An activist who is actually active

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Meet Jed Justice, an activist who is actually active, unlike many of us these days, including me, who tend just to moan about the way things are going rather than engaging directly with political and legal processes to right egregious wrongs. Jed submitted a detailed comment this week in response to All the world loves a lover?, Heretic TOC’s blog on the Jeremy Forrest case. He plainly has fire in his belly. This case of a teacher sentenced to five and a half years for a consenting relationship with a 15-year-old girl, even though the couple want to marry, had plainly incensed him, and rightly so.

So he has done something, as his comment relates. Rather than leaving this in the backwaters of an old page from last month, I have decided to feature it as a guest blog. See below. Before coming to that, though, I should add that Jed has an activist Facebook page which includes, amongst other interesting things, the 2012 Dutch documentary film Are All Men Pedophiles? – a title with great resonance for us following the revelations from Phil Tromovitch featured here last week. I haven’t seen the film yet and would be interested to hear from anyone who has.

Jed Justice’s Facebook page also features the excellent work of barrister Barbara Hewson, who was introduced here in Hail, an improbable age of consent heroine! in May. An update is that Hewson gave a superb interview on Channel 4 News (8 July). My thanks go to Tina Willis for alerting me to this. Hewson said there should have been no prosecution of elderly TV presenter Stuart Hall, whose sentence for “historic” offences of sex with minors was savagely doubled in length yesterday following a referral to the appeal court by British government law minister Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General.  Hewson also stoutly maintained that the age of consent should be reduced to 13, which is the age it had been before it was raised to 16 in 1886 in the midst of a national moral panic whipped up by the press. Good for her!

In the Stuart Hall case, incidentally, the Attorney General had successfully argued that the time Hall would actually serve in prison could legitimately be made longer by ordering that sentences for separate offences should run consecutively rather than concurrently. Consecutive running is precisely what the judge had ordered in the Jeremy Forrest case. It is a really-kick-’em in-the-balls option which has long been available in English law but in my recollection (I was a court reporter many years ago) is used much less than concurrent sentencing (but note the “totality” principle in sentencing guidelines referred to by Jed Justice below). Thus the judge’s Maximum Jack approach in the consensual Forrest case was clearly way out of line, characterized as the case was by many mitigating rather than aggravating factors.

“Give ’em grief” Grieve did at least manage a bit of even handedness, though, in what has plainly been a busy week for him. Grieve was personally in court leading a prosecution against a juror for contempt of court. The juror reportedly wrote on his Facebook page ahead of the trial that he was looking forward to his chance to “fuck up a paedophile” after learning he would be trying a sex offender. While prejudice (in this case a juror alleged to have literally prejudged a trial, or publicly given the appearance of doing so) against paedophiles is not merely acceptable but pretty much obligatory in the UK, the Attorney General presumably felt he had to keep up the pretence that everything is being done to ensure fair trials for all.

So much news! And I haven’t mentioned half of what’s going on even just here in the UK. But it’s time to move from injustice to Justice – Jed Justice.

JED JUSTICE WRITES:

Sorry I’m not a criminal lawyer. Believe me, I wish I was. The next best thing I can offer is, I e-mailed Jeremy’s solicitor, Phil Smith, 6 days ago to ask him many questions concerning the possible grounds for an appeal against the sentence (besides making my own feelings clear). No reply yet.

I had not envisaged the viability of a possible appeal against any of Jeremy’s convictions but I asked Phil Smith about the post-conviction / pre-sentencing shenanigans. I typed:

What mystifies many of us most of all, however, is that Jeremy was advised to waive his rights under the extradition agreement and plead guilty to charges of ‘sexual activity with a child’. He is now officially branded an evil monster alongside Roy Whiting and Ian Huntly [sic; actually Huntley – TOC], in Orwellian terms an ‘unperson’ stripped of his former public identity, and disqualified from teaching children, for the rest of his life. Was this necessary?

TBH the angle of Jeremy’s guilty plea being extracted by foul play, corruption, or undue influence of some sort, and this invalidating his conviction, had escaped me; yet it was staring me in the face all the time! Not that his sentence would have been dramatically affected had he only been convicted for ‘abduction’: applying the principle of ‘totality’ (in accordance with the sentencing guidelines), the judge was minded to give him at least 5.5 years anyway, for his total criminal conduct.

