"I'm an artist and I'm sensitive about my s***!"

Creative Commons License
Hypothetical Theological Illogic Scholastica [blog] by Gloria Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, May 19, 2014

“Children of LGBTQ Parents: Normalization and Assimilation”

Written for a client April 2014

“Children of LGBTQ Parents: Normalization and Assimilation”
In these more modern and, some say, more “tolerant” times, The Gay Agenda has quickly normalized and sanitized perceptions of Same-Sex relationships in general and same-sex parenthood in particular. What some would call a glorification of postmodern alternatives to the pre-WWII era “nuclear family,” some would call a perversion of traditional family unit structure and values (Becker, p8). Michael E Lamb, editor of Parenting and Child Development in “Nontraditional” Families notes in his introduction that it would indeed benefit society as a whole “ to discuss in depth the ways in which various "deviations" from traditional family styles affect childrearing practices and child development (Lamb, xiii)” The fact that recently gay marriage is more widely accepted and gay rights more explicitly defended, has perhaps made it “easier” for children of same sex parents to feel “normal”—or does it give them a certain sense of still being deprived of stable gendered role models, or still being “Other-ed” or stigmatized by children of heterosexuals?  Proper child socialization and identity formation/establishment is often shaped by the parents—are children of same sex parents disadvantaged in a way by circumvented or inverted gender presentations; are children of same sex parents confused by lack of standard masculine-feminine identification and is that “confusion” in fact liberating as a condemnation of making oneself a stereotype, a condemnation of “labeling” or “gender policing”? Perhaps it can be proven that a child’s development of his/her own sexuality and self-identification in the face of disapproving, bullying, or simply unsympathetic peers is not necessarily affected by parent’s sexual orientation.
In these cosmopolitan, gay-friendly times, the Western world seeks in many ways to re-define and outline concepts of family and gender. In the post-Clinton-Lewinski-Scandal era of American sexual politics, in the post-Scandal era wherein America’s sordid history of slavery and miscegenation is remixed and upgraded to place Sally Hemmings as Olivia Pope in a designer suit and “white hat”, in the era in which the nation confronted, horrified, its behind-curtains Catholic Pedophilia glorification, new ideas about relationship dynamics and taboos arise just as dramatically as the recent spikes in divorce and adoption rates. In this exciting and unsettling New Age, many discover families are dramatically reconfigured. Through gradual standardization of homosexual portrayals in the media, many American citizens, liberal and conservative, question Ideals among hetero- and homosexual families of what’s considered “proper” or “traditional” in the family unit organization and/or presentation of gender roles, including masculine and feminine presentations of caretaking and employment responsibilities, as applicable (Opposing Viewpoints, p1). In the face of the question of whether gay parents appropriately raise well-adjusted, properly socialized, healthy, intelligent, and confident children, there are several opposing arguments presented. Among potential oppositional perspectives are: how children may feel isolated or ostracized for parents’ orientation (National Review); how witnessing homosexual displays of affection and/or sexual activity may be believed to cause children to experiences warping of gender identification; and whether or not a child’s proclivity towards homosexual desires/presentation can absolutely be attributed to direct imitation or emulation of a homosexual parent. These questions can perhaps be placed in a clearer context by exploring how the traditional family structure in America has changed, as well as how drastically and quickly changed has been the perspectives on Gay Marriage and Gay Parenting in the American collective.
The 20th and 21st centuries have been the most rapidly evolving in human history, with trends in arts, religion, fashion, and even human thought changing ever more fleetingly with each six months. The dawning of the 21st century especially has illuminated severe deviations from the traditional “nuclear family” structure, starting with (and blame attributed to) not only the institution of gay marriage, but even heterosexual families’ households changed drastically with the country’s post WWII high morale expansion and suburbanization-modernization, as well as post-1960s Women’s Liberation and the so-called Sexual Revolution. An article appearing in The American Family illustrates thus:
The economic prosperity following World War II enabled many American families to pursue what was perceived to be a better life in the wide-open spaces of the outlying, newly developing suburbs. The ties that bound the nuclear family, the extended family, and the ethnic neighborhood—all of which existed before the war—were loosened. (Becker, p1)
The thoroughly researched report went on including explanations for the formation of new dynamics including: increased occurrences of divorce leading to split and mixed families, the advent of the acceptable “stepchildren” as a normal reflection of broken vows, incidences of struggling retiree grandparents raising grandchildren, adoptions, and interracial marriages. All this in mind, it would seem evident the American Family Ideal was already becoming more inclusive, more fluid—or, some would say, the Standard was more corrupted—well before the political debates about laws governing same sex relations began.
With the definitions of family more elusive, and the definitions of “love” more broad, one may begin to wonder in extremes whether or not in the near future there will be advocates this zealous arguing for the acceptance and normalization of Pedophilic marriages. Edward Alexander, writing for The Weekly Standard surmised:
The triumphant campaign for gay marriage (and gay adoption) had swept all before it, once Vice President Biden forced President Obama to accelerate his "evolution" from the traditional (for most of human history) understanding of marriage as a heterosexual institution to endorsement of same-sex unions. The campaign had been conducted on the lowest possible intellectual level, i.e., that of "equal rights" for all people who love each other. But do any two heterosexual people in love have a "right" to marry? Suppose one of them is already married? Suppose one of them is the child of the other? (Alexander, p1)

In light of the question of whether same sex offspring are really living a life that’s best for them, the full article from “Gay Parenting” in Opposing Viewpoints in Context quotes extensively:
Those who oppose the idea of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people having and raising children argue that the traditional family structure serves as the basis for society, and without it, society as a whole will deteriorate and suffer. Collette Caprara in a Heritage Foundation blog entry, entitled “Reinventing the Family: Good Intentions Are Not Enough,” on October 24, 2011, writes, “Youths growing up with both a mother and father in the home are also less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as becoming sexually active or engaging in substance abuse and less likely to exhibit antisocial behavior. In addition, teens in intact families tend to fare better on a range of emotional and psychological outcomes and to have higher levels of academic achievement and educational attainment. With an apparent disregard for the social and economic consequences to children, the rise of experimental family forms and the ‘commissioning’ of babies may be the ultimate expression of the commodification of children—when offspring are conceived for the gratification of adults who have yet to grow up.” (Opposing Viewpoints, p2)
Harsh as some of Caprara’s assessments may have presumably been, it is imperative that, politics aside, more scrutiny be given as to whether such alternate family, marriage, and relationship paradigms are truly best for children instead of just abstract concepts, untried, used as cannon fodder for vain political rhetoric and philosophical fascination with the taboo. Frustrated by the lack of truly thorough research on the effects of gay parenting on children, Mark Regnerus of University of Texas took it upon himself to conduct a larger, wider, more inclusive and representative study (The Wilson Quarterly) with samples of adults who had grown up with gay or lesbian parents and had come of age before gay marriage was even legal. His findings showed that children who had reached of adult age after being raised by gay or lesbian parents were more likely to need public assistance as an adult, more likely to face unemployment, more likely to experience depression and, thus, more likely with such symptoms to engage in drug use.
"If same-sex parents are able to raise children with no differences" from children raised by their married biological parents, Regnerus writes, "it would mean that same-sex couples are able to do something that heterosexual couples in step parenting, adoptive and cohabitating contexts have themselves not been able to do--replicate the optimal child-rearing environment of married, biological-parent homes." (The Wilson Quarterly, p1)

