Rules, rules, rules
I'm being asked by various clergy friends about the Boy Scouts' new policy on including transgender children and youth in their membership -- meaning, mostly, girls who identify as boys joining Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. (Venturers are co-ed, so you could also have boys who identify as girls.) Without getting into a whole discussion on transgenderism -- which would take a much longer post -- let me give you a perspective from that of a Scout leader who does Scouting as ministry within The United Methodist Church.
This decision is going to generate an enormous amount of rule-mongering. Sometimes, I think the Boy Scouts' primary product isn't program, but rules. Sigh.
I don't suppose there will ever be more than a few transgender Scouts, since there aren't that many transgender youth in the general population, but accommodating their presence in our programs will mean making all kinds of adjustments in the rules on adult supervision, sleeping arrangements, and bathroom/shower facilities. And since you can't have these kinds of adjustments made in an ad hoc
fashion, with each group making up its own rules -- you would expose yourself to way too many possibilities for disaster (and lawsuits) -- we will all have to change how we do what we do, even if we have no transgender Scouts registered in our programs.
We are buried in rules as it is. BSA's youth protection program is, on the one hand, a testament to how seriously the organization takes its responsibility to ensure the safety and dignity of its youth participants, especially from predators. That said, predators get ever smarter, and as we have adjusted our behaviors to make it harder for predators to get improper access to minors, predators have adjusted theirs. So new rules are constantly being generated, outlawing all kinds of things that were once considered no big deal. For example, we are now supposed to avoid patting boys on the head or squeezing their arm, because that is considered "grooming behavior," which a predator would use to desensitize minors to adult touch. When I was younger, that was just how you showed you cared or were proud of them without getting sloppy about it. Rules generate more rules, and behaviors are forced into ever narrower lanes to continue to work with kids, especially in the outdoor program.
Take the issue of adult supervision. BSA requires two adults (minimum) for every activity. When the Troop goes camping, that would mean, e.g., that eight boys are being taken to the woods overnight under the supervision of two adult men. Not all the boys would have a parent present, obviously, and that's okay. But now, suppose that one of the Scouts is a boy-who-is-not-a-boy. Can two adult men properly supervise this Scout? Common sense would say, probably not. But if you require an adult female to be on hand, are you not saying that we all really know that this "boy" isn't really what he says he is?
Now, it's not unusual to have a woman go camping with a Boy Scout Troop, but it would be an extra burden to require
one to come along every time. How much of a burden? Well, not too much, I suppose; I'm a Venturing Advisor, and Venturing is co-ed, so we always have both sexes represented among the leadership on our campouts. But there have been times when I have had to cancel a campout because all of my registered female leaders and all of my female parents were busy. If you require a female adult to go camping with a Boy Scout Troop every time they go because there is a transgender Scout participating, then that's an extra wrinkle you have to plan for. And there will be times when you can't meet that hurdle, so you don't go, and that means that, on the whole, the Troop will camp just a little less than it might. And we probably won't want to require co-ed supervision only when a transgender youth is registered -- that would require us to know and acknowledge, even if only among ourselves, that one of our boys isn't really -- so, ultimately, I would expect BSA to some day require co-ed leadership of all
activities. We could adjust to that, but all of us would do a little less camping on the whole. And if you knew how little some Troops go camping as it is, that would make you wonder about the direction of the program, at least a little.
Now consider sleeping arrangements. You have eight Scouts and four two-man tents. Easy-peasy, right? But one of your Scouts is different. Can a boy-who-is-not-a-boy properly share a two-man tent with another boy-not-her-brother? Remember, we must at all costs acknowledge the total boy-ness of this Scout. How can we require him to sleep by himself, or with a parent? Once again, we Venturers are used to accommodating co-ed groups, and that means we sometimes have to carry more gear than we'd like: if you have a male leader and a female leader, who are not married to each other, supervising three boys and one girl, none of whom are the children of the leaders (or not of the same sex as their parent), then you will need five
two-man tents to accommodate six persons, which is two more than you might otherwise need. On a mountain trek, that's a significant burden, but we do it. But here, the problem is that we can't properly acknowledge the reason we need more gear. The rules require us to say this Scout is a boy; the rules will also require us to act on the fact that he's not. In the end, the result will be that most units do less camping in order to avoid the hassle.
As for bathrooms and showers, I shudder to think of importing into Scouting the bathroom wars of the last year of the Obama administration. Still, I imagine BSA will simply design or retrofit its facilities to make it less of a hassle. There are very few gang showers left in our society, especially in Scout camps. Still, there will have to be rules to tell us what to do to keep kids safe and unscandalized. Rules, rules, and more rules.
Including transgender kids in Scouting? It's not really a problem, if your program consists mainly of tying bandages or playing Steal The Bacon in the church basement. But once you start talking about delivering the magic of Scouting -- of adventure (especially high
adventure) -- of a life lived outdoors -- then you've got more and more hassles. We already spend too much time sitting in classrooms grinding out Merit Badges, as if that
were the adventure we promised.
Should we -- the Church -- be in ministry to transgender kids and their families? Of course. Should we use Scouting to do that? I think so. But how much are we going to demand of ourselves, and what can we legitimately demand of those who ask to join us? The phenomenon of transgenderism in our society today asks all of us to include without exception -- and then to make all kinds of exceptions in order to include. That will beget an enormous number of rules -- but all the rules in the world cannot resolve the inherent contradiction of what we are being asked to do.
I can't set BSA policy. For that matter, I can't make society resolve this issue; it'll have to work itself out. I can speak, in my degree, for the church, and BSA seems to indicate it won't press transgender kids on units whose charter partners don't want to deal with this, but that doesn't remove us from the society in which we operate. My bottom line is, as someone who uses Scouting to make disciples of Jesus Christ, I worry that, faced with the ever-increasing burden of the rules, there will be a lot of our Scouting units that just find it easier to stay in the controlled and uncomplicated environment of the church basement, because they can't navigate all the demands placed upon them to deliver the magic of Scouting. And that would be a loss for all the kids -- of whatever sex.