However, the ‘big rush’ doesn’t add up. Had the judge deferred sentencing for at least a week, the probation service would have had time to submit a pre-sentencing report, and the judge himself might have benefited from this, given the complexity, controversy and sensitivity of this case.

The report might have confirmed that Jeremy’s state of mind was terrible, and his marriage was dead in the water, at the time his pastoral work (otherwise known as ‘grooming’) with X who cannot be named, began. They were both vulnerable. The judge failed or refused to recognize this. (Is this not how many intense – and enduring – relationships begin? In my humble experience, “You were there for me when I needed you” counts for a lot and earns loyalty.)

I will raise the poster’s specific point with Phil Smith but don’t hold your breath.

[TOC: In a comment on Heretic TOC made on 2 July in response to All the world loves a lover?, Aztec71 wanted to know whether the legal procedures had been rigged unfairly against Forrest when the crown court was temporarily  converted into a magistrates’ court.]   

I became heavily involved in this case, having started from a position equivalent to the rest of you, i.e. sharing your outrage at the injustice and the nauseating hypocrisy of self-proclaimed sanctimonious child saviours who abuse their positions of power to punish young people for their insolence in rebelling against victim ideology.

As Tom said, X is indeed a victim of abuse, by the State, not Jeremy Forrest. She told me as much herself, when she described her abuse to me on 5th July [TOC: my emphasis added], having told the world somewhat of this in her interviews for The Sun newspaper a few days earlier. (BTW that’s the first time in over 30 years that I have called The Sun a newspaper. Split narrative indeed!)

I asked X whether she had submitted a victim impact statement as the person who was supposed to be the primary victim. She had. In her statement, she repudiated her victim status and extolled the virtues of her ‘abuser’. The judge dismissed it as irrelevant and showcased her mother as the victim instead.

For whatever reason, X broke off contact with me after the above date. [TOC adds: This was possibly on advice from a solicitor, who may have judged that support, however much appreciated, from someone with a radical Facebook page might backfire.] Had I the chance, I would have asked her what I and others could do to help in her efforts to overturn the indefinite prohibition on her having any contact with Jeremy. No wonder the child saviours don’t want their cruelty in the name of child protection to be exposed. I have since learned that serious efforts are in process but the authorities are dragging their feet.

Secondly, I would have asked her where she stands on this malarkey of not naming her. Being under 18, she might not be at liberty to waive her anonymity, and might even get into trouble for naming herself!

I progressed from anger to action, joining two of Jeremy’s support groups (I don’t know if there are any others). To my complete surprise, I found myself in conversation with X and two other sources close to Jeremy (big names don’t usually bother replying to mere mortals, at least not to me).

This is both a privilege and a curse; the latter because my keener awareness of their pain is emotionally distressing, not to mention frustrating. I don’t have the time and resources to do this as properly and promptly as the job requires. How much worse must it be for Jeremy’s family and X herself? Every day that passes with no change to the status quo is another day of her continuing distress and suffering. She, her biological father and Jeremy’s parents are standing together as one but they don’t deserve to stand alone in their struggle against the might of the State; they deserve active public support.

In the Facebook search engine, type “Jeremy Ayre Fan Club” and “We Support Jeremy Forrest”

Twitter: @Jed_Jones #freejeremyforrest #jeremyforrest (the latter is mostly hostile, where reside potential lynch mobs of the feminist taliban; tweet there at your peril)

[TOC adds: Jed Justice also sent, as Heretic TOC comments, two emails he posted to Forrest’s solicitor in what is presumably his actual name, Jed Jones. I found these very interesting. See comments following All the world loves a lover?]

Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence

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I promised (or threatened !) more about the Cambridge conference on DSM-5. Groan ye not, though, dear heretics, as this week’s despatch will be a tad less arcane.

Turning to the poster presentations, in particular, several of these were lively sessions, with subject matter of wider potential interest than the knotty diagnostic concerns that constituted the main business of the event. Three stand out: Noëmi Willemen, from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, speaking on “Liberating the paedophile: a discursive analysis”; Diederik Janssen, editor of Culture, Society & Masculinities, on “Specification of the perverted: anthropologizing bad sex”, and Philip Tromovitch, of Doshisha University, Japan, on “The prevalence of pedophilia: What little we know”.

