Loosening grip – a breath of air

Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte – nephew of the Emperor Napoléon – was elected as the first President of France in 1848. History Today has the story – and it’s an interesting one, inasmuch as it contains pre-echoes of the most recent presidential elections … not only the French one, but also the American one. According to Richard Cavendish, Louis Napoleon “won one of the most remarkable victories in French history, though he had never held public office or distinguished himself in any worthwhile capacity.” Some considered him an ass; others called him a cretin. Cavendish reports that “Karl Marx sourly remarked that because Louis Napoleon was nothing, he could appear to be everything.” (Cavendish, 1998)

Macron and his wife, sourced from CNN, 12 May, 2017.

Macron and his wife, sourced from CNN, 12 May, 2017.

Aged forty years and eight months, Louis Napoleon was the youngest French president to assume office. That’s now no longer the case, of course: France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is 39. And his wife, Brigitte Trogneux, is 64. (“Emmanuel Macron,” 2017)

Macron’s victory was welcomed with a sigh of relief in Europe, according to the Financial Times, which offered analysis indicating that wealthier, better-educated, and optimistic voters had preferred Macron. In his victory speech, Mr Macron told the crowd Europe and the world were “watching us” and “waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places”. See Sky News, 2017 (“World leaders react to Macron’s election win,” 2017)

But the election left the nation deeply divided. Pledging to “guarantee unity”, President Macron acknowledges he faces an immense task ahead. He plans to invest in job training, farming, transport, infrastructure, and healthcare. He intends to push for public service modernisation, greater efficiency in the health sector, and cuts to local authority spending. In contrast to Marine Le Pen, Macron does not envisage a France that shuts out immigrants and asylum seekers.

Both Macron and Le Pen represent outsider movements. In choosing Macron, an independent and a centrist, voters have turned their backs on the traditional conservatives and socialists – the Republicans, the National Front, the Socialist party, and La France insoumise (France unbowed). “France offers an extreme case of the populist wave against governing elites that is sweeping many nations,” explains Jonah D Levy, writing in the Washington Post. In short, it is the French establishment that has been rejected. And it would be a mistake for that establishment to view Macron’s win as evidence that they have avoided what unfolded for the UK and the US. (Levy, 2017)

David Cameron – Britain’s Prime Minister at the time of Brexit – had called the referendum with the intention of strengthening his political grip. Cameron didn’t want to leave the EU. The establishment of the day told itself there was no way the UK would leave the EU. The outcome was a total shock.

Broadly speaking, the result is explained in one of two ways. The first expresses a deep resentment of the migrants who have come to live in Britain. It is immigrants, we are told, who are responsible for lack of jobs, the escalating cost of living, and the dilution and pollution of British culture. It is seen as vital that Britain leave the EU. The voice for this anti-immigrant line was Nigel Farage, the driver of Ukip’s Brexit battle bus. A second explanation, and the one this blog favours, is that issues like employment and housing are social problems, responsibility for which rests with the establishment of the day. The real reason for the social and political complaints – Neoliberal politics – remains to be addressed.

On his Brexit tour of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn promised a Labour government would deliver a “a jobs first Brexit.” (Agerholm, 2017) His view is more complex than simply a yes or no to continued membership of the EU – and he has thus at times viewed Europe as a bit of a riddle.

Corbyn has consistently argued against the economic and political view that says “free market at all costs”. In 2015, he was unhappy with how the EU was handling the grinding austerity enforced upon Greece. He had wanted to build bridges with Europe in order to give support for labour – common workers’ rights, poverty reduction, and welfare. That outlook could be seen as a reason to stay in the EU – not leave. As things have worked out, Corbyn is embracing the decision to leave. Notice how a response to the austerity attitudes could just as easily have informed the view, “If that’s how you treat the labour force, I want nothing to do with such behaviour” – a reason to leave the EU.

Social and political change is not the product of disaffected white males inspired by violent right wing ideologies. Traditional Marxist theory argued the agents of social change were the proletariat – the working class. In sociology and economics, people suffering a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare, have been dubbed the precariat. What is in front of us now is a new proletariat, a new group without an independent identity – and they are looking for a political voice. This is the subject of Guy Standing’s book, The Precariat. Recent events in the UK and America point to this nascent group’s struggle to shape the future. (Standing, 2016)

The explanation I’m offering here is unorthodox – but it is not an effort to say something radically new. I’m being loyal to a framework of ideas and perspectives that seems to have been pushed to one side in favour of notions that owe more to emotion and moral outrage than to facts. The reader might recall Stanley Cohen’s foundation text, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers, published in 1972 and based on research he had carried out during the 1960s. I’m arguing that we haven’t yet finished with the sixties and seventies – and nor have we lost hope in the possibilities and aspirations envisaged in those days. (Cohen, 2011)

French philosopher Alain Badiou uses the term ‘event’ when discussing the idea of truth and truth-telling. (Badiou & Feltham, 2007) He argues that truth breaks through, interrupting the flow of history, insisting we see something, even briefly. For him, the loyalty to that event is central to truth-telling. My reading of Badiou is that he is a Marxist and that he wants to ground his thinking in an historical view. So for him, and for me, truth-telling incorporates both a remembering and a re-experiencing. Marxism insists on a loyalty to emancipation – primarily economic and social, but also sexual. The discourse here is not about sex, but about culture. The political and social battles in the UK, France, and America – and indeed, in New Zealand – are cultural battles. The hard left wants to make a big thing of gender, safe spaces, and legislated language (see Jordan Peterson and his stand in a Canadian university), but I’m viewing these things within a broader and deeper context. (Peterson, 2017)

The irony is that the media don’t seem to be serving us well; I view the newsmongers as pro-establishment, and pro-business. What they offer is a version of the establishment view, perpetuating the old conversation of identity politics – a crusade against ‘bad men’, under the banner of ‘social justice warriors’. But the players – in America, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, et al – are all caricatures. The narratives in which these characters play out their dramas are supposed to explain why things are the way they are – the good guys and the bad guys. My view differs from this.

I can’t pretend to stand outside the media, as if they have played no role in shaping my views. YouTube, the various news sources, and all kinds of media provide access to information and opinions. The ways in which the business community controls and defines how media functions in Western democracies give the possibility of free speech and, in complicated ways, also undermine it.

Slavoj Žižek saw the US election as a chance for change. “Slavoj Žižek Says He’d Vote Trump: Hillary ‘Is the Real Danger’” said the headline in Breitbart (Hahn, 2016) . Žižek was not pro-Trump; he predicted the Democrats would lose because their chosen leader had links with banks and big business which undermined the party’s ability to point to real change – to step back from Neoliberalism and close the gap between the rich and the poor. Hillary Clinton may well have talked about emancipation for gays and lesbians, an openness to immigrants, and the promotion of liberal agendas. In the end, her words were seen to be superficial.

