… localism instead of convergence, identitarianism instead of universalism, short-sighted egotism instead of collaboration, and the calamitous idea of focusing on those considered to be similar while shunning “the other”. I fear the way that so many people hope to defend themselves from the malaise of life, from existential confusion, by choosing a group identity and sticking to it. – Carlo Rovelli, theoretical physicist, former radical student activist, historian of the philosophy of science
The politics of identity is narcissistic and needy…. It’s all inherently censorious. Because if your political activism is indistinguishable from your natural characteristics or cultural identity, then any criticism of your political activism will inevitably feel like an assault on *you*. This is why student politicos in particular are so insanely cagey about open debate, forever hiding themselves in “safe spaces” and trying to ward off campus anyone who criticises them in the same way monks might once have wielded crucifixes to chase away witches. – Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked! in The Spectator
Are identity politics intrinsically as disastrous as Rovelli and O’Neill claim? After all, there could be no politics at all without groups of like-minded people rallying together against others who think differently. These opposing groups have always thought in “Us and Them” terms, if not along lines of gender and sexuality then of social class and wealth. In Britain and elsewhere these differences have been the lifeblood of democracy. Marx urged the working class to unite. This could be considered identity politics because the workers first had to identify themselves as part of the “working class”, a separate entity set against the exploitative “bourgeoisie”. But at least Marx envisioned a society beyond class warfare, based on equality and justice for all. His thinking was grounded in a universal concept of justice, with fairness for everyone, not winner-takes-all. This ideal was betrayed in those countries that took the revolutionary road; but democratic socialism has been more honourably successful.
Like democratic socialism, our vision for the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) in the 1970s was grounded in a universalist ethic. We believed in sexual liberation for all, not just for paedophiles. That is why we supported women’s liberation and children’s rights – the right to sexual expression, of course, but much more as well. It is why we supported GLs not just the BLs who were always by far the largest part of our membership. Even sociologist Frank Furedi has conceded that “PIE and its sympathisers did not simply express a form of liberationist identity politics”. Yes, we initially rallied together around our shared sexuality, as the “working class” once rallied around their labouring status, and as women and gays rallied around their gender and sexual desire; but shared identity was just an organising tactic in the service of a vision – as we saw it – for everyone, not just our own narrow group.
There were those in the gay movement who thought in a similarly constructive, inclusive way. It is thanks to them, and to those who began to identify and organise as other sexual minorities, that the male homosexual identity (gay) made common cause with the female one (lesbian) and those of bisexuals and transgender people, giving us the combined LGBT movement. This is now sometimes expanded to include Q for Queer, the last of which is potentially a capacious vessel for those who don’t fit in anywhere else and don’t quite feel able to come out as anything definite. Wonder who that could let in? 🙂
It hasn’t stopped there, either. We now have a rich alphabet soup, even extending in one formulation to LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, flexural (WTF?), asexual, gender-fuck, polyamorous, bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism”. At first blush it all looks like a wonderfully comprehensive celebration of sexual diversity, a huge range of sexual identities assembled in a great conclave, bringing people together in an identity politics of the best sort, based on solidarity, not division.
But we know different, don’t we? For instance, one elephant most definitely not in the (bed)room is sexual attraction to animals, which could be designated by Z, for zoophilia. Not that I know anyone who fancies sex with elephants, but then I’ve never heard a mahout talking candidly. Anyway, you won’t find Z on the list and P is conspicuously absent from the party too. So are N. and H; and E. Indeed, none of the controversial chronophilias named by Michael Seto and discussed recently here in The seven ages of sexual attractiveness make it to the recognised lists of initials: paedophilia, nepiophilia, hebephilia and ephebophilia all go unmentioned, as does the umbrella term MAP and even the unthreatening Kind. Maybe that’s our fault. Maybe Kind activists should be pushing harder. But to blame ourselves is a bit like blaming Jews for failing to stop the Holocaust: swimming against a flood tide of hatred is sometimes just too hard.
