Trans kids 2: The intersex brain

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The very large differences between one trans person’s needs and another, which were made clear via the resource guide  Families in TRANSition, at the end of the first part of this blog on transgender youth – and were later commented upon knowledgeably by Peace in the course of some excellent exchanges between readers – draw further attention to the question of what being transgender really means.

For this, that we have to ponder what constitutes gender itself. As Robin Marantz Henig wrote for the National Geographic’s special issue, gender is an amalgamation of several elements, including our biological sex: chromosomes (those X’s and Y’s), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and oestrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviours).

What gender includes can be very confusing, though, because it depends on the context. Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955 (long before his now discredited recommendation of surgical sex-reassignment on David Reimer in his infancy). However, Money’s meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the concept of a distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender. For the purpose of today’s discussion, we definitely need to engage with the biological side.

Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele is genetically male but was born with ambiguous external genitalia. At age 10 she had undescended internal testes removed and transitioned to live as a female. But she now feels this surgery was unnecessary. She says, “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening… It’s not that big of a deal being intersex … it became a trauma because of what they did.” According to the UN, up to 1.7% of the world’s population is born with intersex traits, about the same as the number of people with red hair.

Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele is genetically male but was born with ambiguous external genitalia. At age 10 she had undescended internal testes removed and transitioned to live as a female. But she now feels this surgery was unnecessary. She says, “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening… It’s not that big of a deal being intersex … it became a trauma because of what they did.” According to the UN, up to 1.7% of the world’s population is born with intersex traits, about the same as the number of people with red hair.

The necessity of bringing in biology becomes clear once we begin to drill down into the detail of where gender dysphoric feelings are coming from. Research into foetal growth has implicated pre-natal brain development in the womb. People who want to change their assigned gender usually have completely normal genitalia at birth in accordance with their assigned sex. In these cases there is no reason to suspect a genetic abnormality or any other unusual physical condition.

Intersex, as usually understood, is different.  An intersex person has any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. Such variations may involve genital ambiguity at birth. These intersex people are the ones who used to be called hermaphrodites, a term that was dropped as it was thought stigmatising. A second type of individual has typical-looking genitals but with internal intersexed features that are not apparent. These are known medically as “occult” intersex conditions. The point is that intersexed persons have, in the same body, both male and female biological characteristics that are typically found only separately in each sex. Well-known conditions of this kind include Turner syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is associated with a specific defective gene. There are even mosaic situations in which the same individual possesses both XX (female) and XY (male) cell types. Bizarrely, as reproduction expert Milton Diamond puts it “a person might have an arm considered male because its cells are all XY while the same person’s leg might be considered female because its cells are all XX”. Bet you didn’t know that!

It is hardly surprising that people with these clearly fundamental intersex conditions may be unhappy with their assigned sex and seek sex reassignment surgery, SRS, later on.

However, Diamond has also made the striking claim that there are significant natural in-born sex differences found between the brains of trans people and others that are sufficient “to conclude that persons with a transsexual condition are intersexed. Simultaneously it is recognized that many intersexed persons will switch from their assigned gender, yet many will not. Transsexual people are persons now also commonly referred to as… transgender persons.” Here is his explanation:

It is known that the genitals and brain develop at different times. The genitals develop early prenatally during the first 6 – 12th week and they may develop in masculine or feminine form. If the genitals develop under the influence of the androgen testosterone they are masculinized. If they are not, female genitals develop. In comparison, the brain, it is believed, develops during the latter period of pregnancy and also is subject to the influence of androgen. If there is significant androgen present at that time there will be brain masculinization, if not, there will be brain feminization. It thus is clear that the brain and genitals can develop independently and under different forces.

Thus we have a clear biological explanation for trans children’s insistence that they are a girl trapped in a boy’s body, or the other way around. They may well truly have a girl’s brain – and mind – trapped in a boy’s body or vice versa.

But this is not to say that biology is destiny. As we have just heard Diamond say: “many intersexed persons will switch from their assigned gender, yet many will not.”

This takes us straight from a biologically fundamental point to an equally profound socially grounded one. Whether anyone wants to make the switch will be hugely influenced by what is socially acceptable in any specific culture. Half a century ago in many developed countries including the UK and US, gay sex was a criminal activity and just being gay was heavily stigmatised. In that atmosphere it made sense for many gender non-conforming children to grow up thinking they might be better off if they could change sex. In those days, though, this was a choice open only to a rare few: usually wealthy, independent-minded people who could find a surgeon, perhaps in another country, willing to risk their own reputation by undertaking what was then pioneering and highly controversial surgery.

Nowadays, however, in countries where homosexuality is still stigmatised, sex changes have become an accepted way of avoiding open homosexuality. The homophobic regime in Iran, for instance, is a big fan of transsexuality. It’s a thought that should give us pause. Do we really think we should be in a rush to emulate such a country?

Why should we be leaping to accept the fashionable view that changing sex is such a great idea, bearing in mind that it requires risky measures such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has potentially dangerous long-term side-effects, and extensive, difficult surgery, when for many gender dysphoric people there is an increasingly viable alternative that does not mean rejecting your body? What I mean is that people, especially the millennial generation, are coming to accept the idea that there is a “gender spectrum”. We do not need to make the binary choice of being either male or female. While it is undeniable that only a tiny proportion of the population is transgender (0.3% of adults in the US, according to one scholarly estimate, with a further 3.5% who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual), what matters is that there is  growing public acceptance of gender variance.