Liberating the paedophile! Wow, we don’t hear that kind of talk much these days. Unfortunately, interesting though it was, Willemen’s poster was an analysis of the rhetoric of paedophile liberation in the Olden Days several decades ago, rather than a rousing call for liberation right now. Janssen’s work, by contrast, is far more radical than his use of expressions like “perverted” and “bad sex” might suggest. For colourful, provocative mischief, though, I must hand the palm on this occasion to Tromovitch, and thus will focus on his contribution.

But first, a fanfare is in order. Tromovitch will be revered by many here as part of a team, Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, whose valorous deeds set them among the immortals of heresy over a decade ago.  Their work had the temerity to challenge the term “child sexual abuse” (CSA) as unscientific, and demonstrated through careful statistical analysis that the psychological harm thought to be caused by child-adult sexual contacts is instead far more strongly associated with non-sexual factors such a poor family background, including issues such as violence and neglect. Their meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin in 1998 was so powerful, so high-profile, and so threatening to the entrenched interests of the abuse industry that it was condemned in a resolution passed by both house of the United States Congress – the first and only time any academic paper has been thus attacked in the nation’s history, in a move many have compared to the Pope having Galileo tried for heresy in the 17th century based on his “heretical” view that the earth orbits the sun.

After more than three hundred years the Catholic Church finally admitted that Galileo was right. While it is to be doubted that the US Congress will ever rescind its vote against Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, even in a thousand years, the tremendous trio, a veritable holy trinity of heresy, can at least take satisfaction from the fact that in the academic world, at least, their work has earned lasting respect and is widely cited.

There is a price to be paid for heresy, though. Work in cancer research, say, or particle physics, of a similar quality to Rind et al.’s contribution, might lead to a Nobel prize, or at the very least a top professorship in a world famous university. The careers of Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, by contrast, have all suffered, and getting further work published has been a struggle. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that Tromovitch’s role at Cambridge was relatively modest. Presenting a poster is a fairly humble task, whereas he might have been invited to give the keynote speech in more favourable political circumstances.

Never mind, the modest status of the presentation was more than made up for by the punch it packed: in its way, the claim put forward was just as shocking and sensational as the paper denounced by Congress. Put it this way: What proportion of the male population do you think are paedophiles? One percent? Five? Surely it has to be less than the number of adult-orientated gays, right, a figure variously estimated at between five and ten percent?

Well, no, it ain’t necessarily so. According to Tromovitch – and I quote directly from his poster – “the majority of men are probably pedophiles and hebephiles”. Of course, much depends on precisely how those terms are defined, but it has certainly long been known that when so-called normal men are used as control group subjects in laboratory research they will typically show arousal (usually measured by increase in penis volume) when exposed to sexual stimuli featuring children, such as erotic pictures or stories. Startlingly, as Tromovitch points out, “89% of community males exhibited some sexual arousal while viewing slides of female children” (Hall et al., 1995).

Whether a small degree of arousal to children is significant is open to doubt, but Tromovitch’s presentation brought together a range of research data which together introduced startling evidence that around 20-25% of men actually test as paedophiles, by which he appears to mean significantly or preferentially so, although this would need further elaboration. What is more, these figures are supported by self-report studies, of which Tromovitch cites a good few, including these:  22% of male students reported that they were sometimes attracted to little children (Briere et al., 1996); 19% of male students reported unwanted, personally unacceptable, sexually intrusive thoughts involving sexual acts with a child or minor (Byers et al., 1998). Perhaps most strikingly, based on a number of studies, Tromovitch reveals that “Approximately 10% of normal men report that they would have sex with a child if no one would know and there would be no punishment”.

All this, says Tromovitch, need not surprise us if we think about the characteristics of different age categories and their likelihood of either eliciting or inhibiting sexual arousal in adult men. Older children (pubescent, 8-12), he points out, and young biological adults (adolescent 11-15) are the only groups in seven age categories, from infants to the elderly, whose characteristics comprise no factors usually regarded as off-putting (such as sagging breasts and blemished skin) along with the positive presence of factors usually regarded as sexy (arousing body shape, high libido, not too hairy).

Is he right? Well, you can check out the details of his poster, Page 1 and Page 2, and decide for yourself. I would just note that in his authoritative book Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children, Michael Seto puts preferential or exclusive attraction to prepubescent children at around 4% or less. The most obvious reason for scepticism, though, seems to me to be this: If such a high proportion of men really are significantly or preferentially attracted to children, how come our political presence is so feeble? Why don’t we organise and fight the oppression against us far more powerfully, like the massively successful gay movement? Is it just fear of the majority’s ferocity? Or is it mainly, as I suspect, that most minor-attracted adults have fallen prey to all the moralistic propaganda that so besets our ears on a daily basis?

