Absurd arguments aimed at virpeds and their allies (part 1)

There’s no shortage of ridiculous arguments and positions with respect to virpeds and those who support them, but there are some that just seem to crop up again and again, so I want to deal with those here. I’ll address three such arguments at a time in a series of three posts. For now anyway. I could always expand on these posts later. It isn’t like I’ll be running out of absurd accusations and positions from the haters any time soon! Now, without further ado . . .

(1) You’re just trying to normalize pedophilia.

This is probably the most common accusation leveled not only at the members of VirPed, but also quite often experts in the field of pedophilia like James Cantor and David Finkelhor, and most ridiculous of all, at “liberal” media publications who approach the issue in any kind of compassionate and level-headed way. First off, this is a pretty ambiguous accusation, often intentionally so, I imagine. What exactly do these people mean by “normalize pedophilia”? If they’re arguing that we are trying to get people to understand these issues better and not approach them from a position of blind fear, ignorance and hatred, well then, guilty as charged. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. But often what they really mean is that we are secretly attempting to break down society’s moral opposition to sex with children.

Okay, there are certainly pedophiles on the web who support the pro-contact position, but they tend to just support it outright. What value is there for such people in claiming to support the moral and legal opposition to sex with kids when they’re an anonymous web presence anyway? They would be philosophically shooting themselves in the foot when they could just as easily support the pro-contact position from behind their anonymous usernames. After all, beliefs are not illegal in America, nor in the rest of the civilized world as far as I’m aware, and remaining anonymous, as long as they are careful, there are no social consequences for them in real life for holding that position on the web. I’m not going to say that there is nobody at VirPed who secretly supports the pro-contact position because I simply cannot know that, but I know that most people there are sincere in their dedication to VirPed’s cause.

Now, for someone like me, who is fully out, there are sounder reasons to lie about this, but if I were going to do that, then I would be far less inclined to say things like this. I would devote myself fully to the status quo position and make no attempts to rock the proverbial boat at all. But that is not my nature. I care very much about the truth, so I cannot in good conscience pretend like society is right about things I know they’re wrong about, and there are plenty of them. And I’ve found that, if you’re a self-confessed pedophile, it makes little difference anyway for a whole lot of people what one’s position is on the contact issue or other matters of relevance to us. They are determined to hate you regardless.

Ergo, I would have nothing to lose by maintaining a pro-contact position if I truly believed in it, as I learned very well when I was a supporter of the pro-contact position. I was just as much ‘out’ back then as I am now, and I am essentially in the very same position now that I was then. The only significant difference between then and now is, I was able to get a couple of articles I wrote published on Salon. But these articles certainly did not make me rich or popular. I earned $150 apiece for them. I’m still very poor. I still have no health insurance, no way to afford psychological counseling, no steady employment. I still live exactly as I was living when I was a pro-contacter. I still don’t interact much with kids, or venture out much in public at all, really. In fact, I interacted much more with kids (always in legal ways, of course) when I was a pro-contacter than I do now.

So what precisely did I gain from changing my viewpoint? Fame? Did I really serve myself better by becoming a more visible target for the disdain and ridicule of the haters? Hardly. Wealth? Like I said, I earned very little for my articles, and anyway, I actually had a few pro-contact friends who occasionally sent me money when I hung out at those boards, so if anything, I made out better financially as a pro-contacter. Most importantly, do I stand to break down society’s defenses against adult-child sex, as the accusers claim? It definitely isn’t my goal, but if it was, I must ask, how would it benefit me? Even if there was a slight chance in some distant future that this dystopian scenario might actually play out (extremely unlikely to say the least), there is simply no way it would ever occur within my lifetime, and even if it did, I would still believe it was wrong and would not engage in it.

So, in what reality would this position ever serve to benefit me if I was a secret pro-contacter? This accusation simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I am an anti-contacter because it’s what I really believe, period. As for my articles and my public representation of VirPed, my reasons are fairly simple, the main one being that I have experienced a lifetime of suffering because of my sexuality, and I only hope to make things better for the younger generations who are cursed with this most unfortunate and useless of sexual orientations, so that maybe they won’t have to go through what I’ve been through. That’s the primary motivation of my going on the public record as a virped. You can believe that or not, it makes little difference to me.

(2) You are just hiding in plain sight.