Geneticist and paediatrician Eric Vilain –  another sexnetter, by the way, like Bailey, Blanchard, Diamond, Green and Zucker – has a vision for liberating gender expression without going to all the trouble and risk of changing sex. He sees us moving towards a society that thinks beyond gender stereotypes. “I am trying to advocate for a wide variety of gender expressions,” he told National Geographic writer Henig, “which can go from boys or men having long hair, loving dance and opera, wearing dresses if they want to, loving men, none of which is ‘making them girls’—or from girls shaving their heads, being pierced, wearing pants, loving physics, loving women, none of which is ‘making them boys.’ ”

Other cultures have shown that we humans are perfectly capable of such gender flexibility.  One solution adopted by many non-western cultures is, as Henig wrote,  “where a formal role exists that is neither man nor woman but another gender: South Asia (where a third gender is called hijra), Nigeria (yandaudu), Mexico (muxe), Samoa (fa‘afafine), Thailand (kathoey), Tonga (fakaleiti), and even the U.S., where third genders are found in Hawaii (mahu) and in some Native American peoples (two-spirit).”

That said, the right course for some young people will be the fullest possible social and bodily transition. There probably should be an element of pushback from parents and the medical profession in order to test the reality and intensity of their feelings. But not too much. How much is too much? This is a question that would tax the wisdom of Solomon. But if kids pass the “insistent, consistent, persistent” test, it should be good enough, provided that the decisions in question are in accordance with the child’s maturity and ability to make informed decisions.

As I said at the outset, it is not like sexual expression, where simple willingness may be enough. A young child should have free gender expression (without having to face harsh pushback), but it would be mad to let them choose SRS at this stage. Ironically, though, as Richard Green noted in his recent London talk, referred to last time, just a few decades ago there was nothing controversial about sexual reassignment surgery for intersex children from birth onwards – as long as doctors and parents were the ones doing the choosing, which they did with sometimes disastrous results, as in the notorious case of David Reimer, who was called Bruce at birth, surgically changed (with loss of penis and testicles) after a botched circumcision to become Brenda, but reverted to living as a male called David in adulthood before eventually killing himself. This was widely blamed on his traumatic unwanted sex change; but,  as Green has pointed out, Bruce’s twin brother Brian also committed suicide, without having suffered any such trauma.

Green considers that doctors such as John Money, widely vilified for his part in the Reimer case, acted from good intentions because it was considered vital for a child’s welfare that they should appear normal, which meant they had to fit in with the only two choices available, male or female. Also, it was believed in those days that kids would accept the gender they were brought up in. The controversial element at that time was confined to sex change operations on adults: grown-up were not supposed to have such surgery: it was thought freakish and perverted. It was almost as though there was an age of consent for SRS but you were required to be below that age, not above it!

As puberty approaches, a big decision comes into view. To block, or not to block? Puberty blockers can be used in order to slow the growth of sex organs and the production of hormones. Other effects include the suppression of facial hair, deep voices, and Adam’s apples for boys and the halting of breast growth and menstruation in girls. Temporarily halting the advance of puberty in this way is a hugely important option because it gives time for youngsters to mature and think deeply about their future without finding themselves saddled with irreversible bodily developments that would make later SRS less successful. Puberty blockers, like HRT, are a form of hormone treatment, but unlike the former there seems to be little risk attached to their use. In response to a safety scare earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration said it was reviewing the situation but was “not aware of any new documented safety concerns with this class of drugs that should change prescribing practices or warrant discontinuation of these medications.”In fact the safety issue seems to be the other way around: not having access to them involves a substantial risk of leading to unnecessary distress that might well result in suicide or a lifetime of regret over lost opportunities.

In Britain, children can be given hormone blockers to stop puberty at the age of nine, male-to-female or female-to-male sex hormones (HRT) at 16, and can undergo a full sex change at 18. I’d say that’s more or less right in appropriate cases.

But a lot of them will not be appropriate. Where kids have been “insistent, consistent, and persistent” since early childhood that they are in a body of the wrong sex, the case for allowing puberty blockers seems overwhelming. Most gender dysphoria (GD) arises much later, though, in adolescence. In these circumstances, in the absence of any evidence of “intersex brain” or another intersex condition, caution is indicated, based on the time-honoured fundamental medical principle “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), as reflected in the Hippocratic Oath. It is psychologist Mike Bailey’s view that adolescent-onset gender dysphoria in natal females, especially, “has a strong social/iatrogenic component”.

This last type is being studied by yet another sexnetter, Lisa Littman, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, who is currently researching “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. As part of her introduction to a survey she conducted, she wrote:

We have heard from many parents describing that their child had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria in the context of increasing social media use and/or being part of a peer group in which one or multiple friends has developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during a similar time frame. Several parents have described situations where entire friend groups became gender dysphoric. This type of presentation is atypical and has not been studied to date.  We feel that this phenomenon needs to be described and studied scientifically.

Quite so. The is precisely the sort of social contagion (which can reverse itself as quickly as it starts) that doctors such as Ken Zucker are very wise to investigate with their patients before undertaking pharmaceutical interventions.

Bailey has identified four types of gender dysphoria, only one of them being early onset with “intersex brain” implicated.  These are: child-onset GD associated with marked gender nonconformity (both natal sexes); adolescent-to-adult onset GD associated with autogynephilia (natal males only); late-onset FTM associated with unusual sexual/gender fantasies (natal females who want to have sex with/as gay men…); and adolescent-onset GD in natal females that has a strong social/iatrogenic component.

Autogynephia is a can of worms I’d rather not open today, as it is both highly controversial and mind-bogglingly confusing. Suffice it to say that it takes us into complex interactions between gender identities and sexual orientations. The idea that sexual motivation could be the underlying driving force for wanting to change sex in some cases tends to be hotly denied. It is seen as a slur. However, for those of us who take a positive view of sex, there is no reason why it should be: a sexual motivation can be as legitimate as any other.