Contrary to Regnerus’ findings, however, in a case of what could be skewed data and biased agenda pushing, a report published in Gay Parenting and Daily Hampshire Gazette on a study conducted by Abbie Gouldberg concludes there are no higher rates of depression or maladjustment among children of gay parents. The Clark University Professor Gouldberg asserts cheerfully that children are much better off because they were taught by their “more tolerant” gay parents to be “more open to same-sex relationships” and are “not as gender stereotyped “ as their heterosexual, more conformist peers (Wilson, p4). She also makes the connection that because of this open-mindedness and their parents’ tolerance, children of same sex parents feel more supported and thus more confident in life, translating to seemingly  more successful children, especially “girls (of lesbian parents) are more likely to have higher career aspirations (4).” Whatever the presumed benefits of higher career aspirations, Gouldberg’s happy assumption does not explain the results of Regnerus’ study implicating gay parenting as a key commonality among depressed, drug addicted, and unemployed adults of a far more inclusive and representative sample, including Blacks and Hispanics, than Amy Gouldberg’s own sample. Indeed, whose perception is more “open-minded?”
 It is not only wisely conscientious, it is indeed perceptively healthy to question the long term potential negative emotional and psychological effects—rather than the applauding of financial upward mobility in skewed studies of the gay demographic in the corporate workforce (Fetto, Experian Marketing Services) found in society’s sheep-like, fanatical, gay marriage bandwagon. Jay Roache’, a student of Rutgers University, himself a gay father of adopted children, acknowledges the subversive ulterior motives about the mainstream Gay Agenda and its potential damages, saying “I fear the same that the perversion of genuine love will be met with illusion and we will see way more mess coming (Roache Interview April 26, 2014)
 It is imperative to question the future potential of other taboos (incest, pedophilia, polygamy, etc) being made legally acceptable by the Law of Man instead of the moral Law of God or Nature. These concepts in mind, it is worth a thorough read of Edward Alexander’s enlightening summation:

[In 1869, Matthew Arnold] Arnold singled out for relentless mockery liberalism's obsessive campaign to change England's marriage laws so as "to give a man leave to marry his deceased wife's sister," that is, to eliminate the longstanding English taboo on in-law marriage. Defenders of the taboo claimed that Leviticus forbade such marriages. Liberals said Leviticus did no such thing and therefore "man's law, the law of liberty, ... makes us free to marry our deceased wife's sister." But Arnold's objection to the liberal position had nothing to do with Leviticus--"the voice of an Oriental and polygamous nation." Rather, it expressed his sense of the sacredness of marriage and the customs that regulate it as the delicately woven fabric of civilization, a barrier against the promiscuity of primitive life, against "anarchy." Such barriers are laborious to create, easy to unravel. England's 65-year battle over this taboo, viewed from the perspective of our own recent reversal of the laws (to say nothing of ancient custom) regarding marriage, reverses Marx's famous saying about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. But there is an eerie resemblance to the present that is worth noting. Arnold mocked Victorian liberalism's obsession with the "right" to marry one's deceased wife's sister as the perfect example of its Philistine "double craving" because it combined "the craving for forbidden fruit and the craving for legality." (Joe Biden, whatever his shortcomings, grasped this combination instinctively; and it is thanks in large part to him that a future book of presidential history may well be entitled Legalizing Forbidden Fruit: The Age of Obama.) (Alexander, p2)

 Speaking of “Forbidden Fruit” it is perhaps apropos to recall the age-old anti-gay slogan: “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and, from there, to consider the issue of gender presentation in same sex households and the effects of such on a child’s own social-sexual development.
            In traditional heterosexual households, it is often accepted that Mommy, the feminine principle, presents as soft, often accommodating, sensitive, affectionate, and fulfilling role of cook, cleaner, and [patient] child provider; alternatively, Daddy, the masculine principle, presents often as stern disciplinarian yet wise advisor, brash and direct in speech, and hard working. In hetero- and homo-sexual homes, how are these masculine and feminine roles or stereotypes maintained or disassembled? In same sex families, how, if at all, does the child identify “mommy” and “daddy” or which mommy/daddy is regarded as the worker/provider and which is regarded as the caretaker/nurturer? “[S]exuality is an important aspect of gay relationships,” Virginia Casper writes in Gay Parents/Straight Schools, “But for many straight Americans, it is the defining one. Asked to imagine a gay-headed family on a Saturday morning, many Americans would not be likely to conjure up images of laundry and chores (Casper, 22).” Abbie Gouldberg seems to like the idea of the gay household model creating more open-minded individuals (Wilson, p.4) who perhaps can be said to be “beyond gender” (such as the incredulous pretention that today’s Americans live in a “post-racist” society) because “gay parents…encourage a girl to play with both dolls and trucks” or introducing gender neutral toys and games (Caldera, et al.), and, like Angelina Jolie’s gender-bending Shiloh, these ungendered children are supposedly more“Independent (Wilson, p.4).”
            Another issue of note inevitably to surface in any growing family household is the issue of Sexual Curiosity. Children are often influenced initially in sexual development by the sexual portrayals in their own household (Bering)—which is of course not to say children are witnessing explicit sexual activity—and even displays of affection between parents; mild expressions of desire and/or flirtations still shape how children feel they are as adults to approach and conduct themselves with the opposite sex. In modern times, some may argue children no longer base their interaction on opposite sex by heterosexual parents’ interaction: now, it seems to be a free for all as children now more likely have to discern organically, spontaneously, how they will interact with a person of same or opposite sex, with no set example of etiquette. Studies (Pick) have shown sexual proclivities, kinks, and/or fetishes are undeniably shaped by childhood memories and parental impressions (Darling)—does this prove that children of gay parents are more inclined to fetishize or otherwise find desirable, elements of homosexual eroticism, including but not limited to aspects of homosexual foreplay including sex toys? One must wonder if this is an unintended and imperceptible side effect (that perhaps Ms. Gouldberg did not anticipate in her “cars and dolls” encouragement) of this Aeon’s debauched permission of a “right” granted without consideration of its potential damage. Again, if in another 50 years Presidents are granting rights to pedophiles to legally seduce and/or marry children, without seriously contemplating the gruesome possibilities and mental instability from which could be wrought, it is worth considering if that too would be considered a positive progression of America’s “heroic tolerance”, ironic in its polarity to the arguably (to today’s standards) “close-minded” and “oppressive” Puritan values this nation was first purportedly founded upon.
            Often children of hetero or homosexual parents, for whatever reasons including bullying and/or peer pressure, do not want to identify with their parents and, as a personal revolution or liberation, present themselves in ways as different from their parents as possible. Could this include children of homosexual parents who deliberately and resentfully present themselves as heterosexual (even to some extremes of denying their own latent homosexual desires) out of shame for homosexual parents’ stigmatism in society at large? Children also obviously mimic their parents, finding the parental example set before them, regardless of society at large, as the Ideal they should aspire to. Could children of homosexual parents feel, especially in early stages of development, that homosexual relationships are indeed the “norm,” the “majority” or even the only way relationships are supposed to be, just as undoubtedly heterosexual parents’ children have felt it is the “only way?” Again, Ms. Gouldberg feels the opposite:
Q: Does any of the research show the opposite—that some kids of same-sex parents want to be anything but gay, not because they don't love their parents, but because they've been dealing with "difference" all their lives?
A: That is exactly what I found. These kids are tired of defending their families and they're very aware that their parents feel this pressure to produce straight kids. They're so aware, growing up in the lens of media scrutiny, they feel they need to say, if I feel like screaming at my mom, it has nothing to do with the fact that
she's gay! (Wilson, p 4)
Conclusively, children may be faced with peer dissatisfaction or bullying for homosexual parents, however, it has been demonstrated through evidence presented in the paper, that although same sex relations are becoming more widely accepted, children of gays and lesbians do not necessarily identify as homosexual in any larger rates than children of heterosexuals. Furthermore, it seems time can only tell as in the next generation or two will the long term psychological effects be fully realized, the consequences of the “open” perceptions of this modern, “post-racist,” post-gender”, “post-homophobia” society. Like Pandora’s Box[1], like the “broad…way to Hell”[2], maybe there is such a thing as “too open.” Perhaps it is truly best to conclude with a return to the words of Jay Roache’, who candidly and emotionally reveals his own misgivings as a gay man and conflicts within himself concerning the image and gender presentation(s) he wants his child[ren] to be influenced by:
 Now in my personal relationship I would feel completely awkward expressing affection in from of my child, male or female. And I desire a male child. My issue is male bonding and that brotherly connection I feel that my dyssexualism[3] has interrupted… At any rate...I would never take away a mother from my child and yes there are such things as adoptive mothers etc but I was born with my birth mother. I would enjoy what I've experienced to be delivered to my son. That mother and father dynamic I just know that I would be more of a present father figure for my son…I would provide my child with his birth mother and birth father.  Although my love for Brandon is ridiculous and never to cease, I believe that things could work in our favor, and I would have a present mother figure at all times for this child. So yes I'm saying that I would PREFER having my son while Brandon and I are together but having a woman I between us. And I feel that is selfish. But that's what I would prefer. Perhaps that's me not willing to leave my present sex style/love for my child and is what's preventing me from receiving that gift. [Regarding his strict, abusive, heterosexual Christian parents who often demonized him and discouraged homosexual proclivities, Roache continues] And regardless of their acceptance or not, I would have probably [lived up to the Christian example] and been single all of my life or just fell into a heterosexual relationship. It wasn't really me deviating [by engaging in homosexual affairs] it was me more so no longer denying my [innate] shadow. Single or heterosexually conforming, I would've lived a secret online gay life. If I was raised by gay parents hmmm...it depends on how they raised me. If they never showed me to a heterosexual style I don't know how I would be.  If they did present healthy comparative heterosexual friends or acquaintances as examples/role models then I still don't know. I think I would be open. More experimentative. I would end up in a heterosexual marriage because I still feel a Mother and Father, male and female role is important for my child to grow up seeing. But I would probably dibble and dabble [in homosexual encounters] still.

