Part 1: The Novel
One of the things I am frequently accused of by critics is being proud of my sexuality. Initially I was taken aback by these accusations. Sure, I talk openly on the web and in media interviews about what it’s like to have this orientation, but I never thought of myself as deriving any particular pleasure from simply having it. These imputations clearly stem from the concept of ‘gay pride,’ which has become a large part of the LGBT identity. I’ll be honest here: though I had no beef with it, I had never really understood the reasoning behind gay pride, or racial pride for that matter. So you happen to be born gay, or black, or white, or whatever. It’s a simple accident of fate, a genetic toss of the dice and nothing more. No, I’ve always taken pride in accomplishments, not in random conditions I had no control over.
On the flip side of that, I was not ashamed of my sexuality either, and for precisely the same reason. I didn’t choose it, so why should I feel ashamed of it? My feeling has always been that you should feel shame for bad deeds, things you’ve done wrong, not for things you had no choice about. I saw pride and shame over identity as two sides of the same coin. But in a discussion I had a few days ago with someone who is deeply troubled by his own sexual attraction to kids, I had an epiphany, what I call a Eureka Moment.
During the discussion, this young man pointed out that he was confused by the MAPs who seemed to view their sexuality through a positive light instead of as something wholly negative. My advice to him was to read Clive Barker’s novel Cabal. That may seem like a rather oblique suggestion at first glance. What does a horror novel from the ’80s have to do with a much maligned sexuality, after all? In a word, everything.
The novel follows a group of freakish characters called the Night Breed who live in the underground city of Midian. Barker initially sets them up as frightening beings with a horrific appearance, a connect to death, and disturbing powers, all qualities ordinarily attributed to the villains in horror tales. But then he does something astounding: he completely subverts this trope, making the Night Breed the heroes of the story. You see, the Night Breed aren’t Night Breed by choice, but rather by birth or by accident, and what they want most in the world is simply to be left alone by outsiders. This isn’t for selfish reasons. They aren’t a cult doing terrible things away from the prying eyes of “decent” society. Nor do they recruit members. Quite the opposite, in fact: it is difficult to find them, and even if one manages to discover their secret underground lair, there’s no guarantee they will accept you as one of their own.
The Night Breed know from centuries of experience that most people are frightened and repulsed by them, and thus would rather destroy them than learn from them or accept them. If discovered, they would be called witches and demons and be killed, just as they had always been in the past. Indeed, by the novel’s finale the local authorities have invaded Midian, destroyed it and murdered most of the Night Breed, all at the behest of the psychiatrist Decker, who lied to the cops by claiming one of his patients, Boone, is a serial killer when in fact it is Decker himself who is the serial killer. He tells them Boone is hiding out in Midian, which is true, but Decker has framed him, set him up to take the fall for his own murderous ways by convincing Boone that he is guilty. And because Decker was a wealthy, highly respected doctor and Boone just a working class nobody, Decker’s claims are believed both by others and (at first) by Boone himself.
Now, to understand where I’m going with this, we need to know something about the book’s author: Clive Barker is gay. Cabal is at it’s essence a story about persecution of those who are different and misunderstood. It was written and published in 1988, well before the LGBT community were accepted by a majority of mainstream society and had the rights and protections they have today. But the concept works for any group of people who are despised and mistreated because of who they are rather than anything they’ve done.
When the novel came out, the critics, who had been much more enthusiastic about Barker’s earlier work, weren’t sure what to make of it. Some dismissed it as silly or over-the-top. Others failed to see it as horror because they simply couldn’t comprehend the humanity of the Night Breed, or how tragic their destruction is. How does a critical fandom weaned on Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King process this? Cabal is in no sense a typical horror novel, more a dark allegory that hits a major nerve in the ongoing culture war. Some may even be tempted to dismiss the book’s message as quaint. I mean, it’s not like we live in medieval Europe anymore, where people we’re afraid of can be falsely accused of committing atrocities, tortured and murdered, right? Surely we’ve moved beyond the mentality that gave rise to the Jewish Holocaust, right? Right?
But there’s something else about the Night Breed that may have been off-putting to some readers. Sure, okay, they can accept that there are freaks who can’t help being freaks, but the social code suggests—nay, demands—that the freaks feel ashamed of their differences and be humble in the presence of the beautiful and non-defective. While the Night Breed tend to stay away from “normal” folks, when they are forced by circumstances to interact with them, they aren’t modest, deferential or in any sense apologetic about their peculiar nature. Perhaps they are even (gulp) . . . a bit prideful of it.