Finally, the future for trans youth is not just about what the medical profession recommends or the law allows. It should be about accepting and celebrating gender diversity, so that youngsters are not put under social pressure to conform to outdated gender stereotypes.

 

Trans kids 1: Insistent, consistent, persistent

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This is the first part of a two-parter on transgender youth. Heretic TOC’s tentative conclusions on trans kids’ rights and well-being, including the right to puberty blocking, will be deferred until part two. By all means send comments straight away, but it would not make sense to judge my opinions until you know what they are. As for the conclusions being “tentative”, I think that as an outsider parachuting myself into this difficult issue for the first time, that’s the way they should be. My view is offered with due humility and I welcome reasoned dissent, not least from one or two people here whose knowledge goes far beyond my own.    

 

What is best for transgender youth? Noisy militants demand the “right” of even little children to adopt the gender of their choice, so that every Stephen can become a Stephanie, start wearing dresses, long-hair and makeup, use the girls’ toilets at school and require everyone to call her “she”.

And every tomboy Stephanie, it is asserted, should be free to do the opposite. Thus the path may be cleared, or so it is hoped, for a smooth transition at adolescence and beyond to a more complete reversal, if so desired, of young people’s originally assigned sex, through hormone treatments and surgery.

Heretic TOC has always keenly advocated children’s rights, so cheerleading for the right of youth with gender dysphoria to change their gender may seem an obvious choice. What is definitely a no-brainer is that we should favour policies and practices aimed at securing their dignity and well-being – aims which should include promoting both a happy childhood and long-term flourishing in adult life.

These welfare aims are not necessarily best advanced, however, simply through declaring and implementing a child’s right to transition. This is because, unlike children’s sexual expression and self-determination, gender transition involves setting out on a path that becomes increasingly harder to reverse as time passes; and irreversible changes of a profound nature, especially sex reassignment surgery (SRS), are sometimes profoundly regretted.

ng-trans-cover-pic

On its Facebook page, the American Family Association posted about this magazine cover: “BE WARNED PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS!!! National Geographic shakes a fist at God and biblical authority on their radical mission to advocate gender confusion…” The nine-year-old trans girl in the picture, Avery Jackson, and her parents, Debi and Tom, have received an outpouring of public support following the appearance of this very high-profile publicity, but also lots of internet trolling.

This is not to say there should be no early start to transition. Some children make their feelings very clear, very early. From as soon as they learn in infancy about the traditional dress codes and gender roles, they will begin telling their parents they have been assigned to the wrong gender. They just know, from as early as age two or three, that they are really a girl not a boy, or vice versa. In the mantra of therapists approved of by the trans community, if these children are “insistent, consistent and persistent” in such beliefs, then it makes sense to start treating them as belonging to their chosen gender, with a first name and clothes, etc., to match, perhaps just at home to begin with and later at school.

There is nothing irreversible about these symbolic changes, and for that reason there can be no strong reason for making a child’s life miserable by sternly ruling them out. But there are hazards, even at this stage. “Being” a girl instead of a boy, or a boy instead of a girl, may be relatively easy if your mum and dad are relaxed about it and they are the only ones to know; and so will changing back again if so desired. At this stage, there is no commitment beyond the level of any other “let’s pretend” game.

It is much more of a commitment to go to school with a new name and gender though. And a vastly bigger commitment if – as is increasingly happening now that transgender is suddenly such a fashionably high-profile phenomenon – your life as a trans child is featured on a TV reality show such as I Am Jazz, or if your photo is featured on the front cover of National Geographic magazine, as happened to nine-year-old Avery Jackson last month. Once things have reached this stage changing course could be as psychologically tough as getting to the altar with the dreadful sinking feeling that your betrothed is not going to be Mr or Mrs Right after all, but you are already caught in a trap.

The psychiatrist Richard Green, a pioneer in the field of transsexuality since the 1960s, expressed a dim view of transgender children being exposed to the full glare of the media when I heard him speak in London last month on the development of transsexual surgery for adults from its beginnings in the 1930s.

“I’m not convinced that going on TV to announce your child is dysphoric is the best way to ensure their development,” he said. “It might even be considered child abuse. Better if it’s under the radar: allow the child to go to a new school. You test the water. Being on the cover of National Geographic is not necessarily in that kid’s best interests.”

I agree. The high-profile route is a sign not of children being legitimately insistent, consistent and persistent, but rather of militant activism by adults who have shown themselves all too willing to use ruthlessly dishonest tactics. Think of the aggressive noisiness we hear all the time from “victims” of “historic child sexual abuse”: the pushiest ones tell the most sensational yarns and grab the most media and political attention. In this post-truth era, few seem to care whether their stories – with lurid “Satanic abuse” and improbable conspiracy theories based on “recovered memories”, or outright lying – have any basis in reality.

It’s the same, unfortunately, with some trans activists. On BBC’s Newsnight last month, for instance, an activist called Shon Faye made swingeing allegations against Dr Ken Zucker, one of the world’s most eminent clinicians in the transgender field. He falsely claimed that Zucker’s peers, in a  review of his clinical practices, found he had a habit of taking unnecessary photos of his young patients “in various states of undress” and he was “asking them very lurid sexual questions”. Zucker’s long-time colleague Ray Blanchard, also on the programme, intervened to say the allegations were untrue. The presenter stopped Faye from going any further, but by then the damage had been done. The allegations appeared to have been an attempt to recycle an earlier one. A former client, now an adult, claimed Zucker asked him to remove his shirt in front of other clinicians present, laughed when he complied, and then referred to him as a “hairy little vermin”. The accusation was subsequently retracted by the accuser. The resurrected form of the accusation on Newsnight was potentially even more damaging; its vagueness hinted at the possibility of a sexual motive on Zucker’s part – and we need no persuading as to how destructive that can be.

