The first draft of this essay appeared 10 years ago. It was unwieldy, unfocused, and passionate — much like its subject matter, Boys State Alaska, the mock government system for adolescents organized by The American Legion. (Seeing the brilliant 2020 documentary “Boys State” made me revisit this draft. It perfectly captures the insanity and good intentions of Boys State).
Since then, I’ve thought a lot more about respectability politics, heteronormativity, and the realities of race. I’ve seen moments where I (however unwittingly) perpetuated racist, classist, or homophobic ideas, as well as the times I’ve resisted and rejected such toxicity from myself and my communities.
This essay is about how homophobia, class, and racism can corrode self-respect and close friendships, not because two young people believe in those divisions, but because the world they find themselves in is set up by adults who fail to refuse myopic and inhuman sentiments.
This was one week in 2007, but it feels like the underlying power structures between vulnerable youth and homophobic (or just craven) politicians remains the same. The political betrayals of young people, especially LGBTQI+ people, are very much on-going. To me, the case of a 17-year-old class president having to say “curly hair” instead of “gay” because of Florida law is the clearest indicator of where true malice lies.
This is a personal and uncomfortable essay to share, but I believe doing so is important to reckon with the damage done by homophobia, as well as to plainly hold accountable the politicians that enable vitriol, apathy, or disdain for queer people.
And with that, a big gay cheers to Pine Hills Review and the amazing Alex Tunney for editing “A Boy’s State”
Here’s the link: https://pinehillsreview.com/2022/11/16/matthewfryecastillo/