In America the Democrats, the media, and a large part of the Republican movement regard themselves as the establishment. For this group, the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House has been a shock. The way things work is spelled out in the distinctive style and damaged profile of Donald Trump – the compulsive liar, the fondler of women’s bodies – and the struggle to establish a new, draconian feminism as the determinant of our political future.

Here we see an alliance between the media’s lurid version of current affairs and an emergent faction inside feminism. It is important to note that not all feminist voices are singing these songs. “The progressive, feminist politics of the American campus have become so extreme that they’ve become comical,” says Allum Bokhari in Breitbart (Bokhari, 2016). The headline of this piece reads: “Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia on Coddled Students and Fainting-Couch Feminists.” It’s not all funny, however; there’s a dark side. Modern identity politics are currently being driven by a third-wave feminist view that is intolerant, and Stalinist.

Sometimes the media, informed by this new ideology, insists on offering us a picture of Donald Trump as the most recent version of the dangerous male – a pussy-grabbing bully, shaped by the business world, but ultimately a woman-hater. As stated above, Slavoj Žižek was not pro-Trump. He advocated voting for Trump because he saw Clinton as the dangerous one.

So now, all three nations are on notice: in Britain, America, and France, people who see themselves as the victims of economic strategies which undermine the future for individuals and families are demanding change. Across western liberal democracies, and at every level, we see people suffering and angry. One can hear such voices within the worlds of the working class, the middle class, and the upper class.

Some French liberals feared their old enemy, the radical right. The old categories of political left and right don’t serve us well in analysing modern liberal democracies. More to the point is the disenfranchisement of a population who have lost their faith in the political process, and fear a future that includes temporary work contracts, ballooning debt, and a sense of disconnection from society and culture.

As was the case in the US, the French media have portrayed things differently, focusing on gender wars, the faults of men, and the rising radicalism of feminist factions – the style one observes here is of Stalinist intolerance, rather than assertive critical thought.

At this point, it might be worth acknowledging this post has devoted more attention than usual to political matters. My intention is in fact focused on the intricately interwoven sociological and cultural aspects of our current situation – hardly surprising, given my training and experience.

Although the French election result is widely regarded as good news, some have expressed concern – not about the flavour of Emmanuel Macron’s politics, but about the fact that his current partner, Brigitte Trogneux, was once a teacher at his former high school, where she ran the drama club. The young Emmanuel’s parents sent him to Paris to put a distance between the precocious fifteen-year-old and his drama teacher. Interestingly, two years later Emmanuel declared that she would one day be his wife. (Jordan, 2017)

These facts alter the way we interpret the simple observation that the age gap for the French couple is almost exactly the same as that between Donald Trump and his wife Melania – although in that instance the differential is the other way around.

There are indications that for some at least, age gaps are no big deal. Quoted in a pre-election story that appeared widely – including in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand – Martine Bergossi, a Paris retailer, gives her view: “Why can’t we marry younger men? I date them all the time.” Mary Jordan, the Paris-based writer of the article, remarks, “[Macron is] a candidate young enough to be his wife’s son.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran Mary Jordan’s story under a headline that highlighted “the social revenge factor” which the story, intending to offer its readers a little titillation, claimed delighted many French women – including Martine Bergossi – and added “a little ooh-la-la” to the presidential campaign.

It crosses my mind to wonder: Is this fresh focus on age disparate relationships something out of the blue? Does it perhaps offer an opportunity for change? But then I am reminded that this sort of thing is in fact not new. Wikipedia offers a discussion of age disparity and the ‘half your age plus seven’ rule of thumb, admitting that “Although the origin of the rule is unclear, it is sometimes considered to have French origin.” (“Age disparity in sexual relationships,” 2017)

The media are certainly not neutral on this matter. Over recent years, the opinion shapers have been reinforcing popular culture, emphasizing talk of the need to shift to more age appropriate couplings, and urging punitive hard-line condemnation of relationships which break the rule. But age disparate relationships have been de-facto ‘normal’ for a very long time, and while all the talk of age appropriateness unfolds, in the real world other stuff happens.

Some of my readers might at this point be asking: What about same sex couples? But there’s no talk here of two males or two females. In 2015, I posted a piece titled, “Still breaking rules, but that’s okay”, which discussed the relationship between Stephen Fry (at the time, 57) and his partner, Elliot Spencer (then 27). Stephen Fry boxed clever with this message, I believe, by publishing two volumes of memoirs, in which he dealt frankly with all the ‘stuff’ about himself. “This is me, like it or lump it,” he seemed to be saying. (Hooper, 2015)

Interestingly, British commentators persisted in talking about him as likely to receive some kind of award or honour, validating his role in British society and culture as a leading voice to be taken seriously. Fry’s recent skirmish with the Irish Catholic establishment over ‘blasphemy’ is just another example of his readiness to push back against the challenges which crop up from time to time – things he regards as tattered emblems of the old establishment, outmoded relics worthy of being unceremoniously dumped. (Bell, 2017).

It is interesting to note both the British couple (Fry and Elliot) and the French couple (Macron and Trogneux) are the recipients of public approbation. This encourages me to suggest again that, at least for now, relationship age gaps are not as important as some might have thought.

Currently I live in a Western liberal democracy. I understand, and value, the contribution pop culture and news media make to our lives. But they are too close to business, and too deeply enmeshed in some of the negative aspects of society. They are part of the establishment that needs to change, an establishment that is in denial, and that resists change. I see the American Democratic party behaving just this way.

Since the election the media has provided endless stories of the evils of Donald Trump, and little acknowledgement that the Democratic party has participated in and contributed to a country where the gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. On the evening when the American election result became clear Hillary Clinton retreated to her bedroom, refused to acknowledge that outcome, and went to bed. This symbolic act of denial still represents the Democratic party beyond the first 100 days.

Looking at the media’s comparisons of the American couple and the French couple … in both cases, the age difference is roughly the same – about 24 years. Whilst one term for an older man in a relationship of this sort is “silver fox” – or “silver daddy”, in the case of a gay man – it didn’t take long for the Western liberal media to start portraying Donald Trump with a subtext that inferred ‘bad guy’.

For some time now, in media pieces, age appropriate relationships have been couples whose ages were very close, whilst age disparate relationships – sometimes the gap is 20 years or more – were a matter of concern, even suspicion. The ideology of appropriateness spreading through our media seems in fact to be at odds with the choices people make when forming relationships. Nevertheless the promoters of prescriptive views are determined: “we tell it like it is,” they cry.