But, hey, enough of the heavy stuff. Who’s ready for some tittle tattle about personalities?

Phil Tromovitch and Diederik Janssen, I am pleased to say, both proved to be “up for it” when I suggested chatting over drinks in a riverside pub garden after the conference ended. Huge guys, both of them – black-clad, shaven-headed, muscleman Janssen, especially, would make a very credible night club bouncer, an image massively at odds with his subtly teasing academic prose – so it felt like I had a couple of body guards. Not that I needed any: the atmosphere in the ancient university city on a lovely English summer’s evening was very relaxed. So was the conversation, which flowed most agreeably, along with the drinks and the beautiful River Cam.

Unsurprisingly, after his defeat, Blanchard himself was not at the conference, but other big-name figures did attend, such as Richard Green, emeritus professor of psychiatry, UCLA, a leading figure behind the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness thirty years ago, who courageously attempted to do the same with paedophilia early in the new millennium. As President of the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR) he even invited me to address that august body in a symposium on paedophilia.

I guess he had to take some flak for that, some of it quite probably coming from the far more conservative Ken Zucker. As IASR’s conference treasurer at the time, he found himself obliged to hand me a cheque to cover my speaker’s expenses – and judging by his cool demeanour he was none too happy about it.  But Zucker, present in Cambridge having been chair of the DSM-5 work group on sexual and gender identity disorders, has had to take his share of flak too over the years. A psychologist working with children, he has long been under attack by activists for allegedly pushing transgender kids into accepting their biological gender. Transsexuals even demonstrated against him outside the conference building: they included a female-to-male trans guy dressed as a baby and holding a placard saying “Ken Zucker – hands off our kids!” And I learned in Cambridge that a recent journal article published under the auspices of  the British Psychological Society was memorably titled “Zuck off!”

Wonderful! It was a rare few days when I could feel relatively popular!

That was fun, and even more so was the chance to chat to so many folks (including the demonstrators) on a one-to-one basis. Why, I was even able to pin Zucker to the wall over not answering my emails in recent years! He denied it was on account of personal animosity. I don’t believe him but I was too polite to say so. Well, he can read it here!

Approaching gay historian Jeff Weeks for the first time in decades, I was delighted he recognized me but saddened that his speech “Beyond the categories”, which closed the conference, was tired, bland and utterly devoid of the radical edge that characterized his exciting early work. Again, unfortunately, I was too nice to tell him so, although a question I raised from the floor was a pretty big hint. Was the current obsession with crushing paedophilia, I asked, harmfully also leading to the denial of children’s sexuality, and leading to sexually active children themselves being criminalized as sex offenders? His answer was evasive and vacuous. Very disappointing.

Shit! Every week I tell myself I must make these blogs shorter and snappier but I still haven’t delivered on saying I would tell you more about the interesting exchange when I was buttonholed by philosopher Patrick Singy, a conversation also joined to great effect by the delightful Noëmi Willemen. It would take too long to start on that now but I should add a couple of brief and hopefully useful points about my earlier Cambridge blog (11 July):

  1. I have added a paragraph to it (in square brackets and italics) in connection with Singy’s argument.
  2. Also in that same Cambridge blog I mentioned Blanchard’s fraternal birth order effect on sexual orientation in males. A brief, sharp, interview with Blanchard about this, Did having a big brother make me gay?, has just appeared in the Boston Globe online. Recommended.

Stifling but stimulating in sunny Cambridge

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Summer is here at last in England after a long, cold Spring so where better to enjoy the belated sunshine than in the, err, stifling atmosphere of a conference centre with no air conditioning?

Well, call me a masochist but I had a great time last week at Classifying Sex: Debating DSM-5, a two-day conference at Cambridge University. DSM, for the uninitiated, is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, routinely dubbed the bible of psychiatry, a description often criticised but one which captures the intensity of the religious warfare its various versions and interpretations provoke worldwide, not just in the United States. A quasi-religious aspect is evident, too, not just in the ferocity of debate but also in its labyrinthine theology: grasping what is at stake in all the rhetorical cut and thrust demands close attention to decades of scriptural exegesis since the first edition in 1952 up until the fifth edition launched in May this year. Hence the conference: nothing less than days of lectures from experts will suffice to get one’s head around it.

