Turning our view of power upside down

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Heretic TOC’s two-part review of The Fear of Child Sexuality, by Steven Angelides, began last time with a focus on the author as himself a prisoner of fear.

We noted that while he clearly acknowledges children as sexual beings and is positive towards their sexual expression and agency, he is very tentative as regards the practical implications when it comes to their freedom to choose an older partner, opting to discuss it solely in relation to the more easily defensible possibilities, notably mid-teen boys in relationships with women. In Angelides’ own country, Australia, the boy in these liaisons dangereuses has traditionally been lionised as a “lucky bastard”; rather than being pitied as a victim, the young larrikin who gets to shag his own teacher – a figure of some salience on our modern sexual battleground – has been seen as a masculine success story, a legend among his mates, the subject of envy even among older males. Angelides puts a lot of good work into challenging the fierce feminist attack on this narrative, but his analysis at this point is not in an especially radical place, being applied only to narrow, particular circumstances.

His ideas can be put to more general and substantial application, however, if we dig to their roots. As we saw in part one, Angelides is held back thanks to his unwitting complicity in a Foucauldian “strategy of fear”. But there is a wider aspect of the celebrated (and execrated!) French philosopher’s work that Angelides discusses and which I can take up with more enthusiasm and positivity: this is Foucault on power.

This is complicated stuff but let’s see if we can keep it tolerably simple. Feminists have been banging on for decades with their dogmatic insistence that children are supposedly powerless in their dealings with adults, such that these older people are bound to dominate, exploit and abuse the younger ones in “unequal” sexual relations. Using Australian “scandals” in the media, Angelides very clearly demonstrates that in the (admittedly limited) cases of the teenage boys in question, a confident youth sometimes has considerably more power in practice than a young, inexperienced female teacher, both in the classroom and the bedroom.

The main thing to note about Foucault at this point is that he saw power as relational, rather than something that powerful individuals, institutions or classes possess unilaterally and impose in a top-down way on the powerless beneath them. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy usefully summarises his position in a way that hints at the potential for power flowing sideways and even upwards within society as well as downwards, no matter how formally hierarchical its arrangements may appear:

We should not try to look for the center of power, or for the individuals, institutions or classes that rule, but should rather construct a “microphysics of power” that focuses on the multitude of loci of power spread throughout a society: families, workplaces, everyday practices, and marginal institutions. One has to analyze power relations from the bottom up and not from the top down, and to study the myriad ways in which the subjects themselves are constituted in these diverse but intersecting networks.

The most obvious sorts of power, such as the power of a Henry VIII to have his wives’ heads chopped off on a whim, or the power of governments to pass laws that we must all obey, possibly on pain of losing our liberty, are of course experienced as top-down phenomena (or, in the case of tyrants’ victims, top-off!) Sometimes called sovereign, or juridical power, the unilateral imposition of force needs to be distinguished from the subtler power interactions that typify modern society – notably the power associated with knowledge, exercised through the influence of all manner of professionals and experts, whose understandings influence each other and society in ways so multifarious and complex that no one is in control. We are governed less by cunning elites pulling the strings in a deliberately conspiratorial way than by fashionable ideas such as victim feminism that seem to come out of nowhere but which reflect an awful lot of “discourse” – books, speeches, lectures, podcasts, documentaries – constructing “knowledge” about the world that may later come to be sceptically “deconstructed” by others, including Foucauldians!

The discourse of victim feminism in recent decades has all but eradicated the idea of child sexuality. As Angelides notes, the sexual child “is being reduced to (adult) sexual effect – victim – and generally disappears into debates about the corruption and sexualisation of childhood and innocence” (p. xxiii). This insistence on children’s victim status is tied to age of consent laws that deploy top-down  sovereign/juridical power in an arbitrary way to distinguish legitimate (adult-adult) relations from illegitimate (adult-child) ones. In doing so, we lose sight of the two-way power (operating sideways and bottom-up) to which Foucault drew attention when speaking of power as relational.

Angelides has an early chapter on the fear of child sexuality in which he invoked the Freudian figure of the “uncanny” or scary child. Anyone familiar with the spooky kids in The Turn of the Screw, or the possessed (especially with sexual manifestations) child of horror movies such as The Exorcist, will get the idea. A personal experience of this kind made a great impression on him. He describes how, as a teenager, he was at a dinner party hosted by friends of his parents when he was confronted by an eight-year-old girl “confiding in me and recounting in great detail, and with great delight, her sexual exploits with a thirty-year-old man”. It was an “intensely disconcerting” experience for him. “I distinctly remember fearing this child,” he said, “and feeling ashamed at being privy to her inner world.”

This little girl had unsettled not just his idea of childhood innocence but even “my own sense of self as an adolescent”. In other words, she had blown his socks off, producing such a powerful effect that he would later write about it in ways that have already been felt in the academic world, at least, around the globe. Not bad for a supposedly powerless kid! Not bad, either, as an example of bottom-up relational power in action.

Victim feminism’s focus on children, notably through the 1970s work of Florence Rush and later David Finkelhor, was produced against a background in which feminism in general sought to create relations of greater equality between men and women. In seeking an end to “patriarchal” male dominance, most feminists (apart from radical lesbians who wanted nothing to do with men) entirely reasonably wanted a society in which women received equal pay for equal work and men were not allowed to beat their wives for disobedience. Where some of them have lost their way has been in their doctrinaire insistence on promoting even undesirable forms of equality. Are poor black women, then, only to be allowed to have poor black husbands as partners because a relationship with a rich white man would be unequal and “inevitably” exploitative? This would be the logical outcome of identity politics, which is now all but ubiquitous and which has its roots in the racial and gender politics of victimhood.

Where adult-adult contacts are concerned, at least, thoughtful feminists have taken on board Foucault’s insight that power is relational. But they fail to apply this model to child-adult relations, especially with regard to sexuality. Instead they crudely seek to impose sovereign/juridical top-down power through the age of consent laws.

Angelides understands and elaborates on this. He takes issue with feminists who say that power ceases to be a factor in relations of equality. He says he cannot agree with this, adding:

…my disagreement issues…from a post-Foucauldian, nonjuridical conceptualization of power which assumes that where there is a power relationship between two people – and not a state of bondage or pure force – power is exercised and not possessed…Dominance and submission are not fixed positions determined by the presence or absence of power.” (p.56)

He seems to have been referring here at least in part to the work of the British psychologist Wendy Hollway, to which he turns some fifty-odd pages later, where he speaks of “the post-Foucauldian reworking of relational power as an intrinsically intersubjective phenomenon animated by the dynamics of recognition”. This “dynamics of recognition” turns out to mean, basically, people’s emotional effect on each other e.g. someone might feel personally empowered by being recognised as competent at their work. Under this model, he says, “power is not to be conceived as a substance or entity that an individual possesses, wields, and controls, as Foucault argued. Instead… power is always only a relational phenomenon referring to struggles to control the giving and receiving of recognition.” (pp.110-111).

Hollway is a new name to me and I have only a sketchy idea as to what is meant by the “dynamics of recognition”. The concept sounds promising although I suspect it might turn into the blind alley that is identity politics. Angelides also mentions the sociologist Norbert Elias (1897-1990), who outlived Foucault (1926-1984) but who was born long before him. His intellectual output was such that he might be considered pre-Foucauldian, although he came to fame – or at least to recognition as a towering figure in his field – late in life, at around the same time as Foucault’s books began to appear, from the 1960s onwards.

Angelides mentions Elias only very briefly, in the context of his ideas about the power of shame as a sexually inhibiting factor. I learned much more about him from The Cambridge Handbook of Sexual Development: Childhood and Adolescence, which I reviewed recently for Sexuality & Culture (see separate item below). There was one quote from his work that struck a chord with me:

In so far as we are more dependent on others than they are on us, more directed by others than they are by us, they have power over us, whether we have become dependent on them by their use of naked force or by our need to be loved, our need for money, healing, status, a career or simply for excitement” (Cambridge Handbook, p.40).

Now compare the Elias line with what Angelides says when he proposes that children are far from being universally positioned outside of power. On the contrary, he says:

…no non-physically forcible sexual relations (adult-adult or adult-child) and no parent-child relations can be disarticulated from power. Children exercise power in myriad and subtle ways in their relationships with parents and adults” (Angelides, pp.54-55).

Note that Elias refers to being subjected to the power of “naked force” but he then draws attention to a range of other factors, such as love, and excitement, that can put us under the spell of another person – the magic power, as it were, of really wanting to be in their company and esteemed by them. Now consider one final passage, by another author:

…power, in paedophilic as in other relationships, doesn’t necessarily reside with the elder party. It depends on the circumstances, especially on which partner needs the other most. One might even propose, as a law of human nature, that power in a relationship resides with the party that needs the relationship less.

Any idea who this writer was? Ring any bells? Full marks if you knew, or guessed, that it was me, in Paedophilia: The Radical Case, 1980 (p.173). This “law” was explicitly limited to de facto consensual relationships, hence no “naked force” or other coercion. I was writing from my own direct personal experience rather than from contemplation of Elias or Foucault, or any later theorists such as Angelides or Hollway. Elias was not on my radar at all in those days. Admittedly, I had just read Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 1, hot off the presses as a new title in 1979, and even discussed it personally with sociologist and historian Jeffrey Weeks. But I was not impressed by the fashionable Frenchman’s obscure, abominably written ramblings. I have warmed to him since, after reading a fair chunk of his other work, but my writing on power back then owed nothing to his influence or anyone else’s so far as I am aware. The chapter in question, Chapter 9 on “Power and Equality”, was the most original aspect of The Radical Case and probably the best.

Who was listening though? And who will now take much notice of Angelides? Some of his work has been intellectually influential (there have been over 220 citations of his paper “Feminism, child sexual abuse, and the erasure of child sexuality” on Google Scholar, an exceptional score) but it is already clear that his new book has not set the publishing world on fire, nor the reviewers or the public. Put it this way: in the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, as I write, it is not in the top 100, or the top 1000, or even the top million. It languishes at position number 3,100,263!

But, hey, let’s not judge a book by its popularity. The Fear of Child Sexuality does at least explore and clarify issues of importance to us heretics. I do not regret the time I spent reading it.

 

SUFFRAGE LITTLE CHILDREN

Jesus said “suffer little children to come unto me”. He did not say extend the suffrage to children. But as we find ourselves coming up to a general election in the UK in less than two weeks from now we might want to ponder whether votes for kids would be a good idea. They could hardly get us into a bigger mess than the country is in at the moment, torn apart as we are over Brexit.

Oddly enough this idea has just been proposed not from the radical fringes of politics but by Polly Mackenzie, who served as director of policy to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, from 2010-2015. In an article for the rather good online journal UnHerd, she points out out that the age of criminal responsibility in England is 10, and says:

How can we argue that a 10-year-old has the judgement required to understand the law and the consequences of breaking it – and then argue that a 10-year-old doesn’t have the judgement required to understand democracy or the consequences of voting? If you have to follow the law, you should have a role in making it.