For many people the media seems more real than their own lives, and their day-to-day experiences less significant. It might be worth questioning the establishment and the media, worth holding them to account for the way things are. What seems to be unfolding is the ‘real’ they promote is being replaced by a real that breaks through. The voices of age gap couples – in Britain, France, and America, in straight worlds and in gay – are being listened to, and are receiving social support. Let’s see where this takes us. Age gaps are not bad by definition, nor are men the source of all that is dark and dangerous. To those whose lives include relationships across generations – men or women, heterosexual or same sex – see yourself as very much ordinary, normal, a valued part of a diverse society. We live in interesting times.

Curiously, the feminists, who regard themselves as liberal, have begun to occupy positions vacated by the old guard – the establishment. They do not approve of Donald Trump, any more than they approve of the flow of unvetted speakers onto University campuses. The prospect of enshrining in legislation a set of rules concerning appropriate and inappropriate pronouns (this is Jordan Peterson again) is of a piece with attempts to restrict who people fall in love with.

There are times when the establishment, with its PC arguments, could do with not merely an update, but a vigorous challenge. Britain, America, and France are really sharing a theme here: the establishment and the media are being given a push back. In the UK it was not really about the immigrants; the establishment had made ordinary people’s lives difficult and voters wanted that to stop. In America, as well, it was less about the bad guy and the angry white males – lots of women supported Trump. No, here too was anti-establishment anger. The Democrats and Clinton had made deals that the American population did not trust. As in Britain, human misery had maxed out.

In France, too, the push-back against the old guard has been accompanied by a sense of fresh hope. Macron wants to rebuild France – reminding me of Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again”.

These days, in a Western liberal democratic setting, people often can’t imagine that a sexually expressed intergenerational friendship can be regarded as positive – “it’s just not on”. An adult in such a relationship can’t be doing a good thing or being a good person. Asked why, many people would find it difficult to explain. For those who look at both how we talk and what we talk about, there is the notion of “rules of discourse”. Without going into great detail, it can be observed that in terms of discourse, one cannot talk about the emancipation of the minor attracted person and at the same time talk about care of the young. I’m willing to break those rules.

What I’m seeking to comment on here is the rare situation where the rules of that discourse are that you can speak about one or other but not both together. So three couples – Macron and his partner, Trump and his partner, and Stephen Fry and his partner – are being talked about as important and socially valued relationships, and at the same time are age disparate and sexual. The point here is that the discursive rules are obliged to give way to the real. It was ever thus. For many people the view that is considered impossible has become so strongly felt that it is experienced as having always been that way. Factually, it has not. In my thinking, I am not insensitive to people’s strongly held views, but seeing the structure of how those rules have been built up, I’m freer to break them … or perhaps I only need to bend them.

During the 1950s the discourse about “sexual perversions” and psychologically dangerous individuals was conflated with the discourse about homosexuality. Behavioural psychology and its stimulus/response paradigm became the preferred discourse when talking about sexual minorities. The modern gay man and woman have successfully extricated themselves, and as if to not leave this social position vacant, it has been filled by the sex abuser/pedophile. Stanley Cohen, in early editions of his book on Folk Devils, observed that the dangerous individual was the young black male – a threat to the white man’s daughter. It seems to me Cohen’s stereotype has now been replaced by the dangerous middle class white man – the pedophile. 

Deleuze makes a challenging comment regarding modern life and the social position of the person who is labeled mentally ill. Individuals who are ‘marginal’ – as in the case of schizophrenics – can be seduced to live as if they are off to one side, isolated, so different as to belong there. At times the minor attracted person has a similar experience. Deleuze’s advice is to reject that isolation. The way forward is to stress our connectedness to others.

When writing about sexuality and the profile of Stephen Fry and his relationship with Elliot Spencer I offered a similar view. A discourse where one’s urges are the centre of one’s dialogue/interrogation at the hands of those who demand ‘talk’ is problematic.  Minor attracted persons find themselves being told to stop urges and to stop his or her desires as if they are different in kind from everyone else. The truth is they aren’t different – desire as one finds it lodged inside the text of literature and poetry is at the heart of who we are and – for everyone – understanding this is vitally important. The modern gay man and the lesbian in Western culture are no longer interrogated as if they are off to one side – they have been normalised – my view is the minor attracted person needs to stress their connectedness to others, and not allow themselves to be isolated and dehumanised.

Because we are at a time when we are sensitive to or captured by the talk of child abuse and the exploitation of the young, we are being sold the view that “the only way to solve these problems” is we can and must erase all age disparate relationships.

People are being told to manage their sexuality, I would suggest – as if it is only an issue of ‘sexual urges’. It might be more precise to say the targets of these messages are those we are unhappy about. When we view people this way we assume – wrongly, I believe – that we understand them in depth. We are most likely to end up with a better understanding of people – who they are, what they’re about, and how they manage their desires – only if they’re free to talk with us, on their terms. To sharpen this point even more, I argue this is equally true with regard to self-knowledge. What’s on offer right now is, can the view I’m offering here gain a foothold? Can the minor attracted person become someone we dialogue with rather than someone we interrogate?

I argue the establishment, as freshly reconfigured, is making determined efforts to insist their ideological views be the only guides to how we live, and who we choose to live with – and love. Which makes it crucial that we pay attention to our actual choices. I don’t think the hard-line feminists and their Stalinist intolerance will be the last word. What I look forward to is more evidence the 1960s and 70s have indeed not finished with us – and that we will reject hate and vote for love.

Details:

Advertisements

Applaud their courage, and take heart

I have just put up a link to this blog piece, however it occurs to me reblogging the item may make it easier for a reader to access the text.

Heretic TOC

Heretic TOC presents a guest blog by Explorer, who has contributed many excellent comments here including a recent one that briefly introduced us to an interesting new organisation called Heart Progress. Today he delves deeper, exploring (well, he is Explorer!) the strengths and weaknesses of Heart Progress, and how heretics here could help it develop its potential as a force for good. Explorer is a young Russian from an intellectual home background, who enjoyed the benefits of growing up in the briefly libertarian atmosphere of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Qualified as a lawyer, he has a non-legal professional role which has brought him into lively discussion and debate with scientists and technicians, from whom he has learned much. He contributes to a range of online forums, sometimes taking people out of their intellectual comfort zone by presenting challenging ideas on a range of topics…

View original post 1,890 more words

Is Gender Off The Table for New Zealand When It Comes To Sex Crimes With The Young?

 Stacey Reriti. Photo / Mark Mitchell (NZ Herald)

Stacey Reriti. Photo / Mark Mitchell (NZ Herald)

This item wants to draw the reader’s attention to a court decision in New Zealand. The NZ Herald recently offered a story of a female teacher being found guilty of sex with a boy from the age of 10 years of age – Female Teacher Jailed for 10 Years For Sexually Violating Boy. He is now a teenager and it would be safe to say he feels differently about his relationship with the teacher now than he did when aged 10.

