A big thanks to VirPed’s Craig Dahlen for alerting me to the fact that my original article published by Salon, I’m a pedophile, but not a monster, made Salon’s end-of-the-year list of 10 Best Personal Essays for 2015. I’m at #8, but hey, I’m happy to make it anywhere on that list! Definitely in good company there!
A lot has been made by right-wing hatemongers about my history of flip-flopping with respect to the contact issue. It’s true; I have vacillated a bit on this issue, in my early to mid-30s especially. However, for the most part over the last ten years or so—basically ever since I first joined the Girl Chat forum back in ’04—I have been mostly in the anti-contacter camp. In fact, you can read my entire posting history at what used to be the Debates Unlimited forum (now called Intelligent Debate) by using the search function and searching my old username: Markaba 2.0. It would take you quite a long time to get through it all because I was a prolific poster and got involved in a lot of discussions in-depth. Not all of them were about pedophilia, obviously, but my longer debates usually touched on it in some way. If you searched it thoroughly, you would discover that within a few months of joining I became an anti-contacter and stayed that way pretty much the rest of the time I was there, which was right up until it became defunct in early 2013.
Now, we can quibble about what ‘anti-contacter’ really means and whether I fully met that condition, as I remained flexible on the idea of lowering the age of consent down to 14, and I was—and still am—in favor of some of the ideas presented by Dr. Robert Epstein in his excellent book Teen 2.0. But there is a vast difference between a 4-year-old and a 14-year-old, you have to admit. Anyway, I have since renounced this view; I am no longer in favor of lowering age of consent at all. In fact, I really don’t even view it as a relevant issue to me anymore. It is not where my fight lies. I will leave the age of consent issue to non-pedophilic experts to hammer out, and I am perfectly satisfied with whatever the status of this issue is. It isn’t like it is ever going to affect my life anyway. If age of consent laws were dropped tomorrow, I would still think it was wrong for adults to have sex with prepubescent children, which is the heart of my orientation, and I would resist it.
It may seem questionable to people who have been accustomed to looking at this issue from a simplistic black & white perspective, but the fact is, this stuff is complicated. There are a lot of nuances and gray areas. Read, for example, Heather Corinna’s essay Rage of Consent, which features quotes from a number of people who experienced positive sexual relationships (as teenagers) with adults, as well as some who didn’t. So, yes, better safe than sorry. I get it! But that does not simplify this issue in the slightest. Corinna makes a lot of good points in her essay, points which the pro-contacters often make themselves.
Because of the severe taboo, and the obvious selfish nature of the pro-contacters’ ultimate goal, I think there’s a tendency for the average person to reject everything they say. I understand that, but the problem is, on a lot of this stuff, they are right. The contact issue is incredibly complex. There are some good arguments on both sides, and a lot of bad ones on both sides. These distinctions are important, and there are real consequences for the way this issue plays out. One thing the pro-contacters are almost certainly right about is that the severity of society’s taboo really does make things worse for victims and survivors of abuse all too often. Charlotte Shane, a former sex worker who was raped a few times throughout her career, makes this point much better than I could in her article Live Through This. Although her thesis was made with regard to the rape of adults, it applies just as much to underage victims of sexual abuse. Society’s attitudes do have an effect on the way we ultimately process these events.
Now, I do not believe this justifies the removal of age of consent laws; this is where I part company with the pro-contacters. It does, however, warrant a long-needed reevaluation of how we as a society handle and react to these things. I agree with Shane: I think currently society almost demands that victims of sexual abuse feel horribly traumatized by any and all sexual abuse, regardless of its actual severity or the circumstances in which it occurs, for the rest of their lives. Apparently, for minors to be sexually abused is for them to suffer a fate worse than death, no exceptions, even if the minor is the sexual aggressor and enjoyed the experience.
This point is perfectly exemplified in the 2011 film God Bless America, when the middle-aged protagonist Frank Murdoch has a conversation with the teenage Roxy. Murdoch has begun a killing spree at this point, and Roxy has readily taken up with him. At one point Roxy mentions having sex with Frank, the prospect of which clearly creeps him out. Earlier he had nearly shot the girl to death, and Roxy asks him something to the effect of, “You mean you’d rather murder me than have sex with me?” To which Frank, having considered it for a second, confidently exclaims, “Yes,” as if it should be obvious to everyone. Keep in mind that Roxy was the one who tried to seduce Frank here, not the other way around.