This accusation was recently leveled at another virped on Twitter during a debate, in those exact words. Given that most virpeds—including the one who was debating in this case—are still completely anonymous, this simply makes no sense. I’m not sure the accuser fully grasps the concept of hiding in plain sight. And for those few of us who are fully out, how are we hiding? It’s not like we could molest children and get away with it by simply claiming, “Oh, I believe sex with children is wrong, so you know I’m not breaking any laws. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have children to molest . . .”

In what simplistic Scooby-Doo universe would this tactic actually pay off? How stupid does this accuser believe we/the authorities/society is that anyone would ever consider this as plausible? Picture us saying to each other (as we rub our hands together in glee): “Imagine, my friends . . . we can get away with molesting children, and all we have to do is openly admit we’re pedophiles but pretend like we believe sex with children is wrong! Mwa ha ha ha!” Yeah, that would work. Of all the dumb accusations we’ve had to contend with over the years, this one really takes the cake. If I was going to try to get away with sexually abusing children, the very last thing I would ever do is admit I was a pedophile on the interwebz, even from behind an anonymous username. And I certainly wouldn’t out myself to the entire world, write articles for Salon, publish a blog about pedophilia with my name and face all over them, and do a bunch of radio interviews. I think I’m a wee bit smarter than that.

No, given the massive stigma we face, isn’t it far more likely that we simply are who and what we say we are? D’oh! Damn you, Occam’s Razor, you sly bastard!

(3) Anyone who supports or is kind to pedophiles must be a pedophile themselves.

It never fails: someone writes a tolerant and logical article about pedophilia, and the writer is labeled a pedophile themselves. And I’m sure James Cantor and his compatriots have been accused of being pedophiles more than once. It’s the dirtiest trick in the book. Despite being a transparently fallacious argument, accusers know they can often shut down an opponent this way because no one wants this label, certainly not those who aren’t actually pedophiles.

What makes this so insidious is that it’s actually a few different fallacies rolled into one. Most obviously, it is an association fallacy. You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘guilt by association’—well, that’s pretty much the association fallacy in a nutshell. More recently, I’ve seen scholars, including Dr. Cantor, use the term ‘courtesy stigma’ which is pretty much the same thing as experienced from the other side. That is to say, those who have had to contend with an association fallacy, or who fear the consequences of having to do so, are inclined to avoid this stigma, often at the expense of the truth or even common decency. That’s why the journalists, scholars, et al who have chosen to buck these immense social pressures are to be commended and respected. In their own way they are fighting the same uphill battle that we are.

Likewise intrinsic to this argument is an appeal to emotion (argumentum ad passiones). It plays upon the fear that most people have of being stigmatized, and in terms of stigma, probably none is more powerful than pedophilia. Finally, it’s just a good old-fashioned straw man attack—by labeling someone a pedophile in this environment, you instantly undermine anything they say, no matter how right they may be. Of course, this point also applies to actual pedophiles.

Protestant churches are banning abuse victims from working for them

I’ll admit that, for a number of reasons, I’m not particularly fond of organized religion. I consider myself an agnostic with slight transcendental leanings, but I don’t have a problem with other people believing whatever they want as long as their beliefs or practices do not infringe on the rights of others. But let’s be honest: religions have a long history of oppressing others, usually minorities of one sort or another. Well, now some Protestant churches can add sexual abuse victims to the group of minorities they are oppressing, in this case by refusing to hire them as church employees. This traces back to the common misconception that many abuse victims are destined to become abusers themselves. Perhaps there is a slightly elevated risk that sexual abuse victims—particularly male sexual abuse victims—may go on to become abusers, but does it warrant discrimination against victims across the board? I think this is a horrible trend, so let’s hope it’s a short-lived one. You can read a more in-depth article about it at the Daily Beast:

Abused? You Can’t Work at These Churches

A brave hero for girls and women

Her name is Theresa Kachindamoto, and she’s the senior chief of the Dedza District in the tiny nation of Malawi.  As one of the few women with real political power in Africa, she is taking a brave stance against child marriage and her nation’s horrific record of sexual abuse of females. She has single-handedly raised the age of consent in the region from 14 to 18, annulled around 850 child marriages (affording the girls forced into those situations an opportunity to return to school) and done much to abolish the so-called “cleansing” rituals where little girls—some as young as six or seven—are often taught how to please a man sexually and are sometimes initiated into sex during the ceremonies.  Needless to say, Kachindamoto has faced a lot of opposition from the more traditional members of her community, including receiving death threats, but she hasn’t let that deter her from making sure these girls get the chance to grow up and have a shot at a good life without being forced to marry long before they understand what they’re getting into.  So a big kudos to Miss Kachindamoto for what she’s doing to empower females in Malawi.  What an amazing woman!

