentiate between the people and the system(s) we are criticizing, we strengthen our message and, in the process, help ourselves on our journey to self-awareness.  It may be difficult to parse out what criticisms we have about the system and what criticisms we have about individuals, but I think it is worth the effort.

Let me close by saying that this is not a criticism of HA or any of its authors.  Their/our stories need to be heard and I am honored to be a part of a group that wants to tell them.  In addition, I would love to know if you (readers/authors/critics) agree with my thoughts on the conflation of the system with personal character.  Let me know in the comments!

The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts

The Lessons I Wasn’t Supposed to Learn: Andrew Roblyer’s Thoughts

The 6 years I spent involved in the NCFCA changed my life.  I would wager, however, that my life was not changed in the way that many of the adults in NCFCA leadership wish that it had been.  The dream, espoused to us students many times over the course of our competitive careers, was that we would leave that league trained to do battle against the evil influence of the world, to defend our beliefs, and to convert people to Christianity.  It was, in essence, a conservative (and at times fundamentalist) evangelical pipe dream: a veritable army of thinkers and speakers to fight the good fight and defend their view of the Bible, Truth, and God.

Well, I came out of the league a pretty good thinker and speaker, but I’m also out of the closet, a mainline progressive Christian, and a moderate liberal.  And I am all of those things in large part because of those parents and leaders, some of whom are probably quite disappointed that I didn’t use my influence for their specific idea of what was “Good.”

But before I expound upon my NCFCA experience, I must preface with this: When I set out to write this piece, I did not set out to talk about anything negative.  My experience is one that I normally recall quite fondly (mostly because of the friendships that came out of it), but in reading the other posts this week, some very vivid and painful memories have returned to the surface, and I feel the need to discuss them.  These negative memories center around the league leadership, not the coaches I worked with or really even the parents I knew.  The few criticisms I have included are not intended to be directed at any person’s integrity or reputation.  Many of the adults in leadership while I was competing and coaching are people I have a great deal of respect for.

So, here are six things the NCFCA gave me, including some lessons that I don’t think they intended me to learn.

  • The NCFCA gave me peers, for the first time in my life.  Growing up, I was always “the smart kid.”  I hated that term, but as it was the only way I knew to get respect from both my peers and the adults in my life, I worked hard to perpetuate it.  As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, had very few close friends (but the ones I did have were wonderful), and spent a lot of time alone.  I wasn’t unhappy by any means, but I think that was only because I didn’t know what it was like to have peers.  The students in the NCFCA challenged me.  Collectively, they are some of the most intelligent, dedicated people I have ever met, and I consider myself exceedingly lucky to have met and grown to know and love so many of them.
  • The NCFCA taught me that communication is key.  More than anything intellectual, my time in the league developed the innate passion within me to be in relationship with people.  Communication was prized above anything else, including research and academic prowess.  It didn’t matter what you knew unless you knew how to talk with people and not at them, in a way that they could understand.  This tenet influences decisions I make and endeavors I undertake to this day.
  • The NCFCA taught me how to ask questions.  Whether through cross-examination in debate, extemporaneous speaking, or impromptu, I learned how to ask powerful questions both to gather information and to test the information I had already gathered.
  • The NCFCA taught me that adults are not superior to adolescents just by virtue of their age.  I guarantee you that this was not the lesson that I was intended to learn, because the league leadership rarely empowered us as young adults outside of the debate rounds.  We were looked at and spoken to like children while we were expected to think, speak, and behave like adults.  Even as legal adults, alumni were placed in a special category of judges, being the only ones to have our ballots read for legitimacy, regardless of our reputations.  On the flip side, I can’t tell you how many adult arguments and feuds I saw during my time in the NCFCA, but I can tell you that there were just as many as between students.  My time in the league removed any illusions that communication and maturity became easier as adults, which prepared me for the “real world” in a huge way.
  • The NCFCA taught me (but didn’t mean to) the value of both transparency and trust.  More specifically, it taught me that answering the question “Why?” may be one of the most important things I can do as a leader.  This was due in large part to the lack of transparency and trust between the league leadership (especially the board of directors) and many of the students.  In this area, our questioning skills were often cast in a negative light and we were dismissed.  I remember speaking with a friend about this and saying that it felt we were on a Christian Soldier assembly line, and the adults in the league were trying to control how we behaved and thought at the end of the process.  What they didn’t realize is that much like in the film I, Robot, that method of control provoked exactly what they sought to minimize.
  • The NCFCA taught me that getting know a person’s heart and individual situation is of paramount importance to the development of relationship.  I saw relationships ruined time and again because legalism got in the way of true listening and understanding.  The integrity of the “assembly line” I mentioned earlier often seemed more important than the individual students and parents involved.  This was not as much a top-down issue as it was ubiquitous: most rule violators were problems to be dealt with.  This continued through our time as alumni, dovetailing with the way that we were categorized and talked down to mentioned above.

The people I met during my time in the NCFCA are dear to my heart, including many of the people in league leadership that I knew.  Many of these issues are issues that would likely develop in any institution like NCFCA, but as it is NCFCA we are discussing this week, it is NCFCA I have written about.  Nobody involved in the league leadership was ever a “bad person,” and they all gave so much of their time and energy that it’s a wonder they don’t all have grey hair.  But the league was not perfect, no matter how much I want to remember that time in an entirely positive light. And it’s important to talk about how we perceived both the great and the not-so-great because those things have clearly contributed to who we (as authors) are as people.

So, when people who were or are involved with the league read this, I hope you know that I bear you no ill will. I still to this day recommend the league to students I work with, because it helped make me who I am today.  And I think that’s pretty awesome…even if that person isn’t exactly who the league hoped I would become.