Interestingly, though, a couple of lonely voices – openly gay ones, and not closet Kinds as far as I can tell – have been pressing for greater inclusivity. Putting to shame the “respectable” gays who have climbed the ladder of social acceptability and kicked it down to stop others following, are two brave guys: psychologist Jesse Bering and gay history expert Gert Hekma. Bering, author of Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us, pointed out in an article last month that “LGB people arguably share more in common with the Zs and Ps than they do the Ts, since being transgender isn’t about who (or what) you’re sexually attracted to, but the gender you identify with. Unlike those representing the other letters in this character soup, trans people say their sexuality plays no role at all. Why then are Ts included while other, more unspeakable, sexual minorities aren’t?”
Hekma, for his part, noted in a conference presentation this summer that the proliferation of initials moves our understanding of sexuality away from sexual behaviour towards a terminology of identity and orientation. As such, it echoes a change noted by Foucault from “doing” to “being”: a century or so ago, the sodomite became the homosexual, moving from a legally defined act to a medical concept of an identity. A main idea of sexologists at that time was that the identity of the homosexual should be accepted but the behaviour should be prevented. It was a variant on the Christian theme: accept the sinner but not the sin.
Homosexuality has long since moved on from that limitation, but a proliferation of marginalised variations are candidates for moving into the space thus vacated. Hekma mentions a whole range of fetishes. “The list is endless,” he says, “Have a look on grindr and tumblr for the dozens of sexual fetishisms.” He points out that in its most accepted variation the continuously expanding list of initials as yet excludes “the major classical perversions” (BDSM, fetishism, paedo-, necro-, copro-, zoophilia). He argues in favour of taking them into the fold, including paedophilia. Such an inclusion could hardly occur without legitimising paedophilic fantasy at least. As Hekma says:
The point many people miss on questions of sexual variation is that fantasies are central and most desires need not be enacted in immediate reality but they often happen in indirect and imaginary ways. Sexual preferences can be staged.
This politics, emphasising identity over behaviour, and especially over behaviour in the real, non-fantasy, world, arguably offers an advance worth having. It may be that the Virtuous Pedophiles could succeed in having “virtuous”, or not-acted-upon, paedophilia accepted as VP on the initials list if they chose to go down that road. It could be a staging post to greater acceptability, as it was for homosexuals. But, in order to succeed, this form of identity politics would seem to depend for its success on denouncing us Kinds – we who do not agree with “virtue” but have it thrust upon us anyway, through draconian laws and policing. As we know, the VPs appear all too keen on this divisive style, and it pays off for them. It is no accident that Jesse Bering has expressed his support for the VPs but not for the Kind views espoused by more radical activists.
Divisive identity politics has featured strongly here at Heretic TOC recently too, at least in the comments. One contributor, under a bewildering variety of names (Why? It just looks schizophrenic), has been not only virulently anti-feminist but also militantly pro-hebephilic and just as aggressively against every other kind of sexual minority and even those in the “normal” mainstream. For him, even heterosexual teleiophiles – adult men attracted to adult women and vice versa – are just perverts because adults’ “natural” preference (for males at least) is for the freshly nubile girl, at the very start of her reproductive potential.
I prefer not to dismiss ideas merely because they seem strange. That would be very much at odds with Heretic TOC’s heretical mission. So, I will concede there is a case to be made that throughout most of human pre-history it might well have made sense for girls to start having babies as soon as they physically could, and that a man’s preferred choice of sexual partner would reflect this. Infant mortality was likely to have been very high, and a whole range of perils including disease, attacks by predatory animals and occasional famine would have made it impossible to sustain or grow the population without full use of every year in the female reproductive cycle. Evolution must have favoured early reproduction or we would not be here to ponder the ways of our ancestors. So, it seems inevitable that for hundreds of thousands of years what we now call hebephilia would have been, along with ephebophilia, the most natural of sexual orientations for males. Having said that, our culture and social needs are very different today. Civilised society has moved on from pre-history in many ways that are a great improvement. None of us, of whatever orientation, can justify our sexuality solely by reference to a long gone past.