Works Cited

Alexander, Edward. "Liberal Dogmatism; How a far-out idea becomes orthodox." The
Weekly Standard 12 Aug. 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 25 Apr.

Becker, Cynthia S., Ed., "Changing Family Patterns." The American Family: Reflecting a Changing Nation. 2005 ed. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Information Plus Reference Series. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Caldera, Yvonne M.; Huston, Aletha C.; O’Brien, Marion; “Social Interactions and Play Patterns of Parents and Toddlers with Feminine, Masculine, and Neutral Toys”. Child Development, Vol. 60, No.1 (Feb 1989), pp 70-76, Published by Wiley Online on behalf of  Society For Research in Child Development Web reprint http://www.jstor.org/stable/1131072

Casper, Virginia, and Steven B. Schultz. Gay parents/straight schools: Building communication and trust. Teachers College Press, 1999.

Darling, Carol A., and Mary W. Hicks. "Parental influence on adolescent sexuality: Implications for parents as educators." Journal of Youth and Adolescence 11.3 (1982): 231-245.

John Fetto, for Experian Marketing Services reports “A look at household income and discretionary spending of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual Americans” http://www.experian.com/blogs/marketing-forward/2012/07/20/sim-a-look-at-household-income-and-discretionary-spend-of-lesbian-gay-and-heterosexual-americans/

"Gay Parenting." Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2013.
Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
Goldberg, Abbie E. Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle. American Psychological Association, 2010.
Lamb, Michael E. Parenting and child development in" nontraditional" families. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 1999.
"Looking at the research on gay parenting, Mark Regnerus noticed that the samples
of most studies were small and unrepresentative, so he collected a sample that
was random and large." National Review 16 Dec. 2013: 12. Opposing Viewpoints
in Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
Pick, Susan, and Patricia Andrade Palos. "Impact of the family on the sex lives of adolescents." Adolescence 30.119 (1995): 667-675.
Roache’, Jay. Personal Interview/Conversation, consent to cite granted April 26, 2014
"The gay parent report card." The Wilson Quarterly 36.4 (2012). Opposing
Viewpoints in Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.
Wilson, Suzanne. "Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents Are Not More Likely to Have
Problems." Gay Parenting. Ed. Beth Rosenthal. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2013.
Opposing Viewpoints. Rpt. from "A Conversation with Psychologist Abbie
Goldberg: What Studies Show About Gay/Lesbian Parenting." Daily Hampshire
Gazette 22 July 2009. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

Works Consulted

Bos, Henny, Loes van Gelderen, and Nanette Gartrell. "Lesbian and Heterosexual Two-Parent Families: Adolescent–Parent Relationship Quality and Adolescent Well-Being." Journal of Child and Family Studies (2014): 1-16. Web reprint. < http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10826-014-9913-8#page-1 >Web Search 4 Apr 2014
Brown, Sarah S. "Popular Opinion on Homosexuality: The Shared Moral Language of Opposing Views."Sociological Inquiry. 70.4 (2000): 446-61. Web Reprint. < http://www.dallasvoice.com/gay-and-lesbian-parents-teaching-kids-its-ok-to-be-different-1013572.html > Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014.
Cahill, Sean, Mitra Ellen, and Sarah Tobias. “Family Policy: Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Families.” New York: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, 2002. ngltf.org. Web. 4 Apr. 2014.
Family Equality Council and Center for American Progress. United States. National Association of Social Workers. Strengthening Economic Security for Children Living in LGBTQ Families. Denver, CO: Movement Advancement Project, 2012. Web. . Web Search 4 Apr 2014
Fitzgerald, Bridget. "Children of lesbian and gay parents: A review of the literature." Marriage & Family Review 29.1 (1999): 57-75.Web Reprint. < http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J002v29n01_05#.U0JwyahdXZU > Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014

