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.


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

Source: Article on
“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:/

Source: Http:/

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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?


  • 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.

What Do You Mean, You Don’t Know?

At this point in Western history, an adult who recognises they are attracted to the young is positioned inside their society negatively, especially those societies shaped by Anglophile traditions. The challenge is how to move beyond a negatively framed way of seeing oneself and the desires that are at the core of who one is.

An earlier post on this site argued minor attracted persons (MAP) can look to how others  talk about how they see themselves. Navigating life often involves learning from others – so the idea that the group you belong to needs to reinvent the wheel and solve all problems from within seems to me an unhelpful expectation.

Competing Responsibilities Sociology Conference, 2014

Competing Responsibilities Sociology Conference, 2014

The post I  refer to had a context – a talk by Prof. Nikolas Rose titled “Making us resilient: responsible citizens for uncertain times”, which was the keynote address at a sociology seminar titled Competing Responsibilities: The politics and ethics of responsibility in contemporary life.  His talk did not reference the life situation of the MAP. Rose encouraged people to look for more positive ways of framing talk of the self. A key term he used for that process was the word resilience which he used inside the title of his talk. I argue MAPs need to look at this concept as part of crafting a responsible and ethical way to live their life in 2015. I know Prof. Rose does not agree with this idea because I asked him. His message was directed at people who are not minor attracted; he wanted them to focus on developing resilience, as a positive response to modern life. The ‘resilience’ message is a valuable one for everybody – including those who are minor attracted.

Behaviourist models of human sexuality centre on risk and risk management; prison based programs for those convicted of child sexual abuse and community based versions of the same programs are often informed by behaviouristic models. I argue these programs restrict how individuals see themselves. I need to be very clear here and assure the reader my objective is to promote a process where a person sees it as their responsibility to live and craft an ethical life. It goes without saying MAPs, whether they have convictions for sexual abuse or not, are not asked to contribute to how they manage their lives – they are told how to live, how they must live.

That call for all of us to live ethically – if one is informed by Western philosophical ideas – reaches all the way back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. According to that tradition what I am talking about is how to live a good life. Despite the long time-lapse between those philosophers and where we find ourselves, that challenge has not gone away.

Not limiting itself to commending Prof. Rose’s call to resilience, my post also hinted that valuable insights may be gleaned from writers who comment from within diverse worlds: psychoanalysis, Marxism, philosophy, history, critical theory, etc.

My reading in recent years has included a number of writers and social theorists: Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Elizabeth Roundinesco, Slavoj Zizek, and Alain Badiou – a predominantly French group of intellectuals who published and debated their ideas of freedom, ideology, knowledge, emancipation, health, and sexuality.  What makes this group especially interesting is the way they bring together disparate disciplines in crafting their texts and their ideas.

The major voice informing this post is Slavoj Zizek. Of particular interest is his talk of knowledge, in particular his recommendation that we look into what he calls the science of not knowing as a part of a general theory of epistemology.  What is striking is the paradoxical way Zizek talks, and it is perhaps this feature that draws his audience  into what he has to offer.

Slavoj Zizek's talk on "Not Knowing" (YouTube)

Slavoj Zizek’s talk on “Not Knowing” (YouTube)

In his video clip, “Ideology and Modalities of Not Knowing. 2014”, Zizek explains “Ideology is not only what it says, it is also the complex network of solicited transgressions”. He offers an example from his army training.  There were things that were prohibited and there were accompanying messages about those prohibitions: if you did not transgress those prohibitions, then you would be viewed as an idiot.  He offered the example of how a soldier would be told, Don’t get drunk.  That soldier, if he did not go drinking with his comrades on a regular basis, would be viewed as failing his fellow officers and even as being unpatriotic.

Zizek argues all human communities have rules.  Accompanying those rules are what could loosely be called meta-rules – a guide to how the rules can be broken and under what conditions.  He takes a special interest in these meta-rules – and so do I.  Zizek begins by asking how the rules help reveal how ideological systems work, then via a question from his audience he explains how this rules/meta-rule idea can be seen when talking about knowledge.

