Recently, my son Clyde has officially announced his intention to one day join the Boy Scouts. I knew this would be inevitable the minute he saw his first Cub Scout uniform, since few things are more appealing to Clyde than a uniform (he’ll even wear an Arizona Cardinals shirt out in public). Still, I was hoping that we would get a few more years respite before the whole “Boy Scout” issue reared its ugly head; after all, his sister Clementine hadn’t realized that Brownies and Girl Scouts even existed until she was in the second grade. Unfortunately, due to Clyde’s abovementioned uniform fetish, such blissful ignorance on his part was not to be.
Still, for a while I held out hope that, after two years of seeing his sister put on her little Brownie skort and vest, Clyde would want to join the Brownies instead. This would have been fine with me: even though, I, myself, had run screaming from my own Girl Scout troop–I’m allergic to crafts–they are an organization that I can wholeheartedly support. The Girl Scouts, after all, don’t have a problem with lesbians, and make the whole God thing optional. True, during the brown-shirted Brownie phase they do have an unnerving tendency to look like something out of Hitler Youth, but that issue soon resolves itself with the arrival of their khaki green Girl Scout uniforms (whereupon they instead begin to look like a contingent of Third World traffic cops). All of my hopes for my own little transgendered Brownie, however, were for naught: as far as Clyde is concerned, it’s Boy Scouts or nothing.
My first reaction to this was “ Ok then: nothing it is.” After all, if I had wanted to let him join a homophobic Christian organization with military overtones I would have signed him up for the Klan: for one thing, the uniforms are probably a whole lot cheaper (as long as you hit the White Sales at Penneys), and for another, nobody expects a Klansman’s mother to iron on a million little patches. But then I thought about all the good the Boy Scouts do, and I wavered.
There’s all of the little old ladies that get helped across the street, for one thing. (The only time the Klan helps little old ladies cross the street is when they’re running them out of town.) And then there’s the fact that, when we want to imply that someone always plays fair and follows the rules we say: “He’s a real Boy Scout.”
And finally, I reasoned, it’s not the fault of the Boy Scouts themselves if their leadership makes a few jackass decisions concerning atheists and homosexual Scout leaders–is it? And by allowing Clyde to join (and paying his dues), I wouldn’t really be supporting hatred and intolerance–would I? I mean, it’s not like these things are institutionalized within the Boy Scouts themselves: it’s not like they have badges for “gay-bashing” and “bible thumping”–do they?
In the end I’m sure that we’ll let him join–not because of any of my rationalizations, though, but because of one of my most enduring memories of the Boy Scouts themselves. One day, in a National Park in Thailand, we stumbled upon a clearing filled with hundreds of young Thai Boy Scouts–it must have been the Thai Jamboree, or its equivalent. As one young scout ran by us, my husband flashed him the Boy Scout salute; with a smile of joy and accomplishment the boy promptly flashed back with the same. It was a moment that transcended languages and cultures, and when I think back on it now it reminds me that–beyond any ideas of religion or politics–what the Boy (and Girl) Scouts really seem to represent is fellowship: something there is far too little of in the world today for me to ever deny Clyde a chance at his.