What is certainly true, as H-TOC has reported previously, is that there has been a long-term campaign against Zucker, who is seen by some as a monster who practised a brutal form of “conversion therapy” in which he tried to make kids’ gender identity “normal”, otherwise known in the terminology as cisgender. All this agitation led to a highly critical external review last year of Zucker’s work at his clinic, Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as a result of which he was sacked. Investigative journalist Jesse Singal wrote an in-depth series of articles about this, and concluded:

…the truth about Zucker and his clinic is a lot more complicated. Many of the claims activists have made about him are false or seriously overblown, and the “external review” that led to his firing… was absolutely riddled with errors and falsehoods. CAMH itself quickly decided it couldn’t stand by the review it had commissioned; after we reported that the single most damning allegation in the review was completely false, CAMH yanked the document off its website entirely, replacing it with a toned down “summary.” Zucker has since sued CAMH for releasing what he and his lawyer claim was a defamatory report, and that suit is ongoing.

Zucker had a great chance to put the record straight last month in a BBC 2 documentary called Transgender kids: Who knows best?, and to a significant degree he succeeded – despite a vigorous censorship bid in the shape of a the petition aimed at stopping the show going out, and Shon Faye’s libellous trashing of Zucker, broadcast as part of a Newsnight preview of the show. The programme as a whole was generally well-received by mainstream reviewers, who judged it “cautious”, “well worked out”, “even-handed” and “sophisticated”.

Crucially, it considered the controversial and all-important question of what gender dysphoria actually is. There are those, including clinicians and activists, who believe it always reveals a key aspect of an individual’s innermost, stable identity, by showing there is mismatch between their gender identity and their assigned gender, as traditionally determined by their visible genitalia at birth. Thus until they transition they will never feel at ease with who they are. Arguably, they feel a bit like a gay person before liberation or a Kind one now – forced to hide and deny a fundamental aspect of themselves, and hating the idea that the medical profession wants to wish them out of existence through a “cure”.

Zucker does not deny the importance of the fundamental identity question, but as a clinician he is also aware that people are very complicated and that any particular case may actually be driven by other factors. “Taking any behaviour in isolation when thinking about gender dysphoria is not the way that I think about it,” he says. You also need to know about the child’s family and life history. He gave the example of a girl whose mother had been murdered when she was four. The child wanted to be a boy, he said, in the belief that a boy would have been better able to protect her mother and look after himself too.

It sounded very plausible, but I note that Mike Bailey, one of the top research scientists in the field, is sceptical. Addressing him on Sexnet, Bailey said:

Ken, this mantra that there are many ways to gender dysphoria is possibly true, but it is also possibly false. That your clinical team comes up with various formulations about family dynamics that make sense to the team and that the child gets better when problematic dynamics are treated are not very convincing to me as evidence. (I think a plausible alternative is that the passage of time and a shared commitment to helping the child desist are the active ingredients.) Clinical formulations of this general type (family dynamics) have virtually no evidence supporting them.

What does have strong evidence going for it, though, is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can definitely be a profound mental health issue at the severe end of the spectrum. According to paediatric neuropsychologist John Strang, children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD. Zucker has himself pointed out this connection; pro-trans activists play it down.

James/Jasmine, are you reading this? Our brilliant, geeky, teenage male-to-female transgender contributor here at Heretic TOC a couple of years ago also identified as autistic, but at the mild end of the spectrum, such that she felt it was not a mental health problem but a valid and positive aspect of her identity. If you see this, Jasmine, we’d love to hear your reaction!

Even more convincing evidence on Zucker’s side came in the programme from “Lou”, who was born female and had a double mastectomy as part of transitioning to a man. Now she feels “freakish” and regrets it deeply. She says it is a decision that “haunts” her and she feels her gender dysphoria should have been treated as a mental health issue. The identity that now feels truest to her is as a cisgender lesbian.

And yet when she was a girl entering puberty she was desperate to be a boy. Distressed by her unwanted periods, she attempted suicide. She was told by the trans community she really had no choice: it was transition or die. She did not think he had a mental health problem.

Also on Who Knows Best? was trans therapist Hershel Russell, who is based in Toronto, like Zucker, and was one of the people who helped get him sacked. Russell  tried to talk Lou’s case away as a rare exception. But even one exception is enough to prove that matters are not as simple as the more gung-ho activists would have us believe. They also have a problem with the widely-touted claim (albeit the figures are disputed) that around 80% of children and adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria do not in the end go through with transition: they desist, sticking with their sex as assigned at birth.

In the Q&A session following his talk on transsexual surgery, I asked Richard Green about the reasons for this desistance. I was particularly interested to know whether he thought the persistors were mainly people with a potentially diagnosable gender-related biological condition underpinning their gender dysphoria, whereas perhaps the desistors had become transgender for socially-motivated reasons.

He favoured a biological explanation for persistence, especially when it was really insistent and consistent. As for those who desist, he said a lot of them become gay or lesbian. And nobody knows better than Green, who wrote a classic book on the subject, that gender non-conforming boys tend to be homosexual later on. It appears to me that gender dysphoria and sexual orientation probably have a connected common origin. Given the present scientific consensus that sexual orientation has pre-natal biological origins, it also seems a good bet that gender dysphoria is triggered further back in an individual’s development than any social influences.

For yet another Toronto angle on all this I can thank Peace, who has guest-blogged and commented here. Transitioning from female to male, Peace has chosen not to guest-blog about his personal journey, but responded instead to my request for general information, thoughts and resources on the subject. One such resource I found particularly helpful was Families in TRANSition: A Resource Guide for Parents of Trans Youth, published by Central Toronto Youth Services.