In this post I am taking a further step – how might one talk about the rules/meta-rules relationship when looking at human sexuality.  I see here an opportunity to use Zizek’s thinking as a tool box rather than simply quoting what he says about sex.

The behaviourist will tell you that the key issue is: for the pedophile to not have sex with children.  A behaviourist perspective will focus on the management of sexual arousal and the management of risk.

Zizek’s argues there is a crisis that needs responding to – but it is not the crisis we read in the media. My interest is to ask the question, using Zizek’s toolbox, if we have a crisis for human sexuality – one of the issues being sexual contacts across generations – then how would it be talked about? My rendering of this issue does differ from how the behaviourists frame the discussion.

Zizek offers his view on the question of rules with the added point that the ‘not knowing’ feature of his epistemology includes modalities. The first one involves these rules paired with other rules – usually unspoken and unacknowledged – telling us how rules can be broken and in what circumstances. A second modality, another version of the same thing, is where you are offered an opportunity but the unspoken rule is you must not take it. Now let’s  unpack how this modality runs when talking about sex.

Zizek gave an example from his days in the army. At the beginning of their training a soldier is taught various things and after a short period of time there might be a public ceremony where they would make a public statement about becoming a member of the army.  They would also be offered the chance to sign the book stating their commitment. Of course the signing is positioned as a moment of free choice. This opportunity includes the ability to say no, I won’t sign.  Zizek recounts an army cadet who asked was he free when signing and was told yes. He then said “I don’t sign”. The trainers were angry; they felt the cadet had ‘broken a central rule’. They issued a written order – sign the book freely. The situation looks absurd, even humorous, but the important point is the army officials were very serious. For them it was no joke!

The behaviourist approach regarding minor attraction is to focus on a prohibition – you must not have sex with children; and more than this, in your thinking about them, you must not explore that idea as positive. For the behaviourist – and others, I suspect – this is how they would frame today’s crisis: don’t have sex across generations. Using Zizek’s talk of rules we can frame the situation differently. Yes, there is a crisis but it is not this one. The real crisis is the possibility that people might be given the choice – that you actually are free to decide, and it is this, I argue, that frightens people. This is our current crisis; you have an opportunity, you are expected to say no, freely, but now it becomes necessary for us to acknowledge some may say yes.

This post is not offering is a full history of all human choices regarding this matter; that would be bold and an unfair request for a reader to make. What is offered is a way of seeing how this practice of not knowing has been brought into the light.

Zizek mentions how the issue of not knowing has been highlighted by the Wikileaks situation and the disclosures by Edward Snowden.  Zizek argues that while some detail is being made available to us, it has not been a process where at one time we knew nothing and now we know it all.  He argues the crisis for democracy is the cessation of the ability to say we don’t know.  Zizek puts it to us we always suspected our leaders acted the way Julian Assange and Edward Snowden position them.  The crisis is now we can’t say we don’t know.  To cement his argument Zizek links this situation of the crisis to Jacques Lacan’s view that most of us ‘don’t want to know’.  Lacan questions the assumption that  we are all curious animals who, at our core, desperately want to know things.  Lacan argues, in some areas of life and in certain situations we desperately want to send the message, “I don’t know” or “I did not know this”.  This is, in Lacan’s view, a crisis situation for many.

For Western cultures in the period before the 1970s the situation ran along these lines: a person is offered opportunities where they could have sex with children, but these are opportunities to which the person must always say no.  In this period there were people who said yes.  The meta-rule required that this be part of what is not known.

At that time there was no imagined future where one might be offered a real choice in this matter; nor was it perceived there was a new wave of social optimism unfolding where such choice could be publicly acknowledged.  Furthermore, before the 1970s this view was the preferred understanding of how everything worked.  There was an overarching set of rules, one where you were told what you could and couldn’t do.  Interestingly we felt free, but it was deemed a freedom we must not act on.  We were free, as long as we never said no to the prohibition.  Just like Zizek’s cadet who was ordered to freely sign the book, this was all done freely.

