Juvenal

On Thursday a parent came in to talk with me about some “very serious issues”.  She arrived after school and told me that (a) our school was awash with drugs, and (b) there was a boy using  the girls toilets.  I always find these conversations somewhat fraught, because I feel like I have to listen, but sometimes  it is pretty clear that the parent and I may  as well be on different planets when it comes to our views about social attitudes.

Leaving  aside the “awash with drugs” claim, it turns out there is a senior boy who is becoming a girl and  that, yes,  she has begun to use the girls toilets.  I happen to know this student quite well as she came on the school trip to Japan which I also went on.  Frankly, I don’t understand  the urge to change gender, but I am not overly discomforted by it.  It seems like a radical change to make to your identity, but the very fact that it is so extreme sort of rules out the idea that someone would do it as a stunt.  It is clearly a deeply felt thing, and a decision that  must have been wrestled with by that person over a long time.  In the end I think my view boils down to a refrain from a pop song: “if it makes you happy….”

On a curiously related note, I  found a copy of Juvenal’s Sixteen Satires yesterday in the Social Studies  Resource Room.  Juvenal was a Roman  satirist who died in 140AD.  He is a name that has cropped up quite a bit in my time reading  books from classical Rome,  and I was pleased to find a copy.  Aside from the fact  that he was a satirist and I believe he is the one who first said “who watches the watchers?” I really knew nothing about him.  Having  read his first  two satires I am feeling somewhat distressed.

Satire Two is a bit like stumbling across a right wing talk back show on the radio, as it is mainly a rant against homosexuality.

You remember the actor they called “the Danube Basin”?

Everyone knows why during his married life

He showered gifts on his wife – yet left both house and fortune 

To a favoured freedman.  Girls can do very well for themselves

If they don’t mind sleeping third in the marriage bed.  Get wed,

Keep mum: discretion spells diamond  ear bobs.

Juvenal goes on to describe what he imagines goes on in secret, cult like meetings of homosexual men (this involves sipping  wine from a big, glass phallus apparrently), and then begins  to worry how such things will affect the Roman  army,

A civil war where mirrors formed part of the fighting kit.

To polish off a rival and keep your complexion fresh

Demands consummate generalship; to camp in palatial splendour

On the field on battle, and give yourself a face pack

Argues true courage.

Probably not dissimilar arguments have been  used to keep homosexuality out of the armed forces ever since (although it never seemed to hurt the Spartans).

Finally Juvenal turns his attention to civil unions.

We only have to wait now: soon  such things will be done,

And  done in public: male brides will yearn for a mention

In the daily gazette.

What  will the noble,  manly  dead make of this?  Well, they won’t be pleased.  Just imagine it: gays in Hades!  What next?  Soon they’ll be letting blacks in here too!

Well, I suppose Hades  is pretty full by now, after all, almost  2000 years have passed since Juvenal was writing.  I imagine Hades has had to confront feminism, civil rights protests, and  homosexual law reform.  At the moment they’re probably putting in wheelchair access and widening all the doorways, and all the while a tetchy and increasingly minority group of Romans have been sitting on the side, grumpily wondering what the Hades, Hades is coming to.

At least I hope that’s what has been happening in the after life, otherwise I think I’ll pass.

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