What struck me most from this publication was its calmly reasonable tone – a million miles, one might think, from the militant, angry activism that sees Ken Zucker libelled and branded a monster. Bizarrely, however, one of those pleasant, sensible contributors turns out to be none other than Hershel Russell, one of Zucker’s most strident critics. He confesses he worries a bit about parents who seem immediately very accepting of their child’s wish to transition. Zucker himself could have written that!

A point I feel Peace would particularly agree with is this:

Trans people often describe puberty, the point at which their bodies begin to change and visibly betray their inner experience, as traumatizing – “nature’s cruel trick” – and a time of true despair. It is a time when feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide may emerge or worsen.

But the guide makes clear that being transgender is not always about heading towards radical anatomical change:

Some youth are clear that their survival depends on fully transitioning from one gender to another. Other youth find that they only need to change one aspect of their bodies, or need no medical interventions at all but rather wish to express their unique gender identity through clothing and behaviour. Whatever the case, these needs come from inside the child and, for better or worse, are unlikely to be changed by pressure or persuasion.

 

The next part of this two-part blog will go deeper into the question of what being transgender really means. It will introduce the scientific basis for a striking claim: that there is such a thing as an intersex brain. It will also discuss transgender choices in relation to wider cultural issues.  

 

Jimmy the screamer caught in VICE racket

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Jimmy “the screamer” Cantori, notorious hit-person of the Toronto mob, has gone to ground after a dramatic shoot-out last week when he was sensationally injured in a verbal battle with “heretic” Tommaso Caroli and “sex queen” Judith Levine, goodtime girl and slayer of child-protection racketeering. Cantori is thought to be nursing a badly-wounded ego.

The rumble broke out in a seedy speak-easy called Sexnet, where clients claim to “exchange information and ideas” about so-called “sex research”. Hostilities began after Cantori had bragged of an ambitious scheme to beef up the mob’s muscle by recruiting thugs on the street to press-gang men into “therapy”.

Seriously! James Cantor, a research psychologist whose hissy fits, dubious science, egotistic self-promotion and evangelical moral entrepreneurship in “support” of paedophiles have featured previously on Heretic TOC (see “Scientific egos as fragile as eggs” plus here, here and here for my engagement with him on his research), has now come up with a wheeze to use a vigilante outfit called Creep Catchers to “persuade” their victims – guys looking for sex who are tricked into a meeting they think will be with a minor – that they should seek treatment.

This came to light when James – which I will call him from now on because I’m a hopeless hater and he may well actually be sincere in his misguided aims – alerted Sexnet to a TV documentary about Creep Catchers by the appropriately named VICE News. James, who was interviewed on the programme, said he thought VICE did a great job, and I readily agree it was very slick and totally compelling.

J. Michael Bailey, moderator of Sexnet and himself a leading academic psychologist, also agreed, but then added that he thought James’s contribution had been “very, very good”. Usually, I find myself in agreement with Mike (it helps to agree with a moderator! 🙂 ), but not this time. So I said as much, although Judith Levine got in first with a fine one-liner, saying she thought the vigilante was the one who needed therapy – meaning a bully calling himself “Justin Payne”, a name possibly intended to evoke the idea of meting out pain in the name of justice. He was the guy actually confronting his entrapped victims, taunting and shaming them while his partner in a two-man team captured the confrontations on video.

My response was to say that:

…yes, James is very, very good at fulfilling a culturally assigned role, which is why the media lap him up.  Where paedophilia is concerned, he is the velvet glove masking the iron fist. He makes it possible for educated, civilised liberals to believe that essentially coercive therapies are necessary.

That alone would have been a red rag to a bull on Sexnet, where a substantial chunk of the membership are paid to develop and implement such therapies: most of them are well-meaning but their careers are built on oppression, including “therapy” within “civil confinement” prisons in the US from which there is virtually no prospect of release, despite treatment courses designed to make offenders safe for life outside.

What would have enraged James even more, though, was my response, and Judith Levine’s, to news he gave about a further development. He posted to say he was scheduled to be on a panel discussion with Justin Payne in February and was “hoping to use the opportunity to call on Creep Catchers to funnel victims into therapy instead of harassment”.

I replied saying “Not sure how encouraging thugs to bully and press-gang people into treatment would play with a medical ethics board. If something else is intended, what would it be? Is complicity with the leopards expected to change their spots?”

Judith posted swiftly in support:

…does Cantor really want to wave a magic wand & combine entrapment with enticements to therapy? How about just getting rid of mandatory reporting?

James is actually on record as being against mandatory reporting laws, which require doctors and other professionals to report to the authorities anyone coming to them for advice or therapy if they disclose any offence. His objection is that such laws deter paedophiles from seeking help – a very strong point because some people are genuinely desperate or even out of control and really do need it. Nevertheless, Judith was right to propose focusing on the reporting issue rather than going down the maverick route of colluding with thugs. As I said in a follow-up, the police wouldn’t touch Creep Catchers with a bargepole and neither should he – though the forces of law and order would do well to challenge the vigilantes over their harassment and intimidating behaviour.

Back to the VICE documentary itself. In one of James’s televised interview points he claimed, as he has done elsewhere, that paedophilia is characterised by crossed wiring in the brain. He said that  instead of having parental or avuncular feelings towards children, paedophiles identify them as sex objects.

Where, I asked, was this  “instead of” coming from? Why would it be one or the other rather than both? I pointed out that at least 20-25% of “normal” men show significant sexual arousal to children in lab-based psychological tests. Most of these guys would presumably be family men, with nothing to suggest they are anything other than loving parents in the socially approved sense of loving. If they can be kind, caring, and affectionate, with an element of erotic attraction in the mix, why would this double response not also apply to preferential paedophiles?