A bigger problem with this contributor’s ideas than the mere logical weakness of his argument, however, is the divisiveness of his hebephilic identity politics. According to this way of looking at things, hebephilia is the only good and virtuous way of loving. Paedophiles and ephebophiles, even bog standard teleiophiles, are perverted in this account, driven solely by selfish lust. It is a peculiarly nihilistic “politics” because it systematically trashes every possibility of political alliance, which is the way real politics gets done. It gratuitously makes enemies of everyone. In any case, there is no clear taxonomic split between hebephilia and paedophilia, nor between hebephilia and ephebophilia: the overlap between these categories is considerable, as discussed here recently. Just as there is no “pure” race, such as the Aryans, on which the Nazis based their delusions of racial superiority, there are no pure unalloyed sexual orientations either. We may identify as solely hebephile, or whatever, but the majority in any orientation category are mongrels with a range of tastes.
Again, though, the weak logic behind the contributor’s truculence is less significant than the attitude itself. It is divisive, as already noted, and it is also self-centred, expressing not so much a group identity as an individual one: it is a politics of one person against the world, which is not a practical politics at all, but more a cry for help or a scream of rage against everything being so complicated and confusing these days. As such, it echoes O’Neill’s view, above, of those censorious modern students who are so “narcissistic and needy”.
As for why things have taken such a turn, and what might be done about it, those are perhaps stories for another day.
KING OF THE STING IS STUNG
Yo! Great news! The bastard has got his come-uppance at last! Mazher Mahmood, aka the Fake Sheikh, former star undercover reporter for Rupert Murdoch’s UK newspapers, especially the Sun and the now defunct News of the World, is facing jail for tampering with evidence in the collapsed drugs trial of pop star Tulisa Contostavlos two years ago. Following a two-week trial at the Old Bailey, a jury today found the 53-year-old “King of the Sting” and his driver guilty of plotting to pervert the course of justice.
It’s all over the news, including this Daily Telegraph report, and nobody could be more delighted than me, not least because I was a victim of his lies myself, a story told in When Heretic TOC met the Fake Sheikh, written in July 2014 soon after Judge Alistair McCreath publicly concluded that Mahmood had attempted to persuade a witness to change his evidence and then lied about it under oath.
In my case, Mahmood tracked me down to a naturist resort in France, where he pretended to be not a sheikh but a sheikh’s aide, tasked with the role of checking out the resort to see whether it would be possible for his boss to take a discreet naturist holiday there. His real mission, though, using a very “underage” looking female reporter as an accomplice, was to tempt me into some sort of indiscretion. Maybe they hoped I would proposition her. When that failed they simply made up lies and another accomplice took a photo with a long lens that made it look (falsely) as though I was standing naked with a young boy and chatting him up. Mahmood even had the gall to write up the story in his autobiography, claiming it as one of his successes. See also my follow-up story, The strange case of the brilliant ‘bimbo’.
HEWSON HAMMERS ‘ABUSE FUNDAMENTALISTS’
I guess most heretics here will be aware by now that yet another fiasco has struck the bloated, unmanageable “independent inquiry into historical child sexual abuse”. After losing no fewer than three chairpersons, the inquiry now has to deal with the departure of a key figure who had been holding the wreckage together – counsel to the inquiry Ben Emmerson QC, who resigned at the end of last month.
Fewer readers, though, may be aware that the excellent barrister and commentator Barbara Hewson penned a stinging piece on the subject for the Daily Mail under the headline “This fiasco of a sex abuse inquiry is totally out of control…and has to end NOW”.
The most stunning aspect of her analysis is that unlike the politicians, or most of the media, she has dared to criticise the so-called “survivors”. The inquiry, she says, “has always been dogged by rancorous in-fighting between different camps of ‘survivors’ of historic sexual abuse.” She says prime minister Theresa May did not anticipate when she decided to set up the inquiry two years ago in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, “just how extreme many of the campaigners demanding an inquiry were.” Not pulling any punches, she writes:
I call them ‘abuse fundamentalists’. Some of them are avid conspiracy theorists, recycling tall tales from the Eighties era, when panic about alleged Satanic ritual abuse was at its height….They have all been traumatised, they claim, and everything that is wrong with their lives today is somebody else’s fault. [There is] a vocal lobby who seem as impervious to reason as religious fundamentalists. Unless you submit to their world view — a fixation on the idea that society is riddled with shadowy VIP paedophile ‘rings’ shielded by an evil Establishment omerta — they will viciously condemn you as an apologist for paedophiles.
And there is more! Well worth reading in full.