Monday, December 27, 2010

Smear the Queer: When Tradition Needs to be Changed

Why are some elementary school administrators in Utah upset about a backyard sign facing the school playground that reads, “Stop Gay Suicide. Tell the Truth. Gays are Born Gay?" They believe the sign is “adult content” for one thing. They associate the word “gay” with sex (but not the words “Mommy” and “Daddy”). Some parents and school officials believe that bringing up anti-gay name-calling and bullying is just part of the “Homosexual Agenda” to turn all kids gay. Others believe that the word “suicide” is inappropriate for elementary school students to know about. Never mind that children, some in elementary school, do commit suicide because they are targeted by anti-gay bullying.

Some folks in this Utah community are also upset that Mr. Ridley, the guy with the backyard signs, also wants the school to stop allowing children on the playground to play Smear the Queer. In other words, it’s ok to for children to play Smear the Queer, but not ok for them to see the words “gay” and “suicide” while they play Smear the Queer. Apparently school officials are not even concerning themselves with his complaint about Smear the Queer.

Remember Smear the Queer from your childhood? I remember playing it in my backyard with all the neighborhood guys only we called it Maul the Man with Ball. I don’t know why we were so enlightened, but it was the same game. In case you missed it, the gist of the game is that one child has the ball, often a football, and everyone else chases him down (it’s most often played by boys) and everyone piles on top of the queer. He can toss the ball to someone else and the mob turns on that queer and so on. There are variations. One used in some physical education classes is that, instead of chasing and piling on the queer, everyone else has balls which they throw at the queer with the football, kind of like stoning.

What do you suppose is the disconnect between being upset about school children seeing the words “gay” and “suicide,” but not having a problem with them playing Smear the Queer during PE class or recess? Some people believe that children do not understand the negative association between “queer” and gay people. Other people believe that, because Smear the Queer has a long tradition as a harmless childhood game, it is political correctness run amok to banish it from schools.

Because a children’s playground game has a long tradition, does that make it harmless? Do young children understand the meaning of “queer” when it is used as a putdown for gay and lesbian people? Even if school officials decide that the game is not associated with anti-gay sentiment, what about the educational value of the game? It makes you wonder why some PE teachers can’t think of better, more educational games to play. It also makes you wonder who is supervising the playground during recess when Smear the Queer is being played.

I admit that when I was in elementary school (and junior high too) I loved violent dodgeball and chase games like Maul the Man with the Ball or something our PE teacher called Artillery Ball or Bombardment where the objective was to hit as many of your classmates on the other team with a volleyball as you could before they ran to the safety of the “home base” on the opposite gym wall. The game was wild, chaotic and fast. If you were a good dodger, thrower and physically aggressive, the game was fun. If you weren’t, not so much and too bad for you. Your only hope was to either intentionally get hit early and therefore eliminated from the game or to hide behind the bleachers until class was over. Kids in my class did both. I’m betting they still hate PE class and, listen up Phys Ed teachers, are not inclined to support daily physical education for their children.

So, to my way of thinking, there are two strikes against Smear the Queer. One, it is not a game that is educationally justified either in a PE class or on the school playground. Two, the symbolism and underlying text of the name, Smear the Queer, is chilling in the context of anti-gay bullying in schools and suicide among young people because of anti-gay bullying. Elementary school children today DO know what “queer” means. They hear anti-gay epithets every day and, when teachers or coaches let it go or allow games called Smear the Queer, children learn that it’s ok. Go ahead, Smear the Queer.

Another thing, can you imagine school administrators allowing children to play games with equally offensive names like, “Get the Het” or “Trigger the N-----“ or “Bop the Wop” or “Stew the Jew”? Why is Smear the Queer ok? I say it’s time for the third strike against Smear the Queer. Let’s get it out of the schools altogether along with anti-gay bullying and name-calling.

4 comments:

Zackery said...

Pretty effective piece of writing, much thanks for your article.
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Anonymous said...

Smear the queer has nothing to do with gay people. In fact, Im sure they would never play such a game. So, leave well enough alone and let kids be kids and have fun. Although Im sure if you had it your way, you'd ban P.E. and fun altogether

Hostpph.com said...

I think that they deserve a little respect at least and they to reach an good agreement.

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Great post!