Fantastic article in Broadly

Now here’s an article that hits several of the main points I’ve been making for ages. The piece, written by Diana Tourjee, is called Most Child Sex Abusers Are Not Pedophiles, Expert Says. First off, the article mentions the Independent piece that I discussed here a few days ago and features an interview with Dr. David Finkelhor, yet another of the top experts in this field who supports the view that pedophilia is likely a sexual orientation or something very akin to it. But more importantly, he finally puts front-and-center one of the most important facts the public and media often ignores or gets wrong: the majority of child molesters are NOT pedophiles. It’s nice to see this point emphasized because it’s incredibly important for society to understand this. It’s one of the reasons why conflating the terms ‘pedophile’ and ‘child molester’ is not only offensive to people like me, it is resoundingly incorrect and contributes to the continuing confusion. So a big kudos to Dr. Finkelhor, to Ms. Tourjee and to Broadly for publishing it!

Two articles from The Independent, one old, one new

Today the UK online paper The Independent published a piece called Paedophilia a ‘sexual orientation – like being straight or gay’ written by Ian Johnston. It mentions me and my Salon pieces, but I’ll get to that in a bit. I want to examine this article in a little more detail than I normally do, especially as it links back to an older piece that is specifically about my two essays in Salon. It’s about a question presented to a psychologist who works with criminals, particularly sex offenders, on Reddit. The question he was asked is, “can paedophiles actually change?” You can read his reply to this and other questions here.

First off, I’ve never been a fan of putting quotes in a headline, as it tends to come off sarcastically whether the writer intended it that way or not. In this case it’s a little tough to tell, but I’m leaning heavily toward it being intentional, especially as he continues this trend in the article itself. For example, the very first line in the piece is this:

Paedophilia is a “sexual orientation” like being straight or gay, according to a criminal psychologist.

It seems Johnston may doubt the psychologist’s conclusion, and yet, the net effect of putting the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ in double quotation marks (as opposed to using single quotation marks as I just did, which are generally employed to emphasize or draw attention to a word or phrase, except in a headline) in the body of his article actually seems to cast aspersions on the whole concept of sexual orientation itself. This is nothing new, but frankly, it feels a little infantile at this point. Fine, we could argue over the finer points of the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ and whether it is largely a political designation or a scientific one, but can we all just agree that no one would willingly choose to be attracted to children? Honestly, why in the hell would anyone ever choose that for themselves? My life has been an absolute hell because of it, and while I’m not eager to kill myself, there are plenty of days when I look forward to death. You have no idea.

Anyway, Johnston goes on to say . . .

The idea that sexual attraction to children is an “orientation” is highly controversial as it suggests that offenders cannot change.

There are a few problems with this statement. The first is putting that word ‘orientation’ in double quotes again. Such tactics are subtle, but they can have a sort of subliminal effect on the reader who lives in a culture where air quotes are commonly paired with facetious statements. Johnston may not even be aware that this is what he’s doing, but it says a lot about his underlying thought process nevertheless. Yet he strikes me as a pretty smart fellow, so I am more inclined to think this is intentional on his part. It allows him to voice his opinion in what is ostensibly a hard news piece without actually doing so directly.

Another problem with this statement is that he provides no context or evidence as to how he arrived at the notion that identifying pedophilia as a sexual orientation suggests that child molesters cannot be rehabilitated. This is simply his opinion. Indeed, there is tons of evidence that sex offenders have the lowest reoffense rates of all types of criminals. And it leads to the third problem, the one that I have identified many times as the most common mistake the media commits in addressing these issues: the conflation of pedophilia and child molestation. I don’t think I need to go over the problems with that again, do I? It’s simple: not all pedophiles are child molesters, and not all child molesters are pedophiles. The majority of child molesters, in fact, are situational offenders. They should be the easiest to rehabilitate because their offenses are not based on actual attraction to children, and the numbers back that up. But even with true pedophiles who offend, they are not doomed to a cycle of abusing kids if they have a strong circle of support and accountability and they are willing to seek help. Whether they’re willing to do that or not will depend a great deal on how society reacts to them and how it addresses this issue going forward.

But Mr. Johnston didn’t get it all wrong, and he does give the psychologist’s viewpoint fairly accurately. The Reddit user, who goes by amapsychologist there, is quoted in the article as saying,

I believe Paedophilic Disorder is a sexual orientation with individual[s] that are attracted to child features. In other words, an individual with paedophilia has the same ingrained attraction that a heterosexual female may feel towards a male, or a homosexual feels towards their same gender.

