In what can perhaps be most kindly described as a bizarre television comedy, Strangers with Candy, Amy Sedaris plays Jerri Blank, a 46-year old ex-junkie who returns to high school. In one of the many hilarious episodes, two of her male teachers each has a sore on his lip. The ongoing gag line is, “It’s just a cold sore!” That these two guys are gay and getting it on is just part of the whole series, and of no more note than Jerri living with her stepmother who is having an affair with the “meat man,” Stu.
As I have been writing about truth-telling, especially this week addressing the absurd victim playing of so many in power, Jerri Blank comes to mind. Jerri is aggressive, disturbed, and disturbing, but she is never the victim in her school. In one episode she discovers that she is eating her pet chicken, Silky. Though she cries over the loss, she comments through her tears that he was loving, loyal, and deliciously moist. At another time, she comes home from the orthodontist with apparently painful new braces, only to be greeted by her stepmother who informs her that they are having beef jerky, corn on the cobb, and taffy apples for dinner. Jerri smiles with a mouth full of metal.
How I would love to introduce Jerri to opponents of sexuality education.
Nearly 20 years ago, I was asked by a young friend to join him and his mother at a school meeting where sexuality education classes were going to be discussed. A group of concerned citizens had rallied in opposition to anything beyond abstinence being taught in high school health classes. They especially wanted to assure that all information about same-sex behaviors and HIV transmission would be banned.
These opponents were so good at playing victim to sexuality education, they could have gotten jobs as professionals. They trotted out bible verses, statements about natural order, and pop psychology. One went so far as to suggest that when young people even hear about condoms, they show disregard for all personal restraint. Simmering beneath the surface of their comments was that old saw: Sex is bad, dirty, sinful, disgusting, and should be saved for the one you love. There is no need to know about sex until you get married.
I opened my comments by thanking them for coming to a meeting about which so few people generally pay any attention. I summarized their comments in neutral or favorable ways. Then I asked for a show of hands about how many of them had children in the district. None. I asked another question, this time, “How many of us live in the district?” None.
This group was being manipulative and seeking attention for their position. They didn’t care about the teens who might get a sexually transmitted infection. They were not concerned about transmission of HIV. Teen pregnancy was not a concern for them, nor really were the likely abortions that would follow. Their moral absolutism was more important than the well-being of teens and their families. Their world view felt threatened and they organized to protect it, all the while acting like others were victimizing them when indeed their views were self-destructing.
Jerri Blank would likely have stood up and shouted, “I have something to say!” Somewhere along the way she would have argued something about us being descendants of monkeys, “not unlike yourselves.” While my inner Jerri enjoyed dismantling their arguments one by one, I particularly liked asking about their right to speak and the need to expunge the record of their comments because they had no standing in the jurisdiction.