Part 2: The Epiphany
But why? Why would such malformed creatures take any pleasure in their own aberration? I think it’s for the same reason that some MAPs, even the non-offending variety, take any degree of satisfaction in something so woefully at odds with society’s mores: there is a kind of power, and a certain peace, in being so thoroughly secure in one’s identity that even in the face of near absolute condemnation, you know without a shadow of a doubt who you are. What’s more, you hold that knowledge with such conviction that you are willing to endure an unceasing storm of insults and abuse to announce it out loud, both as a beacon for others like you and to enlighten the non-MAPs out there who are sympathetic to your struggles. Can this honestly be said of most people? Why else would they be willing to murder perfectly innocent people if not compensating for insecurity in the face of their own doubts about themselves and what they have always believed? In that sense they are no different than the jihadis who are willing to murder innocents to assure themselves their beliefs are the right ones.
The same applies, I think, to the persecutors of the Night Breed, who are simply too dynamic, too cool, too accepting of their own eccentricities to be allowed to exist. For the Night Breed are not outlandish in only one dimension, which is a common problem with many non-humans in horror fiction. And regardless of what others might think of them, the Night Breed know there is an orchid-like beauty, rare and exotic, in all that flagrant, unapologetic strangeness, an embrace of diversity that might frighten even the heartiest defenders of multiculturalism. Love ’em or hate ’em, the Night Breed know who they are, and they don’t run from it.
When I read Cabal in high school, after having read all of The Books of Blood collections and The Damnation Game, it was hands down my favorite Clive Barker story. It resonated with me like no fictional world before it ever had, or could. I always knew there was a reason I’d loved monsters since around Kindergarten age, and Cabal taught me why: I identified with them. Here was a book where the “monsters” not only weren’t depicted as inherently violent, soulless and depraved but were actually being celebrated, shown to have intelligence, sensitivity, culture. Yes, they were stranger than strange, but they could also be tender lovers, wise leaders, adoring parents, brave warriors, passionate musicians, and everything in between. As a shy, bookish teenager born without a right hand, fascinated by the darker side of reality and cursed with a completely unfeasible sexuality, something I could never tell even my closest loved ones about, I looked at the Night Breed and saw my own reflection there.
So, yes, there is a portion of humanity—a small but steady one, to be sure—who fully embrace everything they are, no matter that they’re unlike 99% of the world’s population (and a sizable percentage of that 99% think the happy oddballs to be mentally ill at best, downright evil at worst). I am one of those people. I have never been particularly interested in conforming to other people’s expectations of me. For a time I tried to play it safe in that regard, to the extent I was able. But these various aspects of me—my physical disability, my emotional issues, my creativity, my growing interest in the horror and dark fantasy genres, and of course my pedophilia—were becoming entangled, playing off of and reinforcing each other to the point where they eventually became inseparable. It was inevitable, really. I was playing Whack-a-mole with myself, trying to keep all of these troublesome aspects from popping up at the wrong time, and the strain was unbearable.
It all came to a head one morning before school when I was 16, ironically over this very novel. I had long known my dad to be weirded out by horror fiction and avoided exposing my interest in it to him in any direct fashion, knowing he was likely to voice his displeasure. However, I was excited about Cabal. My sister and my dad were both sitting on the couch in the living room while I stood nearby. For some reason my sister, who had never taken an interest in what I was reading before, asked me about Cabal. Even though my dad was present, I plunged into it anyway, telling her about the scene where Boone’s girlfriend Lori first encounters the little shape-shifting girl Babette, trapped in her animal form under the shade of a bush. Like vampires, the Night Breed cannot be exposed to direct sunlight; it destroys them. So Babette could not leave the shade of the shrub and her mother Rachel cannot retrieve her. Lori, realizing what’s happening, rescues the child, shielding her from the sun, and safely delivers her to her mother. That’s it.
My sister, not a fan of speculative fiction at all, and certainly not dark fiction, thought the scene I described was quite nice. My father, however, had a very different opinion, telling me outright that I was sick for having any interest in such things. His words cut deeper that morning than I could ever have imagined. I couldn’t understand it. I mean, I’d chosen the least disturbing scene in the book, one that demonstrated the basic humanity of the Night Breed and had nothing particularly gory or gruesome in it. The scene had a happy ending, for God’s sake! Yet still he excoriated me for my enthusiasm for these weirdos, my sympathy for Barker’s devils. I broke down into tears and fled to the kitchen, sinking against the cabinets, truly shaken to my core. Could he be right? My sister did her best to comfort me, which helped but did not alleviate the shame and hurt entirely.