Unfortunately, Mike Bailey seemed blinded by the hostile tone of my post, saying he had been “taken aback” by my attack on James Cantor, whom he described as a humane person who just wanted to stop paedophiles’ lives being ruined.

Right! Sure! As someone whose experience of James’s humane concern has been experienced through nothing but his icy refusal to acknowledge anything I have ever said on Sexnet, through to his cold, dismissive references to “O’Carroll’s” lack of professional standing and expertise, to screaming fits of outright abuse and demands that I be kicked off the forum, I begged to differ. After seven years of this from him since my forum membership started in 2010, I had concluded that nothing would make him happier than to see this particular paedophile’s life ruined; or, better still, terminated! I suspect I must have been murdered in his dreams a number of times and I’d rather not dwell on the methods he might have come up with.

And not just me: any other Kind person on the forum who dared to utter so much as a squeak of modest dissent against his self-enforced towering authority would face a blast of withering scorn. He must have verbally murdered half a dozen of us over the years, leaving me as the last man standing. All the others have either wisely kept a low profile (two or three continue to do useful work through private contacts with key forum members) or else retaliated by giving  James a defiant blast of their own, followed by their swift demotion to non-posting status for failing to know their station.

I have huge respect for Mike and I could see no mileage in antagonising him by pursuing a vendetta on the forum against a colleague he has known for decades without, it seems, being troubled by his obvious volatility. Far better to row back a bit, then try a careful re-casting of my argument, this time without ruffling feathers. So, I apologised for my hostile tone but continued to maintain my original scientific point about “normal” men’s sexual response to children in lab tests. The information I had given was not only correct, which Mike admitted, but also relevant, which he had denied. This time, after my further explanation, he conceded I had a point, albeit he felt James did not really believe paedophiles never feel parental-type love for children. My reaction: no, maybe not, but that is effectively what he said in public and it is pure poison because it suggests that Kind people are wired up to be unkind – selfishly interested only in their sexual expression and callously indifferent to children’s feelings and best interests.

I carefully spelled out that the “crossed wires” analogy presents paedophilic mental experience as a polar opposite of the norm, rather than part of a continuum in which most paedophiles have a great deal in common with others. Thus “the paedophile” is presented in a dehumanising way as a freakishly different being. This, I said, seems to me to be on a par with the equally false and damaging claim (now largely corrected in the literature) that paedophilic “offenders” lack empathy.

It was hard to gauge what other sexnetters were thinking at this point. Posts by established academics on less controversial topics, such as a thread today on “copulatory vocalisation”, tend to be followed up quickly with colleagues chipping in further information, often with friendly banter and jokes thrown in. My posts used to be met with brusque dismissal or patronising little lectures on where I was going wrong – until both types of response were met with clear evidence that I know my way around the literature and can back up my arguments with facts. After that they tended to shut up, except for James as the ranting voice of determined hostility on one side and a few brave souls on the other who have broken ranks occasionally to offer respectful dialogue on friendly first-name terms, or even support.

Mike has always been one of these. And now he came to the rescue again. Pleased by my change of tone, he turned his mind to my argument, and this time readily agreed I had a point. Most of the others maintained what I take to be a grudging, resentful silence. Someone started a purely theoretical discussion with Mike as to whether paedophilia is or is not taxonomically distinct; two or three others called for a halt to the personal spat. James got a bit of support for his efforts to “help” paedophiles, notably from Dan Watter, president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research; but these were very brief contributions that neither attacked me nor addressed my arguments. And that was about it. Except for Judith Levine.

She had said vigilantes such as Creep Catchers tried “to scare the living bejesus” out of people and their activities could not be condoned. James disagreed, saying “Whether we here like it or not, their actions have great public support and attention.” Opposing them directly would not work: “This method, history has shown time and again, will only fuel the fire and add to the anti-intellectual fervor of the day.” Judith came back strongly. She wrote:

…as a political tactic, every movement needs radicals to stand not only for what we might get now but what we really want & really believe in. Current “sex offender” policies and practices are not only ineffective and counterproductive…. They are wrong. Legal hyper-punishment is unjust, and vigilante violence is immoral. No one should condone them, even obliquely.

This prompted Richard Green to enter the fray in support of Judith’s record, citing not only her well-known book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, discussed in comments here last time, but also her service as a Director of the National Center for Truth and Justice, which campaigns against what he called “problematic sex laws” and supports those falsely accused of child sex abuse.

Now into his eighties, Richard has a long and distinguished record of radicalism of his own as a leading academic psychiatrist who successfully campaigned against homosexuality being treated as a mental illness, and who made a bold bid to do likewise for paedophilia in a far less sympathetic political climate. As president of the International Academy of Sex Research he even stuck his neck out by inviting me as his guest speaker at the academy’s annual conference in 2000 – which is where I first met Mike Bailey.

Amazingly, by the time of Richard’s intervention on the Creep Catchers thread, it looked as though peace was breaking out. James posted in a remarkably emollient tone, even calling me Tom, which he has never done before. Wonders never cease! Alas, it didn’t last long. Like so many tactical ceasefires in so many conflicts, it would only take a single disaffected sniper to wreck the prospects of peace.

This time it was Nick Devin, Virtuous Pedophiles founder, who weighed in with a highly personal attack on me, saying I had always been mean to him despite his best efforts to hold out the hand of friendship. He had a point. I do not possess an effigy of Nick, but if I did it would be stuck so full of pins it would look like a hedgehog. Have I been unreasonable towards him? Maybe. But it’s hard to see clearly through a miasma of visceral loathing and contempt. Did I say I am not a good hater? Perhaps I should think again. Or maybe not. My view of Nick is not set in concrete, whereas a good hater’s would be.