Speaking of mental disorders, the sanest response might be, why bother? Don’t the shrinks give minor-attracted people a tough enough time as it is, without breaking our heads trying to unravel their precise modes of oppression? Possibly, but that would be to miss an important point: psychiatry is not monolithic; not every oppressive initiative succeeds. A clear example of this is the defeat of the DSM-5 Paraphilias Subworkgroup’s proposal to include hebephilia as a mental disorder, an outcome with potentially huge implications for the lives of sex offenders in the U.S. diagnosed with hebephilia[i]. It could mean the difference between being released at the end of a sentence on the one hand and being confined in a “civil commitment” gulag on the other, with little prospect of ever being freed. The latter fate has increasingly been the desperate lot of those offenders designated paedophiles in recent times: they are supposed to stay behind bars until treatment renders them “safe”, with the Catch 22 that no current treatment can guarantee they will not reoffend, so they cannot get out.

A separate diagnosis along similar lines for hebephiles i.e. those preferentially attracted to early adolescents, as opposed to paedophiles with a pre-pubertal preference, would have drawn in a substantial proportion of the adult population and would have had the strange effect in the case of man-girl and woman-boy love of calling it a mental disorder to be preferentially attracted to a reproductively viable (after menarche or semenarche) early adolescent partner of the opposite sex. It is one thing to criminalise behaviours deemed socially undesirable, but quite another to say a person whose sexual desires are consistent with nature’s imperative to go forth and multiply is mentally disordered. Surely only an idiot would make such a proposal?

Wrong! Try genius instead. Ray Blanchard, perhaps best known for his brilliant and well supported theory that male sexual orientation is affected by fraternal birth order, was described at the conference by another DSM big cheese as “the smartest guy I know”. And one of Blanchard’s smart answers is that it may be true that a high proportion of men (OK, let’s say nearly all of them) find freshly nubile girls a turn-on (and the remainder get hot for young boys!) but the preference, for most, is a more fully mature physique: the truly curvaceous adult female form, with big breasts and butts, is what really does it for them, or the filled-out, muscular frame of a grown man. By contrast, those men whose preference is for pubescent girls (typically aged 11-14) are unlikely to have much reproductive success compared to those whose preference includes women in their twenties and beyond. Therefore, so the reasoning goes, the hebophile’s preference for 11-14 year olds is not what nature intended and accordingly in biological terms it points to a mental disorder.

Coming from Blanchard, of all people, the audacity of this argument is staggering. He is gay! And he has the nerve to pass judgment on people’s mental health based not only on whether their sexual preferences are reproductively viable but whether they are reproductively maximal! On that basis homosexuality should never have ceased to be classified as a mental disorder, but I haven’t seen him campaigning to have gayness restored to the DSM as a psychiatric condition! Nor should this happen: with overpopulation a huge threat these days, not extinction, it makes little sense to define sexual health in crudely reproductive terms, as several speakers at Cambridge noted.

To many minor-attracted people it seems as though all of Blanchard’s research on minor-attraction is hell-bent on dehumanising  paedophiles and hebephiles, making us seem an inferior sub-species: according to his work we are less intelligent, shorter, and are more likely to have suffered head injuries than others.  His research could in theory be used to argue for social policies aimed at helping the minor-attracted overcome any such difficulties if they really exist. But as philosopher of science Patrick Singy eloquently argued in a presentation at Cambridge titled Danger and difference: the stakes of hebephilia, the strategy may be rather less worthy.

Not Blanchard’s personal strategy that is. His motives may be entirely benign as an individual. No, what Singy had discerned is, rather, an unconscious strategy adopted by modern society.  In the liberal democracies that have developed from the 19th century onwards, Singy points out, there is a tension between security and liberty: creating a safe society for the majority can only be achieved by restricting the rights and freedoms of those who present a threat. This cannot be done without a bad conscience by liberally-minded policy makers unless they can first dehumanize offenders, emphasizing their supposedly radical difference from normal people in every possible way: they must be called inferior, or monsters or predators (as in America’s “sexually violent predator” laws), which then enables them (us) to be treated like animals. It is a strategy which preserves as much liberty as possible for the majority by according a radically different, much lower, status, to just a few – with the language of mental disorder coming in very handy for the purpose.