It should be said that this is not an unusual viewpoint in the medical field at this point. More and more doctors are beginning to recognize that pedophilia is a sexual orientation as they understand the term. This does not inherently mean that they believe it is genetically inherited, which seems to be the assumption of many who oppose the use of the term in application to pedophiles. I’ll come back to this point because it is relevant to something further down in the article. The piece then goes on to discuss how the psychologist treats offenders not by trying to eliminate their sexual attractions but by teaching them to live healthy and happy lives within the law. It is quite a humane approach in comparison to how most SOT programs try to rehabilitate sex offenders.

Skipping ahead a little, we come to the part where Johnston talks about my Salon articles. Here he links to an older Independent piece penned by Doug Bolton, Self-confessed paedophile Todd Nickerson tells critics: ‘You’re the real monsters’. That article—and today is the first I’ve heard of it, I should note—is unusual in that it is more about my second piece than my first, and that headline is a direct reference to the headline of my piece, I’m the pedophile, you’re the monsters.

Before I go on, I need to clarify something. I didn’t write that headline, nor did I write the headline for my first piece. Anyway, my original title for that second piece was something like Was writing the VirPed article worth it? Yep! Notice the difference? My title was quite positive and upbeat, no name-calling or confrontational language at all. You see, here’s something a lot of people don’t know about the news business: editors often write the headlines, not the journalists. Editors want something splashy and attention-grabbing in the headline, even a little edgy, but sometimes that can be frustrating for the writers. This was one of those times. Though I didn’t write it either, the headline for my first article was clever and thoughtful. I quite liked it. This one, which played off of the currency of the first one, was . . . well, let’s just say it isn’t what I would’ve chosen.

So, in Bolton’s article, he says:

In the article, he explained how he believes his molestation as a child is the reason he is now sexually attracted to young girls, and mentioned his membership of the ‘Virtuous Paedophiles’ forum – an online community of paedohpiles [sic] who have vowed never to act on their sexual urges.

This is a reference to my first piece, but I feel the need to correct him because this is not what I said at all. Here’s the relevant passage:

It’s easy to assume that pedophilia is always the result of some early sexualization or abuse, and certainly there seems to be a connection in some cases.  However, evidence suggests there’s no magic bullet that pedophilia can be traced back to.  For every pedophile who was sexually abused as a child there’s another who wasn’t.  Likewise, most abuse victims never manifest pedophilic desires.  Some researchers surmise that pedophilia can be traced back to genetics. Others believe the cause is congenital, and still others that it’s environmental. Personally, I think the ultimate cause is likely some combination of those, and that it varies from person to person.

As you can see, I never claimed my own (singular) instance of abuse as a child made me into a pedophile. My official position is that it likely played a role in the ultimate development of my sexuality but that, in itself, it was probably not the cause. But I really don’t know. I base my perspective on a number of events in my life that I remember as being significant to my early sexual development. The rest of that article is pretty much spot on, but I felt compelled to address that one error at least. Now back to the Johnston news story.

I really only want to remark upon one more part of Johnston’s piece, the final paragraph, which reads:

In 2013, Donald Finklater, of the child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, said: “There may be some vulnerabilities that could be genetic, but normally there are some significant events in a person’s life, a sexually abusive event, a bullying environment … I believe it is learned, and can be unlearned.”

Again, the fact that Johnston gave this guy the final word in his article says a good deal about where his sympathies lie, I think. I don’t know anything about the Lucy Faithfull Foundation though I am sure I would agree with most or all of their positions and goals. But it’s clear that Finklater is talking out of his rear end here. What does “some vulnerabilities that could be genetic” (see what I did there?) mean? But more importantly, saying that it is learned and can therefore be unlearned displays a woeful degree of ignorance about how the brain works. There is a vast difference between the malleability and learning curve of the child’s brain and the high degree of fixedness in an adult’s.

Indeed, this is one reason why it’s so important for us to protect children from exploitation. But it’s funny how a lot of these same people insist that child molestation, even those cases that are non-traumatic or uneventful for the child at the time, always causes horrible lifelong trauma, but something as all-consuming and personality-integrated as one’s sexuality can be “unlearned.” Maybe, maybe not. But I will tell you this: I spent a couple of years trying to remake myself into someone I wasn’t, and the end result was a nervous breakdown and years-long bout of clinical depression that I still haven’t quite gotten over and maybe never will. So with all due respect to Mr. Finklater, I’m calling bs on this.