 

CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK

As briefly mentioned above, another book review of mine was published recently. This was an extensive (over 4,000 words) critique of The Cambridge Handbook of Sexual Development: Childhood and Adolescence, a huge (600+ pages) multi-author academic tome from Cambridge University Press. The article is in Sexuality & Culture. As will be seen at the journal’s official link, which has the Abstract, publishers Springer Nature are charging £34.74 for the privilege of reading the full text, which pro rata would work out at around a princely £1,000 for a book of average length. Not that I will see so much as a penny from any sales as the traditional academic publishing model involves scholars surrendering their commercial interest. Happily, though, free full-text access is available here.

As many be imagined, it was very gratifying to a “paedophilia apologist” such as myself to be afforded a prestigious platform on which to pontificate about, of all things, childhood sexual development. Perhaps S&C were assuming that only paedos have sufficient direct knowledge of the subject to be able to write with authority on the matter! However that may be, I can report that a couple of professors have already responded: one found my review “very interesting”; another sent a PDF of her latest paper, saying she thought her work would interest me – it did!

 

INCREDIBLE AND FALSE

The hot news this morning is that former MP Harvey Proctor is to get a £900,000 pay-out from the police in London after being subject to false accusations of brutality, rape and murder against children.

This is the latest fall-out from the Met police’s Operation Midland investigation, which disastrously chose to believe lurid, bizarre and utterly incredible allegations made by fantasist Carl Beech, who claimed boys were raped and tortured in the 1970s and 80s by members of a VIP paedophile ring involving leading figures in politics and government. Even more astonishing, and incredibly stupid, was that a senior officer – supported from the very top of the force – went public with the declaration that Beech’s fabrications were “credible and true”. Beech is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for perverting the course of justice and fraud.

 

 

Warily going where angels fear to tread

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Book review: The Fear of Child Sexuality: Young People, Sex, and Agency, by Steven Angelides. University of Chicago Press, September 2019.

This is an important new book. Heretic TOC has accordingly decided to give it an in-depth review in two parts. This first part will focus on Angelides’ aims in relation to his earlier track record. The second part will consider the book’s content in more detail with a particular focus on the author’s interestingly “post-Foucauldian” view of power in sexual relationships. 

We might guess that someone called Angelides would be on the side of the angels. This family name is Greek for “son of an angel” or “descended from the angels”. Something like that. The name of the book itself, its title, tells us it is about fear, so we might find ourselves wondering whether the writer will boldly go where angels allegedly fear to tread. Portentously, too, this wordsmith’s given name is Steven, after the first Christian martyr. His more specific subject is child sexuality, a notoriously dangerous theme for any writer these days, so is this perhaps saintly scribe doomed to martyrdom, or even actively courting it?

Child sexuality: obscured, censored, but not entirely erased from public discourse.

Definitely not the latter, on the evidence so far. The good Dr Angelides, a senior academic whose PhD was in history and gender studies, is affiliated with the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health, and Society at La Trobe University and an honorary senior research fellow at Macquarie University. This much, and his listed publications, are a matter of public record, but otherwise he has kept a low profile. He isn’t big on the social media, doesn’t appear to give interviews, has no Wikipedia entry, and not much has been written about him.

Having been impressed many years ago by a couple of his papers, especially “Feminism, child sexual abuse, and the erasure of child sexuality” (2004), I was keen to read his new book when word reached me about it a few months ahead of its publication last month. So I wrote to his official university email address offering to write a review, possibly for an academic journal but certainly here at Heretic TOC. I heard nothing back. After a suitable interval I wrote again. Still silence.

I was a bit miffed. This was an unexpected snub. My recollection, admittedly somewhat foggy, was that Angelides had written quite respectfully about paedophile organisations such as PIE, which I chaired for several years. It was as though he at least acknowledged our sincerity and idealism. The impression I had was that he believed children are not only sexual but sometimes want sexual contact with an adult and are capable of consent in fact if not in law.

So why would he shun me and my interest in his book? Perhaps because he thinks I am a crap writer, of no significance? That would be mortifying but there is another explanation. Fear. Fear of guilt by association with a “convicted paedophile” like me.

History professor Joanna Bourke knows about these things. She is an expert on fear, author of a book called Fear: A Cultural History. So it is not surprising to see that Times Higher Education recently carried her review of The Fear of Child Sexuality. She wrote:

Even scholarly analyses of the sexuality of young people risk accusations of championing paedophilia. It is therefore very brave of Steven Angelides, an academic at La Trobe University in Australia, to tackle the topic. He is very clear about his ethical stance: he opposes all attempts to normalise paedophilia.

Except that he doesn’t. I had just finished reading Angelides’ book when I encountered Bourke. It was fresh in my mind and I knew that, mercifully, there was nothing whatever in it that could distinctly be taken as opposing paedophilia. Just as I remembered from his earlier papers, the perspective presented in his book is entirely compatible with children, especially those on the pre-teen cusp of adolescence and beyond, being sexually active and capable of voluntary participation in an intergenerational relationship. Wonderful! Delighted to see it! It could hardly have been otherwise, actually, because it turns out the book is pretty much a “greatest hits” compilation album of this earlier work.

So where was Bourke’s utterly contrary claim coming from? Could this reputable historian have misinterpreted Angelides at some point? Or else be lying?

Well, it turns out that I cannot call her a liar but I do say loud and clear that her words performed a major deception, and it was one in which Angelides colluded. What happened, in effect, was that the pair of them came together to enact a strategy of fear. It was presumably not concocted in a conscious conspiracy between them (they may not have contacted each other or be personally acquainted) but it ends up working in the same way. There is a tactic as well as a strategy in all this that I will come to shortly. But first let’s get into this strategy business. Angelides has plenty to say on this theme, starting in his Preface. He refers to:

… the cultural and political work the mobilization of emotional vocabularies of fear, anxiety, and shame does to endlessly defer an encounter with the agentive sexual child. This, I suggest, is a “strategy” of many child sex panics — although by strategies I am thinking of those aspects of power relations that are, as Michel Foucault famously puts it, “both intentional and non-subjective.” Power relations have aims and objectives, and in this way are intentional; but they are also beyond an individual or group’s will, consciousness, or control — in that no individual or group possesses power and in that power relations have unintended and entangled aims and consequences—and so are nonsubjective. Strategies can thereby also be anonymous and unwitting (pp. xiv).

Unintended consequences. Unwitting strategies.

Precisely!

By a supreme irony, an unwitting strategy of fear has produced a wholly unintended consequence in which Bourke and Angelides accidently collude against the sexual child that both of them (to judge from Bourke’s review as a whole, as well as the book she is reviewing) would wish to support. This unwitting, accidental antagonism expresses itself through a contradiction.

To see how that has happened we must turn now from the strategy to the tactic. As we have seen, Bourke asserts that Angelides “is very clear about his ethical stance: he opposes all attempts to normalise paedophilia”. Where does he make himself “clear”? Not, as I have said, in his book, or not at least in the main text, including the Preface. No, the tactic adopted by Angelides was to hide away his “clear” ethical stance in the Acknowledgements section, positioned near the end of the book, in the most obscure place possible, between the last page of the book proper and the beginning of the Notes. I am very pleased the disclaimer appearing there is indeed obscure because to make it more prominent would be to obstruct his long-held and much more positive message, a message all us heretics will applaud, namely that intergenerational sexual relationships can be ethical. The one thing that really is clear, it seems to me, is that Angelides is so fearful – understandably – of being crucified in the media and elsewhere that he feels the disclaimer, distancing himself from paedophilia, was necessary.

So how did Bourke come to notice this “clear” statement, hidden away among lengthy tributes to the author’s colleagues and friends that would be of little interest to the general reader? My guess is that the publishers, the University of Chicago Press, sent a memo drawing attention to it along with every review copy they sent out. That would have done the trick. So, it looks as though there was probably corporate collusion too.

But we do not need to subscribe to this little bit of conspiracy theory on my part to see that fear is massively at work. Angelides gives us plenty of grounds for seeing why it would be in play. He tells us:

Publishing variously on the historical emergence of the modern pedophile, on child sexual abuse, on queer theory, and on child and adolescent sexuality, has done me no favors in some respects. In a way that gets to the very heart of this book’s fundamental concerns about child sex panics, my work across these areas has sometimes been maliciously misrepresented by people who are opposed to almost any examination of young people’s sexualities and who have a range of political axes to grind… Merely writing on these topics has been enough for some people unwilling to properly read my work to presume falsely that I am an apologist for pedophilia. Nothing could be further from the truth. From my very early involvement in the emergence of queer theory in Australia, I am on the published record denouncing any attempt to normalise pedophilia by way of transgressive queer theories (pp. 179-80).

As someone who knows what it feels like to be maliciously misrepresented of course I sympathise with all writers who find themselves on the wrong end of such abuse. However, I have been able to find only a couple of articles, published online, that attack him and his work – as already indicated, he has managed to maintain quite a low profile, perhaps because queer theory in general tends to hide itself in a fog of dense academic language that few can penetrate – and to my mind these seem to give a reasonably accurate account of his ideas. Hostile, yes, but nothing like as distorted and downright false as many of the allegations levelled at those of us who put our views out there in more straightforward activist terms.

Coming back to the contradiction I mentioned, it is this. Angelides says children may be capable of ethically acceptable participation in an intergenerational sexual relationship; Bourke is less committed but describes his book as well argued and sensible. Yet almost in the same breath, as it were, both of them badmouth paedophilia. So they arrive at the strange position of willing the end but denying the means. For how are children going to find themselves in intergenerational relationships unless they are allowed to have adults who are sexually attracted to them (i.e. paedophiles) as their older partners? Or are they supposed to confine their interest to “normal” adults who might turn to them temporarily as an inferior substitute when a physically mature partner is not available? Doesn’t make much sense to me. Indeed, some might see it as a recipe for encouraging casual exploitation by the older person.

Fortunately, a clear explanation of this contradiction is available, at least as regards Bourke’s thinking, which gives us a good steer when we come to the subtler line taken by Angelides. She writes:

It is unfortunate that Angelides pays insufficient attention to specificities within the category of “childhood”: too often, readers are presented with an abstract “child”, when he is actually referring to an adolescent, middle-class, white male.

She is saying, in other words, that he is mainly talking about teenagers, not little kids; and the ones he highlights as capable of consent are also likely to be relatively confident and empowered, based not just on their personal maturity but thanks to their privileged class, race, and gender as well. So why doesn’t Angelides, who is plainly worried about being misrepresented and unjustly attacked, give himself an easier ride? Why didn’t he call his book The Fear of Teenage Sexuality, which would have been far less controversial?

I find his official explanation utterly unconvincing. He says he uses the word child because that is what the law does, adding that “Retaining a legalistic definition of the child even when referring to those between ages fifteen and seventeen is also a deliberately provocative reminder of the ambiguities and contradictions faced by young people in Western societies” (p. xxvii). But it is a pointless provocation unless you have a further agenda.