Gantz, Joe. Whose Child Cries: Children of Gay Parents Talk about their Lives. Rolling Hills Estates, CA: Jalmar Press, 1983. Print. The American College of Pediatricians. “Homosexual Parenting: Is It Time for Change?” acpeds.org. Mar 26 2009. Web. 4 Apr 2014 .
Gates, Gary J. “LGBT Parenting in the United States” The Williams Institute. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA School of Law, 2013. Web. < http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/LGBT-Parenting.pdf >   Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014
Golombok, Susan, and Fiona Tasker. "Do parents influence the sexual orientation of their children? Findings from a longitudinal study of lesbian families." Developmental psychology 32.1 (1996): 3.
Kosciw, Joseph G., and Elizabeth M. Diaz. Involved, Invisible, Ignored: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Parents and Their Children in Our Nation's K-12 Schools. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). 121 West 27th Street Suite 804, New York, NY 10001, 2008. Web. <http://www.familyequality.org/_asset/5n43xf/familiesandschools.pdf > Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014
Lewin, Ellen . "Embracing Consumption: Making Sense of Gay Fathers’ Strategies for Becoming Parents." The Austin Summit on LGBT Families . University of Texas. Austin, Texas. 26 Apr 2013. Reading. Departments of Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies, and Anthropology. Iowa: University of Iowa, 2013. Web. < http://www.utexas.edu/cola/depts/sociology/_files/pdfs/lewin.pdf > Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014
Marks, Loren. "Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American psychological association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting." Social Science Research 41 (2012): 735-751. Web Reprint. < http://www.baylorisr.org/wp-content/uploads/Marks.pdf >Web Search. 4 Apr. 2014
Pluhar*, Erika I., and Peter Kuriloff. "What really matters in family communication about sexuality? A qualitative analysis of affect and style among African American mothers and adolescent daughters." Sex Education4.3 (2004): 303-321.
Pick, Susan, and Patricia Andrade Palos. "Impact of the family on the sex lives of adolescents." Adolescence 30.119 (1995): 667-675.
Walker*, Joy. "Parents and sex education—looking beyond ‘the birds and the bees’." Sex Education 4.3 (2004): 239-254.

[1] The Greek myth of Pandora’s Box explained at length here http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/grecoromanmyth1/a/050410Pandora_and_her_box_or_pithos.htm
[2] Matthew 7:13
[3] A concept referring to “dysfunctional sexuality” or a luminal, undefinable and fluid sexuality or asexuality. Indication to its meaning here http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/28522-introduction-and-question-on-asexuality/