Be that as it may, Nick’s “contribution” seemed to set James off again. Certainly, I cannot otherwise explain why he unexpectedly came back into the fray, like one of those horror-film monsters you think has just been despatched but suddenly stirs…

I won’t dignify what he said by repeating any of it. It was all utter crap, which I rebutted immediately, calmly and in detail, in a 2000-word volley that included reference to the opinions of sexnetters who have commended my contribution to the forum, including this, from transsexuality expert Anne Lawrence: “If Sexnet gave an award for clear, eloquent, well reasoned analysis, Tom O’Carroll would get my vote.”

The last word went to Mike Bailey:

There is no thought to excluding Tom O’Carroll from SEXNET. He knows a lot about some important topics, and SEXNET would be poorer intellectually without his presence.

That said, both Tom and his critics sometimes–too often–can’t keep themselves from digging/insulting each other. This is to their own detriment. The only people that appeals to is themselves (for retributive purposes) and the people who already agree with them. It is mostly annoying to others, and keeps others from reading their reasoning carefully. Which is a shame, because all are very thoughtful and taking important, mostly reasonable, positions.

I would be a fool to argue against any part of this, which is why, despite one or two ceasefire-breaking little salvos of my own, here, I do not rule out reconciliation with both Nick and James. But it has to be on a basis of intellectual and personal respect. Mutual, of course. They have both been invited to comment and will be treated courteously by me if they do so and, I hope, by other heretics.

Prejudice masquerading as therapy

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Ancient Greece will have become even more ancient by the time I get around to my promised blog about it, unfortunately, as my time is being taken up in pursuit of some hot new developments on the transgender front, which is another topic in the pipeline. The good news, though, is that an excellent anonymous guest blog has come in, offered to Heretic TOC through Filip Schuster. Filip is a friend of the author and can vouch for his authenticity. I would remind everyone that Filip has contributed some excellent comments here, especially in response to “The seven ages of sexual attractiveness” in September. In my view, his friend’s article below captures extremely well the doctrinaire flight from reality imposed these days in the name of therapy on those convicted of even the mildest offences of a sexual nature relating to minors. Note that this account comes not from the Anglosphere, as might be expected, but from an unnamed country of continental Europe.

 

Deferred prosecution for softcore child porn

by Anonymous

In the early 2010s, I was one of many targets of a national police raid against child pornography, in a Western European country. The reason they paid me a visit was that I had saved a few softcore images of young girls in a private web album. The photos had been screened by a webmaster and assessed as being “possibly illegal”. For this reason, the webmaster had closed my account and contacted the police who simply added me to the long list of addresses for their raid.  A prosecutor decided to offer me deferred prosecution because the pictures I had uploaded were “not that serious”. During the raid, the police confirmed that the material in question was all in the softcore category. It mainly consisted of so-called non-nude images and a few nudes. There were no pictures of sexual acts (other than modelling), no close-ups of genitals, and nothing sadistic, creepy or tragic. In fact, most of the models were smiling and looked amused or happy, and the police told me that this was the type of material that was produced voluntarily, to the extent that most of the girls probably even liked the modelling. They conceded that this category used to be completely legal in our country. Things had changed a lot, which in their interpretation even implied that portrait photos of clothed beautiful young girls with make-up, and legal pictures of young but adult petite erotic models, should all be seen as kiddie porn now.

They confiscated my PC and several dozen CDs or DVDs, but felt no need to arrest me or search my whole house. Two months later, I had to sign a contract which mainly meant that I agreed to undergo a psychiatric, polyclinic “treatment” at a forensic clinic, as an outpatient. I was not allowed to choose an external therapist or sexologist of my own liking, but I simply had to accept whatever they would impose on me.

I decided to agree, because the alternative would be a public court case that could easily affect my whole life.

Pathologising

At the clinic, it soon became clear that anyone with paedophilic feelings was automatically seen as a psychiatric patient. In my particular case, these feelings were linked with a presumed arrested emotional, social and sexual development, thought to be the result of an autistic disorder, namely Asperger Syndrome. I had to complete long and tedious tests which did not confirm these diagnostic assumptions, but I was still given the label “autistic”. The irony was that during the group sessions I proved that this diagnosis could not be true, because I showed more (rather than less) than average social intelligence and empathy towards my fellow patients. In the end, this was explicitly acknowledged by my therapists, but they did not adjust their diagnosis. To be more precise, I lacked all the typical defining characteristics of Asperger’s, such as developmental problems during childhood, high sensitivity to sensory stimuli, an obsessive aversion to chaos, poor social insight, deficient emotional intelligence, a limited emotional life, problems with change, or strange obsessions with unusual interests. The characteristics that I did show, such as relatively high intelligence, introversion, or limited motor skills, were not defining and also applied to many gifted persons without any autistic disorder. (After my “treatment”, I read that many intellectually gifted patients are routinely given a “false positive” diagnosis within the autism spectrum, and it even appears to be something of a fad within psychiatric clinics.).

They even seemed really disappointed when I demonstrated that their argumentation did not make sense. Also, they ignored the highly intimidating context and denied that this clearly affected my overall performance. They did not accept the truism that many patients will typically under-achieve in such an environment and that minor errors could be seen as the result of stress, rather than as clear signs that there had to be something wrong with me (i.e. on top of my paedophilic “disorder”).

It was as if they had assessed me before they had met me, and tried to interpret their findings as conclusively confirming their prejudiced diagnosis, even though there was every reason to see them as conclusively refuting it.

This was rather shocking, because it gave me the impression that my self-image did not matter to them. They did not even care that the Asperger’s diagnosis did not match what I considered one of my best developed psychological traits, my empathic ability. Rather than trying to empower me, they were really determined to force their prejudiced views onto me. It was only because I tried to stay calm and polite that I was not forced to follow so-called psycho-education sessions for autistic patients.