What it comes down to, I think, is that he is alert, like Bourke, to a range of socially significant intersecting dimensions (class, race and gender, as well as age), some combinations of which seem to him to make likelier candidates for ethical relationships than others. He makes no positive case, for instance, for men’s sexual involvement with young girls, but focuses at considerable length on sexual relationships between schoolboys in their mid-teens and their female teachers – contacts not only manifestly desired and enjoyed by the boys but also in which they exercised significant power and control. Another combination he apparently sees as viable is that of adolescent boys and men, the type of connection that was so explicitly the focus of that most famous of all paedophile organisations, NAMBLA, an acronym with “man-boy love” embedded into it. The membership of such organisations, including Britain’s PIE (Paedophile Information Exchange) and Australia’s PSG (Pedophile Support Group), tended mainly towards an interest in consensual relationships between older pre-teen, or early teen, boys and men. Angelides writes:

…insisting on a distinction between paedophilia and child sexual abuse was precisely the ongoing concern of groups like NAMBLA, PIE and the PSG. At the heart of this distinction were questions of consensual sex and the sexual agency of young people in intergenerational encounters (p. 80).

Quite so. And, to the extent that these consensual relations potentially relate to pre-teen kids, Angelides finds himself cheer-leading for children’s sexual agency, not just that of teenagers. He can still just about viably argue, though, that he is not defending paedophilic contacts but hebephilic ones. As he says in relation to PSG, “many group members did themselves no favor by misnaming their category as pedophile” (p. 84).

Either way, there is no escaping the fact that this truly is scarily controversial terrain that could easily set off a witch-hunt against the author – and not just at Halloween as today happens to be: the witch-hunters never stop!

The kids are not alright. Why not?

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What makes a child happy?

Heretic TOC readers, thoughtful and Kind in all senses, as I believe you generally are, will see this as an important question. So it should trouble us that a recent Children’s Society report found a decline in children’s happiness in the UK over the last decade as judged by a range of factors affecting their sense of wellbeing, such as whether they are being bullied at school, or neglected at home, or even whether, in food bank Britain, they are going hungry.

Not a care in the world… for now

Anxiety about their job prospects, the state of the environment and their own future mental health were also raised as issues in the survey of children aged 10-17, published as The Good Childhood Report 2019. Over the last 14 years around 67,000 young people have been involved in the society’s research programme, which comprises quantitative surveys alongside classroom consultations, focus groups and interviews.

It may be recalled that H-TOC took its own in-depth look at children’s mental health in a three-part blog under the “driving kids crazy” heading three years ago. See here, here and here. Key themes from that trilogy will be touched on below but first let’s take a look at this latest survey. For a broad overview of the statistics there is perfectly adequate coverage in the Guardian. Rather than reviewing the whole survey, though, I think it will be more illuminating to focus on a single aspect for what it says about the approach taken, which I will argue is sophisticated and has produced important results to which political attention should certainly be paid, but…

There are important matters on which the report is utterly silent.

Let’s start, though, by giving credit where it’s due. For instance, the survey has an in-depth analysis of children’s worries about the future, part of which is detailed in Figure 9 of the summary report. The anxieties listed in this chart, notably worrying about the future state of the environment, will probably strike us as entirely rational. Far from showing there is anything wrong with the kids, the extensive concern over this topic (over three quarters being at least a little worried) shows they are intelligently alert to the real dangers of climate change, plastic pollution and so on – an alertness increasingly witnessed in mass demonstrations such as we saw just a couple of days ago.

If there is any misplaced anxiety it appears to be not the children’s but the Children’s Society’s. The report says “it is the extent of children’s worry that is of most concern” and “It is important that we acknowledge these worries, monitor them and respond to them in order to reduce the amount of worry children are experiencing and promote positive well-being.” What we should all be worried about, surely, is tackling and solving the problems in question, not worrying about whether kids worry about them.

A separate chart (Figure 8: see below) sets out the children’s anxieties about their own futures, including their school grades, university admission, jobs, having enough money and somewhere to live, mental health and physical well being. What the survey very usefully did in this regard was to look beyond the overall figures. There was an additional focus on the minority of children (1 in 9 of them) whose other survey responses indicated they had low life satisfaction. These were significantly more worried about all seven aspects of their future than other children.

This sub-analysis revealed that the largest gap in worries was for future mental health. Children who currently had low life satisfaction were almost three times as likely to be quite or very worried about their future mental health as other children. Now that really is a worry, especially in relation to other studies – previously discussed, as I say, in Heretic TOC – that disclose real reasons to be concerned over children’s actual rather than just future mental health, as shown in findings of extensive self-harming, depression and suicidality.

Again to their credit, the Children’s Society does go on to address the implications of its findings for society at large, pointing out, for instance:

Record investment in NHS mental health services for children is accompanied by massive cuts to children’s social care. More children go to outstanding schools than ever before at the same time as unprecedented food bank use by families struggling to put meals on the table. We are not seeing children and young people in the round.

Also, the Children’s Society has focused this time solely on children’s own views and feelings rather than letting parents or others speak for them. They say:

…young people need to be heard, but without them being able to vote how do we ensure that their views are taken seriously and acted upon? There are lots of approaches in policy-making that could be used to achieve this – from more passive options like advisory boards and impact assessments, to more active ones like participatory budgeting, citizen assemblies, and co-production in service design.

All good stuff. Sensible, imaginative suggestions, although a reduction in the voting age should be considered as well.

So much for the good news. But now we need to put our radical, critical, hat on and start thinking in earnest. The sense I get from the report is that it has successfully located a problem – children’s increasing unhappiness – but that the questions it is posing are too limited, with the result that the data the survey has come up with tell us more about symptoms than causes.

For instance, the “cyber” factor (see Figure 9, summary report) focused on children’s worries about personal information being shared online. This is unquestionably a serious issue, especially for teenagers in connection with cyber-bullying, which can have devastating consequences, not least when intimate photos intended for just one recipient are put on general view by that person, whether to show off or as an act of revenge following rejection in a relationship.

So the problem is well known. It did not take a survey for us to hear about it. The problems to which the online world has given rise tend to be the focus of intense scrutiny and (often justified) anxiety simply because the technology is so new and constantly changing. The temptation in these circumstances in to blame the tech and overlook the deeper reasons why kids might be behaving viciously towards each other. Same with the fear of crime that features so strongly in these figures, being right up there with environmental worries as a major concern. While many British children live in reasonably safe circumstances, others do not, especially those suffering multiple disadvantages in areas of squalid, run-down housing, low incomes, and a drugs and gang culture increasingly associated with a spectacular increase in knife attacks.

Now the observation that children – or anyone – stuck in a bad environment will behave badly is hardly a great revelation either. There is actually a long tradition, going back well over a hundred years, of social surveys linking deprivation to depravity in one form or another, with Henry Mayhew and Charles Booth as early pioneers focusing on the poor of London in Victorian times.

Interestingly, the Children’s Society has always been a part of that tradition, having been founded by Sunday School teacher Edward Rudolf as the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays, in 1881, after he had seen for himself “the brutal effects of poverty on the lives of children”. Over the years, the society appears to have made commendable efforts to keep up with the times in identifying and meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, starting with children’s homes, then going on to become a major adoption agency and now offering a wide range of support services.

But then, in the society’s online history, we find a hint that heretics here might not see entirely eye to eye with them:

The charity’s direct practice now focuses on vulnerable children and young people aged 10 to 18 – including children who have been sexually exploited, children in care and young refugees.

It is, of course, the focus on “sexual exploitation” that will raise our suspicions. Yes, some children are sexually exploited and, yes, their needs should be addressed. But what we have reason to suspect is that this churchy outfit has a long history of attitudes shared with the prudish, sexually restrictive social purity movement that succeeded in pushing for an increased age of consent in the same decade as the Children’s Society had its beginnings.

Accordingly, we need not be surprised when we find – as we do – that asking the children about their feelings and opinions, and ensuring that “their views are taken seriously and acted upon” does not extend to putting any questions in the survey about how happy or unhappy they are over their sexual desires and frustrations.

Nor are the children asked any questions that might seem to encourage them to aspire to real freedom and choice in their lives in ways that might imperil the timid, over-protective, health and safety culture of our times – even though, as I believe, along with such thoughtful commentators as sociologist Frank Furedi and Free Range Kids founder Lenore Skenazy, the most profound underlying reason for children’s unhappiness as they grow beyond dependent infancy is the restrictions unreasonably placed on them these days.

Indulgence: not the same as happiness. With thanks to a Guardian Weekend magazine cover for a feature titled “A greedy person’s guide to summer”

Not that children are necessarily aware of what they are missing. They are not like ardent Brexiteers who feel they have lost out and demand to Take Back Control. Parents, teachers and other adults have always been firmly in charge of these young lives. So 10-year-olds, or even most teenagers, will be unaware of earlier eras when kids could venture far and wide on their own, or with their mates. They won’t realise that being held prisoners in their own bedrooms with only a virtual reality world for comfort denies their birthright to grow and mature through interaction with real reality – a reality that includes nature in all its wonder and also teeming, exciting urban life, with its people of all ages, all genders (more than two these days!), and all sorts of characters, a few of whom will be downright dangerous to mix or mess with, but most will prove friendly, interesting, helpful and educative.

Accordingly, because youngsters largely don’t know what they are missing, and how much fuller life could be, they are unlikely to notice that the Children’s Society, and others such as the Children’s Commissioner, make great play of the need to listen to the views of the young but tend to avoid asking kids anything that might tempt them to make an escape bid from their virtual prisons.

Steering clear of such questions might seem the responsible thing to do. After all, as the conventional wisdom has it, kids need to be protected from their own naivety and from falling into bad company. But how well is that going right now? Cocooned in their sedentary domestic cells, youngsters are getting fat and unfit, which brings its own serious risks of diabetes, heart disease and other life-threatening ills. Meanwhile, drug lords run rings around the “protective” system anyway, recruiting the most vulnerable teenagers and even younger kids to do their dirty work for them as “county lines” dealers.

There is a case to be made that the best protection policy would be two-fold: (1) focus on reducing the child poverty and other forms of deprivation that make some children very open to exploitation; this should be very do-able in our fundamentally wealthy but very unequal society; (2) allow kids to become streetwise – or, rather, to become shrewd judges of character and life’s pitfalls –  through gradual exposure to the world beyond their home in such places as youth clubs. There used to be far more of them in the UK, before all the “austerity” of recent years. And they did a good job.

None of these observations of mine will come as a surprise to heretics here, so let me end with something a bit more intellectually challenging, that could take us all out of our comfort zone.

Do children need to be happy? Or, rather, do they need to think about their own happiness? The pursuit of happiness is famously written into the US Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right. But whether we become happy by pursuing happiness is a very doubtful proposition. Arguably, many adults in our consumer society are encouraged to worship a false god, hoping to make themselves happy through buying ever more “stuff” – material goods we do not really need. So to encourage children to fuss over their own happiness, by asking them to rate it, might just be gratuitously making them self-centred and potentially greedy. Even kids’ excessive agonising over their own appearance, leading to such problems as anorexia and other manifestations of “body dysmorphia”, might be part of a related problem.