Stacey Reriti used to teach at Natone Park School in Porirua – her role in the school was that of both teacher and deputy principal. She was judged to have exploited the boy. Prosecutor Dale LaHood offered the view Reriti’s conduct was especially bad because of the “vulnerability” of the victim. That claim is not unusual in cases involving adults having sexual relations with underage boys; what was untypical was how this statement was being made about a woman.

Reriti’s lawyer Stephen Iorns said his client suffered from a psychiatric illness and that prison would not be good for her. It is not unusual that the prosecution would stress how bad the case was; and the defense would point to how the legal process and what follows a guilty verdict is likely to do more harm to the adult than a reasonable person would want anyone to go through.

What is worth paying special attention to are the comments by the Judge. Justice Mark Woolford equated some of Reriti’s offending with rape. He also said the charge of unlawful sexual connection carried a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Judge’s third comment catches one’s attention: “Because a woman cannot be charged with rape” the actions Reriti and the boy engaged in all resulted in charges of unlawful sexual connection; rape could not legally be on the table.

A great deal can be, and perhaps should be said with news of this court finding. To unpack three things is all we will do here.

First, it is possibly a good thing that in this case gender was seen as having no role to play in finding this adult guilty; usually it does and women gain much less punitive legal outcomes than males for similar criminal acts. I say possibly because objectively speaking I would argue we should be putting less people inside prisons for sex with the young than we currently do. It is my reading of some people’s views that women have been getting off light – men being hit hard for sex with those underage; and women not. But does that call to “level things up” really mean things get better? I am not that sure this is true – time will tell.

Second it shows our laws on rape need to be changed/overhauled – currently a woman can’t be charged with rape (this point of women being excluded as able to be charged with rape was made in the article). The teacher in this case was charged with sexual violation and that charge brings with it similar legal punishments as a charge for rape. However, I am going to argue there is a language game going on here that matters. The term rape has been crafted as a male crime – something men do to women and other males. I think there is an ideological bias here that I want challenged. It isn’t valid to argue men bad; women good. So I want rape to stay as a term denoting bad and unethical conduct, I just want the person who acts as a rapist viewed as potentially male or female.

Third, and this point is complex, the case clearly involves a process of change that has been commented on elsewhere – that 95% of sexual contacts between adults and children aged under 12 are situations where trauma does not happen at the time sexual contact occurs; trauma is experienced when the young person comes to appreciate society’s views and punishment directed at a person involved in such exchanges. This third point suggests we, as a society, can reduce that trauma by changing the way we act. There is a lot that can be discussed following the outcome of this court case.

If this statistic of 95% interests you, then read Susan Clancy’s book The Trauma Myth. It is from this text that this statistic is pulled.

Update: article in the Dominion Post,  “Teacher’s sex abuse convictions upheld,” section A4, Friday 24 March, 2017.

The decision was as upheld, and the sentence reduced from 10 years six months jail to nine years nine months. The reduction was intended to reflect factors presented at the appeal.

Details

Clancy, S. A. (2009). The trauma myth and the truth about the sexual abuse of children – and its aftermath. New York: Basic Books.
Weekes, J. (2015, 27/11). Female teacher jailed for 10 years for sexually violating boy [Online News Item]. New Zealand Herald (New Zealand).

This boy is upset and you already know what it’s about

Source: Article on http://www.nzherald.co.nz

Source: Article on http://www.nzherald.co.nz
“Humans of New York Post of crying gay teen receives celebrity support”

Why has this picture gone viral? The touching image you see here – posted a few days ago on Humans of New York (a popular Facebook page) – shows a boy weeping. As a measure of the image’s online presence Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told the teenager, “Your future is going to be amazing,” and Ellen DeGeneres gushed: “Not only will people like you, they’ll love you. I just heard of you and I love you already.” These two American cultural heavyweights stand by this boy, and so do thousands of others.

From inside the community with which this young person is choosing to identify – the gay community – comes a message from a gay adult: “I’m homosexual too, little man. My future is bright and I am loved. Most importantly, I love ME and wouldn’t change a thing about myself. The same can and will absolutely hold true for you. Sending you strength.”

This deluge of reassuring messages is not attempting to bring about sexual equality for the gay male – that is in the past, that has been achieved. What the support for this boy grants is social permission for those who are young to talk of sexual identity, desire, personal hope, and yes sadly how that hope can be missing – the boy weeps because he’s anxious about his future.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The context for this outpouring of support is the American Supreme Court’s recent decision which states all American citizens have the right to enter the marriage covenant, including gays and lesbians; marriage is not the sole preserve of the heterosexual world. Given that this is the context, let’s see how things have changed.

In the straight world boys have yearned, sometimes with tears, for a sexual future that seems beyond them. This image of the boy who wants people to understand he is not straight – he is gay – is weeping and it is about sexual issues. He isn’t crying because he left his school lunch at home. He is upset and it is about sex.

Let’s move beyond what the image tells us, but at the same time draw on what we already know. When boys think about their sexual futures it isn’t always a future that sticks to the rules. Uppermost in their mind – where the boy is straight – might be their female teacher, someone they want to go to the next step with. But are we ready to acknowledge this is just as true for the boy whose love object is male? Yes, it could be he is pining for the boy in the desk next to him in class, but let’s base our comments on what we already know – it could just as easily be the man at the front of the class.

The sexual emancipation of the 1960s and 1970s has brought major change, but not all those who called for change got what they wanted. It is certainly true the LGBT community and the women’s movements have gained a good deal of what they fought for – increased freedoms and an equal place inside our normalised social spaces.

Two groups were less fortunate: the minor attracted lobby, and those who pushed for child sexual emancipation. A good text that discusses the changing shape of sex education for the young in America – a central part of sexual emancipation for the young – is Judith Levine’s “Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex” (2002). Levine argues the young have been blocked from gaining a sense of real power over their lives and I think her case is well argued.

Source: Http:/www.amazon.com

Source: Http:/www.amazon.com

The second group who struggled as part of that sexual emancipation was the lobby who argued sexual relations between generations also needed to be recognised and valued. Key authors who voiced a call for change include were Theo Sandfort – two books that he became well-known for were “Boys on their contacts with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships” (1987) and his earlier work, “The sexual aspect of paedophile relations: The experience of twenty-five boys, (1981). Edward Brongersma wrote his classic text – “Loving Boys: A multidisciplinary study of sexual relations between adult and minor males,” (Volumes 1 and 2, 1986 and 1990). Fritz Bernard wrote extensively on this topic; referring to one of his texts would suffice: “Paedophilia: a factual report” (1985). Because these voices have been forcibly silenced it may be good to point to a couple of more recent texts that keep alive the call to change alive: “Dares to Speak: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love,” edited by Joseph Geraci (1997), and “Censoring Sex Research: The debate over male intergenerational relations,” edited by T.K. Hubbard, B.Verstraete and D. Tsang (2013).

