Recit­ing (and re­sist­ing) a pledge of con­ve­nience

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

“My wari­ness was learned dur­ing our first week­end of liv­ing to­gether, when he told me he knew Santa wasn’t real. I rubbed his hair and com­pli­mented him for be­ing such a big boy, then was dev­as­tated by the hope­less­ness in his eyes as he looked up and asked, ‘So he’s not?’”

I’ve al­ways thought it was weird how chil­dren are the only cit­i­zens who reg­u­larly have to re­cite a loy­alty oath to our coun­try. It’s prob­a­bly been more than a decade since you said the Pledge of Al­le­giance, as most adults prove their pa­tri­o­tism sim­ply by stand­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them at sport­ing events.

Yet, we make chil­dren pledge their al­le­giance to the United States, and we make them do it ev­ery day, like we sus­pect they’re us­ing re­cess to plot an un­der­aged over­throw of our gov­ern­ment. This is the type of sub­ver­sive cu­rios­ity that be­nignly bounces around my head, but has sud­denly gone from the­o­ret­i­cal to my liv­ing room.

My nephew’s school sent home a note in­struct­ing him to wear all white next Thurs­day be­cause his class will form a hu­man U.S. flag as they sing pa­tri­otic songs for, in no par­tic­u­lar or­der, troops and so­cial me­dia.

“We’re go­ing to make a video for the peo­ple who make us free,” my nephew told me, sound­ing like any prop­erly in­doc­tri­nated el­e­men­tary school stu­dent.

I be­lieve most sol­diers fight for a pay­check and the com­rade be­side them more than any sense of pa­tri­o­tism, that wars rarely have any­thing to do with free­dom or jus­tice, and that our cul­tural sen­ti­men­tal­ity for the war­riorhero gives politi­cians the cap­i­tal to send more peo­ple, other peo­ple, to un­nec­es­sary death, sup­pos­edly to “make us free.” I sus­pect that con­vey­ing this to a 7-year-old could get both of us placed on a ter­ror­ist watch list.

“There are many brave men and women who went through a lot for this coun­try,” I said. “And the best way we can honor them is to do ev­ery­thing we can to make sure there are never any­more wars.”

In­stead of ex­plain­ing to him my con­cerns about his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the na­tion­al­is­tic, war­mon­ger­ing pro­pa­ganda that has be­come Vet­er­ans Day, I went shop­ping so his white shirt would be ex­tra clean and crisp. As some­one sud­denly thrust into guardian­ship of a young mind, I some­times tell him things that I re­al­ize mid-sen­tence I don’t be­lieve, but which are the eas­i­est way to an­swer his ques­tions with­out de­stroy­ing his emo­tional core.

My wari­ness was learned dur­ing our first week­end of liv­ing to­gether, when he told me he knew Santa wasn’t real. I rubbed his hair and com­pli­mented him for be­ing such a big boy, then was dev­as­tated by the hope­less­ness in his eyes as he looked up and asked, “So he’s not?”

I’ve kept quiet when peo­ple ask him whether he’s got a girl­friend be­cause, as em­bar­rassed as he gets by the ques­tion, it would prob­a­bly be more awk­ward for me to start warn­ing about gen­dered ex­pec­ta­tions. But there are parts of me that want to en­cour­age ques­tions about his girl­friend: my in­se­cu­rity that our fam­ily will think I steered him to­ward ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, and my hope that he en­joys the ease of het­ero­sex­u­al­ity.

When I came out, the only dis­com­fort my mother ex­pressed to me was about my safety, and how much more dif­fi­cult my life would be if I were gay. Parental ob­jec­tion to­ward their child be­ing LGBT is not al­ways based in religion and spite, but of­ten an­other way par­ents think they’re pro­tect­ing their child’s emo­tional core.

I’ve been up­front with my nephew about my sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion with the hope that he, like the rest of my fam­ily, will know that the easy, de­fault mind­set is not the only way to un­der­stand the world. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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