[Added 19 July: The significance in a liberal democracy of claiming supposedly animalistic “predators” are mentally ill is that the individuals thus labelled can be oppressed in ways which superficially appear to be humane: in theory, they are held in civil confinement not as punishment but so they may be treated. The Nazis rhetorically dehumanized their victims before committing acts of genocide, but mass exterminations would obviously be inconsistent with liberal democracy. Such democracies pride themselves on being tolerant and respectful of diversity as far as possible; when there are exceptions, as with “predators” who supposedly must be caged like animals to protect society, the conscience and ethos of liberalism are salved thanks to the availability of medical rather than penal language.]      

Blanchard, bless him, may not be in love with hebephiles but he does appear to adore hebephilia as a theoretical construct and has done elegant work on the relationship (in terms of preferential and lesser levels of attraction) between paedophilia, hebephilia and teleiophilia (attraction to adults). Perhaps that is why, as chair of the Paraphilias Subworkgroup, he fought a long, bitter, and ultimately losing battle for hebephilia to take its place in DSM: victory would have given hebephilia a higher profile and provided DSM with a diagnosis underpinned by a significant element of scientific research.

Indeed, it is precisely the lack of good research behind most of the DSM’s diagnoses that has been a major and growing cause of embarrassment to the APA and the profession of psychiatry in recent years: the latest edition runs to around a thousand pages, but like earlier efforts it has been criticized as just a rag-bag of symptoms to which labels of often highly dubious medical validity have been attached, with too little attention paid to the underlying nature and causes of the conditions described. As several conference speakers pointed out, what gets labeled as sexually pathological is pretty much all down to politics of one sort or another: if it is not the moralists (who traditionally valorize reproductive sex and pathologize everything else) who are calling the tune, it is insurance companies who need diagnoses in support of legal claims, or big pharma, whose pill-peddling also needs a range of named, medically approved,  dysfunctions, diseases and disorders which they can claim their drugs address, thereby justifying an artificially generated market among  “the worried well”.

The radical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who died last year, looms large behind all this. His books The Myth of Mental Illness (1960) and The Manufacture of Madness (1970) argued that mental illnesses are not real in the sense that cancers are real: there are no objective methods for detecting the presence or absence of mental disease. That may change, as medicine becomes more sophisticated. A straw in the wind to this effect came in April, just before the launch of DSM-5, when the American National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) announced that in future it would be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories. The institute’s director, Thomas Insel, issued a statement titled Transforming Diagnosis. NIMH, he said, “has launched the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) project to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system.”

Remarkably, unless I was nodding off in the sweltering heat and missed it, not a single word was said in Cambridge about this landmark development. Not that the switched-on, hi-tech new approach by NIMH will take the politics out of sexual psychiatry: it might even give our oppressors more opportunities to blind us with science; but this futuristic ambition to ground mental health diagnosis more deeply in biology (without, one hopes, harking back to reproductive fitness) should at least offer scope for the rational interrogation of any assertions that may be made.

Back to Singy. He contended in his platform speech that whether hebephilia is a mental disorder or not is completely irrelevant to society’s concern about it. What really matters is whether it is dangerous and, if so, how such danger can be assessed reliably. I think he is right, and the same applies to paedophilia. Several speakers from the floor, asking questions, appeared to conflate the harm/danger issue, which at least in theory could be measured objectively, with consent i.e. non-consensual sex is ipso facto harmful. Again, I agree, but the issue of harm is then prejudged by the legalistic fiction that those below a certain age cannot consent. After I pointed out this confusing conflation in a question of my own, Singy approached me in the lunch break for further discussion. I found it an interesting exchange, so I might come back to that and further Cambridge stuff in another post.


[i] It has been claimed that a diagnosis of hebephilia would not in practice necessarily have led to more sex offenders being snared in civil commitment, because it has long been possible to diagnose “Paraphilia NOS” (Not Otherwise Specified), a catch-all category, as an alternative. The NOS diagnosis, which also covers necrophilia and zoophilia, has been used to help label an offender as a “sexual violent predator” in the U.S., thereby providing the legal justification for civil commitment. However, this has only ever been applicable in certain cases, at least in theory, because “the essential features of a paraphilia are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors generally involving nonhuman objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or children or other nonconsenting persons…” (Kafka, 2010). Absent any evidence that the paraphilic (or “perverted”, as would once have been said) offender had any desire to hurt or humiliate a young partner, such a diagnosis would appear to be unjustified. In other words the NOS diagnosis should not ensnare the hebephile who has sex with a willing young partner (statutory rape) but a diagnosis of hebephilia would. However (I warned you this stuff gets complicated!), a simple but bogus (i.e. purely legalistic) diagnosis of “paraphilia nonconsent” has been used frequently in the American courts in support of civil commitment (Frances, 2011).