With the 1960s and 1970s I argue freedom and our general social fabric experienced a jolt – we asked in a very broad way, are we really free?  The disruption of two world wars, shifts in bodies of knowledge about sexuality, gay liberation, the rise of equal rights for women – the mix is complex.  We had preferred not to know we were being told what to do, we considered ourselves free and indeed expressed strong political, philosophical and even religious ideas about why this mattered.  But with the 1970s, to keep that old view about ourselves became harder to sustain.  It was this that defined the crisis for Western societies and Western cultures.

"... very few victims reported any fear, shock, force or violence at the time the abuse occurred." p.22

“… very few victims reported any fear, shock, force or violence at the time the abuse occurred.” p.22

I argue intergenerational sexually-expressed friendships were impacted by those shifts.  Along with the narratives of sexual emancipation came narratives of abuse and exploitation.  Those stories have multiplied greatly, and have become increasingly valued narratives inside our culture.

The prominence given to the ‘sex abuse industry’ tells us that it is more than merely one discourse among many; it behaves as if it is the benchmark against which all narratives of this sort are measured.  In terms of what this post argues our current position is not one of “now we know all”; what persists, in fact, is our version of not knowing.

We have always known, or at least suspected, that some of those relationships between the young and the older involved consent, friendship and reciprocity.  To this knowledge we say “I don’t know.”

My text speaks to the narratives which, for a short time, emerged but seem to have subsequently been shut down. There were friendships in which rules were broken.  We knew some adults had sex with children.  Public accounts of allegations of sex with children in day care centres multiplied.  Groups were formed – like the Pedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in England.  It became increasingly difficult to hold to the view, “We don’t know”.  By the 1990s, with the help of the media, we were telling ourselves our eyes were opened, and now we knew better.  The knowing, however, focuses on abuse narratives.  The knowing, I argue, still retains a piece of the earlier modality.  To this day, in public discourse, we act as if we don’t know about the non-abusive and non-exploitative intergenerational exchanges.

The sexual profile of the pedophile has never been so much a part of media talk and most recently there seems to be a desperate desire to explain the origins of the pedophile sexual orientation just as there were similar efforts to explain the homosexual male in the 1990s.

The ideological grip of heterosexism has been dislodged.  Sexual variety is experienced as part of the way things are.  The idea of ‘what is normal’ functions to limit what we say yes to, but we can’t say that variety and complexity experienced at the level of the individual as desire, is unknown to us.

The real root of our crisis I argue is the possibility of a different life, a different set of choices.  A minor attracted person can and even should be encouraged to make a life; that life can and should be ethically crafted; that life can and should be seen as free.  It is not about permission to have sex with children.  We have always known for some the choice might well be to say yes to opportunities to form friendships and be ‘all that one can be’ and respond to that call to ‘be one’s best self’.  This aspirational view ultimately doesn’t tell us what to do.  As societies and cultures we are confronted with people who on the face of it are not like us – but they are in fact just like us – the gay male, the lesbian, the minor attracted, the diversity is striking.

We can’t say we don’t know any more.  Everyone is in fact called to be ethical, free, responsible members of our societies and cultures.  Our understanding of sex, sex roles, gender and gender identity offers a more detailed picture of sexuality.  Human desire is part of an ethical journey for same-sex couples, for heterosexual couples – these are our new version of normal.  But for  the individuals inside our societies for whom age is a component of how desire functions, for this group we must now wrestle with how to manage this also.

"Future can be a reference to the one who comes, whose  arrival is totally unexpected. For me that is the real future."

“Future can be a reference to the one who comes, whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me that is the real future.”

I am not arguing all this is settled, or that it is straightforward.  What is interesting and challenging is that here one can take the notions of rule and knowing used by Slavoj Zizek and attempt a process that could be called a type of unmasking.  Zizek argues that in politics we can’t go back, we can’t really say we do not know our leaders spy on us and tell us lies.  I don’t think that situation is quite the same in the area of sexuality.  The preference to not know something – all the while of course we do actual know – can be very strong.  For quite some time we might choose to tell ourselves that minor attraction is beyond our understanding; that, I think, has to be left to what is our future.  My preference is for an an inclusiveness; that preference is a possible future.  That comment offered by Jacques Derrida seems worth citing: our real future, the one that matters, remains what is likely to be unexpected and unplanned

Further Reading:

  • Clancy, S. A. (2009). The trauma myth and the truth about the sexual abuse of children – and its aftermath. New York: Basic Books.
  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge.
  • Ditum, S. (2015, 13 April). Why are we so desperate to find a genetic explanation for sex offenders? [Newspaper article]. New Statesman (United Kingdom), Online Magazine ed.
  • Dunham, A. (2014, 18 August). ‘Paedophiles should commit suicide’: Expert. The Local: Spains News in English (Spain), Online Newspaper ed., sec. Society. Retrieved from
  • Hunter, J. (2008). The Political Use and Abuse of the “Pedophile.” Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 55(No. 3), 350-387. Retrieved from
  • Rose, N. (2014, 15th to 17th August). Making us resilient: Responsible citizens for uncertain times. [One of two keynote talks.]. In Keynote Talk. Competing Responsibilities Conference, Rutherford House, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Seto, M. C. (2012, Feb). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Arch Sex Behav, 41(1), 231-6.
  • Sharpe, M. Jacques Lacan (1901-1981). In J. D. Fieser, Bradley (Ed.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource.
  • Sonenschein, D. (1998). Pedophiles on Parade: Volume 1 & 2, ‘The Monster in The Media’ and ‘The Popular Imagery of Moral Histeria’. San Antonio, USA: Sonenscheirn, David.
  • Zizek, S. Ideology and Modalities of Not Knowing. 2014 [You Tube item]. In European Graduate School Video Lectures. Retrieved from

Still breaking rules, but that’s okay

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer (Sourced at

Stephen Fry and Elliot Spencer are married. It seems unlikely either man will read my blog but that is the myth of modern celebrity isn’t it? – the proximity of those who are famous – the modern celebrity seems close to us, almost familiar. In earlier  times fame meant distance, not closeness. In keeping with that modern feel I can send out a message of congratulations to them both as if I might meet them at the supermarket next time I buy my fruit and vegetables.

My next comment probably has both men in mind, but Stephen is its focus. For two persons of such differing ages to be sexually intimate – and be very public about that – is not typical of our time. I am not saying Stephen Fry is ‘one of those bad types’. There is a rule of thumb which asserts a partner ought not be younger than ‘half your age plus seven’. Stephen Fry is 57, so by that rule his sexual partner should be older than 35 (approx.); Elliot Spencer is 27. It is my assumption this rule applies to Elliot as well – he isn’t meant to go for those older guys – a partner can as easily be too old as too young.

Let me say it again, no way am I hinting that Stephen is ‘minor attracted’, and yet the discourses of sexual assault, child abuse, negative narratives about what male culture is perceived to promote, all position Stephen Fry badly. For all that his profile is doing fine; he is even viewed by some commentators as likely to get the nod from upper-class English society for some honorary title in the near future. Truth is some see him as a darling of the British public – the British Royal Family included. Where I sourced that view was listening to John Crace’s podcast for The Guardian, he discussed this very point we taking of Stephen Fry’s new book – More Fool Me.

So has Britain turned the corner on tolerance to the older man who is attracted to the young, where the guy’s interest is younger than ‘half your age plus seven’? No, I don’t think so. A New Zealand woman – Justice Lowell Goddard – has just been appointed to head a British inquiry into child sex abuse in British society, aimed right at the very group of people a chap like Stephen Fry is likely to do his local shopping with – the upper class of England. No, what Stephen – and very likely Elliot as well – have done is to manage their profile. I argue they have done this because they understand what has changed inside Western culture and have kept all that negative stuff at arms length.

What sits at the centre of what is offered here is sociological, not psychological. I can actually take a middle position here and say I find a psychoanalytic discourse more helpful here than the text so often offered by psychology. Desire is a very broad category and a very ‘thick’ one – there is a lot to consider when using the term ‘desire’. When discussing or viewing the desire of the minor attracted person one is not looking at some kind of desire different from what is so readily acknowledged by the adults who view the sex they experience as ordinary.  I argue desire is this aspect of the human condition that everyone has as part of who they are – straight, gay, minor attracted – it’s all desire and its all part of who a person is. In my view the term ‘sexual orientation’ is a modern term that attempted to convey this radical and fundamental equality and ‘sameness’ that can be understood to unite the gay and the straight worlds – this term carries the message we are all in the same boat.  I am saying the boat has more than two people in it.