It seems appropriate to pose the question how could one positively frame what the minor attracted person brings to the table? It certainly isn’t restricted to the media profile of the child abuser! Put simply the paedophile and the pederast may be less likely to judge the boy. Hopefully, his photo – and the huge support it has drawn – is all about paying attention to his experience.

This image has evoked a loud-and-clear declaration that the problem is homophobia – not ‘gayness’. For the boy who is gay the message is: “See, there are those around you who say what Ellen DeGeneres says, ‘I love you already.’” There is a complication, as will become clearer as the variations are unpacked.

Should the boy find himself exploring and beginning to understand what desire is for him – and maybe he did befriend a man, but later he adopts the lifestyle of the heterosexual male. The crucial issue is still homophobia, and the message remains: “All is well, we’re here here to say don’t be afraid, we love you.”

The modern GLBT man however may find himself experiencing a political tension that is more than a little uncomfortable. For him the boy is a gay boy – in a way, our modern life is asking the boy to be sure a lot earlier than in the past, and perhaps a lot earlier than can be the case for many.

The commitment to remaining open to the boy’s experience is laudible. The message we send to this boy who weeps is the right one: “What you feel and who you are need not cause you to fear your future.” And there are, of course, other boys who cry – boys whose photos we will never see.

Where tears are linked, say, to a liaison with the maths teacher he has fallen in love with, we would want the boy to know his feelings should not make him feel he is bad or perverted. Logically we don’t want any boy to feel he is bad because a male partner is the current focus of his desire. Sexual orientation and gender have come to matter to us a great deal, and so have tolerance and acceptance.

What is interesting about childhood today is how it is gendered. This was not always the case. In his book, “Child-loving: the erotic child and Victorian culture”, James Kincaid explains that in the past, if we look back, the modern child is not there. Kincaid argues we are wearing spectacles that colour what we see. Victorian photographs often show boys dressed in what we might label girls’ clothing; Kincaid explains that at the time childhood did not require a gender; it was not that they saw boys as feminine.

The minor attracted person – what the modern narrative calls the paedophile – is often not focused on gender either, and this is more significant the lower the age of the love object. For the pederast – the adult whose age interest is post pubescent – gender does seem more a factor, whilst sexual orientation is often not. The young person may grow older and live a sexuality of the heterosexually married man, or he may find himself living as a gay man; what the boy choses or finds to be ‘true for him’ is often an open question. This ‘open-endedness’ would be one of the defining differences between the modern ‘politically correct’ profile of the gay man and that of the minor attracted person. The gay man, where he adopts the modern LGBT politics, requires the boy remain inside the identity that has been constructed for him; the minor attracted man is less likely to do so. It is this attitude of tolerance towards the young and the unconditional nature of the friendship the adult offers that seem to be a positive feature of a minor attracted sexuality.

This boy is clearly concerned for his future. Had his photo been published during the 1960s or 70s, it would almost certainly have been linked to calls for the emancipation of the young – “Let the children speak for themselves.” Now, that clarion call has been drowned out by a very different cry – one which calls for the experience of the gay boy to be listened to and woven into a new normal, which values equally the experiences of the gay and heterosexual communities.

If he longs for a closeness with the boy in the next row in class, dare we believe all is okay? Can we be confident he won’t be treated as many have been in the recent past – his self-disclosure responded to with violence at the hands of classmates and family members? If – and this is not something we can know from the image – he has a crush on his maths teacher then maybe it will not be seen as an intergenerational relationship, but will be incorporated within the ‘gay male’ narrative. Nor will it be viewed as sexual assault; since this boy has agency, he can choose, and what he wants is precisely what society wants to listen to. As long as it isn’t what we don’t want to hear.

One could end here, with the messages of reassurance from Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres, and the reassurances of the unnamed gay man: “I’m homosexual too, little man.” The boy is being listened to – a good outcome.

But let’s keep unpacking the baggage that comes with this modern day message of enlightenment lensed through the glasses of the LGBT political machine.

The American Supreme Court’s ruling, making marriage for gay men and lesbians part of the American way of life in all 50 states, seemed to grow slowly and then burst onto the political stage. In other spaces the same moves have occurred. Here in New Zealand the LGBT lobby seems to have won clear political and cultural battles. Even in Ireland – that centre of Catholic culture – this groundswell of change has happened. A piece on the Reuters Blog titled “Irish plunge stake through Catholic Church’s heart” offered the words of sociologist Tom Inglis: “The era of the Church as the moral conscience of Irish society is over.” The piece was referring to the Irish referendum of April 29 this year where gay marriage was approved by 62 percent of the population.

It gets especially interesting when you ask yourself what you think is really happening as these events unfold. Human freedom marches ever onward: the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Emancipation of Slaves, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation. A diverse audience would nod their heads at this list. More recently, a cluster of crucial but contentious issues has taken our attention. Gay marriage would be prominent among them, and so would adoption by gay couples, but it would hardly be appropriate to think of these matters as settled. In positioning the weeping youngster within a context of supportive responses from high-profile women and thousands of social media users, and tying the whole assemblage together with the encouraging voice of an unnamed gay man, the author of the New Zealand Herald article tempts me to wonder whether this clear public display of empathy for the boy signals the return of an earlier endeavour: child emancipation?

John Lloyd, the author of the Reuter’s blog piece about the Irish referendum, makes references to what goes on in some global spaces – Russia, the Middle East, and Africa, and is critical of what he sees as social prejudice and social wrong turns – the suppression of the homosexual community. Pat Morris, the first in a collection of people who comment on what Lloyd writes, reads the situation differently – “Lloyd presents the people of Russia, the Middle East, and Africa as dupes. Rather they correctly sense that the LGBT movement, along with feminism, represents the New High Church of Neoliberal global hegemony”. In my view, Morris may well have a point. No doubt there is social prejudice and violent intimidation in the lobby that seeks to crush the ‘homosexual pervert’, and yet the knight on the white horse who comes promising freedom and an end to that violence appears to have a certain hegemonic arrogance that goes unacknowledged. (In the blog piece “Cultural hegemony: What’s that?” on this site there is a more detailed discussion of what hegemony involves.)