Frances A, First MB, Paraphilia NOS, nonconsent: not ready for the courtroom, J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 39(4):555-61 (2011)

Kafka MP, The DSM diagnostic criteria for paraphilia not otherwise specified, Arch Sex Behav. 39(2):373-6 (2010)

How to take a vacation from yourself

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When is a paedophile not a paedophile? When, among many other possibilities, he is a fell-walker.

The fells, for the uninitiated, are the high hills and low mountains of northern England, where hiking, unlike in the Alps of Europe, or the world’s even higher ranges, is on a human scale: delightfully, the proud walker may “conquer” several peaks in a single day merely through modest exertion rather than perilous adventure. Having just returned from a week spent hiking in the Cumbrian fells, or The Lakes as the mountains are perversely known in a collective way, I feel immensely refreshed, not least because the vacation has allowed me to take a break from my usual self: instead of being a writer, or an activist, or a sexual dissident, I have been enjoying a bit of an identity makeover as an outdoor type – and emerging as one who turns out to be still quite a fit old feller, if you will excuse the pun, for someone not far off three score years and ten.

That makes me feel extremely fortunate: it’s great to have some sort of positive identity in addition to negatively feeling part of an oppressed minority, and I would urge others to nurture their own more positive sides.

My trip to The Lakes – where there is indeed a wealth of beautiful lakes as well as mountains – also reminded me that I may be far from the only “paedo” who has found it possible to express other aspects of their identity here, including several prominent figures who are known mainly for their poetry, philosophy and love of the region’s natural beauty rather than their sexuality. Famously celebrating that beauty in verse at the turn of the 19th century were the romantic poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, names which are closely associated with two others of particular concern here: Hartley Coleridge, son of Samuel, and Thomas De Quincey, best known these days for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

What is a great deal less well known about De Quincey than his opium addiction (apparently he took the drug medicinally to start with, for the relief of neuralgia), is his love affair with a toddler. An author, journalist and poet himself, De Quincey had “sleepovers” with little Catherine Wordsworth, William’s daughter. She was just a toddler and sadly died at the age of three. De Quincey recorded his grief over her death, writing of his love for her and saying “as it happened that little Kate Wordsworth returned my love, she in a manner lived with me at my solitary cottage; as often as I could entice her from home, [she] walked with me, slept with me, and was my sole companion.” By implication the whole “affair”, written about openly, was conducted with parental permission and was held to be as “innocent” as Wordsworth’s famous daffodils. Perhaps it was, but the language suggests a degree of attachment to the child that would be considered highly suspect today in an adult who was not her parent.

For a while, De Quincey was the tenant of Nab Cottage, a lovely dwelling at the edge of Rydal Water – it being another peculiarity that the mountain area is called The Lakes but almost all of the lakes are called either waters, meres or tarns! Hartley Coleridge succeeded him there as the tenant. His childhood was celebrated frequently in his doting father’s poetry and that of Wordsworth. Whereas Michael Jackson arguably missed out on childhood, Hartley Coleridge in a sense never ceased to be a child. Small in stature as an adult, he continued to look childlike and dressed as a schoolboy. His tastes, too, were largely those of a child. The childish dressing, especially, suggests autopaedophilia – autopaedophiles being those who continue to conceive of themselves as a child long after childhood, and who have a sexual attraction to themselves in that role alongside being attracted to actual children whom they regard as their peers. I have personally known a number of autopaedophilic men (and one woman), so I am sure this is not just an invention of the psychiatric imagination. There is no evidence of any paedophilic behavior by Hartley, so far as I am aware, but it may be significant that he became a school teacher, never married, and showed signs of troubled feelings in his poetry (see Long Time A Child…) and alcoholism.

Not far from Rydal Water is Coniston Water, on the shores of which the more or less all purpose public intellectual John Ruskin set up home in a mansion called Brantwood in 1871. I’ve been there. It’s a splendid place, open to the public, with numerous fine exhibits on show demonstrating the great man’s pioneering environmentalism, his interest in art and art history, his philosophy, politics  and much else. Tolstoy described him as, “one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times”, which give some idea of his status in Victorian England.

