Pedophilia & Imagination

I have read that a corporation was planning a training program for its workers, and one executive suggested that they look at "pedagogical" methods. She was finally allowed to keep her job after heroic measures to convince the hierarchy and the Personnel Dept. that she had really and truly not used a word denoting sex with children.

In the United Kingdom, where they spell that terrifying prefix paed-, there are similar problems with it. One group of differently intelligent persons over there reportedly protected the youth of their area by attacking the office of an admitted Paediatrician.

Clearly, pedophilia is an issue of such power that it can suppress thought in large numbers of people. (In fact, some would condemn me for calling pedophilia an orientation, that term being reserved for OK choices like gayness and--in some circles--BDSM.)

A few years ago we kept hearing the phrase, "Trust the children." That could have been the motto in colonial Salem, and the results were analogous, though less fatal, this time around. All over the country, day care centers and other places where children were supposed to be safe were instead charged with monstrous crimes against their charges-in some cases, literally monstrous: The children testified that demons and/or space aliens had taken part in the abominations.

When the smoke cleared, a number of adults had had their lives ruined, others were merely forced to hire expensive counsel, and almost no actual abuse had been found.

One particularly bizarre case involved a kindergarten teacher named Kelly Michaels, who was convicted of the single-handed molestation of her entire class, continually over a period of months, in the school building, during the school day, in a room that had no door. This implausibility was ratified by a jury aided by "experts" who were permitted to inform them that since denial is one of the effects of sexual abuse, the less the children said had been done to them, the more they must have suffered. (She was urged not to testify in her own defense because if she did so, she would have to admit that she had engaged in sex with one or more other women, with the possibility that jurors might then think she was capable of any sort of abomination.)

Several years later, an appeals court threw out the whole mess, and it was generally conceded that nothing untoward had actually gone on in the Kindergarten Class from Hell. But a follow-up story indicated that some of the children who had testified were still having nightmares, some involving demons and aliens. If the greatest horror of molestation is the memories, then these poor kids were inadvertently molested by well-meaning shrinks and social workers who didn't even get their own rocks off.

There are dangers to children, and those should not be minimized, but they do not come in the form of Satanic ritual abuse. Anyone who has looked at the problem with any care has concluded that the most likely source of child sexual abuse is males living in the same house.

Perhaps one reason that I can consider this particular issue with a certain amount of calm is that, as I mentioned above, I do not have much of a Parent function. Child abuse of any sort is not a hot button to me; it's something I merely go "tsk, tsk" about.

Nor am I sexually attracted to children. I am a pedophobe, rather than a pedophile, and would not wish to get close enough to a prepubertal child to have sex with it. Puberty is a fuzzy barrier, but to me it is a strong one, and I think of those who engage in sex with the obviously prepubertal as not merely doing something immoral, but also just plain Doing It Wrong.

There is, by the way, a useful word for this sort of discussion: ephebophile. That refers to those who are sexually attracted to the young but nubile. (Paul Goodman was one of these. He cheerfully confessed that one motive for writing the sociological classic Growing Up Absurd was his sexual desire for the Hispanic teenagers who are its subjects. But he made it clear that he was not sexually interested in the prepubertal. These days Paul Goodman is extremely unfashionable.)

A right-winger in the FOSFAX lettercol (no, that isn't redundant) once said that of course all pedophiles are homosexual because heterosexual men would not be attracted to a partner without female curviness.

OK, so he's a tit man. I'm one too, but that obviously doesn't settle the matter. I'm not even all that much of an ephebophile, although some of the books I have most frequently read with one hand include performances by teenage girls. These are clearly (and in the usual manner of porn, repeatedly and heavy-handedly) described as postpubertal. Sitter's Sexy Games, for instance, mentions the little boy the sitter is assigned to, but the idea of including him in the games is dismissed out of hand.

The terminology is getting scarier. The newspapers occasionally report that an arrested adult "sodomized" an adolescent boy. The first time I saw it, I assumed that the paper had used that particular verb because family newspapers are not supposed to use synonymous terms like "buggered" or "cornholed," let alone "buttfucked." But when I got to the end of the story, there was enough information to indicate that the proper verb for what the man was accused of was "blew." Now, I don't know about you, but that gives me not only a different picture, but a different moral take on what went on. (This verbiage was used in a New York Times story that also straightfacedly passed along a police report that the perpetrator, while in custody, "became agitated and banged his head against the wall.")

The fictional character Gustav von Aschenbach fell in love with an adolescent boy, and it led to his death (in Venice). His creator, Thomas Mann, repeatedly fell in love with adolescent boys, but, according to a biographer, he regarded the idea of consummating any of these romances as perhaps impossible, and certainly repulsive.

Vulgar Freudianism tells us that he really and truly desired them sexually, whatever he may have thought he thought. (There's a step below that--trashy Freudianism--which takes Freud's reasonable idea that prepubertal children are in certain ways sexual to the insane extreme of assuming that therefore children actually want to be fucked by grown men, but that's another story.) I don't know. Like much other Freudian dogma, vulgar and otherwise, that claim is not falsifiable.

I do not find it at all impossible that Mann could have enjoyed the romantic feelings without ever wanting to carry out the sexual act. One of the things we have learned from feminism is that some women enjoy fantasizing about being taken by force, but know they would not enjoy actual rape. I myself do not enjoy fantasizing about things that I would find unpleasant; I don't know if this means that my imagination is too strong or too weak, but I realize that others don't think that way. (I might add that my fantasies are not entirely practical; if I'd had sex with even a reasonable percentage of the women I've fantasized about, I would as the old gag goes be speaking to you from a jar at the Harvard Medical School--as I would if I had followed up thoroughly on every intellectual interest I've had.)

I started having teenage crushes more than 40 years ago, which figures, but I still have them. Having had such crushes for this long, I believe I have learned to do it without making a mess: The object may not even know about the feelings, as I certainly do not state them in any way, and I keep my observations of her well short of the stalking level. And of course I realize that I am like a dog who chases a car despite having no idea of what he'd do with it if he caught it. [I thought that was answered in a famous Gary Larsen cartoon, but Larsen swears he did not mean to imply that the dog was "humping the car."] The term for my feeling is velleity: "would like to," rather than "wanna." And I really cannot see that my choice of a nubile female makes me any better than a man who has similar unacted-upon feelings about a boy.

The late Guy Davenport wrote a number of stories in which teenage boys sexually play with each other. As Kingsley Amis said when deciding not to put similar material in a novel,

Of course since only about 17 people in the country know what a novel is, the rest will think I must be one of the boys myself. And I don't need that, do I? ... See, most people forget that the novelist is continuously trying to fool them into believing he's really felt what his characters feel. So when they come to an extra convincing bit of queer's feelings they're going to say, "He couldn't have invented that, he must be writing out of personal experience, the dirty...sodomising bugger."
He says that as if there were something wrong with it, but except for that he's got a point. There is a fictional genre devoted to the crime of murder; the overwhelming majority of those who have written in the genre never committed the crime, and as far as we know, their desires to do so were no stronger than anyone else's. It seems quite plausible that the same could be true of homosexuality, but many have not considered this possibility.

Davenport proclaims in The Hunter Gracchus that the ancient Greeks thought the ideal was to love those beautiful boys, but that actually having sex with them would be considered disgusting. I couldn't swear to that, but I don't find it impossible, or even terribly improbable, that Davenport might enjoy behaving heterosexually, and fantasizing about boys at sexual play, without actually wanting the latter, just as a feminist might enjoy loving, mutually desired sex while fantasizing about being raped.