Mojuba: the African Autobiography as Ancestral Reverence

Written for a client April 2014

“Mojuba: the African Autobiography as Ancestral Reverence”
Africans place paramount importance upon children and ancestors. It is a common belief in many African communities, regardless of language or cultural nuances, that ancestors are reincarnated through our children. In African mentality, the idea of living honorably and living a dignified legacy is just as much to make one’s ancestors proud as to also leave a Proud example for one’s own children to follow. When ancestors are proud of their descendents, they may reincarnate as a child in the same family bloodline, sometimes reincarnating again and again as young children, such as abiku, heavily mentioned in by Soyinka in Ake (Soyinka, p 16-17). Many African spiritual groups have elaborate ceremonies or small devotional rituals giving respect and remembrance to the Dearly Departed, as evidenced in Soyinka's stories, in which he mentions egungun again and again, literally translated as “bones of my bones”. It is in acts of ancestral reverence that Africans and other indigenous cultures (such as Japanese Shinto and Norse Asatru traditions) feel perhaps more palpably a sense of humanity: humbled while reciting the names and pouring libation for those that came before, and feeling a part of a long thread of Collective [Un/Sub]Conscious, one who actively remembers and invokes the ancestors realizes a single human being is never actually alone. Likewise, it is in having and raising children that one’s Divinity and Immortality is ultimately realized and, perhaps fleetingly, however abstractly or figuratively, attained. A child is a reflection of the parent’s story, a testament and affirmation of one’s own survival, which brings reassurance that, by looking into the faces of children, a man or woman can see and know the evidence of the long line of ancestors who begat them. The very act of birth and its dependency on and interrelation with the act of death confirms the parents’ story will live on because science has even proven memory is passed down through DNA. African American Civil Rights leader and revolutionary Stokley Carmichael wrote about the Afrocentric community concept and the importance of celebrating children as ancestors returned, in order to celebrate the identity not only of the child, but the entire community, ethnic group, nation, the African continent, and the African Diaspora in the Americas and Caribbean:
Among many West African peoples from among whom our ancestors were seized, whenever a child is born, a birth poem or praise song is composed in its honor. Among the Yoruba [the Nigerian ethnic group which Wole Soyinka himself is apart of] this birth poem is called oriki. Some days later at the naming ceremony by which the infant is ushered formally into its place in human society, the child’s oriki is recited publicly, first into the ear of the child and then to the assembled community of family and neighbors. The first language a child will be required to commit to memory, the oriki imprints the child with its complex historical, spiritual, and social identities….[Oriki] is at once prayer, thanksgiving, celebration, and prophecy. It is a meditation on the meaning and significance of the new human’s name. It is an evocation of the strong deeds, character, and praise names of the infant’s ancestors, and, perhaps most important, it is an optimistic attempt to project (and define) in desirable ways the child’s future personality and life prospects. By evoking lineage, the oriki is ultimately about spiritual inheritance: that eternal life force that has many names (Ase among the Yoruba), which we receive from our ancestors. A vital force of which we, in each generation, are only the contemporary incarnations. And which in turn we pass on to our children and they do theirs, so that the lineage never dies….Oriki, while memory and history, is also character, at once both individual and collective. Individual because each human being has his or her own particular and unique oriki. Collective because being anchored in lineage, it is fundamentally about group identity. We Africans know that each individual one of us is ultimately the sum of that long line of ancestors—spiritual forces and moral arbiters—who have gone before to produce us. The psychic forces out of which we all come. In this sense oriki is a salute to family. It is also an inheritance one acquires at birth. (Carmichael, pp 11-12)
In J. Nozipo Maraire’s Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, the narrator Amai Zenzele reveals her inverted reflection in her daughter, and her duty and desire to pass down as an inheritance the secrets of her life (which, in themselves, contain the secrets of her ancestors, her community, her African continent, the continent itself a Mother):
We have the same eyes, you and I. But yours are still vulnerable. They are candid and honest; like a scrupulous documentary, they take note of all of the details of life. And all of the world is reflected there—the beautiful and the wretched alike. My eyes are resigned to observe, detached, from some distance. They want no part; they do not take in. They keep out. In your company, I often feel blind, groping for firm objects, hesitant lest I collide with some obstacle I cannot characterize, let alone surmount. Ah, but your fingers are truly mine, long, dark, and graceful. And those clumsy lips, they are mine, too. They fall and tense and bend into every shape. They are never still, never without expression….I have learned something in my awkward journey through womanhood. The lessons are few, but enduring. So I hope that you will pardon this curious distillation of traditional African teaching, social commentary, and maternal concern. These are the stories that have made me what I am today. It is just that you are my very own, and it is an old woman’s privilege to impart her wisdom. It is all I have to give to you, Zenzele. (Maraire, pp 4-5)
Africans place emphasis on respectability in the sense of setting good examples for children and leading an honorable life that does not shame one's family name or heritage. So it is indeed especially shameful to the parents for the new generation children to eschew such rich traditions in favor of disobedience characteristic of the "rebellious American [or otherwise Western] spirit".
"I don't know what to do, Amai Zenzele. Somewhere we did something wrong....when independence came, we celebrated with tears in our eyes! The country was ours! We would continue the struggle to ensure that our children received every opportunity of Western privilege. The whites had hoarded the pleasures and advantages of our nation for too long. My God, there were horse-riding and French lessons, video games, and trips to London and New York. There was nothing that our children asked for that we denied them. We who had grown up knowing only deprivation, austerity, and hard labor. We wanted only the best for them. We even sent them to the best private schools with plenty of whites." ....She waved her arms around the sitting room, helplessly. The room was like a museum of African assimilation. On the far wall were shelves of video games, movies, and a computer.....the room, with its rich golden carpeting and matching velvet sofas, was the Zimbabwean's version of Western sophistication...."But it was all in vain. They have neither respect nor gratitude"…When I left…I understood [Amai Stephen]’s predicament as well. All of the peri-independent generation shared a common vision of a better life. Unfortunately, too many of us had translated this into a material definition of success. We developed all the symptoms of the postcolonial syndrome, endemic to Africa: acquisition, imitation, and a paucity of imagination. We simply rushed to secure what the colonialists had…we denied our own culture, relieved to leave our primitive origins far away, in some forgotten village…we created an invisible white line or ultimate aspiration: to achieve what the Europeans had…we ceased to dream, to have our own vision of happiness and success. We were able to carry on this face with aplomb, but our children were getting caught in some gray zone that was neither black culture nor truly white either. (Maraire, pp 12-13, 17-18)
In the face of this schism, this cultural rebellion and betrayal, African parents, no longer able to solidify their traditions in their children simply by passing them through their loins, resort now to picking up the pen to solidify the once oral and mystical traditional wisdom into the European’s Written Word. “If you want to hide something from a Black man, put it in a book,” the old saying goes, yet the African parents writing autobiographies to pass to their children, often in the form of letters such as Maraire’s and Magona’s works, are doing the opposite: putting it in books they immortalize their culture and assert autonomy over their stories (rewriting, literally, blindly accepted Eurocentric HIS-story), revealing to a wider world what was once whispered around campfires and sung in cryptic lullabies. In a review of Sindiwe Magona’s To My Children’s Children and Mother to Mother, Meg Samuelson writes:
Sindiwe Magona's autobiography, To My Children's Children (1990), and her fictionalized account of the Amy Biehl killing, Mother to Mother (1998), provide a rich comparative framework in which to consider the construction of the narrating voice and the addressee….. To My Children's Children opens by locating the speaking act (recourse is made to the oral, not written, tradition) in the culturally specific role of a Xhosa grandmother. Although there are (repressed) schisms within this voice, it sets itself up as one that emerges from a stable identity. The proclaimed aim of this autobiographical act (telling "my" story) is to conserve, record, and transmit the culture and traditions of "my people"--the amaXhosa -- to her grandchildren (1). Here we see Magona justifying the "private" act of autobiography (writing the self) by turning it into a communal act, locating it within a culturally ordained, "authentic" sphere: orally transmitted cultural values. Thus the constructed voice and its placing of the addressee deflect the individualism implied in the act of writing. That the narrator's voice slips out of its ostensible function as a communal voice (and reveals this to be a rhetorical strategy) becomes apparent when Magona drops the address to the "child of the child of my child" after the fourth chapter, only to hastily recover it in the closing sentence. The maternal identity, I will therefore argue, should not be taken purely at face value but should be read far more ambivalently as a voice torn by competing pressures. On the one hand, Magona is invoking textual strategies in order to write her story within the conventional politics of the time. On the other, we cannot but help see this device of constituting herself as a mother in/of the community as being, at times, a screen behind which Magona attempts the more private act of recuperating a stable individual self. What the voice she constructs claims to conserve is the locus of community. (Samuelson, pp 1-2)
The African voice of the community is often attributed to the elders, such as those keepers of wisdom Amai Zenzele in Maraire’s work refers to: “even the ‘ancients’ as you call them, with their interminable, glorious epic tales of battles waged and won and village life before the white man came—they are our living history…our library (Maraire, p 7).” The elders are perceived as the keepers of the village’s moral standards and spiritual convictions, they are also the shapers of socialization: the foundation upon which the example is based for how the citizens of the village should carry themselves with respect.
