'Not Gay' - A book with an intriguing theory on hazing

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Fri, 7 Aug 2015 Source: Forbes / Bob Cook

I have to admit, I’ve not read a new book called “Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men,” by Jane Ward, an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at University of California Riverside. But given the number of stories every year about male athletes committing sexual assault in the name of hazing, I was intrigued by the promotional copy. From the publisher, NYU Press:

"Not Gay thrusts deep into a world where straight guy-on-guy action is not a myth but a reality: there’s fraternity and military hazing rituals, where new recruits are made to [um, use your imagination]. "

For Jane Ward, these sexual practices reveal a unique social space where straight white men can—and do—have sex with other straight white men; in fact, she argues, to do so reaffirms rather than challenges their gender and racial identity.

Ward illustrates that sex between straight white men allows them to leverage whiteness and masculinity to authenticate their heterosexuality in the context of sex with men. By understanding their same-sex sexual practice as meaningless, accidental, or even necessary, straight white men can perform homosexual contact in heterosexual ways. These sex acts are not slippages into a queer way of being or expressions of a desired but unarticulated gay identity. Instead, Ward argues, they reveal the fluidity and complexity that characterizes all human sexual desire.

The blurb doesn’t mention youth sports, but hazing cases sure sound a lot like that — especially because, for what I’ve seen, the most sexually charged cases tend to happen in schools that are overwhelmingly white, or are perpetrated overwhelmingly by white athletes. For example, in 98 percent non-Hispanic white Milton, Vt., where a retired Vermont State Police captain just dropped an inch-thick report faulting school administrators for not following policy when football players were accused of hazing. From the Burlington Free Press:

"A previous criminal investigation revealed Milton football players held initiations that included sexually hazing younger players with broom sticks or pool cues, court records showed.

The hazing case spread over several years and included criminal convictions for five former players. One hazing victim committed suicide a year after he was assaulted, and the state Legislature adopted a new law designed to provide greater protection for children, including hazing."

The legislation was passed in part due to the suicide of Jordan Preavy one year after he was the victim of the hazing ritual.

Of course, this doesn’t mean such activity is perpetrated by white people only. At least, in the case of a lawsuit being heard regarding alleged sexual abuse in the name of hazing at Hesperia, Calif.’s Oak Hills High School, there’s no public record yet of who might be responsible at a school that is 36 percent non-Hispanic white, and 50 percent Hispanic. From the Victorville Daily Press:

"A lawsuit alleging that Hesperia Unified School District and Oak Hills High School officials failed to address sexual hazing issues with the school’s football team is scheduled to go to trial early [2016], San Bernardino County court records show."

The suit, filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court in July 2014 by a mother of a football player at OHHS on his behalf, accuses district and school officials of covering up the “sexual beatings.” A readiness calendar hearing has been scheduled for March 17.

Orange County-based lawyer John Manley said that since the suit’s filing, he has been gathering depositions (sworn, out-of-court testimony) from the school’s principal, multiple administrators, coaches and students. The deposition process was complicated when HUSD filed a protective order in May, granted in late June, which prevented employees from going to Manley’s office to give depositions, Manley said. He said an agreement was reached that depositions would be done in Hesperia.

"The case complaints suggest that abusive behavior such as “digital penetration” was perpetrated by older athletes on younger, smaller athletes, and that administrators and coaches were aware of the hazing rituals.

Manley alleges that the hazing has been going on “for a while” and that the “homoerotic violence” associated with the school’s football program is “strange.”

Unfortunately, sexual abuse in the name of hazing is common enough that it’s not strange, as in unusual. Or, if I’m reading the blurb to Jane Ward’s book correctly, it’s not strange in the sense of young males asserting sexual dominance over other males satisfies some sort of impulse, though certainly in an unhealthy way. And it’s certainly not strange that white males are involved. For a sample of hazing cases making their way through the news.

The David Crockett High allegations of sexual hazing — the claim, according to the Johnson City, Tenn., Press, was that “freshman football players were pinned down while older students rubbed their genitals on the younger boys’ faces” – happened at a camp organized by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, no less. When hazing was first alleged in late July, the head football coach, Jeremy Bosken, threw some sexual politics into the mix himself. From WJHL-TV in Johnson City, Tenn.:

“I can’t have any comments on anything that has happened. All I know is that the guys we have suited up here are guys you’d want to date your daughters, and if I couldn’t say that with the utmost confidence, they wouldn’t be out here with us.”

There has been a movement in recent years for schools to create anti-hazing policies, as well as for state laws to address them, as well. But it seems like a message needs to come directly to the boys that first, forcing yourself physically on anybody is a bad thing, and second, if you do have a desire to have a sexual experience with another male, please do it with someone who is also willing, and as Jane Ward might tell you, don’t worry that it means you’re gay for life. Though if you are, that’s OK.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time at this point imagining a football coach, especially in a cloistered, white community, standing up in front of his team, with the full support of parents, instructing his boys to find a healthy expression for “the fluidity and complexity that characterizes all human sexual desire.”

Columnist: Forbes / Bob Cook