I came across a fascinating article the other day by Peter Stearns, a specialist in the history of emotions. “Happy Children: A Modern Emotional Commitment”, reveals, as the title suggests, that focusing on children’s happiness is really a very recent concern, and is still not a feature of all cultures. Children’s birthday parties, for instance, were a mid-19th-century innovation. As for birthday gifts, when they first started the birthday boy or girl was expected to give the presents, not receive them! In his opening paragraph the author says, “Explaining the intensification of the happiness commitment also reveals some of the downsides of this aspect of popular emotional culture, for example in measurably complicating reactions to childish unhappiness.”

While I make no recommendation that we should return to an era of indifference towards children’s happiness, it may be that we should be more concerned with their wider well being, including such factors as whether they are developing worthwhile goals in life. What do you think?

 

BURSTING WITH AMBITION

A lighter note to end on now. A young research psychologist had occasion to mention an amusing encounter in his childhood online recently. I’ll leave him to tell the story in his own words:

My grandmother used to take me to Pride every year. We’d sit on two little blue-green chairs together, enjoying the spectacle. One of my favourite things was picking up the condoms that would be tossed by some of the floats, and then filling them with water, and then dropping them from the third floor of my grandmother’s building. You’d be surprised how much water a condom can contain before it BURSTS.

As I was gathering up as many condoms as my little hands could carry, I have a memory of a well muscled shirtless man handing me a few more condoms and warmly saying, “Well aren’t you ambitious!”

 

 

A queer way to be ourselves

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Bearded bloke walks into a bar. Says to the barman, “I’ll have a bottle of that new beer, please, the Pink IPA.”

“Sorry, sir,” says the barman, “this beer is for women only.”

“Well, actually,” says the customer, “I am a woman. It’s how I self-identify.”

“Very well, madam,” says the barman, “a wise choice of gender, if I may say so, and of ale. The lady’s IPA is on special offer at £1 less than the gentlemen’s IPA.”

“To be honest,” says the customer, “that’s why I became a woman. Cheers!”

No, this isn’t a joke. Apart from a bit of editing to bring out the comical side, it is a conversation that actually took place in a bar in Cardiff, where customer Thomas Bower was told by the bar staff that a pink-labelled bottled beer called Pink IPA was only for women drinkers as it had been launched to highlight the gender pay gap. Punk IPA, a comparable bottled beer from the same brewery and available to men, was priced at £1 more.

Bower, who has a beard, felt forced to self-identify as a woman so that he would be allowed to buy a bottle of the less costly brew. He subsequently sued Brewdog brewery for sex discrimination and won £1,000 damages, which he donated to charities helping both sexes.

So what’s the moral of the story? Clearly, we learn that Mr/Ms Bower is a resourceful gentleman/lady, but it occurred to me that we kind folk might be able to harness Bower Power for our own ends (new readers might want to check out my September 2015 blog After the Ball and After the Fall for the origins of “kindness”).

We should self-identify as children! Children’s fares for travel and half-price entry for any number of shows and events would only be the beginning. We could join the Scouts or the Guides, the Cubs or the Brownies; we could sue any parents for discrimination if they refused to let us join their kids’ summer camps and slumber parties. Children’s playgrounds, schools, bathroom facilities, no problem!

This very idea was actually put forward a couple of years ago, supposedly by a group of activists going by the name Clovergender. It turned out to be fake news, exposed as such by the excellent Bernie Najarian. However, the hoaxers may have been inspired by another case, one which looks convincingly real to me.

Perhaps you remember seeing it in the news. Paul Wolscht, a father of seven in his fifties, left his family to live as a six-year-old girl named Stefonknee – pronounced Stephanie and packing a pun with the “on knee” bit. She went to live with an adoptive “mommy and daddy”, spending her time playing with dolls and the couple’s young grandchildren.

This all came after his wife, Maria, decided she was not going to put up with his age and gender cross-dressing (think artist Grayson Perry’s little girl alter ego Claire). But get this: the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto proved far more accepting. According to a report in the Daily Mail, “much of the congregation is made up of LGBT members who have formed a special support group just for her”.

It could of course be argued that “Stefonknee” is perfectly genuine and not just gaming the system. But what about the great Canadian trans-waxing controversy? Brendan O’Neill, in Spiked, described a series of cases brought by one supposedly trans man:

A born male who identifies as female, and whose male genitalia are still intact, is suing female-only waxers on the basis that their refusal to wax his bollocks – sorry, her bollocks – is an act of discrimination. Yes, this person believes that because he identifies as female he should therefore have access to every female service, including the most intimate female services. Any female beautician who refuses to tend to his testicles is being ‘transphobic’, apparently, because they are denying his womanhood. Even though he has a penis. And testicles. And is a man. That’s hate speech, I know.

This is the case of Jessica Yaniv, born Jonathan Yaniv, who has filed complaints against more than a dozen female waxers with the Human Rights Council (HRC) in British Columbia. Yaniv claims that the women’s refusal to give him a Brazilian – that is, to handle his penis and testicles and to remove his pubic hair, activities these women did not want to carry out – is discrimination.

As if all this were not pushy enough, an article in Quillette said evidence had been put to the tribunal that “Jessica” had posted online asking for advice on how to approach a naked 10-year-old girl to ask for a tampon, and whether it might be appropriate to enter a bathroom stall with a 10-year-old to show her how to put a tampon in. “She” claimed “her” account had been hacked, and withdrew the case (but her many other cases are still going forward). Hacked or not, at a time when radical trans persons, especially trans women (i.e. natal men) are aggressively pushing the envelope ever further and faster, often getting away with it thanks to the backing of a huge feminist movement and a framework of human rights law, it seems entirely possible that crafty kinds could self-identify as children on an entirely spurious basis in order to gain intimate access to kids.

Devious dodges of that sort are not, in all seriousness, to be recommended. Nor should the pushiness of a few selfish extremists be used to discredit trans people in general – as the TERFs and alt-right try to.

Exactly how those of us with a sexual orientation towards children and adolescents should identify is more legitimately open to debate. To identify as paedophile is to invite being shunned as worse than a murderer, so we are never going to get P added to the acceptable diversity brought together in the alphabet soup beginning LGBT. I wrote about this in LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM – WTF?, when my emphasis was on the malignantly divisive side of identity politics. Nor are we going to be accepted under the kind label any time soon, because many of us who feel we are kind in the best sense do not accept that sexual intimacy with willing children is unkind. And society is not ready for that.

The news on this front is that research has now been published showing a tendency, at least among “virtuous” folk, to identify as queer. The paper, in the Journal of Homosexuality, is  titled “I’m Not like That, So Am I Gay?” The Use of Queer-Spectrum Identity Labels Among Minor-Attracted People. Author Allyn Walker wrote in the Abstract, “There are now those who object to the use of labels such as “gay” and “queer” by minor-attracted people (MAPs), raising the question, “to whom do queer-spectrum identity labels belong?” I engage with this question using data from my research with 42 MAPs”.

It is a good question, answered broadly in the article by the idea that it is fine for MAPs to use “queer-spectrum” identities, including “queer” itself. It is important to realise,” Walker writes, “that invalid and reductive historical assumptions that gay men were predatory are a mirror image of current assumptions about MAPs” (see cartoon below). The author adds, “Accepting MAPs’ preferences in their uses of queer-spectrum labels would go a long way toward reducing the shame felt by this population, and historically shared by other queer communities.”

Walker, who has just taken up a post as an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia, identifies as queer himself (or rather “themself”). They recruited participants for the study largely from b4uact and Virtuous Pedophiles. In order to participate in this study, respondents were required to identify as “being preferentially attracted to minors, and have refrained from any sexual activity with minors since adulthood”.

The article includes a section called “History of association between MAPs and other queer communities”, which gives a useful reminder that gay activists have not always disowned MAPs, and have even sided with law reform. They write that “…multiple gay activist groups, including New York’s Gay Activists Alliance… and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition publicly favored abolishing the age of consent”.

These activist organisations take us back to the 1960s, to the era of Stonewall and its aftermath. Another excellent recent paper digs into the somewhat deeper past to explore connections between homosexual identity and the age to which people are attracted. This is The Age of Attraction: Age, Gender and the History of Modern Male Homosexuality, by Kate Fisher and Jana Funke. The full text of this paper, which is in the journal Gender and History, is free to read online and to download.

Fisher and Funke throw some very useful light onto the role of the scientific study of sex as it developed from the mid-19th century onwards. We find that right from the early days “constructions of male homosexuality were driven by anxieties about interactions between children or adolescents and older men”. Also, “To assuage fears about the violation of youth, homophile sexual scientists keen to present a socially acceptable model of male same-sex relationships rejected affirmative framings of age-differentiated relationships.” So much, one might think, for the “objective” aspect of sexual science! However, we learn that:

…authors who were close to or part of sexual scientific circles, continued to champion age-differentiated attachments, while simultaneously engaging with and participating in sexual scientific debate. Drawing on the claim that childhood sexuality was naturally undifferentiated, writers argued that same-sex attachments in youth were not always opposed to the child’s own desires or interests. They also rejected the idea that age-structured relationships between males were necessarily corruptive. Indeed, they maintained that such relationships could be beneficial to both young people and society as a whole. These arguments resonated with early twentieth-century sexual scientific debates.

This brilliant cartoon (adapted by David Kennerly, with his own text, from another original ) offers offers an admirably concise and hard-hitting (!) take on history.

 

VICTIM CULTURE’S NEVER ENDING STORY

Three and a half long years have passed since February 2016 when Heretic TOC published a blog called V.I.P. fiasco: you heard it here first, which began thus:

So, the sensational allegations of brutal, even murderous “V.I.P. paedophilia” that were hailed as “credible and true” by a top cop in Operation Midland, which was set up to investigate them, have now tacitly been admitted as the ravings of a fantasist by the toppest cop of the lot, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, head of the London Metropolitan Police, writing in the Guardian.

My headline, “you heard it here first”, takes us back even further, to when Heretic TOC ran a number of blogs drawing attention to the folly of giving any credence to the allegations in question. It was always obvious they were never going to stand up to serious investigation. As I said in It’s all been happening out there, in February 2015, the police appeared to be relying on dubious witnesses who would go back time and again to be “raped” by politicians and other VIPs. They had “even attested to the murder of several boys… but we are not told about any bodies being found, nor any names of missing persons who might have been the victims.” Another factor that made me doubt the credibility of these witnesses is that one of them “made similarly lurid allegations against my old friends Charles Napier and Peter Righton, accusing them of callous and sadistic abuse. I am absolutely certain these were outright lies.”

Now, at long last, a lot of the truth about these mad allegations and the even madder credulity shown by the police, has emerged with the trial of fantasist-in-chief Carl Beech, which recently ended with his conviction for perverting the course of justice, resulting in an 18-year prison sentence. Most sensationally, Beech, under cover of the anonymity accorded to “victims”, and known to the public only as “Nick”, had made grievous allegations against a number of public figures, including former prime minister Edward Heath.