Looking back now, I can clearly see how iintsomi are an essential and integral part of the socialization of the child among the amaXhosa. The lazy youngster who would not bother to learn from his or her elders was punished; usually he or she ended up without a spouse because no one would marry such a sluggard. Always, good behavior was rewarded and bad punished. (Magona, p5)
Wole Soyinka’s luminal masterpiece Ake shapes Soyinka himself as a sort of trickster god, almost unreliable narrator, the child speaking through the adult’s mouth, writing through the adult’s pen precisely as the adult self sees his child self. Like the Esu-Elegbara crossroads deity the Yoruba tribe worship—the social-spiritual culture that Soyinka himself was born into—Soyinka straddles the fence between innocence and age, ignorance and perception, a child’s place and an elder’s authority, a child’s hope and an old man’s careful certainty and mortgaged regret. Soyinka’s middle existence between youth and adulthood signifies modernity or Eurocentrism as a sort of “growing up,” as if the magic of the traditional spiritual practices are acceptable as a child, but as an adult he engages in the more existential, philosophical intellectual activities of analyzing Christian doctrine rather than engaging ritually in the lively and living ceremonies of his people. Sindiwe Magona expresses a similar sentiment in To My Children’s Children revealing:
This straddling of two worlds, the world of school and of “civilization” and the world of ancestor worship, witchdoctors, and traditional rites, often created disagreements in our home.  “What do the teachers know?” [My mother’s] stock phrase meant “case closed!” Even when resourceful Jongi would resort to: “But we are safe. We have been fortified remember? Remember the witchdoctor?” it was to no avail. “He didn’t fortify you against suicide,” mother would retort, adding, “and I didn’t send you to school to find out you have a mouth!” Who could argue with such wisdom?  …After the weekend celebrations I would go to school as usual. I had to come to accept the existence of two far from compatible worlds, the one my world of traditions, rites, and ancestor worship, and the other, the world of “civilization” that included school. (Magona, p54, 65)
Between Yoruba traditional religion (Ifa) and Christnianity, Soyinka grows to seamlessly syncretise the two with as much adeptness as Yoruba descendents of the Slave Trade did when creating new Creole-Caribbean versions of the Ifa faith naming them “Santeria” in Cuba, “Voodoo” in Haiti and New Orleans, and “Geechee” in South Carolina and Savannah, GA. This syncretism is evident in his identification with and possessiveness over a rock outside of Sunday School meeting. The possessiveness over the rock, although seemingly absurd to the western interpreters, is indicative of a connection to Eshu Elegbara, or Eleggua as He is known in Cuba, Exu as he is known in Brazil. This Yoruba deity is the African equivalent of the Norse Odin/Wotan, The Greco-Roman Hermes/Mercury, and the Hindu Genesha. This deity is often personified, consecrated, and/or embodied in idols or icons made out of rocks, particularly the sacred Laterite stone. Another example of such syncretism is hinted at in an early chapter of Ake in which, the young Wole asks if St. Peter is an egungun. An egungun in Yoruba language and belief means literally “bones of my bones”—in other words, egungun are the ancestors or our Collective Dearly Departed. Egungun ceremonies such as the ones Soyinka describes with such vivid detail and obvious joy are powerful and awe-inspiring, allowing for an ancestral spirit to “mount” or temporarily reside within an entranced performer’s body while in the sacred colorful multi-layered egungun cloth robes. However, the elaborate ceremonies and costumes aside, egungun are still, for all intents and understood purposes, literally regarded as the Holy Dead, a collective of ancestral spirits from one’s immediate bloodline and ancient lineages, sometimes even including past lives. Therefore, although belittled and casually dismissed by the uninformed reader literally lost in translation, the child Soyinka who so adamantly regards St. Peter as an egungun is in fact correct, as St. Peter too is an Elevated or Deified Ancestor, or once living human being, just as all the other human beings. Of note as well is the documented fact that many slaves—and to this very day, their descendents-- syncretised and identified St. Peter as Eshu-Elegbara or Haitian Papa Legba or Cuban Eleggua (Akinkunle B: 2-3). This Eshu-like liminality the Wise Child Wole Soyinka displays is alluded to in an intriguing article comparing the exploration of abiku in Ake as follows:
In Wole Soyinka's autobiography Ake, the middle-aged Soyinka resurrects the child Wole. This exceptional child breaks down the boundaries between Yoruba and English, the wild and the Christian, the town and the parsonage, Yoruba and Western-style schooling, Ake quarters and the rest of Yorubaland. Gender and generational barriers crumble when he becomes pivotal, as errand boy, in the women's rebellion against taxation in Ake. These daughters, including his mother, Wild Christian, break patriarchal law and unseat the Alake from his throne for his intransigence and his apparent support for colonialism. Wole never forgets this history-in-the-making. However, the autobiography is a safari of the self, as Soyinka conjures the ghost of a past self and, as abiku, thrives in many spheres. In keeping with the genre, he cannot help but sell his self. He tacitly acknowledges that he inherits his rebellious spirit from his courageous, revolutionary, "wild" mothers. Shifting from the matrifocal, he also recognizes the gift of courage and acuity from his grandfather, and he mentions his debt to his intellectual father. Nonetheless, his mother, named Wild Christian, (16) presumably by Wole at the ripe, old age of three, embodies the unbridled and puritan spirits that are part of Soyinka, the writer. Wole names his father Essay by fusing the father's fragmented initials-S.A.--into a word to conjure the cerebral, writing world. Wole and Soyinka reverse the parent-child power base when Wole renames his mother and father and Sayinka reproduces them textually. If his parents named him in Yoruba, Wole--'step in (and stay),' to borrow Clark's abiku phrasing--names them in English. Through word power, Soyinka transplants them from a Yoruba milieu into an Anglicized domain by writing in English. Wole's parents are not really Soyinka's parents but traces of them in a mimetic space (Uncredited/Free Library, p 1-3)
In Country of My Skull, what we have essentially is a strange hybrid of confessional, transcription, and autobiography. We have an amalgam of pseudo-fiction, embellished facts that become “truer than true” and even instances where the accounts of several real persons are combined into one invented character’s slightly questionable, yet cohesive and moving, narrative. Controversy rides this formidable volume offered by the white Afrikaner Antjie Krog on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s native black witnesses and their recounts of truly gruesome racial violence inflicted upon them at the hands of whites during the recent—and still stinging—oppressive hegemony of 1990s apartheid…. Krog acts as a witness of the witnessing: reporting and transcribing the events, she is not only court recorder and is not covering the Commission hearings with velvet gloved journalistic objectivity, but instead finds herself engaged in and engaging with the channeling of these vivid memories, an unsettling, though some say cathartic, experience…. Indeed, Krog has made a lasting testament out of a guided testimony (Akinkunle, 1-2). Country of My Skull is a strange inclusion to the collection of African autobiography summarized here; It is not strictly the biography of the testifiers or of Antjie Krog herself—instead, it is more of an autobiography informing how she reacted to and felt about the confessions she has transcribed from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The autobiography becomes more like a communal biography, wherein Krog realizes through her own intertwined testimony that their story/ies are in fact hers. As a white Afrikaner, Krog is in a strange place of exclusive inclusivity: white, she is a foreign entity in cultural mentality and appearance, even if she were born on African soil; yet, she is also undeniably and inextricably part of the community and the history because without the European invasion the victims’ testimonies she herself recounts from the Commission would never have been told, never heard, because it never would have happened. Although she is not personally to blame, her dual citizenship implies her culpability. Again, just as with the other biographies, ancestry is a large part: Krog’s white ancestors are the spectres haunting the history of the Black Africans’ ancestors and futures of the Black Africans’ children or descendents. Krog’s work, although not passed from parent to child (such as Zenzele or To My Children’s Children), nor presented as reflections from man to his boyhood self (such as Ake’), but it is in a sense an offering to the ancestors. Krog’s re-telling of the Commission transcripts is in a sense her own reparation to the Black victims’ ancestors; it is somewhat an un-silencing on her part of the Black victims silenced and left powerless by her own ancestors. Essentially, by allowing them expression channeled and legitimized through her literary exposure and influence, she on behalf of her  white ancestors offers a sort of apology in a way, through her sympathy for and internalization of the Black apartheid victims’ agonizing accounts of racial prejudice on their own continent at the hands of European oppressors.
In conclusion, the African autobiographies featured in this unit can be viewed as in and of themselves an offering, a  ritual canonization of one’s own experiences, where the “white man’s” Deified concept of Written Word (more external, its potential reach and influence due to its method of portability) meets the African gnosis of intuitive, unwritten nonlinear storytelling (a more enclosed, cryptic, secret, informal method of communication, and usually limited to family/tribe). In the different authors’ autobiographical writings, African forms of oral and mythological storytelling are inherently present, borne from a systematic Eurocentric, hegemonic oppression of a People who traditionally have been unaware of, or deliberately forbidden or limited access to, the “white man’s” literary history. The true triumph, then, is in a sense “beating the white man at his own game” by taking his assumed literary authority and cleverly circumventing such by writing distinctively “African” without apology or annotation.
Akinkunle, Olukayode. Unpublished Article A (Writing Assignment 3, LIT-331-OL009). 2014. Thomas Edison State College
Akinkunle, Olukayode. Unpublished Article B (Writing Assignment 5, LIT-33-OL009). 2014. Thomas Edison State College
Carmichael, Stokley (author); Thelwell, Ekwueme Michael (Contributor-compiler), Ready For Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Copyright Scribner 1998, New York
Krog, Antjie. Country of my skull: Guilt, sorrow, and the limits of forgiveness in the new South Africa. Random House LLC, 2007, New York
Magona, Sindiwe. To My Children's Children. Interlink Books, 2006, Massachusetts
Maraire, J. Nozipo. Zenzele: A Letter For My Daughter. Dell Publishing, 1996, New York
Moss, Laura FE. "" Nice audible crying": Editions, testimonies, and Country of My Skull." Research in African Literatures 37.4 (2006): 85-104.
Samuelson, Meg. "Reading the Maternal Voice in Sindiwe Magona's To My Children's Children and Mother to Mother." MFS Modern Fiction Studies 46.1 (2000): 227-245.
Soyinka, Wole. Ake: The years of childhood. Random House, 1981, New York

