Sunday at lunch, my dad was going on and on about a recent article in the New York Times that told how the National Rifle Association gave $21 million in grants to youth organizations (mostly the Boy Scouts and 4H)--nearly double what it gave out just five years before--in an attempt to get kids involved in the recreational use of firearms. If the tragedy at Newtown and that movie theater in Aurora, Colorado are any indication, it looks as though their program is going just swimmingly.
Any link between the bad publicity generated by the Times story and today's announced trial balloon? I tend to doubt it, unless the fear of more negative news (the recent Scout report about sexual abuse that had been hidden and covered up for years couldn't possibly have resulted in a wave of membership into the Scouts) prompted Scout officials to move up plans that had already been in the making. That's possible, I suppose. I can see a reasonable communications strategy being to "fess up" to the sex abuse scandal, and then wait six months or so to announce a change of heart when it comes to the policy in gays. that would result in two waves of publicity--one not so good, one better. Announcing that one is considering the lift makes it a 2.5 bounce, I suppose.
Personally, I never cared much for the Scouts. I was a member of the Cub Scouts when I was a kid, and slogged my way up to Webelos. My experience was hardly the cozy image of a bunch of fun-loving kids who hang around in their pack, going out on adventures and camping out in the wilderness, telling ghost stories by a roaring fire. Friends forever. I kind of think my pack barely tolerated me, and my Scoutmasters certainly didn't know what the hell to do with an awkward shy kid who could barely hold a bat in his hand correctly.
But then, when you really think of it, in the animal world, isn't that what a pack really is, anyways? Just look at your friendly neighborhood meerkats. Cute as they are, it's all survival of the fittest and pecking order based on dominance. Living in a pack does have its advantages, but it's also a hard cold life, for the most part, and those who are different are...well, barely tolerated. I was a human meerkat!
I have to admit, I hated every moment of it. I just never really felt as though I fit in, frankly, but my father made me join...I think, because he was a Scout when he was a kid. I suffered through it for four years, and then begged my dad to let me quit. He took pity on me. For some reason, my brother Tommy was spared this indignity, although he would surely have fared far better than I did.
There was just nothing in it for me. I hated sports, I hated the outdoors. I couldn't tie a knot to save my life. My racecar at the pine wood derby was pathetic. It broke apart when my dad tried to help me race it and he ended up with a huge bloody cut on his finger. I couldn't even do the cub scout sign very well...I always had one finger that was kind of wiggly.
I just felt different, I guess. Kind of awkward and isolated. One time, during a Scout meeting, I remember hiding in another room to see if any of the other kids would miss me. When no one said a word, I took that as an affirmation, snuck out of the meeting, and headed home. I told my parents, they spoke to the Scout leader. I think I took a month off, and then was forced to go back.
The truth is, that sort of thing has nothing to do with accepting gays into the organization. I certainly didn't know I was gay at the time, although I sure knew I was different. I hated that feeling. I hated it when I saw it happen to Ashes, as she was growing up. As a result, my heart always goes out to the underdog, the kid who's picked on, the awkward one who keps his own company because he just can't bear the pain of being made to look the fool, once again.
Is it naive to hope that with this pending decision, every effort is made to embrace what makes each and every boy different, and not simply accept "tolerance" grudgingly? To have just had a friend to accept me as I was! Was it too much to have asked for a merit badge in friendship? A little bit of acceptance such as that would have gone such a long way in my life, at that point in my life.