What I could not find openly displayed, though, was evidence relating to his sexuality. What we know is that his marriage to Effie Gray ended disastrously, annulled after six years on grounds of non-consummation. Effie, in a letter to her parents, claimed that he found her “person” repugnant. She wrote that finally, after long giving many excuses “this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April [1848].” The cause of Ruskin’s disgust, according to his biographer, Mary Lutyens, was his revulsion at the sight of her pubic hair.

This is a very familiar story in the literary world, and there have been numerous attempts to explain away Ruskin’s feelings as having nothing to do with paedophilia: as with other child-oriented intellectuals, such as Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Benjamin Britten and Vladimir Nabokov, the dread diagnosis is always the one that admiring commentators are desperate to avoid.

But can they realistically avoid it in Ruskin’s case? I don’t think so: not when further evidence is taken into account, such as his relationship with Rose La Touche whom he fell in love with after meeting her when she was aged nine. Writing about Rose to Georgiana, wife of his artist friend Edward Burne-Jones, he confessed, “Do I want to keep her from growing up? Of course I do.” As another biographer, Joan Abse, wrote, “No idle remark this for he was well aware by now that the older girls became, the more their attractions diminished in his eyes. He liked them best, as he was to tell his friend, Lady Naesmith two years later, when they were ‘just in the very rose of dawn’.” He also admitted his feelings for young girls from aged 10 upwards n a letter of 1886 to his doctor, John Simon. And in letters to the artist  Kate Greenaway he asked her to draw her “girlies” (as he called her child figures) naked.

Like Hartley Coleridge, Ruskin served as a teacher. Unsurprisingly, given his interests, this was at a girls’ school, Winnington Hall. He even had his own room there, which became a semi-permanent residence – shades of Jimmy Savile in more recent times! On his numerous visits he never failed to spend time romping, dancing, and playing hide-and-seek with the girl pupils.

Later on, he also enjoyed the company of children at the nearby Coniston school. “It is almost impossible in Coniston to meet a child whom it is not a sorrow to lose sight of,” he once said. Children from Coniston came to him for lessons, and for tea on Saturday afternoons. He even wanted to adopt one of the little girls of Coniston, a proposal which so alarmed his cousin Joan that she attempted to end the Saturday afternoon sessions – much to his fury. All in the all, the paedophilic pattern of Ruskin’s interests seems patently obvious, does it not?

Fortunately for Ruskin and the rest, though, it was not that difficult to avoid suspicion and scandal in those days. For one thing, Richard von Krafft-Ebing did not come up with the term paedophilia erotica until 1886, and the subject has only become a media and political obsession in the last few decades. People were a lot less aware of sexual attraction to children in Victorian times. Besides, in those innocent days it would have been generously assumed that the lofty minds of gentlemen and scholars were above the “depravity” (or whatever word they might have used) to which the wretched poor might fall prey. No, sir, they were poets, not paedophiles, two mutually exclusive categories!

These days, with celebrity paedophiles being exposed on an almost daily basis, and the internet buzzing with conspiracy theories of alleged covers ups of scandals “in high places”, the situation has been turned completely on its head: whereas at one time the more educated and wealthier classes were cut a lot of slack, they are now targeted for the highest levels of suspicion. Poets per se are far more marginal figures than they used to be, so no one is particularly targeting them for suspicion. On the other hand, when they are thought about at all it tends to be as oddballs: the male poet is simply assumed to be rather peculiar and pathetic, rather than prestigious as in the days of the dashing Lord Byron – who may have been famously “mad, bad and dangerous to know” but in an enviable way, not a despised one, even though he too chased a lot of very young tail, of both sexes.

Mercifully, though, the outdoorsman, the fell-walker, is still regarded as a healthy sort of cove, and what I understand Americans would call a regular guy. So in the hills I find myself agreeably average, a veritable Norman Normal, invariably greeted amiably by occasional fellow wanderers, as is the tradition: each of us recognizes in the other a kindred spirit as another lover of nature. To paraphrase Keats, that is all we know and all we need to know.

So, to those racked with angst in an identity crisis, whether of the much talked about mid-life variety, or their problematic sexual identity, or whatever, I say stop worrying: come up into the hills and seize an identity opportunity!

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