Uncredited. "An abiku-ogbanje Atlas: a pre-text for rereading Soyinka's Ake and Morrison's Beloved" The Free Library 22 December 2002. 21 April 2014 <http://www.thefreelibrary.com/An abiku-ogbanje Atlas: a pre-text for rereading Soyinka's Ake and...-a097515893>.

Toy Soldiers: Ron Kovic’s Vietnam and the Emasculation of America’s Good Ol’ Boys

Written for a client April 2014

Paralyzed veteran Ron Kovic’s Vietnam is a man’s nightmare of disillusionment, mocked and betrayed by his own beloved government. Born on the Fourth of July is about a man who was denied that heroism that he was promised by the Nation he loved. The government chose when and how he is a hero, but he feels inside unheroic, even criminal, because of the atrocities of war and struggles to redeem himself as a true hero after the war. It’s the story of a boy trying to be a man, a man wanting to be a hero, and discovering he’s just a selfish, oppressive murderer like the rest of his Great Country that even deceives/ed him and the rest of its own citizens again and again.
Manifesting several failed/unconsummated interactions and relationships with women, stemming from Catholic upbringing, Ron Kovic early on in life found himself stuck permanently in a pubescent’s fumbling anxiety. The incompetence, the loneliness and anticlimax found in youthful masturbatory obsessions, is cyclically and perpetually reflected in his literal fumbling with his limp/nonexistent manhood, even in his catheter alterations, the “peak” literally and figuratively unreached, the success of manhood unachieved just as the successful coupling with a woman is never realized. The motif of men crying like the babies they killed and pissing themselves like children visually brings the point home: the sons debilitated and disenfranchised in Vietnam were boys who never grew up; Loyal, brave, unwaveringly and foolishly Idealistic, “America’s sons” and “the good ol’ boys”[1] like Kovic aspired to the heights of military machismo programming, yet never truly reached manhood.
It meant the world to Kovic to be a good Catholic, a good son, a good American citizen doing everything he can for his country and his God—the ultimate martyrdom complex. Bordering on fanaticism and megalomania, Kovic fancies himself the ultimate Patriot, staunchly defending his government, and aspires to his mother’s fearful Holiness to the extreme of deliberately avoiding “heavy petting” and, to compensate, thrilling, instead, at an obsessive daily masturbation ritual.
Kissing was all right, the priest said in a serious voice, but petting or heavy petting almost always led to sex, and sex, he said, was a mortal sin. I remember listening to him that day and promising myself and God I’d try never to get too close to a girl. I wanted to do all the things the guys in the study hall whispered about, but I didn’t want to offend God. I never even went to the senior or junior prom. I just wanted to be a great athlete and a good Catholic and maybe even a priest someday or a major leaguer. (Kovic, p 77)
Despite his youthful eschewing of female companionship, focusing instead on his Good American Son image, when he returns robbed of his organ of sexual expression—in the Marines, their sexually loaded marching chant is revelatory of our increasing rape culture: “this is my rifle this is my gun/ this is for fighting this is for fun (p 96)”—his unattainable desire warps into an ugly and mournful obsession to find
a woman who would love him and make his broken body come alive again, who would lie down next to the disfigurement and love it like there was not anything the matter with him at all. He cried inside for a woman, any woman, to lie close to him. In the hospital there were so many times when he had looked at the nurses and all the visitors and it would seem so crazy that the same government that provided a big check for the wounded men couldn’t provide someone warm, someone who cared for him.(127)
His experiences with the prostitutes in Mexico reveal much about his spiritual and emotional castration, as much as about his desire to feel through his paralysis, his literal numbness and incontinence as physical a castration as a sword to a eunuch. He witnesses a fellow wounded veteran abuse one of the sex workers and, although awed, can’t help but sympathise:
He punched her in the face because she laughed at him when he pulled down his pants and told her he couldn’t feel his penis or move it anymore. He was crazy drunk and he kept yelling and screaming, swinging his arms and his fists at the crowd who had gathered around him. “That goddamn fucking slut! I’m gonna kill that whore for ever laughing at me. That bitch thinks it’s funny I can’t move my dick. Fuck you! Fuck all of you goddamn motherfuckers! They made me kill babies! They made me kill babies!” Charlie screamed again and again. (128-129)
Kovic isn’t the only one who describes the inhumanity and lustful insanity bred in boys trained in war. As violence begets violence, soldiers look for something to control as a consequence of feeling confused, helpless, and a part of something large, violent, and out of one’s own control, a puppet at the command of Superior Officers and a vigilante government. Seeking something to make them feel powerful like men again, often, the answer is senseless killing, and routine rape as a release of their resentment towards fact that they are denied for months on end comfort from women and mothers at home while suffering unspeakable atrocities and witnessing total transformations from good clean boys to wild, uncivilized animals. In “One Morning in the War” Richard Hammer articulates such abasement and unwittingly confirms Kovic’s downward spiral:
More and more as these daily patrols went on without end, the men in Task Force Barker grew to hate the dirty war they were part of, a war where everything and nothing was the enemy and fair game, where trouble could come from anyone or anything. And they began to take casualties now and again, here and there….Another hamlet. Some of the men see a young Vietnamese girl. They grab her and pull her inside the nearest hootch. There are screams and cries from inside then silence. Soon the men come walking out, satisfied. (Hammer, p 323)
Ron Kovic was crippled as an old man before his time, crazed as a lustful adult in a child’s body, and grieves incessantly his inability to reconcile his instincts and urges with his body—and his likewise inability to reconcile the unintelligible and unconscionable loss he experienced in the war with his patriotic Ideals and the dogmatic propaganda he was duped by. Going into training for the Marines, he was accustomed to hearing the degrading sergeants yelling: “I want all you swinging dicks standing straight at attention (Kovic, 132)” yet with the severity of his wound he is left to merely lament:
I have given my dead swinging dick for America. I have given my numb young dick for democracy. It is gone and numb, lost somewhere out there by the river where the artillery is screaming in. Oh God oh God I want it back! I gave it for the whole country, I gave it for every one of them. Yes, I gave my dead dick for John Wayne and Howdy Doody, for Castiglia and Sparky the barber. Nobody ever told me I was going to come back from this war without a penis. (p 84)
Just as his manhood is lost, so is his ability to speak and be heard, such as the respect a man of integrity receives. He constantly seeks in the hospital to be treated humanely and he wants to be respected, not pitied; he wants to be loved, not made a poster boy for why the war should continue so America could win at all costs—literally over his dead, dickless body. When officers and other military representatives push Kovic against his will to speak at a veteren’s parade and rally, Kovic is frustrated that he didn’t want to speak of the war the same distanced way the others did who never experienced the losses he did and he wasn’t asked nor did he agree to being a hero on their terms and in their language:
They sat together watching the big crowd and listening to one speaker after the other, including the mayor and all the town’s dignitaries; each one spoke very beautiful words about sacrifice and patriotism and God, crying out to the crowd to support the boys in the war so that their brave sacrifices would not have to be in vain. And then it was the tall commander’s turn to speak… Almost crying now, he shouted to the crowd that they couldn’t give up in Vietnam. “We have to win …” he said, his voice still shaking; then pausing, he pointed his finger at him and Eddie Dugan, “… because of them!”…He was beginning to feel very lonely. He kept looking over at Eddie. Why hadn’t they waved, he thought. Eddie had lost both of his legs and he had come home with almost no body left, and no one seemed to care…He was confused, then proud, then all of a sudden confused again. He wanted to listen and believe everything they were saying, but he kept thinking of all the things that had happened that day and now he wondered why he and Eddie hadn’t even been given the chance to speak. They had just sat there all day long, like he had been sitting in his chair for weeks and months in the hospital and at home in his room alone, and he wondered now why he had allowed them to make him a hero and the grand marshal of the parade with Eddie , why he had let them take him all over town in that Cadillac when they hadn’t even asked him to speak. (109-111)
Even at the rally for Nixon, he is silenced, blacked out, arrested, literally blocked by secret service agents from sight of the cameras, and discredited—which is the same as silencing—by shouts and accusations of communist affiliation. Unheard, he violently wants others to truly understand and not just mock, pity, or even falsely glorify his sacrifice:
Other people always seemed able to laugh and joke about the whole thing, but they weren’t the one who was living in this angry numb corpse, they didn’t have to wake up each morning and feel the dead weight of these legs and strain the yellow urine into the ugly rubber bag, they didn’t have to put on the rubber gloves each morning over the bathroom bowl and dig into his rear end to clean the brown chunks of shit out. They lived very easy lives, why their lives were disgustingly easy compared to his and they acted sometimes like everything was equal and he was the same as them, but he knew they were lying and especially the women, when they lay with him and told him how much they loved his body, how it wasn’t any different than any other man’s, that they didn’t care if his dick was numb and dead and he couldn’t feel warm and good inside a woman ever again . He was a half-dead corpse and no one could tell him any different. (p 164)
A sacrificial lamb, a “little Christ[2]” himself, Kovic bears his cross, spat upon and crippled, maimed and emasculated by those he died for. Kovic died three times: physically, his body died to him and spiritually, his faith died; Idealistically, Kovic experienced too the death of all the paradigms he clung to and comforting programs he secured himself and his world with about the goodness of his country and the righteousness of the war against terrorism.
He remembered how difficult it had been when he had first come to the war to tell the villagers from the enemy and sometimes it had seemed easier to hate all of them, but he had always tried very hard not to. He wished he could be sure they understood that he and the men were there because they were trying to help all of them save their country from the Communists. (p 190)
Kovic wonders if someone had only shown him the truth of what the war does to boys and men, and the unfathomable depths of what is robbed from them on those front lines, perhaps he himself would never have fallen for the Dream and perhaps through him other young Americans can decide for themselves if that crippling is worth it:
It is like the day the marine recruiters came. I remember it like it was yesterday— their shiny shoes and their uniforms, their firm handshakes, all the dreams, the medals, the hills taken with Castiglia by my side his army-navy store canteen rattling, the movies the books the plastic guns, everything in 3-D and the explosive spiraling colors of a rainbow. Except this time, this time it is Bobby and me. What if I had seen someone like me that day, a guy in a wheelchair, just sitting there in front of the senior class not saying a word? Maybe things would have been different. Maybe that’s all it would have taken. Bobby is telling his story and I will tell mine. I am glad he has brought me here and that all of them are looking at us, seeing the war firsthand— the dead while still living, the living reminders, the two young men who had the shit shot out of them…We were men who had gone to war. Each of us had his story to tell, his own nightmare. Each of us had been made cold by this thing. We wore ribbons and uniforms. We talked of death and atrocity to each other with unaccustomed gentleness. (p 142-144,148)
In conclusion, Born on the Fourth of July is a memoir, autobiography, war speech, battle cry, prayer, and Shakespearean-like tragedy recounting (and, no pun intended, literally re-member-ing) his loss of all he thought would make him the man he so wanted to be: his penis, his heroism, his self-discipline. Finding out it was all in vain, to be left a mangled pawn in a game, Kovic must forge a new Self out of the ashes, the debris, the raw essence of himself in all his rage in all the words he was never given license to say, the self accountability he so late attained.
I think I honestly believed that if only I could speak out to enough people I could stop the war myself. I honestly believed people would listen to me because of who I was, a wounded American veteran. They would have to listen. Every chance I had to get my broken body on the tube or in front of an audience I went hog wild. Yes, let them get a look at me. Let them be reminded of what they’d done when they’d sent my generation off to war. One look would be enough— worth more than a thousand speeches. But if they wanted speeches I could give them speeches too. There was no end to what I had to tell them. “I’m the example of the war ,” I would say. “Look at me. Do you want your sons to look like this? Do you want to put on the uniform and come home like me?”  (p 150)
His tragedy is his loss of Ideals, his realization that all he fought to defend was unreal, meaningless, an utter and callous deception by all he held the dearest: his God he felt betrayed him, leaving him in the purgatory of his paralyzed condition; his country he was betrayed by for giving him the Dream of fighting a noble war for a beautiful Christian country that turned out to be a nightmare of senseless murder for a country of hateful consumers who found him invisible even moreso because he fought for him. Betrayed to find out that the war did not make him a “good guy” but a cold, desensitized, and dogmatic, brainwashed killing machine, Kovic must finally atone by showing through his body and describing through his speech the true consequences of America’s lust for war and meddling in foreign affairs:
And now it is we who are marching, the boys of the fifties. We are going to the Republican National Convention to reclaim America and a bit of ourselves. It is war and we are soldiers again, as tight as we have ever been, a whole lost generation of dope-smoking kids in worn jungle boots coming from all over the country to tell Nixon a thing or two. We know we are fighting the real enemies this time— the ones who have made profit off our very lives. We have lain all night in the rain in ambush together. We have burned anthills with kerosene and stalked through Sally’s Woods with plastic machine guns, shooting people out of trees. We have been a generation of violence and madness, of dead Indians and drunken cowboys, of iron pipes full of matchheads…He’d never figured it would ever happen this way. It never did in the movies. There were always the good guys and the bad guys, the cowboys and the Indians. There was always the enemy and the good guys and each of them killed the other… The good guys weren’t supposed to kill the good guys. (p 169-70)

Works Cited

Hammer, Richard. “One Morning in the War” Copyright 1970. Putnam Publishing Group. Reprinted with permission for A History of Our Time. Oxford University Press. 1995. 321-335
Kovic, Ron. Born on the Fourth of July. Amazon Kindle Edition.

[1] Kovic remembers: “A song was playing called “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie” and I remember listening to it and feeling real sad inside, real low like I wanted to cry or kill someone (p 160).”
[2] In a passage describing a flashback from the grueling, torturous boot camp training, Kovic admires his comrades “..on their knees with their sea bags still over their shoulders like Christs, an they were crawling, he saw them crawling! (p 94)