A Modest Proposal

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Plumbline 17.4 (December 1989): 17-20.

© 1989 by Plumbline ; © 2004 by Louie Crew

Lost in a rural part of the state, I recently discovered a small town almost no one seems to have heard of, called Nurture. Quite by accident I spent two days there, as perhaps their first overnight visitor in more than 50 years.

Nurture nestles near a county road--"off limits" most would say if they even knew about it.

Nurture protects itself against easy access. Nurture does not even advertise. My host told me that a native named William Gofer once tried to start a Nurture Chamber of Commerce. "The other two hundred of us residents," my host said, "just smiled when Bill asked us to join. No one did."

Frustrated, Gofer moved away and established a used car dealership in a more progressive town. "We each brought him a sprig of fern to take to root there, but his nextdoor neighbor said Bill just threw away the 200 snippets even before he left."

Inspectors for outside agencies do not like to inspect Nurture. They have to commute daily, since Nurture provides no hotels or motels. Nurture's citizens seem kind enough, they say, but their independence galls. Nurture's people bend almost any regulation so that they can do things their own way.

Take schools, for instance. Parents worked out a simple formula to give class credit for time spent reading and writing out of school, alone or with the family and neighborhood groups. "Apprentice Credit" they called it. "Apprentice to what?" the examiner up from the Capitol asked. "Apprentice to being whole persons," Nurture's P.T.A. explained.

Nurture has no little league, no football, no basketball, no baseball, no tennis. Instead, Nurture maintains a large park with many open spaces. Children invent their games and learn games which their parents and grandparents invented. Their games seem dull to me: no one wins or loses. Everyone merely enjoys.

Nurture has no radio station, no TV station. No one in town even owns a radio, TV or record player. Every family has its own set of instruments. Each block has at least three different ensembles. Sometimes others listen, but the musicians don't thrive on an audience, any more than the local athletes do. They wonder why you bothered to come. They think you should make your own music, invent your own games.

People in Nurture even look different. A bit drab. They don't wear special costumes, and they do use electricity and other modern conveniencies, like cars and tractors; but they use their equipment for a long time. Their clothes look, how shall I say, "sturdy."

When my car broke down, my host, the local mechanic, had not seen inside a model to come out within the last ten years. He repaired it for free and gave me room and board for two days "in exchange of your letting me learn about these things. I might as well, cause one day someone in Nurture will buy one of these, maybe from Gofer's Used Car Lot down in Capitol."

Nurture's people do not isolate themselves as much as you'd think. Everyone in the town takes a 3-month trip once every three years, as far away as Europe, Asia, or South and Central America. "That's why we have taxes and a mayor and a city commission," my host explained.

"I would never have guessed you have that much sophistication!" I said. "I mean, people here don't look like fashionable world-travelers."

"We're not," he said.

"But you said you spent a summer in Guilin, China, another on the Pueblo reservation in Taos, New Mexico, another with a family in Greenland, all within the last ten years!"

"Yes, but not in `fashionable' travel. I lived in those places. I worked as a mechanic in each." We don't value `fashion' as many people define it. We set our own fashions. As for mechanical things, we like to stick with products that work and to repair them when they break down. We try not to waste. We conserve our resources so that we can fund spiritual and mental adventures, like travel and books. The biggest and best warehouse in our town is the public library. Every citizen has a lounge chair there, and a private desk. Nurture cares most about talent and skill, not about garments or status. Nurture respects individuality."

"What happens in Nurture when someone really different comes along? When someone tests your generosity? When someone doesn't conform?" I asked. I distrusted his calm, self-assurance.

"No one `comes along' to Nurture from outside, except when one of us goes outside to marry. Then the person becomes one of us and is free to be as the person wants to be."

"But suppose one of your own children doesn't conform. Wants to play baseball, for instance?" I knew I would expose him this time.

"Some kids taught my son to play baseball in Greenland. They said he ought to know an American game. When he returned, he taught it to some friends. They did not stick with it though, nor did he. Apparently baseball works best when it has an audience."

"How do you handle a misfit, for example, someone who radically differs from everyone else?"

"Handle them? We try not to `handle' anybody, but instead urge everyone to fulfill herself or himself as thoroughly as possible. That's why we take two days out of each month to reassess our talents and how we use them."

I moved in for the kill. "What would you do if your daughter were a lesbian?"

"Strange you should ask. She is. That concerned my wife and me at first....."

"Aha! This place forces its narrow point of view just as much as the rest of the world you seem to oppose!"

"....concerned my wife and me at first, because we did not know any other lesbians that Mary might meet in Nurture. But Bud Smith, the principal at our school, happens to be gay, and introduced Mary to other lesbians. Mary has several lesbian friends now but says that she won't commit herself to any one person until she has become a veterinarian. `Besides,' she told my wife and me when she visited from the University last weekend, `It will take a special person to live with me in Nurture, so badly have people elsewhere staked out their values.'"

Don't look for Nurture on your map. As I said in the beginning, if they even knew about it, most people would keep Nurture "off limits."

.cp 8 "Give us the gift to see ourselves as others see us," Bobby Burns once said with a Scottish heterosexual accent. Lesbians and gay male constitute a largely untapped treasury of information about heterosexual reality precisely because we view it from outside. I offer one quean's view of the state of their union, heterosexuals' dominion.

The map of the world 150 years ago showed vast amounts of arable land only occasionally interrupted by small patches of human population. A map of the world today shows dense human population only occasionally interrupted by unpopulated arable land.

Modern agriculture and medicine have allowed more people to live much longer from food produced on small patches of soil. Each new generation lives longer and gobbles up more of the non- renewable resources than the last. People behave as if they hold a MasterCharge or a Visa account on all of nature, with no payment to make in this generation. They have foolishly assumed that if they can somehow avoid a nuclear holocaust, no other disaster seriously threatens them. For example, famine seems remote. Only poor people in lands far away face famine.