The most damaging revelations about the police came just a few days ago, in a story splashed by the Daily Mail, which ran very detailed online coverage amounting to over 6,000 words, plus several videos and well over a dozen photos. For once, unlike the mainstream press coverage of the original allegations, which for the most part had been just as “believe the victim” in tone as the police approach, this latest Mail reporting is well justified.

The story centres on a sensational claim made by senior retired judge Sir Richard Henriques. Giving in-depth reasons for his view, he asserts that leading police officers in the Carl Beech case were themselves engaged in perverting the course of justice. The clear implication is that they were complicit in Beech’s numerous lies and incredibly damaging false allegations. On that basis, logically, they too should be put in the dock and, if convicted, join Beech in prison for a long stretch behind bars.

How often do you hear a judge say such things, not just about one “bent copper” but about several named members of a team, going up to the highest ranks of the force?

The judge’s allegations were made principally on the basis that officers used false evidence to obtain search warrants in the case, wrongly claiming – and knowing the information to be untrue – that “Nick” had been consistent in his story when in fact he had patently and drastically changed it a number of times.

But there is no need for me to go into the details. Heretics, at least here in Britain, will already have seen the headlines on whatever news platforms they use. If they have not already read it, though, I would commend the Mail’s coverage, not least for its inclusion of what Henriques says at length in his own words (Search for a cross-heading with the phrase “Shattering verdict of Sir Richard Henriques”).

I would just point out that the police are by no means the only ones left with egg on their face following Beech’s conviction. Another worth noting is the deputy leader of the Labour Party. James Heartfield, writing in Spiked, under the headline Tom Watson: time’s up for the paedo-finder general, noted that “In 2012, based on his conversations with Beech, Watson said there was ‘clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to parliament and No. 10’.” Heartfield’s verdict: “This was a complete and utter lie.” What Watson had done was to use his position as an MP, speaking in parliament, to generate a baseless witch-hunt and thereby raise his profile, making a name for himself as a fearless exposer of dark deeds in high places.

There will always be chancers and charlatans like Watson. There will always be dodgy cops. Sometimes, they will come unstuck, as in this case. What should concern us even more, though, is a terrible malaise – victim culture – that allows the excesses of such people to flourish. It is now so deeply entrenched as to seem impervious to criticism. Made institutionally manifest in the UK in the lumbering behemoth that is the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), it is even now, and will be deep into the future, churning out ever more legions of officially authenticated victims to be paraded in the media, where they will be lauded for their “courage” ­– at least until such time as they too are discredited. The latest batch are from Nottinghamshire, where the city and county councils are said to have tolerated child “rape” in care homes and foster care for decades. Frankly, we would be foolish to take a word of it at face value.

Are we making ‘useful idiots’ of ourselves?

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When the religious reactionary press in the US launched a tsunami of hateful bile against an academic article of mine last year, they relied almost entirely on distortion and defamation, lies and libels. But one writer made an uncomfortably strong point when he described me as “a useful idiot for conservatives intent on establishing a link between homosexuality and paedophilia”.

It’s true. American conservatives never tire of using boy-love as a stick with which to beat the gay community, and whenever we radical heretics speak out in favour of consensual child-adult sexual relations, we give the reactionaries more ammunition.

Now they have done it again, in spectacular style, weaponising my recent blog Desmond is truly amazing – and hot! They have used it to attack boy drag queen Desmond Napoles and his family, all child drag acts, and gay culture more widely. It all started with a Twitter-storm in the UK and tut-tutting on the influential British social media site Mumsnet. Then it went viral on Facebook in the US, which may have been when the alt-right media there began to notice, with fabled conspiracy theorist Alex Jones  an early entrant to the field on his NewsWars platform in an article headlined Pedophile Author Says 11-Year-Old Drag Queen Desmond is “Hot”. There have been about a dozen such stories on similar media in the last couple of weeks, which raised the profile of Heretic TOC even if nothing else was achieved: in the last three weeks there have been over 60,000 extra hits on the blog over and above the usual level, including nearly 10,000 on the peak day. The previous highest daily total was about 1,600, and that was after I had been on TV in Australia.

A much more important achievement, though, can be chalked up to the alt-right platforms, especially The Daily Caller, a powerful player on the media scene these days, co-founded by Tucker Carlson, the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News. The Caller’s article quoted an Instagram message in which Desmond’s mother, Wendy, took a pop at me for “sexualising” kids’ drag acts. The problem for her, and for all of us who want to see these kids allowed to be themselves and perform as they wish, is that she is so obviously in denial over the sexual element in her own son’s act.

Devastatingly, The Caller was able to nail the point with a very telling photo. Triumphantly, the story ends:

In a photo posted on the same Instagram page back in June, Desmond appears next to an adult individual wearing a shirt that says, “Angels Have No Gender But Lots Of Sex.”

Lots of sex! Precisely. OK, so it wasn’t Desmond wearing the shirt but that is the gay cultural milieu in which he has been circulating for years and years with the approval and support of his parents. Accordingly, it’s a bit rich for Wendy to accuse me of sexualising her son.  The truth is, as I said in my blog, that boys his age are sexual, as Wendy is well aware. They do not need to be “sexualised”.

Drag kid Desmond Napoles, left, in company that looks relaxed with gender fluidity’s sexual side.

I do not blame Wendy for recanting her beliefs under what must be a lot of  pressure from the social media and alt-right platforms. In fact, that is my point. It was my blog that triggered and justified this latest round of pressure, which is now at such a pitch that Desmond’s parents might well decide enough is enough and that he will no longer be allowed to perform in public. That would be terrible and I would bear a heavy burden of responsibility through being too honest and open in my views. Once again, I have been a “useful idiot” doing the conservatives’ work for them.

What then, is to be done? Should we abandon Heretic TOC entirely? Would the world (including kids like Desmond) be better off if we sexual heretics were to do something more obviously useful, like put our energies into environmental activism? It is an issue that comes into even sharper focus with my second item today, which takes us from the wild American alt-right West to the sometimes even wilder European East.

 

TRANSLATOR ARRESTED FOR PRO-PAEDOPHILIA DEMO

Cyril Eugenovich Galaburda, the 32-year-old Ukrainian physics graduate who translated my book Paedophilia: The Radical Case into Russian, and who has been a guest blogger here, was arrested last month soon after he began an extraordinary one-man demonstration outside council buildings in his home city – a demo for which he had been given written permission a week earlier.

At the start of the demo he soon found himself faced with hostility from passersby, one of whom threatened to break his legs.

Officials came out of their workplace to meet Cyril, who handed them a letter to the head of the regional state administration. This was in Dnipro, one of Ukraine’s biggest cities. The letter called for consensual child-adult sexual contacts to be made legal. Cyril said he believed “children have the same right to personal (sexual) life as adults”. He claimed the criminal code of Ukraine is unconstitutional and contradicts the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. He also objected to the mooted introduction of a register of paedophiles as unconstitutional.

The police then turned up in considerable numbers after having been alerted by the council, according to press reports. Open TV Media ran the photo you see here. Cyril, holding a poster he designed for the occasion, is seen being confronted by a burly policeman.

Cyril Galaburda, holding a poster he designed for his one-man demo, is confronted by a burly policeman.

The poster was taken from him and he was whisked away to a police station “to draw up a protocol” as the newspapers put it in Google’s translation from Ukrainian. Cyril did not see a lawyer and is unsure what this means, but it sounds as though the police have started a dossier on his “case”, such as it is. He was released without charge, but before being allowed to leave he had to sign to say he would return to the police station if asked to do so. This appears to be a grant of police bail pending further investigation.

In the course of his detention he faced questions about his sexuality and his mental state, including whether he had suffered any trauma “because of seeing my parents in bed”. There were indications he might be referred for psychiatric reports.

Until recently, at least, the police in Ukraine have had a reputation for brutality. Perhaps that is changing since the introduction of reforms by President (until recently) Petro Poroshenko, because Cyril says he was treated in a “rather friendly” way.

He gives a different reason though.

In general, people did not take me seriously,” he says. “I was like Gwynplaine for them, that’s why people were almost forgiving towards me. Maybe it was because I had no family, and they thought I did not know what I was talking about.

It’s a fascinating thought. Gwynplaine, a character in Victor Hugo’s novel The Man Who Laughs, is a classic outsider, grotesquely disfigured in the tradition of the Gothic horror novel. His mouth is locked in a perpetual grin, so nobody can take him seriously, even when what he says is of the utmost importance.

With this response in mind, Cyril now gloomily seems to regret his protest. It was undoubtedly brave, in my view, but what did it achieve? He now fears that the establishment of “paedophile” (or sex offender) registration in Ukraine is more likely following his action, not less.

What should we make of this? Is there something in common between his potentially counterproductive activism and mine? His “achievement” might be the creation of a sex offender register, mine might be the suppression of children’s sexual expression in drag acts. Brilliant! How proud we can be! He is seen as a crazy fool, while I am an idiot. It is possible we could both be seen as useful people, but only to those who want to crush everything we stand for. What an irony!

So, I ask all heretics here: What is to be done? Should we all just shut up?

 

A TALE OF TWO OTHER ACTIVISTS

One activist who could never be shut up in his lifetime was Dave Riegel, whose death in his late eighties earlier this year can now be reported, after a period of some months in which his family and close friends asked for the information not to be released.

I found out Dave was no longer with us a couple of months ago when I emailed to congratulate him on the publication of a new peer-reviewed article in the academic journal Sexuality & Culture. A reply came, not from Dave but from someone who said he was a friend. This friend wrote:

From my understanding, Dave acquired some people who hated him vehemently… and he specified in his will that the news be kept quiet for 3-4 months, so that there’s distance between him, his death, his real life friends and loved ones. He wanted to protect the people who he loved and cared about, and hopefully lessen the chances of them being associated with him.

I responded by saying “Please be assured that I will respect Dave’s wish. I will not say anything on my blog about his passing until at least July.”

No heretic is ever short of enemies who hate them, of course. Being loathed is pretty much part of the definition, or it ought to be if it isn’t. But Dave was beyond question a difficult, abrasive character, quick both to take offence and to dish it out. Anyone who doubts this can check out the gory details here at Newgon, under the extensive “Controversy” section. Biographical notes of a more positive nature are also to be found in this entry, and it is the more constructive side of Dave’s record I wish to focus on today.

David was born in 1931 and came late to boy-love activism after a varied career in which being an airline pilot was perhaps the high point, if you’ll forgive the pun. He was drawn into research and writing in the behavioural sciences when he was approached in 1999 by an editor of the McGraw Hill textbook Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Human Sexuality for an essay on the controversy that was then swirling around the famous 1998 Rind et al. analysis, which gave survey data  showing that children do not typically suffer psychological trauma from sexual contact with adults, contrary to popular opinion.

After that, he became involved in internet-based studies into the psychosexual development of boys and also conducted survey research on boy-lovers’ views and sexuality. In 2005 he gained a degree in psychology. Remarkably, for a newcomer to academic research, and without the benefit of ever having undertaken a supervised Ph.D., he managed to secure the publication of at least 10 of his papers in academic journals. Through his own online SafeHaven Foundation, he published numerous other articles and books. His website was still up and running only a couple of days ago but now appears to have been suspended.