To gloss over this issue without making an effort to say what I mean would be a mistake, but I also know the value of being precise. There is a need to speak briefly rather then offer long paragraphs.  It is my view the language used to speak about what we experience has been influenced in recent decades by a reductionist view of the person. Sex and desire has become merely stimulus and response; sexual life is viewed more and more as the management of mechanical bits. People are being told to manage their sexuality as if it is only an issue of ‘sexual urges’. Actually that view is itself problematic. Why all this matters is because the minor attracted person finds 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 texts of literature and poetry is at the heart of who we are and – for everyone – understanding it is vitally important.

Thus when attempting to see what has gone on for this celebrity gay British couple it is not about what desire is allowed to have our social/cultural support – gay and straight get a thumbs up; minor attraction gets a thumbs down; it is about how sociological shifts have unfolded over time and how Fry and Spencer have managed their profile. Both know how desire feels – they  have fallen for each other. What is clever, and I think it has been a matter of being smart, both men have worked to prevent their profile being spoiled (to use Irving Goffman’s term).

Let us unpack things even more.  A Western philosopher writing in the distant past was read, even admired, but there was no expectation for that person to write about their sex life. There are those who will say they know what Socrates and Plato were, sexually, but in reality this says more about the readers than it does about the philosophers.  The two men’s private lives were not seen as warranting our investigative gaze. Move closer to our time – say Emanual Kant – and I would say never in any of the writings about his philosophical views are Kant’s sexual interests referenced. However by the time we get to Jean Paul Sartre we see a shift. The relationship between Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir is an important part of how Sartre is read as a philosopher and an author. Come even closer to today and this year one of the films nominated for a film award is about  Stephen Hawking.  The modern biography references things we would never expect to be told about Kant. A good read that documents this shift and these features of modern Western society is Erving Goffman’s book, Stigma: Notes on the management of a spoiled profile.

Where the modern biography – and even the notion of a profile – gets interesting is when one has a negative bit, a fact or factor that might be construed as bringing the person’s reputation into question. Take Martin Heidegger for example.  His links to the German Nazi movement are often pointed out when commenting on his work and assessing its credibility; not all commentators will reference the matter, but there is no surprise when the connections are discussed.  In a very different field we have the example of Richard Wagner and how Jewish feeling against him and his music can be very strong because of particular features of his profile.

The ‘modern’ way to manage this sort of thing is to actually put it out there early  to acknowledge the difficult bit, and not attempt to hide it. Where a person offers a profile and later a difficult bit surfaces, one’s audience feels ‘wronged’ somehow, the reaction against the person can be very strong. What I am saying here is that, in our modern ways of thinking and behaving, we seem to have shifted what we consider privacy involves. One gets the feeling that, for a celebrity, privacy is simply not something this person has a right to.  The profile of the sex offender is actually a kind of modern-day criminal celebrity.

To date, Stephen Fry has published three books that make up his ongoing narrative about himself. It is more memoir than biography. It is my belief Fry has rightly understood how this is all done.  Pulling no punches, his latest volume – More Fool Me – details his use of cocaine as a younger man, putting out so much ‘stuff’ for us to consume that it seems like oversupply, a surfeit.  In a sense we are shock-proofed regarding who he is as a person. I had considered buying Fry’s latest book about himself but after reading the reviews I am reluctant to do it because it all seems just too much. I argue it is this rather novel way of  putting himself out there that has allowed him to retain his on-going social and cultural position as ‘the darling of modern England’ and at the same time self-narrate himself as an admirer/lover to another who is very much his junior. A classic case of “still breaking rules, but that’s okay”.