Following that, I did some soul-searching. An ordinary kid might have been more susceptible to his father’s opinion of his tastes, might even have taken it to heart and rejected his deep love for monstrosity. I was no ordinary kid, and never would be. At that point I stopped caring about my dad’s opinion of my interests. It was my first step toward full autonomy of thought and feeling. There was no way in hell I was going to stop loving these things. If anything, I doubled down on my passion for the dark and weird. My main takeaway from that experience was not to be so open about it in front of him, which I had plenty of practice with because of hiding my sexuality. But there was no going back. If I recognized before then that I had trouble relating to my dad’s point-of-view, I now understood that we resided on entirely different plains of existence.
Am I a pervert? Am I sick and twisted? Am I . . . a monster? At one time these labels would’ve offended me, but now I realize that, like beauty, they are really in the eye of the beholder anyway. If you want to call me a monster, so be it. I don’t consider that an insult anymore. In fact, I will wear it happily, because it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does to you. Is that pride speaking? Again, if you want to call that pride, be my guest.
You see, it is because of my fundamental differences from the fearful, pitchfork-wielding mob that I am the person I am today. Every good thing I’ve done, every child whose life I’ve made richer, every abuse survivor I’ve commiserated with, every person I’ve comforted when they were down, every interview I’ve done in support of NOMAPs, was a direct result of the accumulated experiences of my life and my passions, all of it ineradicably woven together into the curious and unique arras that is my self.
Part 3: My History
I was born and raised in rural communities, where I was constantly bombarded with prejudice of all sorts. Being born disabled, and left-handed at that, I never truly fit in with boys my own age, who pursued sports and rough play. I was an introverted kid from the beginning, and my interests as a small child were very different from that of most boys my age: monsters and sci-fi (which have now become a lot more mainstream but were niche interests for kids in the rural South in the early 1970s), rock collecting, drawing, and of course, reading. My favorite subjects were Greek mythology, stars and planets, aliens, dinosaurs, reptiles, insects—basically anything that was weird and cool to me.
Being rejected by the cool kids at school for my one-handedness, I quickly befriended the other class outcasts: the chubby boy, a born storyteller; the Native American kid, who had long hair and lived up the road from me; and our class’s only black kid, whose artistic skills I envied. Thus, from my earliest years I saw through the nonsense of bigotry against out groups. This would extend into junior high and high school, where one of my best friends was gay before that was ever cool. He wound up being the very first person I ever told about my sexuality.
On top of that, as a small child I was quite keyed into my emotional side, including the horrors of life and death. Because of this, I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong, to the point that I was against capital punishment even as a kid. Once, in my seventh grade math class at the school I attended in Michie, Tennessee, someone came in to do a survey of which kids were for and against capital punishment by show of hands (oh, that’s not biased research at all, is it?) Every other kid but me and Ruby, the girl who sat behind me, raised their hands in favor of the death penalty. Ruby had an uncle who was executed by electric chair, which explained her opposition to it. But I have never had any relatives executed, as far as I know; I was opposed to it on strictly moral grounds.
Ergo, against all odds, I became a flamboyant liberal in the midst of a culture dominated by hardcore conformist conservatives, and I’ve remained so ever since. Spending my teen years mainly in Michigan helped some too, as I finally met people who shared my politics, which solidified my confidence in my viewpoint. But the three things that really pushed me towards it was my birth defect, my sensitivity to unfairness, and the development of my sexuality, all of which were of a piece.
I was molested at age seven, but I never felt particularly traumatized by this, and as I was exposed to the violent feelings of the adults around me towards pedophiles and sex offenders, I was more horrified by these gruesome reactions than I ever was by the actual abuse, which was pretty tame in the scheme of things. This was, of course, before I learned what rape was, and other forms of sexual abuse that were much more horrendous than anything I went through. Nevertheless, the die was cast early, and it slowly began to sink in that I too found children more appealing than adults on every level, including erotically. In retrospect, I realize at least part of that appeal rests in the fact that, as a shy, awkward, sensitive adolescent, I found small kids to be safe company: friendly, nonjudgmental, and most importantly, not prone to horrific violence as adults often were, or threatened to be.