The Dave Riegel I will remember was energetic and determined, driven by a fiercely-held belief in ethical boy-love as a power for good. While he was always more of a partisan activist than an objective scholar, he was entirely sincere, in my view, in seeking truth through scientific enquiry. He was as honest as he was cantankerous, and I will remain in his debt for the support he has given me.

***

It has turned out to be quite a year so far for losing people who have been important to me personally. Last time, I was obliged to report the death of psychiatrist Richard Green. This time, I have to tell you about not one departure for Valhalla, but two. You have just been hearing about Dave. Please now give ear to what I must say about Peter, a very close and dear friend of mine for 40 years.

I refer to David Peter Bremner, sometimes referred to in the press as David Bremner, or identified by his old activist pseudonym Roger Nash, but known to all his friends as Peter.

Peter died last month at the age of 79 after being ill for some years with cancer of the liver.

Born in Argentina in 1939 to Scottish parents, he was educated in the UK, taking a PhD in biochemistry at London University before embarking on his career as a research biochemist, working mainly on attachment to hospitals in the capital.

You will not be surprised to learn that I first met Peter through the Paedophile Information Exchange in the late 1970s. Peter founded PIE’s East London local group; later, as a member of the national executive committee, he succeeded me as PIE’s representative on the gay rights committee of the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty. He appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight TV programme to make the case for consensual child-adult sexual relations. He was also deeply involved in the 1980s with producing the youth rights journal Minor Problems.

The state’s persecution of PIE saw him tried at the Old Bailey in 1984 and jailed for six months, for an infraction of the now defunct Post Office Act. He was acquitted of more serious charges.

By this time, as may be imagined, he had already lost his hospital job, and his career never recovered. Increasingly, he relied on heavy drinking to get him through the day, and he succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver long before he had cancer. Remarkably, though, he eventually gave up alcohol entirely and then survived and even thrived for many years, finding a new lease of life through his enthusiasm for studying Ancient Egypt.

I used to stay at his flat whenever I was in London and we spent many happy hours in agreeable conversation. He will be sorely missed, especially by me and other PIE veterans.

 

A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE AND SOLIDARITY

A couple of months ago you might have seen a post on Heretic TOC’s About page, in the comments, from a heretic by the name of Sasha Kopot. He introduced himself as a MAP from Russia, saying that “On our forum we made a decision to introduce the Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the victims of paedophobia.” He invited thoughts as to particular individuals who might be commemorated on such a day. There was some discussion about this in subsequent comments.

A couple of days ago, Sasha emailed me to say a web page has now been set up, in English, where people are being invited to vote on the date of their choice as an annual remembrance day, based on each date’s association with someone whose life and death ought to be commemorated.

Everyone here is invited to go to that page, read the information given, and cast a vote for one of the proposed dates. The place to go is here. In English, the name of this Russsian website, if Google Translate is to be believed, is Right to love: Love for all ages.

 

 

 

FGM: wedded forever to religion?

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A powerful and provocative guest piece today from our old friend Leonard Sisyphus Mann, whose Consenting Humans blog is highly recommended and who has guested here several times before, as Lensman, perhaps most notably in this profound, forward-looking, contribution: “The future is green, and liberating for children”, which prompted over 30,000 words of comment.

Today’s piece bravely identifies female genital mutilation (FGM) as primarily an Islamic problem, and a growing one, in the modern world. While acknowledging the pre-Islamic roots of the phenomenon, LSM sees specifically religious factors as responsible for its perpetuation.

There is evidence to support this claim but Heretic TOC does not endorse any anti-Islamic polemics that might be inferred from LSM’s essay. My belief is that Islam is capable of evolving in response to the needs and values of modern life, just as Christianity has adapted enormously: far fewer believers now hold fast to simplistic, literal, interpretations of the Bible, for example, than prevailed before Darwin and modern scriptural exegesis.

Accordingly, it would be mistaken to insist that Islam, especially in the West, will remain wedded to the practice of FGM, and certainly not to its more harmful forms. We should be supporting Muslims who themselves seek to end such practices (there are plenty of them), rather than be taking an accusatorial stance: finger-pointing smacks of dangerously confrontational “Islamophobia” that will only sustain and deepen entrenched customs.

Nevertheless, I know that LSM has put a huge amount of research into this piece and on the basis of its reliable information alone it is well worth reading and pondering deeply. I will not be surprised if it prompts a lively response.

 

FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: ITS ORIGINS, PERSISTENCE AND SPREAD

Despite modernisation, feminism, improving education and rising living-standards female genital mutilation (FGM) is flourishing where already established, re-emerging where once eradicated, and spreading to hitherto unaffected places – notably the West. By conservative estimate some 200,000,000 – one in twenty – women and girls alive today have undergone the procedure.

FGM involves one or more of 3 interventions that can be performed with varying degrees of severity:

  • clitoridectomy (amputation of the clitoris),
  • excision of the labia,
  • infibulation (sealing the vagina by grafting together opposing labia majora, leaving a small hole for urination and eventual menstruation).

Infibulation and excision usually also involve clitoridectomy. ‘Sunnah Circumcision’ is a rare procedure, analogous to male circumcision in that only the clitoral prepuce is removed. FGM is generally reserved for prepubescents, seven being the average age. Anaesthetics are seldom used, pain being an important part of the procedure.

Short-term consequences include severe pain, bleeding, shock, urinary retention, infections, injury to nearby genital tissue, and sometimes death. Contusions, dislocations and fractures can result from the girl’s struggles against those restraining her (typically aunts or her mother).

Long-term consequences include chronic pain, pelvic infections, fistula, cysts, abscesses and ulcers, infections of the reproductive system, infertility, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, frigidity and death. Infibulation can cause hematocolpos and chronic dysmenorrhea.

FGM increases complications during childbirth. Scar tissue resulting from excision and infibulation lacks the elasticity of healthy vulval and vaginal tissue, resulting in obstructed labour. One study found that a fifth of babies born to infibulated mothers died in child-birth, two-thirds experienced oxygen deprivation.

*

In his 1996 paper entitled “Ending Footbinding And Infibulation” American political scientist Gerry Mackie offers a coherent account of the origins and persistence of FGM, and proposes a means of eradicating it. According to Mackie both FGM and the Chinese practice of footbinding arose from the extreme polygyny that becomes possible where extreme wealth inequality prevails. Because the number of concubines (wives and sex slaves) one can keep is proportionate to one’s wealth, extreme polygyny became a status symbol. Under these conditions, women can better attain the security and resources necessary for child-rearing as an elite man’s nth wife than as a pauper’s only wife. These conditions make hypergyny (females aspiring to marry into higher-ranking families) normative.

Mothers know that their children are indeed theirs; no man can be certain that a child he’s raising is his own. Polygynous men’s fidelity assurance problems are proportional to how many concubines they must keep faithful. Fidelity assurance measures include footbinding (which renders concubines housebound); domestic seclusion; gender segregation; veiling; arranged marriage (eliminating the risks to chastity attendant on socialising, choosing a partner and courtship); child marriage (before a girl can spoil her reputation); ‘honour’ codes (making ‘unchastity’ a life-and-death affair), and FGM.

Infibulation and excision promote fidelity by making penetration painful and dangerous. With infibulation, the resulting laceration and haemorrhaging also make penetration hard to conceal. FGM also promotes fidelity by instilling trauma-induced sex-negativity (hence the non-use of anaesthetics, even when available). FGM also acts similarly to slave-branding: teaching the child that submission and suffering (especially in sexual matters) are a woman’s lot, and rendering her servile to the perpetrators (god, religion, community, family, husband). FGM is practised on girls when they are at their most receptive to such lessons: mid-childhood.

Polygynous males require fidelity not only in their concubines, but prospective concubines must also guarantee their fidelity and chastity to become their brides. Adopting  these practices is a way for non-elite families to make their daughters eligible for an elite marriage, and therefore improve their situation (and the lower-ranking the family, the more they have to gain by successful hypergyny). FGM tends to increase in severity over time, because polygyny creates competitive marriage-markets which push families to advertise their commitment to chastity and fidelity by engaging in more extreme interventions (vide sexual selection). FGM becomes normative, only the poorest families suffering the stigma of having uncut daughters.

*

Mackie postulates two ‘traps’ which explain the persistence of FGM beyond the above originating conditions.

Firstly: as FGM becomes normative it generates self-justifying narratives: female sexuality must be excessive to require such extreme restraints; uncut girls are unchaste, impure, unfaithful; FGM promotes hygiene, fertility and beauty; the clitoris, if it touches the baby during childbirth, or the husband during intercourse, will kill them; left uncut the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose neck. Such beliefs makes ‘uncut’ girls unmarriageable.

Because FGM tends to be universal in practising communities these beliefs remain untested: practitioners generally assume all women worldwide undergo FGM – and encountering uncut women (in person, or magazines, TV, films) does not test this belief since their genitals are hidden (and are rarely discussed).

Secondly: even parents free of such beliefs, who disapprove of FGM, conform because abstaining would result in their daughter remaining unmarried and stigmatised. They are caught in a trap similar to that of paedophiles, whose condition would be improved by mass ‘coming out’, but for whom ‘going it alone’ would be disastrous. In typical FGM-practising communities marriage is a girl’s only route to security or status. Spinsters remain dependent on their family, or are condemned to begging or prostitution. In such circumstances not cutting one’s daughter is as much an act of bad parenting as depriving a child of education is for Westerners.

The Chinese abandonment of footbinding shows how these ‘traps’ can be escaped: families formed local associations whose members publicly pledged to not bind their daughters’ feet and (crucially) to only marry their sons to girls with natural feet. Soon, enough families had taken this pledge so that parents no longer feared that their daughters would remain unmarried if their feet weren’t bound. This tipping point reached, abandonment became contagious. For example Tinghsien province went from a 94% binding-rate in 1899 to zero in 1919.

*

Geography (as in ‘FGM is an African practice’), under-development, religion, and sexually-regressive attitudes and institutions have all been proposed as causes or aggravators of FGM. We can make a coarse-grained evaluation of these factors by comparing their distribution with that of FGM (follow hyperlinks for multivariate comparisons).

The following map reveals that FGM is not an ‘African practice’: most of Africa has very low FGM rates. Moreover, between a third and a half of FGM occurs outside Africa.

Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting

Prevalence of Female Genital Cutting

Development variables (such as poverty, education, health care, life expectancy) also correlate weakly with FGM.

FGM + Population Living Below Poverty Line

FGM + Population Living Below Poverty Line

Variables indicative of sexually-regressive institutions and attitudes (polygyny, dowries, child marriage, consanguineous marriage, forced marriage, sexual slavery, rape) correlate with, but also subsume, FGM.

FGM and Prevalence + Legal Status of Polygyny

FGM and Prevalence + Legal Status of Polygyny

The strongest correlate with FGM, and one which (I will argue) underlies the afore-listed regressive attitudes and practices, is that of Islam (compare Animism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism).