I will close this post by making a brief comment on the inquiry Justice Lowell Goddard has been set up to lead. Goddard is not the first person to be put in this role, the first two leaders having been obliged to resign. What is significant is the new feature this body has – statutory powers to compel a person to appear before it and answer questions. In America’s past Joseph McCarthy and his links to the House Un-American Committee have become an icon for what can be called state ‘over-reach’. I can imagine the notion of loyalty to America and the stigma of being thought ‘a danger to the American dream’ is not too far from what the modern day call to rally around the flag of the fight to oppose sexual abuse of children has come to be for us. I am, of course, not wishing to denigrate national loyalty to one’s country – in this case America – any more than appear to be dismissive about the need to address how children can be treated terribly by adults. It is my perception that England is very much in the grip of a process that is a very serious indeed. It is my hope, of course, that the statutory powers this current inquire now has will be exercised with care. The last thing we need is for the specter of Joseph McCarthy to walk amongst us.

Justice Lowell Goddard is one of sixty three New Zealand judges who have been ranked in 2014 and the results posted on the Kiwi First website.  What follows are comments that flow from three items found on this site.

  • The first article offers its version of how that ranking of New Zealand judges was done – “… sixty-three judges in total were ranked, based upon their melded average score of four factors, on a scale of 1 to 10; perceived intelligence, fairness, knowledge of law and personal character.” What is noteworthy is Goddard sits at the lowest slot on that list.
  • In another piece on the same Kiwi First website Goddard is profiled and the picture is far from comforting. It seems best a reader go look at what is said for themselves. What seems a common perception of her is put in this sentence found on the site – “Lawyers who appear before Justice Lowell Goddard generally have little regard for her as a judge who is willing to conform to law or to rule consistent with relevant facts.  They are far more impressed with her impeccable dress and makeup.”
  • The most damning statement, and the author of this web item links what is said directly to the new appointment of Justice Goddard to the UK role, the comment is made –”her due diligence determined lawyers in New Zealand broadly consider Ms Goddard a political puppet.”

Justice Goddard is presented by some in very different images in the media items that come to us via our televisions and the radio. That is on its own a real source of concern. If the internet can offer such a significant set of criticisms of her and yet the mainstream media are silent on any of this then I find myself asking why. This move in England to set up this inquiry is significant and I am convinced a thoughtful and critical eye needs to be kept on what unfolds.


We see what we want to see

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review - details offered below.

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review – details offered below.

A friend recently invited me to a screening of “The Imitation Game”, a movie that offers a portrait of “mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing”, as one reviewer describes him.

Susan Sontag, in her essay Against Interpretation, worked to make readers more aware of what she saw as a false claim to be merely describing something or that modern Western self-belief that one can remove subjectivity and have only some bare-bones way of writing.  She felt that was just one more rule-bound way of writing, claiming “there are no rules telling me how to write.”

Sontag’s self-awareness as a writer and a critic is precisely what I want to work with here.  If a Jewish patron were to see The Imitation Game, they would very likely see more than the story of Alan Turning the wronged cryptanalyst; the ‘wrong’ here would for them necessarily and inescapably involve an understanding of what went on in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

We would be unlikely to find a survivor from Turing’s time in the movie theatre; if I were to talk of Turing as a wronged homosexual some of my readers would nod their heads in agreement.  It would be interesting to locate – or, better put, acknowledge – what other current-day wrongs can be mapped onto Turing’s story.

While writing this blog piece I noted that in the reviews, some from well-known sites, the reference to Turing’s homosexuality was often not explicit, as if the reader would take it for granted.  What is going on here represents a further social marker of change – the homosexual man is in the process of being socially repositioned.  Western societies and cultures now find themselves ‘after’ a period of emancipation; they live inside what sociologists call a phase of normalization.  The homosexual man is just like all men: he is now ‘included’ and the putting right of the wrong includes no longer having his sexuality referenced.  In other parts of the world – in certain African states and in Putin’s Russia, for example – Turing’s experience of prejudice and socially-configured hostility is playing out as violence sanctioned by church and state.

I’d be doing a bad job if I failed to acknowledge inside mainstream Western societies and cultures there are other voices, other messages – and the gay lobby, I suspect, is well aware of this.

What I find perplexing is a subtext which insists that the Turing story is only about gay men, that to do what I am doing now is somehow not valid.  As a critic and a film viewer I would want to leave open how a movie might be interpreted.  Jews, persons of colour, and women have every right to see themselves inside this movie’s depiction of individuals who are wronged.

