Today’s furore is caused by the Church of England’s declaration that
unrepentant sinners will go to hell and only Jesus can save them boys ought to be able to wear tutus and a tiara at CofE schools, should they be so inclined, in order “to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity”. And, oh boy, the ensuing cyclone of media scorn and damnation is right off the Beatific Beaufort scale, with the Telegraph‘s ‘Let young boys wear tutus and high heels if they want to, Church of England says‘; the Mail: ‘Let little boys wear tiaras: Church of England issues new advice to combat transgender bullying for teachers‘; the Mirror: ‘Boys will be allowed to wear tiaras and tutus in school from age five under new Church of England guidelines‘; the Sun: ‘‘yes to tiaras’ Archbishop of Canterbury says young boys in nursery and primary schools should be allowed to wear tiaras and tutus’; the Express: ‘Transgender ROW as Church of England causes OUTRAGE after saying ‘let boys dress in tutus’‘; the Times: ‘Let children dress up as boys or girls, CofE tells schools‘; the Independent: ‘Church of England tells schools to let children ‘explore gender identity’‘, etc., etc.
All of which is a bit odd, when you consider that about 98.9 per cent of media types are usually foursquare behind the freedom to be whatever you want and believe whatever you wish, especially when you’re a child.
And that’s why people need to delve a little deeper beyond these histrionic headlines, for the real issue here is not about boys being permitted to wear a tutu and tiara at school, but the coercive, censorious and stifling nature of the Church of England’s guidance.
Firstly, the context is “Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic (HBT) bullying” (who knew it already had an acronym? [Good job they put ‘biphobic’ before ‘transphobic’…]) in Church of England schools. Quite why this form of bullying is singled out for special guidelines isn’t clear: a school should stamp on all bullying, period. But the guidance which has caused such outrage is nothing to do with ditching school uniforms (should they exist) or permitting children to come to school wearing whatever they wish (though that may follow tomorrow), which is what some of the click-baity headlines suggest. Here’s the relevant section of Valuing All God’s Children (2nd ed. Autumn 2017), p20:
In creating a school environment that promotes dignity for all and a call to live fulfilled lives as uniquely gifted individuals, pupils will be equipped to accept difference of all varieties and be supported to accept their own gender identity or sexual orientation and that of others. In order to do this it will be essential to provide curriculum opportunities where difference is explored, same-sex relationships, same-sex parenting and transgender issues may be mentioned as a fact in some people’s lives. For children of same-sex or transgender parents or with close LGBT relatives this will be a signal of recognition that will encourage self-esteem and belonging.
Educators (Christian or otherwise) may disagree over whether all manifestations of identity exploration ought to be supported or encouraged at the primary school level, but few would contend against the provision of curriculum opportunities to discuss matters of sex and sexuality as a fact at secondary school level. There is nothing indoctrinating about the objective consideration of facts, though individual educators may, of course, impress their own moral worldviews upon receptive minds. But that is not the issue in this guidance, which is to root out the sort of bullying which damages children, “leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide”. The next paragraph is seminal to the mission:
In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.
It’s funny how the headlines are designed to whip up a stink about boys in tutus and tiaras, but there’s little mention at all of girls wearing a fireman’s helmet or a mechanic’s tool belt. And how many of those headlines were followed by the explanation that the Church of England was talking about children play-acting, dressing up and pretending to be that which they are not? The media can’t bash the CofE for encouraging girls to become engineers, architects, soldiers or firefighters. But boys in tutus? Well, that’s when it becomes clear that the real target here is the good old CofE – any opportunity to scoff and scorn must be seized.
There ought to be no objection at all to the inclusion of drama in the school curriculum, and boys ought to be as free as girls to select their robes and crowns. “All the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare said, “and all the men and women merely players.” Why shouldn’t children have their variable exits and entrances? Why shouldn’t they play many inclusive parts? How can you perform Twelfth Night or As You Like It unless you embrace the possibility of boys dressing as girls or girls as boys? Why shouldn’t boys explore ‘cross-dressing’ with sissy ballet tights? Haven’t you seen Billy Elliot?
The most (perhaps only) objectionable part of this guidance is to be found in the final paragraph on the page:
The use of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language is still widespread in most English schools and 40 per cent of primary school teachers reported homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment in their school. Therefore specific work to counter such bullying and counter the use of language such as ‘you’re so gay’ or ‘your pencil case/trainers are gay’ is necessary and will need to be specific to age and cohort.
This is an interesting manipulation of the vernacular. It wasn’t so long ago that ‘gay’ meant nothing more than ‘happy’, and the word has morphed over recent decades to become the synonym of preference for ‘homosexual’, which now sounds altogether to too clinically categorical, if not derogatory. But ‘gay’ is evidently still morphing, and not really in a way which ought to offend any of the LGBT community. It appears to be becoming a synonym for ‘crap’, but few children (if any at the primary school level) are saying that to be gay is to be crap. When they say ‘your trainers are gay’ they are simply deploying the word endowed with the (ascending?) definition – a natural process of linguistic/etymological development which ought to remain free from ecclesial manipulation. Unless, of course, the CofE is also going to issue guidance to restrict the use of ‘pride’, or rescue ‘sick’ from the same abuse, for ‘your trainers are sick’ has come to mean ‘your trainers are awesome’, and there appears to be no concern at all for the sensitivities of those who are really ill or infirm.
The word ‘gay’ is not owned by anyone, any more than is Abba, Kylie, stage musicals or rainbows. Yet all of these things have been incrementally appropriated by the LGBT community, such that no straight man now dare admit that he likes ‘Dancing Queen’ or enjoys singing along to The Sound of Music. What’s wrong with a turf war over word usage and abusage? What censorious business is it of the Church of England’s if a child uses a word consistent with the new vernacular? What’s next if this coercive programme is permitted to continue? Are teachers to be discouraged from showing rainbows in the context of God’s judgment and forgiveness, just because the Pride flag has detached the phenomenon from God’s covenant with every living thing (Gen 9:13)?
O yes, there is one other objectionable section in this guidance:
Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment.
One child’s judgment is another’s harmless reaction; one child’s laughter is a teacher’s derision. If children are being encouraged to dress up as wicked witches and good fairies to explore their identities and the diversity of humanity, it is absurd that their audiences may not boo or hiss, or pass any kind of comment at all. You can’t stifle the spontaneous clapping, screaming and laughter in the pantomime theatre of childhood: therein lies the most sinister controlling ‘guidance’ and totalitarian educational oppression of them all.