A similar call for silence in favour of this new message – the modern gay is now normal and valued – was embedded in a blog piece on a site which discusses the abuse of the young – Spotlight on Abuse: the past on trial. The article discusses a review of one of the books I referred to above – “Dares to Speak: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love”, edited by Joseph Geraci (1997). Ros Coward had written a review of this book for The Observer, 27 June 1997. In Coward’s review titled “Dares to speak says nothing useful”, the book and the articles it offered were all trashed – thrown on the community bonfires. The Spotlight website was arguing, using Coward’s voice to promote the call, that no modern voice for the gay message should allow such a book to be anywhere near them; The Gay Men’s Press was offering the title for sale and Ros Coward was arguing the book should be taken off the shelves. This is the kind of move one encounters inside the pages of George Orwell’s 1984. It is a matter of concern when academic texts are trashed because they reflect the multiple voices of our recent past.

One can jump to the recent update of the DSM IV to its new iteration – the DSM V. (This is discussed in more detail inside this blogsite’s article “Mistakes can have a very high price”.) A text had been put up in public spaces where those attracted to the young were discussed in terms of sexual orientation. The gay community cried foul – “That language belongs to us!” It is also a matter for concern when any group who offers subversive narratives, and which is eventually rewarded with social acceptance and new legislation, and which then slams the door on anyone else seeking freedom and an end to the violence inflicted on them.

A recent pair of YouTube clips offer interesting viewing. These items represent Catholic and LGBT viewpoints respectively. Two points are worth noting – first how truth-telling can have a ‘style’ and second how hegemony seeks to shape our experiences. And perhaps an addendum is in order: both groups employ both techniques.

A lobby seeking to speak inside the debate about gay marriage – catholicvote – adopted a move that was rather untypical of a Catholic media production. They put together a script in a style clearly intended to mimic techniques employed by modern groups seeking social change – including the LGBT lobby. The LGBT’s familiar truth-telling signature was faithfully maintained – the hesitant but strident voice – but the message was very different. The message was intent upon resisting social change – saying no to gay marriage. They called their clip – “Not Alone”.

In just three days an LGBT group identifying itself as soundlyawake responded with a parody of the Catholic group – “Not Alone (Alternate Version)”.

Globally, not all groups view the gay lobby positively – the conservative lobby within Catholicism would be one such group. What modern debates do is to talk less about who is right – although that claim is out there – but focus rather on a mode of delivery that is a modern signature for truth-telling; it puts a human face on the voice that speaks.

These two groups – the Catholic lobby and the LGBT movement – are no strangers to the business of putting themselves out there as truth-tellers, and both are masters in the production of hegemony. If one is interested in depthing these issues I would suggest the writings of Roland Bathes and Antonio Gramsci. This is why it seems wise to attend to our current situation of gay emancipation – with its latest iteration being gay marriage, and evidence the profile of the boy who sees himself as gay the next issue to consider – with a commitment to remaining in charge of our critical faculties. I am happy to see both the presence of the gay man and the religious follower inside my society and culture; it is a case of remaining alert to what is being said and done.

Some argue that the boy was always a character inside the homosexual narrative of love and friendships, from its earliest forms inside Western culture. The modern gay movement does not wish to reference this now, and sexual freedom has, for its proponents, been a matter of sexual freedom for consenting adults. Now, the image of the weeping boy suggests that once again the life experience of the young is being allowed to speak – a positive move indeed. But it is a ‘gay story’, a homosexual love, not available as a confirmation of how a young person may wish to draw closer to an adult male, and certainly not about how that can be celebrated.

I do believe we will see intergenerational love stories become once again an accepted part of our popular culture as it was in our past, but it will be lensed as gay love and positioned so that it cannot be construed as anything else.

What I want, and what I think we deserve, is a set of narratives that we can regard as a good fit for what we experience inside our personal lives. What is unhelpful, even dangerous, is the situation in which we know what we desire, but the language we are allowed to deploy is a poor fit, or worse an outright lie. At its core, freedom is not actually the ability to do anything you want; I argue true freedom is the sense of excitement that comes from our language being a truly inspiring match for what we experience. That is what is found in a good poem, a fine piece of literature, and yes, inside a political programme for a better tomorrow.

Details:

Barthes, R. (1972). Mythologies. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bernard, F. (2002/1985). Paedophilia: A factual report (2nd ed.). Austin, Texas, United States: Books Reborn.

Brongersma, E. (1986). Loving Boys Vol. 1: A multidisciplinary study of sexual relations between adut and minor males. Global Academic Publishers.

Brongersma, E. (1990). Loving Boys Vol. 2: A multidisciplinary study of sexual relations between adut and minor males. USA: Global Academic Publishers.

Censoring Sex Research: The Debate over male intergenerational relations. [EBook]. (2013) (T. K. Hubbard & B. Verstraete, Eds.). California, USA: Left Coast Press, Inc.

Dares to Speak: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love. (1997) (J. Geraci, Ed.). United Kingdom: Heretic Books.

Jones, S. (2007). Antonio Gramsci (Kindle Edition). (Routledge Critical Thinkers). Routledge.

Kincaid, J. R. (1992). Child-loving: The erotic child and Victorian culture. In ACLS Humanities (EBook, p. 413p). New York: Routledge.

Levine, J. (2002). Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Lloyd, J. (2015, 5/06). Irish plunge stake through Catholic Church’s heart [Blogsite article]. In Reuter’s Blog, U.S. Edition (The Great Debate). Reuters Blog(U.S.). Retrieved 5 July 2015, from http://blogs.reuters.com/

Peter Tatchell and Dares to Speak. (2014, 25/03). In -spotlight: spotlight on abuse: the past on trial. .

How legal tide turned on same-sex marriage in the US [News media piece online]. (2015, 26/06). BBC News(Online Story), World. Retrieved 6 July 2015, from http://www.bbc.com

Humans of New York Post of crying gay teen receives celebrity support [Newspaper article]. (2015, 6/07). New Zealand Herald (New Zealand), Online Newspaper ed., sec. Life & Style. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz

Sandfort, T. (1982). The Sexual Aspect of Paedophile Relations: The experience of twenty-five boys. Amsterdam: Pan/Spartacus.

Sandfort, T. (1987). Boys on their contacts with men: A study of sexually expressed friendships. USA: Global Academic Publishers.

What fascinates more: hate and the expulsion of the sexual deviant, or pedophilic genius

There is a process unfolding in England and America which demonstrates how willing we are to do things to each other that are both dark and crushing, at the same time choosing not to see what is actually happening.  It is that reaction of hate and crushing condemnation of those attracted to the young is what this post reflects on.

