Despite Barack and Michelle’s diligence in securing their daughters privacy, when it comes to dating, the press is well aware that they can always get the president to make a crack about the secret service in relationship to his daughters and dating.
The president began a series of interviews on Monday when a reporter from WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., brought up a touchy subject that instills dread in many fathers as their girls grow up: “Soon the boys will come.”
“Oh, well that’s why we have Secret Service,” Obama said with a big grin as he fidgeted with his cufflinks. The reporter laughed in response.
It’s funny right? Boys are what fathers worry about when they have daughters right? This kind of comment has absolutely become a rote response from the president over the last four years. Each time it is followed by a laugh because the comment appears innocent.
When the secret service do appear in media, they are largely White cisgender men and it has often made me wonder about the implications of them acting as gatekeepers to the sexuality and bodies of young Black women. Given the history of rape and various sexual indignities perpetrated by White slave owners on our foremothers this relationship seems incongruous at best. Considering that White men continue to assault Black femininity in every single social organization the idea they are placed into the position as guardians of virtue flies in the face of the social reality of race and gender relationships.
The reality is that these jokes about the Obama girls dating and the need for vigilant secret service are not harmless. Aside from the fact that it denies the legitimacy of their sexual agency and the right to make decisions about their bodies, the comment in and of itself assumes heterosexuality. Obama may be the best president in terms of Trans* rights, but in terms of his willingness to combat homophobia, his administration has been lacking. Even assuming that in his private conversations that he is far more liberal, his continued commentary about protecting his daughters from boys assumes heterosexuality.
When you have a child, you don’t know what their sexuality is until they tell you, but still parents have a tendency to refer to their children’s future partners in a purely heterosexual fashion. Gay, lesbian, bisexual or polyamourous sexualities are viewed as occurring in other families. It has become common for fathers to worry in public about boys and even crack sexist comments about locking their daughters in their room until they are forty. These comments are of course sexist but they are also heavily laden with heterosexist assumptions.
The commonality of this line of thought never acknowledges that when their daughter is sleeping over at her so-called friend’s that she may be having sex. In the independent movie Pariah , Audrey, played by Kim Waynes, pushed her daughter away from an obviously butch young woman, straight into the arms of a femme girl believing that this would be good for and the end result was that sex occurred between the two young women. Instead of being safe, her daughter simply became a sexual experimentation tool. Due to the expectation of heterosexuality, Alike, played by Adepero Oduye, did not feel safe to discuss this incident with either of her parents.
Even if a child eventually identifies as straight, this does not mean that they won’t experiment with sex and sexuality. Affirming compulsory heterosexuality in the home only ensures that they will come away from these moments feeling as though they participated in an illicit act, rather than a moment of connection and beauty with another human being. Never defying the gender binary when talking about future relationships with children, sets up heterosexuality as the standard to which they come to believe that they must comply. One need not be openly homophobic to send this message.
In Sasha and Malia’s case, they are the children of two people who are public figures and this means every move and or decision that they make instantly becomes open for debate publicly. The closet is a pernicious phenomenon and it can be even harder to come out because of the ever so public expectations. There is often shame associated with being gay, lesbian or bisexual due to homophobia and this added with the expectation that one must be straight brings about the worry of disappointing or shaming one’s family. Even when children do eventually come out, they often find themselves comforting their parents who see this revelation as a failure on their part. It is perceived as a failure because heterosexuality is assumed and considered the default. Imagine the difficulty Dick Cheney’s daughter had coming out to her parents, given her fathers virulently homophobic political position.
By not being more inclusive in his language in discussions about his daughters dating, Obama is not only setting a difficult standard for his children, he is reaffirming compulsory sexuality for the nation. When you set up a standard in which heterosexuality becomes the expectation, you are empowering the closet and assuring that honest conversations about sex and sexuality will not occur. Malia and Sasha are young women and the last thing they need is a pressure to conform to a sexuality that may not be natural to them.