It has seemed so to civilizations before us. They also found it easy to ignore signs that they were destroying themselves.

I am not a doomsayer. Not one of the risks we face has to happen. Famine does not have to occur here, or in Africa. We do not have to have a plague to restore ecological balance. We do not have to have Star, or any other, Wars. We do not have to alter boundaries or interfere with national autonomies. We can keep even our modern technology and continue to use engines which guzzle fossil fuels. We can do that and also feed and educate everyone everywhere and guarantee each person a living way. We don't even have to take away money from the rich to give it to the poor. There is money enough for everyone.

The way is so obvious and so rational that any thinking person must ask why newspapers do not speak about it, why our theorists have not dared to mention it, why our leaders have not promoted it, and why most citizens haven't even heard the suggestion:

If for just one generation heterosexuals were to allow only one child per 20 couples, within a mere 20 years we could well be on the way towards removing the gravest social and economic threats to the survival of life as we know it on this planet.

One generation could give a new lease on life as we know it for another millennium. Those not allowed to parent children could be assured access to nurture the children of others, especially those in their extended family who did beget. Everyone could continue to practice sex, not as procreation, but as recreation, as spiritual fulfillment.

Of course, several heterosexist assumptions prevent such rational planning.

For example, most heterosexuals behave as if it is more important to beget children than to assure quality of life for all the world's children.

Rich and poor alike behave as if parenting is an inviolable right, the last bastion of the independent spirit in an overpopulated world.

Heterosexuals assert this "right" in the face of stark evidence that they no longer provide the nurture and the secure environments on which such a "right" must be predicated. Heterosexuals rarely even try to base their right to parenthood on any evidence that they are qualified to be good parents. States require syphilis tests and, in Illinois, AIDS tests; but no state requires a nurturing test before it licenses marriage. In fact, all states allow heterosexuals to "start another family" as quickly as their first or second or third or fourth... marriage disolves in disarray. Marriage no longer requires two people to have and to hold each other until death parts, but instead, licenses them to beget and to beget and to beget--a genealogical nightmare.

Most would not breed animals with such prodigality, and the Humane Society takes care of the few who do.

Almost one marriage in two ends in divorce in 1988; almost no marriages ended in divorce in 1838. In 1988 every third pregnant woman elects to abort.

For thousands of years, until about two hundred years ago, families arranged marriages to assure material and social security. We rightly question the quality of some of those relationships, but we cannot deny the stark evidence that romance has not proved as effective in helping relationships to last. Perhaps the heart is too fickle to assure nurture?

The time for heterosexuals to resolve such problems seems long overdue. For over two centuries the best writers have spoken to the issues. For any one book of good literature that celebrates a strong and enduring marriage, one hundred more chronicle infidelity, deceit, and divorce. Yet the average heterosexual prefers the illusions of Bride's Magazine and The Mating Game.

I admit that I see this reality as an outsider. I do not participate. Yet what I see disturbs me.

Recently my lover and I stood in the kitchen of our campus apartment trembling as we heard our neighbor downstairs scream. At least one night a week her husband beats her brutally. She teaches in the medical school; he manages a factory.

On the same campus, colleagues in another building reported a mother and father who psychologically and physically abused their children. The campus agency decided to embarrass the parents into better behavior: they told the family that the "foreigners" had reported them. Predictably, the abuse grew more subtle.

While most heterosexuals whom I know neither beat each other nor molest their children, many substitute baubles for nurture. Some give their children boats, motorcycles, designer wardrobes.....you name it, but rarely if ever explore talent or share ideas.

One of the saddest litanies I could rehearse, but won't, lists the conjugal miseries which heterosexual colleagues have shared with me over my thirty years as a teacher. I value their trust. I grieve over their pain. Many have described how their spouses devalue them. Some have broken loose; many hold on. Surely I am not the only one to receive such evidence?

Now I find that over half of my younger colleagues add a new dimension, detailing their agonies as children while their parents ripped the family apart in extended divorce proceedings. It has not always been so.

Some gay males refer to heterosexuals as "Breeders." Although I empathize with the exclusion and pain which they attempt to redress, I resist breeders as too reductive, presumptuous, and pre- emptive. It ignores the rich complexity of heterosexuals. I grieve when heterosexuals behave in ways that encourage that elicits this misdirected nomenclature.

Yet I must ask, what is it about heterosexual culture that prompts children in almost any schoolyard in America to call a boy a faggot if he boasts that he likes to read? Or if he prefers gentle, reflective hiking to football? Children say, "Poetry is for sissies." What spiritual famine in heterosexual culture teaches them that?

One student whom I taught in Wisconsin had grave problems with basic writing skills. Although he worked hard, he improved only slowly, as all of us writers do. When it seemed he might not pass the course, I scheduled several hours of personal tutorials, which he dutifully attended. He scraped by with the C- which had long seemed impossible. I did not see him for a year, but one spring day as I jogged through a park, I happened to look up as we passed. "Hello, Robert," I greeted. Robert, a certifiable heterosexual, spat and muttered, "Queer!"

How lonely Robert must be! What kind of husband or parent can he become? Would you like to have him for a father? What range of emotions has he learned to probe? With what depth? What kind of community can he build, with anyone?

I believe in change. I know it can happen. It doesn't even take much time: It takes conviction.

We live in a world far more complicated than most of us realize. Change has swept through our century faster than through all previous ones combined. We can say with absolute certainty that the way of life that we know today is doomed. We cannot say whether it will yield to something better or to something worse; but it will yield.

I hope that we will choose nurture. I hope that we will value and cultivate human talent, not just our own, but the talent of the entire world.


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