The film thus suggests that murdering teens is actually morally superior to having sex with them, even if the teen engages willingly. I realize the film is satire, but satire is no good if it doesn’t make some astute observations about society, and unfortunately, this sort of view is not uncommon, even for adult rape victims: better off dead than raped or abused. That’s the going perspective. As a victim of molestation myself and a staunch activist against all forms of violence against children, I find this position to be horrific. Go figure. But it’s clear to me that it’s what a lot of people want to believe, whether true or not. It makes it so much easier for them to have a decisive view on the matter, and they need not think about it anymore beyond that.
Meanwhile, too many victims are suffering needlessly because they have come to believe this claptrap that sexual abuse always causes terrible lifelong trauma, and that recovery from that trauma is an uphill battle, if not outright impossible. Society is apparently perfectly fine with allowing victims—the people they claim to be sympathetic with here—to suffer, as long as people can continue to hold on to this precious delusion. Believe me, when the smoke of the extant moral panic finally clears, society will have much to answer for. But I can make this point without having to rely on the pro-contacter gibberish that usually goes with it. I know that now, but years ago this point was at the apex of my dilemma with respect to settling on a side in the pro-contact/anti-contact debate. But there are plenty of other reasons not to allow adults to have sex with kids without buying 100% into the troubling status quo position of absolutely terrible and inescapable trauma for all survivors.
So, I say to you society, and I do so with the utmost respect for you and for the sensitive nature of this issue: please get a grip. Deep down most of you know that this has gotten way out of hand. One reason so many pedophiles get sucked into the pro-contact movement for so long is that it is rather obvious to them that the views of too many non-pedophiles on the topics of pedophilia and sexual abuse are almost cartoonishly simplistic and often demonstrably incorrect. I am not saying this to be insulting, but rather to wake you up to the truth. Not only does the severe polarization cause lonely, confused pedophiles like my former self to choose the wrong side, it very likely causes needless trauma to victims. That troubles me deeply, and it should you too. I finally saw the light, but it could have gone the other way. Let’s respect both sides of this debate and give it the thoughtful, level-headed hearing it deserves. Give it some thought.
I am taking some time off from the VirPed forums, this blog and my Twitter account. I assure you it will not be long. I should be back after the start of the new year. Meanwhile, happy holidays!
Lenore Skenazy, the woman behind the Free Range Kids movement, has written a short but thought-provoking article called Who is a sex offender? In the article she discusses a TED Talk given by Galen Baughman, who was convicted of having consensual sex one time with his 14-year-old boyfriend when he was 19. Well worth reading.
There is a misconception, particularly among feminists, that all child sexual abuse—and indeed, sexual attraction to children itself—is inherently about power. This is flat out absurd. I had planned to write a longer article on this issue, but my friend Ender wrote an excellent piece on this that covers it pretty well, called Demystifying Sexual Attraction to Children. I only want to add that I find it amazing how people who have never experienced it are willing to project some set of motives onto you just to satisfy their own notions of what you are about (possibly to avoid cognitive dissonance). But I’m telling you unequivocally, my attraction is NOT about power. Indeed, in my fantasies children are often at least my equals if not more powerful than me in some respects. That’s why it’s fantasy.
Of course, in real life children aren’t like this at all, but many pedophilic child molesters (as opposed to situational offenders, who sometimes do abuse because they get a thrill from overpowering children) often fool themselves into believing children truly are equals and are able to give meaningful consent. For a pedophilic molester, whose abuse is rooted in actual attraction to the child’s form, they may need to delude themselves into thinking such things before they can comfortably have sexual contact a child. All they need is for the child to willingly engage, and for this type of abuser the consent matter is resolved because they believe kids to be equals at least in this regard.
Seriously, go to one of the pro-contacter boards and read the posts of the people there who are arguing for legalization of adult-child sex. It is chock full of just these kinds of rationalizations. They have a constant need to reassure each other on this issue, and they do it using every argument you can imagine.
Other pedophiles—the amoral kind—don’t give a rat’s behind whether a child can meaningfully consent or not, but that still doesn’t mean their abuse is necessarily about power. Seriously, this myth needs to die. It is so wrongheaded that it ignores something fundamental about pedophilia, which isn’t going to do much good at curbing sexual abuse. Those pedophiles who are inclined to abuse kids may see that argument and think, “Well, that doesn’t describe me at all, so what little Suzy and I are doing must not be abusive, then.”
If you truly want to put a serious dent in child sexual abuse, you need to understand the complexity of the issue and the various motivations of different types of abusers and address each of them. Spreading the myth of a single motive for abuse is not going fix the problem.