Public sex offender databases have been set up in both countries. In America, for example, there is what has become known as the Megan’s Law legislation, which was created in response to the murder of Megan Kanka.  The legislation requires law enforcement authorities to make information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders.  There are stories where young ‘perpetrators’ are punished repeatedly; unsurprisingly there are voices that cry out “stop this harm, now!”  England has its own version which it calls Sarah’s Law, which enables a member of the public to ask the police whether an individual (e.g. a neighbour or family friend) is a convicted sex offender.

Jones on Megan's law resized

Megan’s Law is Going After the Youth’s of America! (Anthony Young)

It is important to recognise that a shift has begun to happen – a move away from punishing  offenders who are young.  Anthony Jones, a maker of documentaries and films who has moved into the field of forensic research, writes on the issue of Sex Offender Registries in America. His LinkedIn profile offers glimpses of his work. His latest post, “Megan’s Law is going after the youths of America”. Jones joins the voices of others:  “US: Raised on the Sex Offender Registry”.  The central message is the call to stop being inhuman to the young, and it is a call that may well move American society to change.

Will this call to be humane lead to the same call regarding the adult? I for one hope it does. It may well be a case of one step at a time.

Labels can have power. Stanley Cohen, in “Folk Devils and Moral Panics”, which first hit the bookshops in the 1970s wrote about biker groups and young males who were seen as socially disruptive and dangerous.  Today the label pedophile is out there on its own, it can’t be trumped as far as what it can do to the person who has this label put on them.  I ask myself why, and read widely to gain a handle on this question.

sex panic resized

Image sourced from Amazon.com.

Roger N. Lancaster wrote Sex Panic and the Punitive State in 2011 and it was reviewed by Judith Levine – “First, They Came for the Sex Offenders”.  She views Lancaster’s text as “a riveting history and virtuosic analysis of the way America’s thirty-year panic about child sexual abuse has fuelled an ever-increasing appetite to ‘protect, punish, and pre-empt’ crime and has served as the model for the creation of ‘something resembling a police state in the United States.”

This week – May 15, 2015 – Stephen Kershnar is publishing his latest book, “Pedophilia and Adult-Child Sex: A Philosophical Analysis“.  He makes the comment our views of adult-child sex should be based on the “outcome of the empirical investigation of its degree of harmfulness”.  I read Kershnar’s words and put them with what is offered by Judith Levine in her book, “Harmful To Minors: The Perils Of Protecting Children From Sex”.  The negative impact on children – the harm done – where we see this happening may well speak most to what is done by those who seem so deep in the grip of a will to punish and exclude, rather than in the actions of the adult who is labelled sex abuser and pedophile.

We find ourselves, three years after Levine’s review, four years after Lancaster’s book, thirteen years after Levine’s own book, and thirty three years after Cohen’s, and things seem to be even worse.

Usually when I write my style resists being overly direct or harsh.  My background as a Family Therapist, my efforts to look at texts offered by sociologists, and my philosophical preferences, all influence how I put words on the page.  At this point allow me to move into another style.

The most convincing explanation for the hate and malice is remarkably simple – the label pedophile is the ‘pissing-pot’ of the 21st century.  It carries all the shit, hate, and malice, modern society feels about itself.  Gone are the days when one can talk in derisory ways about a person of colour.  You can’t talk about marginalised groups as freely as one might have in the past. The United Nations and other international bodies are letting you know: do that and we will take you down.  In this modern life of political correctness the label pedophile remains the one label you can use to destroy a person utterly, and odds on you won’t be attacked when you use it.

jesus 2

Image sourced from Amazon.com

This comment seems harsh, but an overview may well put what is argued inside a context that gives it credibility.  The path into this situation where one is blocked from attacking and dehumanising individuals and groups has a long history. Western culture has been shaped by many factors and one of them is religion.  Both the Ancient East and Christianity have played a role in how Western cultures deal with sin. Walter Kasper in his 1976 text on Christology,  Jesus The Christ, explains how this idea of atonement worked in the East.

“The individual is deeply involved in the community by reason of a common origin and a common destiny.  His evil deed is always a burden on the whole people.  A sinner was regarded as a common danger in a very direct and realistic sense.  Therefore the worshiping community had to dissociate itself from him solemnly and demonstratively and break off solidarity with the wrongdoer. That was done by excommunication and cursing.  Only by that kind of atonement could the people be reconciled with God. Atonement however was also possible through vicarious actions.  The best known atonement ritual was the transmissions of the sins of the people by imposing hands on a goat and driving it into the desert thus burdened with the sins of all (Lev. 16.20ff).” (Kasper, p.215)

For Christians Jesus was considered to be part of an atonement process that was exhaustive – he stood in for others.  That one action – a life and its death – made any further acts of solidarity with the sinner superfluous.  No one else need die on a cross.  Jesus was more than a person, he was a life-process.  All people’s wrongdoing was taken upon him – a laying on of hands linked to a wrongful execution – in this case one did not have a goat but a person – in this way Christians argued things were put right, and it happens only once.  No other individual need ever do this again.  It is not an alibi – it requires the person walk the Christian path, but it is not magic, and nor does the individual make it happen. This is seen as God doing what humanity on its own could not.  A second image was the idea the person was walking into the tomb of Jesus (Paul in his Letter to the Romans).  The individual is still required to commit to this new self but the atonement aspect is achieved via what can be called ‘the Jesus narrative”.

It is useful to unpack this Christian view not to argue a Christian account is superior to other religious narratives; it is rather that people need, just as we do now, to deal with this issue of keeping communities connected while at the same time addressing wrongdoing and harm done by one to another.  The point here is that we can and do find a way – many ways, different ways – to manage what seems irresolvable.  There are secular versions of just this issue in literature if we go looking.

The pedophile is considered a sinner if he has done wrong – sexual abuse of a child. There is a second view, even more punitive, where the person’s sexual orientation is viewed as ‘inclined towards evil’.  Take note, the official Catholic commentary on the homosexual man uses just such language.  In both cases the pedophile benefits from this theological repositioning.  The individual as a sinner is reconnected to the community via this atonement relationship.

Sadly that theological view all too often did not inform what happened for homosexual man in Western culture.  Between the close of the Second World War, moving through Stonewall, and all the way to the decriminalising of their consensual sexual relationships, many gay men – perhaps most – did not receive that message of connection to the worshiping community.  Catholicism has a‘message of ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’.  It was not a convincing message and many homosexual men realised most Christians did not live as if they understood Walter Kasper’s emancipatory message of atonement for everyone.