The levels of irony to be parsed out from the feedback loop of self-reinforcement that made me who I am have certainly not escaped me. There may be some innate component to pedophilia—I suspect there is—but if ever there was a childhood tailor-made to turn someone into a pedophile, it was mine: a smart, introverted, left-handed kid with a disability and other health issues that kept him away from peers while simultaneously planting in him an almost gut-level dread and mistrust of most of the adults around him, poorly educated blue-collar types who were prone to outbursts of anger and violence (if not personally then through their adoption of an unseen surrogate, a vengeful and angry God who would set you on fire forever if you disobeyed the rules), instilled in him a sense of his own oddness at every turn whilst also glorifying the healthy, beautiful child he never could be, forcing him to find solace and understanding in his own fantasy world whilst also constantly reminding him that fantasies were the province of children, to be well shed of and outgrown by the time one arrived into adolescence (and yet another thing to be ashamed of if he did not), and then throwing into this mix one of the few adults he could immediately identity with, benign, nerdy and unusual like himself, and having that adult introduce him to sex not in some horrific and painful way but in a gentle and intimate manner, and then having those adults near him tell him that this was wrong and dirty and a thing never to be spoken of again, something worthy of the most hideous forms of torture and murder they could imagine.
How, pray tell, did such a boy ever have even half a chance of developing anything like a normal sexuality in the midst of the esoteric circus that was his childhood? In the end, it doesn’t matter. I am who I am through no fault of my own. I am, like everyone else, a product of my genes and my early environment, as well as whatever it was, whether God or Nature, that saw fit to throw me into this world sans one limb.
Part 4: Conclusion
In the end, all of this has forged and strengthened me, made me into someone who, like Tom Petty, wouldn’t back down from his convictions even at the Gates of Hell. Someone with a love for truth, history and culture the likes of which Donald Trump and his half-baked minions could never comprehend. Seriously, ask any Trump supporter to name three famous American paintings from the nineteenth or twentieth century and watch them fall all over themselves in an attempt to avoid or negate your question. Ask them for three American artists period. Or ask them to name just the first six presidents in order. Or any number of facts about America that happened before their lifetime. You’ll discover immediately how patriotic they really are and how much they care about the culture they claim is worth defending against the encroachment of post-modernism. Hell, ask them to define post-modernism. Better yet, hit them where it really hurts: ask them to give you five quotes from their purported hero, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The supposed patriotism and Christianity of 95% of these fools collapses like the house of cards it is under any degree of real scrutiny.
Meanwhile, I can do all of that. Not because I like to show off, but because I care about these things. I care about these things because I care about the way we have progressed, or regressed in some instances, as a society since then; how American democracy has been perverted over time; what the founding fathers actually intended with the Bill of Rights, and so on. The history of art and literature are subjects that interest me, as is the history of censorship of the arts. Why? Because I want to fully understand my rights as an American citizen and a creative person, and the limitations of those rights. I want to make informed decisions based on facts, not on the opinions of blustering, under-educated loudmouths on YouTube, in direct contrast to what I see from the people who vote and opine, out of fear and hate, against their own self-interests.
Moreover, I have worked many times harder than I ever would have to fight stigma and abuse of MAPs and of kids, and to all persecuted minorities besides. I care very deeply about justice, fairness, tolerance, diversity, freedom and human rights for all. I have cried myself to sleep and lay awake all night worrying over children I will never meet, children in foreign lands and right here in America. Little girls being forced to marry men twice their age, and threatened with torture and murder if they refuse. Little boys conscripted into child armies, made to witness and participate in atrocities that have broken grown men. Children being beaten, starved. Kids separated from loving parents and kept in cages because they weren’t born here.
Despite sometimes crippling social anxiety, I’ve been interviewed by radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines, blogs and podcasts all over the world. I’ve participated in a documentary about my sexuality, even though I would not call myself photogenic by any means. I’ve spoken to dozens of scholars and researchers, given up hours of my time to patiently answer their questions, and I did it happily and honestly. I suffered severe long-term clinical depression for many years, a depression that nearly drove me to suicide, and yet here I sit, typing this post to share with all of humanity. I do these things because they need to be done, and because I happened to bear the peculiar mix of circumstances and traits that have led me to this virtual mount, where I make myself a target daily to get my message out.
I have written a dark fantasy novel, not to mention various short stories that combine my passions. I wouldn’t dare say I’m the best writer around, or even the best amateur, but I am quite certain I have some degree of talent in this endeavor that most people do not. That comes from years of reading fiction, and writing it for myself. I have now achieved a level of proficiency that allows me to comfortably offer my work for the perusal and critique of all and sundry. I hope it is enjoyed and makes an impact, but I’m fine just knowing I have contributed something to the culture, given back for all the pleasure I’ve received from other authors. I also draw and create other sorts of visual art, as illustration and as graphic design. I have all but mastered Photoshop entirely. Again, I’m not saying these things to boast. I readily admit there are far better creative minds than I, and plenty of them. I point this out merely as further evidence of the degree to which my passions and desires, including pedophilia, have driven me to become a better person.
So is that pride? I don’t know, but if it is, I’d say I’ve earned it.