FGM + World Muslim Population

FGM + World Muslim Population

Mackie himself notes that FGM is found only in or adjacent to Islamic groups.

*

Islam is the only religion which mentions FGM in its sacred texts. Moslems consider the Koran to be infallible and divinely-revealed. Equal in authority to the Koran is Mohammed’s example and teachings as recorded in eyewitness accounts (Hadith). Collections of Hadith compiled by the Moslem scholars al-Bukhari and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj are judged entirely reliable and authentic (sahih), and are indeed of high evidentiary quality. Many core Islamic practices and tenets – male genital mutilation (MGM), the Hajj, how to pray, the Five Pillars of Islam – are derived from the sahih Hadith.

While the Koran mentions neither FGM nor MGM explicitly, verse 30:30 prescribes them implicitly by commanding Moslems to:

“Adhere to the fitrah”

The Koran doesn’t explain what ‘fitrah’ means; for that we turn to the Hadith (I note in bold the Arabic words used for ‘circumcision’):

[…] I heard [Mohammed] say: “The fitrah is five things […] circumcision [khitan], shaving the pubes, trimming the moustache, cutting the nails and plucking the armpit hairs.”” Bukhari 77:106

Mohammed touches on FGM in three more Hadith (‘sits amidst four parts’ is a euphemism for sexual intercourse):

[…Mohammed] said: When anyone sits amidst four parts (of the woman) and circumcised part [khitan] meets circumcised part [khitan] a ritual bath becomes obligatory.” Muslim 3:684

[…] A woman used to perform circumcision [khitan] in Medina. [Mohammed] said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.” Sunan Abu Dawud 41:5251

[…Mohammed] said: “Circumcision [khitan] is a law for men and a preservation of honour for women.”” Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 5:75

Note that the above Hadith prescribes both MGM and FGM.

(There exists a fifth Hadith – the Hadith of Abdalla ibnu Umar – in which Mohammed enjoins the Medinan women to practice FGM. I have yet to see the actual text of this Hadith.)

Some Hadith report the practices not of Mohammed, but of his followers: they are therefore not ‘Revelation’, but are useful insofar as they inform us of what was normative amongst Mohammed’s companions:

[…] Umm al-Muhajir said, “I was captured with some girls from Byzantium. Uthman [a close companion of Mohammed] offered us Islam, but only myself and one other girl accepted Islam. Uthman said, ‘Go trim them down [khifaad hma] and purify them.’”” Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 53:1245

“Umm Alqama related that when the daughters of Aisha’s brother were circumcised [khitan], Aisha was asked, ‘Shall we call someone to amuse them?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied. Adi was sent for […]’ Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 53:1247

Note that several of these Hadith report purely female genital mutilation and that the word ‘Khitan’ is used for both FGM and MGM. Today, ‘Khitan’ is used only for MGM, leading some to mistakenly claim that the ‘fitrah’ and the ‘four parts’ Hadiths advocate only MGM.

*

Increasing globalisation and advancing women’s rights have made the world more aware of, and concerned about FGM. These developments, and secularism, have penetrated the Islamic world, so that many Moslems are also uneasy about FGM. The most frequently-cited fatwa critical of FGM is Dr Ahmed Talib’s (a former Dean of the Faculty of Shariah of Al Azhar university, Islam’s most prestigious seat of scholarship).

“All practices of female circumcision and mutilation are crimes and have no relationship with Islam. Whether it involves the removal of the skin or the cutting of the flesh of the female genital organs…it is not an obligation in Islam.” (2005)

The statement [FGM] is not an obligation in Islam’ actually boils down to 1/ FGM is allowed in Islam, and 2/ it can’t be forbidden (for if it were he would have said so). Yet primed by his opening condemnations, his conclusion is easily misread as being prohibitory.

(The obfuscatory nature of his statement becomes clearer if one replaces ‘FGM’ with some equivalent act: [rape] is not an obligation in Islam’. Moreover, most core precepts and practices of all religions/ideologies are not ‘obligatory’: Holy Communion is no less ‘Christian’ for not being obligatory; many forms of prayer are voluntary in Islam, but that makes them no less ‘Islamic’.)

Dr Talib’s prevarication results from his conscience being in conflict with Islamic jurisprudence, an axiom of which is that only that which god or Mohammed unambiguously forbade can be forbidden. As we saw earlier, Mohammed, far from forbidding, FGM, advocated it. This means that no school of Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia) can forbid FGM.

Not that Mohammed was shy about forbidding things. Compare Dr Talib’s prevarication over FGM with a fatwa concerning alcohol:

“[Mohammed] cursed alcohol and the one who drinks it, the one who sells it, the one who buys it, the one who carries it, the one to whom it is carried, the one who consumes its price, the one who squeezes the grapes and the one for whom they are squeezed.” Selling alcohol to kaafirs Islam Q&A 2000

One can only wonder how things would be different if Mohammed had similarly cursed and forbidden FGM.

Nor is Dr Talib correct in stating that FGM ‘is not an obligation in Islam’: Shafi’ism – one of the four schools of Sunni Islam (which constitutes 90% of Moslems) decrees FGM as obligatory (the other three schools recommend FGM as ‘optional’ or ‘honourable’). Unsurprisingly FGM rates are highest under Shafi’ism (e.g. Somalia 98%).

Schools of Fiqh + FGM

Schools of Fiqh + FGM

*

“FGM/C [is] stubbornly resistant to change” Gerry Mackie (2009)

In 1996 Mackie predicted that pledge associations would accomplish FGM’s eradication. Where tried, results have been disappointing, especially when compared to China’s spectacular abandonment of footbinding. FGM is instead increasing in incidence, spreading to previously unaffected countries and reappearing where eradicated.

Why?

Firstly, Mackie assumes that the extreme polygyny that engenders FGM is no longer practiced. He overlooks that:

– Moslems can have up to four wives (which is arguably enough to require fidelity-assurance measures),

– neither the Koran nor the Hadith set a limit to how many sex-slaves a Moslem male may own (whose chastity must also be guaranteed). Sexual slavery is still common in the Islamic world – whether overt (Islamic State, Boko Haram etc.) or covert (Islamic grooming gangs in the West).

Trafficking of women

Trafficking of women

But the oversight that most limits the explanatory scope of Mackie’s theory is that, unlike footbinding, FGM is not just a social convention but is also a religious practice.

There are two ways in which this religious dimension determines FGM’s perpetuation, spread, and resistance to eradication: directly via doctrines favouring or allowing FGM, and indirectly via doctrines which create conditions where chastity protection measures may be necessary or useful.

Islamic doctrine engenders an obsession with preserving female pre-marital virginity, upon which depends the ‘honour’ of the girl, her family and clan. Women/girls are held responsible for not only their own sexual behaviour, but also that of men, including any sexual crimes committed against them. Shifting responsibility for male sexual violence from the perpetrators to the victims creates sexually violent societies in which chastity-control measures may be necessary.

Polygyny creates ‘bride vacuums’ amongst non-elite men that can be alleviated either through sexual violence, which increases the need for fidelity assurance measures such as FGM (see maps below) or by taking women from non-Moslem communities as sex slaves – engendering an expansionist dynamic which spreads Islam and FGM. As Islam expanded and subjugated new peoples it also sanctified any indigenous FGM it encountered, FGM that would have died out but for Islam’s patronage.

Prevalence and Legal status of Polygyny + Weighted Relative International Rape Scale

Prevalence and Legal status of Polygyny + Weighted Relative International Rape Scale

Likewise bride-to-groom dowries place a financial value on a girl’s chastity and reputation; and Sharia law makes it almost impossible for a woman or child to bring a prosecution for rape.

FGM was practised by Mohammed’s tribe (the Banu Hashim) in pre-Islamic Arabia. Other tribes (notably Jews and Christians) didn’t practise FGM. By integrating FGM into his new religion, rather than following the Jewish example and forbidding it, and by pronouncing his own example and teachings as divine revelation, Mohammed sanctified and eternised a practice that would otherwise have died out. Enshrined in its sacred texts, Islam became the ever-fecund wellspring of FGM.

The world history of FGM is essentially one of its eradication. In Mankind’s early history FGM probably occurred world-wide, but sporadically where the precursors outlined by Mackie prevailed. However, it died out on exposure to monogamous kinship structures and the relatively advanced human rights of Graeco-Roman civilisation and Christianity. By resisting these, and by sanctifying FGM and the factors that engender it (polygyny and slavery – females captured for sex-slavery were infibulated), Islam has prevented this process from reaching completion, and consequently today defines the zones where FGM continues to flourish.

FGM + World Muslim Population

FGM + World Muslim Population

*

About 80% of FGM is attributable to Moslems. However it would be wrong to conclude from this that the remaining 20% is ‘non-Islamic’. Virtually all non-Moslem FGM occurs under the aegis of Islam – either at the historical centres of the Islamic slave trade (Nigeria, Eritrea & Ethiopia, Kenya), or amongst religious minorities living in Islamic countries where FGM is normative and institutionalised.

These minorities, for centuries isolated from their religions’ mainstream, have adopted the dominant community’s practices, including FGM, in order to blend in and minimise discrimination and persecution. Though Moslem women can’t marry outside their religion, Moslem men can (Mohammed married a Jewess). As marginalised and persecuted groups in Moslem-dominated societies, non-Moslems have much to gain by successful hypergyny and this incentivises non-Moslem families to adopt FGM.

The notable mass abandonments of FGM have occurred amongst minority non-Moslem practitioners, such as the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia; and the successes of the Pledge Association method reported by Mackie in his 2009 paper were Egyptian Copts and Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. Such groups, because not doctrinally shackled to the practice, readily abandon it when Pledge Associations make abandonment possible.

Compare this to Moslem practitioners who, on moving to non-Islamic countries where FGM is not normative, go to great lengths, to the point of breaking their adopted country’s laws, in order to maintain the practice (see here, here & here).

*

Imagine a society that doesn’t forbid, punish or even stigmatise murder, that instead tolerates, recommends, even commands it. Would it be surprising if that society were rife with murder?

Imagine societies defined by an ideology that, far from forbidding or stigmatising FGM, tolerates, praises, and commands it even. Should we surprised that such societies are rife with FGM?

Religions are keen to take credit for any good they can lay claim to, but should they not be held equally responsible for any ills they (knowingly or inadvertently) engender, aggravate or perpetuate?

If FGM is indeed un-Islamic then why, over its 1400 year existence, has Islam not even attempted to eliminate it, as it does all things ‘un-Islamic’, but instead tolerated, spread and promoted it?

Had Mohammed forbidden FGM (as he did alcohol and pork), or criticised it, or even just not mentioned it, FGM would have died out under Islam, as it has done under every other ideology, religion and social system. And the world would have been spared 1400 years-worth of the practice.

No problem is resolvable whose causes remain unaddressed. Pointing out the causal links between Islam and FGM has become taboo, dismissed as a symptom of a ‘phobia’. This taboo will ensure FGM’s continued flourishing and spread. Establishing a discourse around FGM that is free of taboos, insults and imputed motives is the crucial first step in resisting the growing ascendancy of FGM. It is a first step each one of us can take.

