Recently the American Psychiatric Association (APA) issued a statement in which it admits it made an error, a mistake it wishes to correct with its publication of the DSM-5. A text it drafted refers to paedophilia as a sexual orientation. The APA now wishes to retract that use of the term ‘sexual orientation’ and replace it with the term ‘sexual interest’.
Why make this move? It is seen by those outside APA in various ways. In this blog-piece the voice being explored is the voice of those who are minor-attracted. To hear that voice one can listen to the comments of a group called B4U-Act. They would see the APAs’ (the two groups of the American Psychological Association an the American Psychiatric Association) as an attempt to placate their critics rather than educate those critics as to where their criticisms are fundamentally flawed. The APAs have not acted to educate people about distinctions between paedophilia and paedophilic disorder; paedophilia and CSA; and finally ‘orientation’ or ‘interest’. B4U-Act would object to the focus on social control and prosecution.
In this blog-piece my text explores the issue of the relationships between groups. B4U-Act is not focused on whether the term sexual orientation is used or not; I am. My reasons are not based in some belief I have that this term is ‘the truth about sex’; rather it is about how the use of certain words and phrases bring with them certain outcomes. The homosexual discourse shifted when the term sexual orientation was used because the negative stuff of gut feeling, hate, and the yuck factor was moved to one side. The discourse on minor-attraction needs the same outcome, a way of short-circuiting the hate, the emotional stuff that has no interest at all in understanding what is out there in the real world. It is my belief the gut and irrational responses to the homosexual and the minor-attracted profile are not an insight into a truth about what is at stake here. It does not make available understanding; it blocks it.
I unpack the recent move by the APA as a seeking to cooperate with two groups which most dislike the idea of a minor attracted person being seen as having a sexual orientation. The first group are the religious right – they fear the use of this term ‘sexual orientation’ by the minor-attracted individual is a step towards normalization and social acceptance, and point to the homosexual history to support their predictions; the second group is the LGBT voice (the modern day version of the homosexual lobby, its post-emancipatory and post-legal change lobby), whose most recent concerns are the issues of marriage and adoption – they are convinced the term sexual orientation ought to apply only to them and no one else; there is a concern lest the desire that inhabits the world of the minor-attracted individual be linked back to them.
When a group like the APA makes a decision to use a particular linguistic term in how it discusses its client groups one might assume the issue to be driven by science, research, and clinical experience. Actually there is another dimension that is often in play but seldom acknowledged; these factors fall under the headings of culture and politics. What is concerning about this recent move by the APA to position paedophilic desire using the term interest and not using the term sexual orientation is how it has been driven entirely by this aspect of culture and politics; there is no concern for science, research, or clinical experience that explains the APA’s effort to ‘correct an error’. Its original text had been carefully drafted over years; backroom writing and discussions sat behind what was written. Once the text was out there the reaction of the religious right and the LGBT groups was so strong the text was retracted within days of publication of these groups making public their protest.
The APA has prioritized the optics of social control and a concern to aid legal prosecutions of those whose desire incorporates the child and the youth. The hat they wear is that of the police officer; the therapist’s hat is gone. For me as author of this post there is an experience of déjà vu. Over twenty years ago I trained at the Family Therapy Institute based in Sydney, Australia. At that time I had moved away from the world of theology and religion and was working as a counsellor. I was looking for a supervisor and some theoretical guidance in my work with individuals and groups. The writings of liberal and politically critical theorists in the theological world had shaped my thinking, so the family therapy world interested me. Like the liberal theorists I had embraced in the academic world of theology, the theorists and practitioners in family therapy looked to social and interpersonal frameworks to define both how problems and solutions/interventions can be constructed. I trained inside this framework of family therapy for two years and went on to do work as a trained family therapist in both Australia and New Zealand.
You can understand my concern as I saw the profession of family therapy being hijacked, becoming an instrument of social and state control of people’s lives, predominantly under the increasing influence of the child abuse rhetoric. To me it was a betrayal of years of theoretical and clinical discipline. Some family therapists have retained a commitment to the origins of this way of working but they are few in number. I see the APA group, with its move to correct an ‘error’, making the very same move.
That part of me that looks for hope values the idea of resistance, the view that in such moves to resist are the seeds of our real futures. The sad part is the personal cost the strategies of social control and policing faced by those it impacts on. Whenever groups such as therapists, religious leaders, or professional groups like APA make these moves to stress social control over care and sound research the outcomes are tragic. I am not alone in expecting suicide and despair to be on the rise; indeed the graphic offered at the top of this blog-piece sends just this message. It is at this point that one perhaps should stop speaking and allow a picture to say its 1,000 words.
- Pedophilia: a “disorder,” then a “sexual orientation,” now a “sexual interest” (illinoisreview.typepad.com)
- Christian Groups Fumble Over False Claim That Pedophilia is Now a Sexual Orientation (patheos.com)
- The APA now classifies pedophilia as a sexual orientation or preference instead of a disorder (fromthetrenchesworldreport.com)
- Child Molesters Now Considered Innocently Normal by American Psychiatric Association (freepatriot.org)
- American Family Association & Allies Caught in Lie About Pedophilia and Sexual Orientation (justiceforall.firedoglake.com)