There’s a fascinating fact about infants: in the earliest days of their life, they see everything in stark, high-contrast black & white, and maybe a few sharp colors. This is because their eyes haven’t fully developed yet, so they cannot pick out nuances like subtle color shifts and complex patterns. As their eyes get stronger, providing they have healthy vision, they will start to see the visual complexity all around them.
Another interesting fact is that the most primitive human cultures only have words for black/dark and white/bright. Brent Berlin and Paul Kay studied many cultures and their relation to color terminology in their seminal anthropological work Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution, and they found that there is a predictable evolution of color terms from most basic to most complex. These correspond to the complexity of a culture’s language, which in turn corresponds to the complexity and advancement of a culture itself. As already stated, the most primitive languages (what Berlin and Kay call Stage I languages) only have words for white and black, or more accurately, bright and dark. Stage II languages recognize red, the color that contrasts most sharply against white and black. Stage III languages recognize either green or yellow as well as black, white and red. And so on, up to Stage VII, which has names for secondary and tertiary colors.
These two things may seem only vaguely related, but when you give it some thought, one can see a pattern which I think can be extrapolated out and applied to moral thinking. Now, before I go on, let me be clear that what I’m proposing here isn’t science; it’s philosophy, a way of looking at the world, so don’t assume I am making any scientific statements. But it seems to me that there is something similar going on with respect to morality. The most primitive cultures have very harsh black & white notions of wrong and right, which is why their punishments for moral infractions are often cruel and horrendous to those of us in more advanced civilizations. In cultures where, say, theft is punished with amputation of a hand, such a punishment is not viewed as cruel because theft itself is not viewed as a minor matter. It is a huge moral transgression, particularly in cultures that are very poor and the loss of something valuable can mean life or death.
Likewise, young children, who are, for all intents and purposes, the primitive form of individuals, often have very sharp and concrete notions about what is fair and unfair. When a perceived unfairness has been visited upon them, they can feel deeply hurt, and given real power, they would likely be quite cruel in meting out justice as they saw it. (Ever read Lord of the Flies?) It is only with time that they begin to understand the concepts of negotiation, compromise and moral shades of gray, those factors of life that civilize us all. But what is it that can undo all of that if we give in to it? Fear. Terror can quickly regress us back to our animalistic state of fight-or-flight. But a notch or two above that, when fear is more of a vague mood floating over us like a specter, we tend to be atavistically reduced to a more primitive social condition. In this state, lest we guard against it, we often become severe and simplistic in our thinking. Paranoia and dread can make monsters of us, and as we know, the monsters are due on Maple Street.
To put it another way, fear can make children of us. Children, those primitive individuals whom I adore. Perhaps it’s why I have such a fascination with my opponents and am willing to overlook so much of their nonsense. Most of them really do remind me of kids sometimes. Kids love easily, but they also are easily frightened and easily wrathful. And they have very simplistic notions of right and wrong, which is sometimes charming and sometimes frustrating to deal with. While in this state, they cannot be reasoned with and they hate you with a passion. Of course, being kids, they usually get over it quickly and love you again. Kids have shallow emotions. They have not yet learned to understand what causes someone to do something that displeases the child, like forbidding him or her an extra helping of ice cream. They don’t understand that it’s for their own good. This bit of wisdom comes with perspective.
Most of our haters also lack perspective on this topic. They are blinded by their own emotions, unable to see beyond the filter they’ve been presented with over and over again by media and authorities that have long had a woeful lack of decent information about pedophiles. It is so powerful that even when someone simply wants to understand us better, they are often attacked by the haters, made to feel like they are baby rapist sympathizers. Here’s a great example from Twitter. A woman who calls herself TheMomandant was respectful and curious, and she was attacked for it. As she put it:
This is how the moral panic flourishes. Any time there is an overwhelming pathological need to shut down any dissent at all about an issue, no matter how modest, civilization is breaking down at that point. This is fear controlling the debate, which is very dangerous. This is how fascism arises.
Which brings me to my final point. There are a handful of people who really do know better but react much the same way regardless, and these people tend to have a pulpit. They are not reacting from fear; they are manipulating it. I have considerably less patience with this type. They are deliberately working the zeitgeist, drumming up the moral panic because it serves their own ends. They are seeking to either maintain or gain power. These guys are our real enemies, and they know who they are. For everyone else, though, there is hope. They can morally progress. They can grow up and stop seeing this issue through a simplistic, childish moral filter. I hope they will set aside their prejudices and join the discussion calmly and rationally, because then they will see that we virpeds are actually on their side and want the same thing they do: safe, happy children.
Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. – Frank Zappa