Desmond is truly amazing – and hot!

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Child drag artist Desmond is Amazing is indeed amazing.

And hot! Just check out this introductory video on YouTube. No wonder 11-year-old Desmond Napoles and other kids daringly diving into drag culture right now have provoked right-wing reactionaries into paroxysms of moral outrage.

Let’s face it, when a pretty young boy tells the world he is gay and dances sensuously in front of grown men, wearing vampish dresses and makeup; when “she” strips off items of clothing or goes on stage scantily clad right from the off; when dollar bills are accepted as “tips” from an audience apparently wild with excitement; when all this is going on we are getting far more than just a celebration of gender diversity or an innocent display of precocious performance talent.

And that’s great. It is wonderful that a rare niche has been found in the modern, developed world within which at least a few kids can truly be themselves, in ways that deny neither their gender feelings nor their sexuality. Being a drag queen, or a drag princess if you will, puts it right out there, in the open for all to see. It says, loud and proud, “I am a sexy kid, with sexy feelings. It’s totally cool for grown-ups to get turned on by me. I love it. That’s why I do this stuff. It’s great. It’s fun. It’s me!”

Red hot! Amazing Desmond Napoles

Panicky conservatives, needless to say, spin it differently, desperate as they are to pretend that kids have no erotic dimension, or at least none that is self-generated. In their telling, performances such as Desmond’s and those of fellow artists such as “Queen Lactacia” (Nemis Quinn Mélançon-Golden) are a travesty in the worst sense: these are kids, they claim, who are being “sexualised” by exploitative adults hell bent on corrupting their supposed natural innocence.

In Desmond’s case the criticism began long ago, following his drag performance at age eight during the 2015 New York City Pride Parade. At that time, Desmond and his parents were defended by Rutgers University professor Michael LaSala, author of Coming Out, Coming Home: Helping Families Adjust to a Gay or Lesbian Child. He rejected the notion that such performances were due to parental influence.

Within the last year, though, the attacks have become much more fierce, persistent and vicious. Stirred up by the right-wing media, angry complainants have made over a hundred allegations of child abuse against Desmond’s parents with the child protection services and police.

American LGBT fashion, entertainment, and lifestyle magazine Out explored this phenomenon in an article earlier this year. Out reported that these attacks against the Napoles family escalated after a drag performance at a bar in New York last December. This show was at 3 Dollar Bill, a queer, multifunctional performance space in Brooklyn. Desmond’s mother, Wendy, is quoted as saying Desmond “was not allowed anywhere but on stage and in the dressing room. I accompanied him in these areas. His father was in the audience.”

Out adds that that “like any other queen, Desmond was tipped by audience members”. Tipping drag performers is customary, we are told, “but adults outside of the community are attempting to label something so innocent as imitating one’s favourite celebrities as stripping”.

While nobody seems to be suggesting that Desmond stripped naked, it has been claimed that shows are being permitted in which kids have stripped off at least some of their clothes. And in at least one of Desmond’s shows he isn’t wearing a lot to start with: quite a bit of his slight, slender, little body is on provocative display.

In a less sexy form of provocation, The American Conservative brought out an article accusingly titled “Desmond: The Bacha Of Brooklyn”. Its author, Rod Dreher, begins with a heavily loaded, prejudicial comparison with Asian boy dancers. He says “Bacha bazi is a traditional practice in Afghanistan and some other central Asian cultures, in which boys and adolescent males are compelled to dance for older men, usually as a prelude to pederastic sex.”

Note that “compelled” bit. Whatever may be the practice in Afghanistan and elsewhere, I see  absolutely zero evidence that either Desmond or any other drag kids in the western world are being forced to perform. This is just a smear – a tactic regrettably par for the course on the “fake news” Right, as I know to my cost: Dreher was among the traditionalist, mainly religious, scribes who loudly and libellously denounced my article “Childhood ‘innocence’ is not ideal” last year. See Lording it from the wild margins.

But there is fake news on the so-called “liberal” Left, too, a prime example of which we are treated to in the Out article. The author, identified only as “Devin-Norelle” (no forename), cited Dreher’s article and wrote:

These arguments are dangerous; conservative media has associated Desmond’s performance of drag with sexuality simply because he transgresses the binary and opts to express his femininity. Newsflash: gender identity and sexuality are not one and the same. Desmond’s exploration and toying of gender is not a discovery of his sexual attractions, nor is it a tactic to invite the sexual desires of others. Drag, whether performed by an adult or a child, is simply a means of gender play and expression. It is not a sexual event. Their arguments also recklessly imply that the mere presence of gay men watching a child sing creates an atmosphere with sexual undertones. Yet men frequently watch male adults and children play sports. Is it only sexual when gay men take part? No – it’s all blatant homophobia and transphobia.

Spot the fake news? How about this: “Drag, whether performed by an adult or a child, is simply a means of gender play and expression. It is not a sexual event.”

Big, fat lie! Drag is not “simply a means of gender play and expression”, though that is obviously a significant aspect of it. Sure, drag can be performed with wholly non-erotic intent and often is: Dame Edna Everage, for instance, the classic creation of Australian comedian Barry Humphries, is played entirely for laughs: “she” is all about wit and satire. Likewise, my namesake Brendan O’Carroll’s “Mrs Brown” does something similar in considerably cruder terms: there’s plenty of smutty innuendo but no one would accuse O’Carroll of being sexually hot – actually, that goes for both of us! 😦

But when a kid declares himself to be gay, as Desmond has, he is talking about sexual feelings: “gay”, after all, refers to a sexual orientation not a gender identity. If his interest in wearing girls’ clothes was an expression only of his gender identity he would see himself as “trans”, not “gay” – a girl in a boy’s body and perhaps with ambitions to transition physically into a woman later on.

Trump that! Nemis opts for the Lolita look

So why all the denial? Why the coy insistence that kids’ drag performance has nothing to do with their sexuality? Hypocrisy, basically. For decades now, gay politics has revolved around respectability, and that has meant aping hetero-normativity: gay couples with committed relationships, marriage, and parenthood, have become the promoted model; the old, carefree “promiscuity” of the gay life is frowned upon (if still a reality for many) and any cross-generational sexual contact with youth is now far more taboo than it ever was in the “bad old days” when homosexuality was a discretely practised underground phenomenon.

Hypocrisy is detestable for its dishonesty; but on the other hand it works. Politically, it makes sense. Denial of the sexual element in kids’ drag performances has recently resulted in them being perceived as on the “respectable” side of the gender revolution, despite all the excitable right-wing huffing and puffing. While It cannot have been much fun for the Napoles family to be subjected to official investigation for child abuse, it is now becoming clear that they have gained a measure of support from the authorities.

A report in Gay Star News cites information posted on Instagram by Desmond’s mother. She is quoted as saying the Administration for Child Services (ACS) “has investigated us thoroughly… Our family was probed more intensely than any other case before. All allegations were ‘unfounded’.” Even better: “On the plus side, ACS has been offering us many support services.” Other official agencies including the police have also given the family a clean bill of health.

Thanks to the strength of gay community support, and sympathy from feminists (always keen to promote challenges to gender stereotypes), it may be that even quite risqué expressions of kids’ drag are now able to pass under the radar. Notably, an outfit called “Trump Army” demanded to know “Why no arrests?” after “10-year-old drag queen photographed with naked adult male”, as their headline put it. This was a reference to “Queen Lactacia”, who has already been mentioned above. Huck magazine ran a photo shoot featuring young Nemis. In a shot that didn’t make the magazine, Nemis is seen posing in drag with adult drag queen Violet Chachki. In “the shocking photo”, as Trump Army calls it, Violet is naked but for the flimsiest of genital coverings. While nakedness is no big deal to anyone with a body-positive attitude, it is interesting that the boy’s mother, Jessica Melancon, is said to have “conceded that drag has a sexual component and is unapologetic about her young son wearing sexually suggestive clothing if it ‘makes him feel beautiful’.”

Good for her!

 

RICHARD, A LIONHEART FOR MINORITY RIGHTS

Gay activist Peter Tatchell wrote an obituary in the Guardian last month which began as follows:

Across five decades the American psychiatrist and lawyer Richard Green, who has died aged 82, contributed to landmark achievements for gay and trans rights, risking his reputation and career to advance the understanding and acceptance of sexual and gender minorities.

I can personally vouch for the man’s courage in this regard. You won’t find anything about it in Tatchell’s otherwise excellent account, but Richard was also strikingly bold and brave in attempting to bring paedophilia in from the cold. While this aspect of his work was far less successful than the rest of his glittering career, the fact that an internationally renowned expert with much to lose would even think of such a project tells us what a fearless fighter he was.

My introduction to Richard was through the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR), of which he had been the founder and first president in 1975. Twenty years ago, in 1999, when he was about to take the annual presidency for a second time, he boldly went out on a limb, inviting me to speak at the academy’s Paris conference in 2000, to give a paedophile’s perspective. This was in keeping with his pioneering other work for sexual minorities as outlined in his memoir Gay Rights, Trans Rights – which I commend as admirably concise and characteristically witty.

Back in the 1970s Richard published a groundbreaking paper calling for the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, “despite being advised that it would ruin his career”, as Tatchell says. The following year he reiterated his call at the APA annual meeting and the organisation removed homosexuality from the list.

It was a fantastic success, paving the way for gayness to be considered normal and acceptable. In what may now seem a madly ambitious bid to replicate this success with paedophilia, in 2002 he published an article in the journal of the IASR, the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Titled “Is pedophilia a mental disorder?”, the paper presented strong empirical data and cogent arguments so show that paedophilia, like homosexuality, should not be considered pathological. This time, though, he was up against the full weight of the most powerful taboo of all and his ideas did not find favour.

But he had a go, that’s the point, and he was very supportive towards me personally. After we met in Paris we continued to see each other whenever I was in London, where he was a professor of psychiatry until his retirement, after which he stayed on in the capital, moving only from Fulham to Hampstead in his final years. He successfully proposed me for membership of psychologist J. Michael Bailey’s cross-disciplinary Sexnet forum, wrote to the court on my behalf when I was in trouble with the law, and gave a glowing pre-publication endorsement of my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons.

Most of all though, I will remember with pleasure the many times we shared a convivial drink and a meal together, usually at his expense. He behaved like a friend, in other words, not like a shrink with a dangerous “convicted paedophile” as part of his caseload. I was never his patient and never felt like one in his company.

All those years ago in Paris, Richard and his wife Melissa Hines, a neuroscientist, put me at ease immediately, joining me on a conference-organised canal-boat excursion, where they introduced me to their ten-year-old son, Adam. More than anything else they could have done, this friendly gesture (fully visible to other conference participants on the trip) convinced me that neither of them shared the popular prejudice that paedophiles must be shunned as pariahs.

A summary of Richard’s paper “Is pedophilia a mental disorder?” is to be seen here, at Ipce, along with details of the wider debate in the Archives of which this article was a part. There is another obituary of Richard here, in the New York Times.

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