What I experienced whilst watching The Imitation Game was that feeling you have when you see what you want to see – Morten Tyldum‘s Turing is  there, of course – but what is most striking is that whatever piques one’s interest is there as well.  What I saw was not limited to the story of a homosexual man; I also felt an empathy for the experience of those who are currently labelled ‘paedophile’.

One begins to hear all the reasons why this can’t be the case – mustn’t be the case.  Turing was brilliant; that is not what one expects to see inside the profile of the paedophile, is it?  Well, actually, the modern gay movement knows only too well most gay men aren’t brilliant either, but they expect to be afforded respect as persons on the basis of the consumerized, value-added Alan Turing the film serves up to us.

Second objection would be: but we see homosexuals differently today; we know better.  Funny that – seems to me that’s what the movie is on about: how a society can get things so wrong.  For those who are unaware of the work of John Money, he was a New Zealand sexologist (1921–2006); one of his professional concerns was what he referred to as ‘paedophilic genius’ (discussed inside Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions).  Money gave Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie as examples of paedophilic genius.

As with the homosexual man in the 1950s – and (as discussed above) in some non-Western countries today – social stigma all too often blocks and hides the contribution and giftedness of the ‘deviant’/’pervert’/’child sex-abuser’. I know some readers will be very angry with what I say next: in my lifetime, Michael Jackson would have to be the West’s poster-boy when it comes to paedophilic genius (Tom O’Carroll has authored a text under the name of Carl Toms called “Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin… The A-Z of All the King’s Boys“).

The homosexual story is a good teacher when it comes to understanding how stigma works and what is at stake when it operates in full swing.  Those of a more academic bent might take a look at Stanley Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” (The 1972 version of this book is referenced below; the link offered in this paragraph is the 2011 Routledge Classic of the same book.)

Sociologists refer to stigma in terms of social distance. A recent study – “Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys” – looked at stigma and the paedophile noting that in our current societies and cultures the paedophile is the most strongly negative profile inside our spaces.  This condemnation – and even hatred – is practiced inside our societies, perhaps because people tell themselves this social practice keeps children safe; Jahnke, Imhoff and Hoyer argue this is not the case; in fact the very opposite may be true – stigmatization of the paedophile may make child sexual abuse more likely.  The abstract for this paper states, “The strongest predictors of social distance towards people with paedophilia were affective reactions to this group (anger and, inversely, associated, pity) and the political attitude of right-wing authoritarianism …)”.

Given that we see what we want to see, was what I felt when watching that film an example of personal delusion?  I don’t think so; in my view, seeing what you want to see sits at the heart of all art.  If that is the way things work, then failing to admit this is where real delusion lives.

What I think is important is not how one’s sense of empathy for Alan Turing as a gay man might map onto the paedophile.  The real issue is seeing the ‘person’ who would want to punish Turing in his lifetime.  The key question is, Does that person – the one who sees a subhuman object they can kick, punish, imprison for being ‘that way‘ – live in our world today?  My sense of things is that yes, that person is very much alive … and kicking.

Put “The Imitation Game” on your list of films to watch – see what you see.


  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge
  • Downing, L., Morland, I., & Sullivan, N. (2015, 4/01). Pervert or sexual libertarian?: Meet John Money, “the father of f***ology” [Excerpt from the Book “Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts”]. Salon (USA). Retrieved from
  • Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015, 20 June). Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(1), 21-
  • Pedophilia: Biosocial Demensions. (1990) (J. R. Felerman, Ed.).
  • Songtag, S. (2001). Against Interpretation. USA: Picador.
  • Staff Writer. (2014). The Imitation Game [Web commentator on Film and TV shows.]. In Rotten Tomatoes (Movie Info).
  • Toms, C. (2010). Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin. The A-Z of All the King’s Boys. Leicester, United Kingdom: Troubador.
  • Tyldum, M. (2014). The Imitation Game [Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong.]. U.S.-U.K.) A Weinstein Co. (in U.S.)/StudioCanal (in U.K.) release and presentation of A Black Bear Pictures/Bristol Automotive production. (International sales: FilmNation Entertainment, Los Angeles.) (113 minutes). Retrieved from