I do not see Christianity boldly saying how the pedophile has real solidarity with the worshiping community today either.  I dare say the minor attracted person sees Christian communities as no different from wider society with its talk of exclusion and punishment – ‘pissing on him in public’ with no fear of criticism.  In media items Catholicism finds itself accused of having pedophiles in its ranks – inside its very highest levels.  The Catholic movement keeps saying this cannot and must not be.  Like everyone else down through the ages Catholic priests have committed sins.  Graham Green’s novels about priests who love but remain heroes of his books are something I would want to promote.  Modern accounts of ‘pedophile priests’ are seriously at odds with what Green offers.  Unlike any other accusation the label pedophile is certain to lead to the revoking of his status as an ordained Christian leader. It seems unlikely these men could slip quietly into the pew beside other members of the congregations they once led.

I keep plugging the idea that we can make a better world, that humanity can move forward. The riddle for me is not the issue of how we can make the world better; it is more about why we don’t.  I look at this label issue and ask how can we address not only the person of colour, the migrant, the marginalised groups in whichever society we live in; I also believe this process of making a better society and a better planet needs to include the minor attracted person.  Whatever the psychological and sociological ‘usefulness’ of a pissing pot, I want it gone. In this post I write about one way that might help that happen – via art, what we admire, human creativity.

Consider what happens inside the experience of a parent who gazes on their child’s crayon drawing, or the person who listens to a Tchaikovsky piece being played by their local orchestra to celebrate Christmas. We are looking at human creativity.

What is valued here is not merely the object the individual makes – the child’s drawing may end up on the fridge door; and Tchaikovsky’s music for the serious listener is more than some tune one hums in an elevator. In addition to the object itself what is valued is the person who creates the item.  A circle is closed as we move from the art object to its maker and finally we come to acknowledge what is valued include us – we who watch and listen.

Recently I wrote a piece about Alan Turing.  In the recent film about him can trigger in gay and homosexual men a deep sense of pride; his creativity and his stature are experienced by many gays as more than an affirmation of his code breaking skill; it is a valuing of the man who acted, and ultimately a valuing of all gay men.  Of course I am going to argue we all benefit, gay and non-gay alike – humanity moves up a notch.

Not all homosexuals are code breakers, not all gay men are geniuses.

A person who I have never written about but has been celebrated and discussed a great deal recently is Lewis Carroll (real name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson).  On his website, Tom O’Carroll offers a very interesting text:  “Which is to be master – that’s all”.  It looks at how Lewis Carroll is positioned today, and yes some see him as a pedophile; some do not. Lewis Carroll, Tchaikovsky, and Turing are people who can be labelled genius.

biosexual resized

John Money, in Ch. 17 of Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions, Jay R Feierman, ed. discusses his term pedophilic genius.

John Money, a New Zealand sexologist, coined the term pedophilic genius. He argued some individuals who display genius do so in a way that is driven by and intimately linked to their experience of themselves as sexual beings. One man who I think shows this kind of giftedness is Michael Jackson. Recently I was offered a link to a BBC documentary that discusses another man who was unmistakably a genius and who like Jackson has been linked to a deep personal love of boys.  It is the story of Daniel Carleton Gajdusek and his work with the disease Kuru, gaining a Nobel Prize in 1976.  The media piece by the BBC is titled “Storyville The Genius And The Boys”. Gajdusek’s life began to be rewritten following a claim in 1996 by one of his adopted sons that he had had oral sex with him.

Recently I learned from more than one source that Alan Turing’s sexual interest was not as ‘orthodox’ as  “The Imitation Game” portrays, nor is he as good a fit for the modern gay man as some would wish.  Comments made by people who worked with Turning and knew him well suggest he may have been minor attracted.

My point here is not to say, look, some of our great men and women were sexual deviants, let’s trash their art and what they have done.  Nor am I inspired to drive a stake into the hearts of those who admire Michael Jackson, Lewis Carroll, Alan Turing, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, or Tchaikovsky for that matter – he to had sexual affairs with boys.  At the centre of what I offer here is the existence of these men’s work, the experience of our admiration for them as people.  Both the objects of art and the men themselves help us stay away from a descent into rage and hate when we look at the minor attracted person.  Moral outrage sometimes resembles self destructiveness more than an appreciation of what matters in life.

Note I am not arguing for a notion of privilege to operate – I am not saying let the gifted individual be abusive and harmful in their relationships with others because their talent lets them do what others must not.  Alibis are just that – distractions, deflections.  My point rests in considering what we can do that is of lasting value and affirms that every person matters. I am not talking of rape, non-consenting sexual encounters, or the simple satisfaction of one person’s desire to gain what they want for themselves.

What I have offered resembles a discussion of ‘virtue ethics’ and ‘traditional ethics’. Post-modern discussions tend to not look like either. A postmodern discussion is more likely to look at how celebrity works. Michael Jackson had his music fans, Lewis Carroll has those who read his stories such as Alice in Wonderland, Gajdusek as a Nobel Prize winner and much respected researcher had a fan club that included both the subjects he studied – the people he studies and helped, as well as large numbers of scientific colleagues who valued what he did. Celebrity seems very central to our modern life.

I could point backwards to the last post about what is known by us but offered up as unknown. Many fans of Michael Jackson will let you know they don’t want to know. There is a lot that can be said on this point.

The experience of great art and objects brought into existence by gifted people makes us connect with a part of who we are that can help us be our best selves.  We have the capacity to be destructive in way that matches what we find in the art and genius provided to us by individuals. For me the riddle is not can gifted person be a pedophile, my mind is locked onto the deep puzzle of how people can be so destructive and so damaging when they encounter this sexual orientation.

Peter Ellis resized

Image of Peter Ellis sourced from NZ Herald.

This feature of our societies and cultures looms large in my mind. The list of cases that speak to what I refer to is long:  Sandusky, Rolf Harris, New Zealand’s Peter Ellis (who has just had yet another request for the legal case against him reopened turn down by the New Zealand Justice Minister), Michael Jackson (whose legal success is not seen by all as a convincing message “this man is not a pedophile”), Arthur C Clarke (again positioned a pedophile despite no legal outcome establishing grounds for this view). You can decide that what makes these men’s lives compelling was that they were drawn to the young; you can just as easily say what makes these lives scary was our management of those men’s lives.

I want to believe, perhaps despite what I see, that what we can do that is good and noble is going to help us turn our societies away from our dark side and motivate us to bring us back to a point where human solidarity and our best selves wins out in the end.

When one realises that more and more adults fill our prisons, live under bridges in the ‘wealthy’ spaces of America, are under the expanding threat of civil commitment and life-long social exclusion, all seems lost.  Will we really change and make the turn from our efforts to exclude and punish because a truth about ourselves becomes visible to us via narratives that have at their centre a child – the young sex offender?

DETAILS:

  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Money, J. (1990). Pedophilia: A Specific Instance of New Phylism Theory as Applied to Paraphilic Lovemaps. In J. R. Feierman (Ed.), Pedophilia: Biosexual Dimensions (pp. 446-463). New York: Springer-Verlag.