With my sexual offence, what particularly gave them reason to believe I had to be autistic was the fact that I thought that voluntary softcore material was ethically acceptable. In their view, I had to realize that children and youngsters below the age of 23 (when their brains would be fully developed) obviously lacked the capacity to understand the long-term consequences of their participation.

I protested that they had the right to blame me for underestimating society’s condemnation of any type of child erotica and thereby underestimating the outrage that could affect the children involved, in the long run, but that this did not imply a lack of empathy. I had simply believed that society was still a bit more tolerant about such material and agreed that if the public perception of softcore images had become so extremely negative, this implied  that it could also undermine the self-perception of the young models.

I concluded that softcore images should become legal again, as soon as society becomes more open to this. This time, it should happen  under strict conditions and be monitored by the government, to prevent any type of abuse or exploitation more effectively .

The clinic clearly had a hard time dealing with me. I did not fit into their standard typologies, because I did not have any important social, financial, compulsive or post-traumatic symptoms and my offence had remained strictly limited to what I had considered morally acceptable. The only real reason I was going to their sessions was that it was part of my contract.  Nevertheless, they kept looking for anything  that would prove I was severely disturbed.

They did not even distinguish a diagnostic category of “paedophilia without a severe psychiatric background” and they ultimately admitted that the stricter legislation would probably make it necessary to do so, because from now on many average paedophiles with a moderate interest in (exclusively) softcore erotica would suddenly be considered real criminals who really needed therapy.

Predictably, all this was quite humiliating, dehumanising and alienating for me.  I went through a lot of fears, worries and insecurity, and had gloomy nightmares.

Within my group, I was the only one who did not have to undergo a second therapy after the group sessions were completed, but they only told me so at the very last moment.

The other members of my group were generally treated even more harshly and I often felt really bad for them, which I expressed in critical remarks and supportive statements. This made me quite popular among the other group members and in the long run, even the therapists admitted that a lot I  had been saying really made sense.

Confusing setting

There was a pervasive ambivalence within the clinic’s attitude towards its patients. Everyone, including the therapists, was addressed by his or her personal name. There seemed to be lots of room for personal confessions and unfiltered responses. However, this atmosphere was merely apparent. Anything you said could and often would be used to increase the pathologising of your particular case.

This included positive traits and experiences, which were reinterpreted as signs of a selfish or criminal personality. The therapists were hardly interested in personal backgrounds of offences and tried to reduce them to standard models. They even forced us to stop using positive or neutral terms, such as “curiosity” or “models” and replaced them by negative ones.

Some therapists were kind and supportive by nature, but anything the patients told a therapist would typically become common knowledge of the whole team. This could be particularly upsetting if a therapist had been sloppy or even incorrect in his or her report.

Also, a therapist who was nice at one occasion, could suddenly become harsh and distant during another session.

For me, all this meant that I basically felt lost, confused and threatened from day one, and that it was difficult for me to conceal my real, mostly negative, feelings.

Another thing that was confusing concerned our main therapist’s attitude to erotica and relationships. She did accept the fact that erotic modelling and even paedophile relationships could be voluntary from the minor’s perspective, but remained convinced that even these were by definition very harmful anyway. She claimed that this was even true for minors above the legal age of 16. Anyone interested in such adolescents clearly had a severe psychiatric disorder, and any minor interested in an adult needed treatment as well!

In general, the analyses of personal backgrounds remained very stereotypical and superficial and they were more interested in confirming their prejudices than in understanding the individual group member. Also, they pretended to show empathy for us, by imagining what they would do in a specific situation themselves, even though none of the therapists showed any signs of a paedophilic preference… We were sick if we reacted differently than they would do.

In terms of the severity of offences, the therapists acted as if it should be absolutely clear that watching soft erotica was not essentially different from watching hardcore child porn and that it was indirectly linked to raping children. They also wanted us to believe that there was a very high percentage of recidivism, whereas this is completely incorrect.

We were stimulated to give a detailed description of our “crimes”, but the therapists got almost hysterical if we mentioned specific photographers such as Hamilton, because this would probably lead our fellow group members into temptation.

Forensic ideology

According to the forensic workers I met, all child erotica had become illegal in our country because we now knew that children were not able to deal with sexuality in a responsible, harmless way, not even in the context of softcore erotic modelling. Therefore, they had to be protected against any kind of sexuality, especially in relation to adults.

This general ideology was even shared by really kind professionals, and doubting it was regarded as a clear sign of a psychiatric disorder. All of them acted as if the debate on paedophilia is closed for good, and that anything paedo-erotic involving real children could never be innocent or harmless, let alone positive.

My main therapist believed that softcore erotic modelling was never really voluntary and that there was always some type of coercion involved. On this, even the police officers who had confiscated my PC had a less extreme opinion.

Any type of erotic attraction to children would in itself be pathological and this was also true for a child’s attraction to an adult.

If they accepted the existence of exhibitionism in children, they exclusively regarded it as a psychiatric symptom. Normal, psychologically healthy children would never get involved in erotica.

This also meant that anyone who justified softcore porn had to do so through rather transparent rationalisations and was basically driven by ruthless lust.

We were not allowed to correct such prejudices, and we had to become convinced that any type of paedo-eroticism involving real children was by definition immoral. Anyone who engaged in such things would therefore be really selfish or lacking a basic capacity for empathy.

 

Heretic TOC gets its mojo back

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The year began with a night of doubt and sorrow for Heretic TOC, or rather a somewhat more lingering concern, hinted at briefly on New Year’s Eve in a blog called “Truth, reality and baby elephants”, which spoke in riddles suffused with existential angst.

I said I feared for the blog’s mojo, and by implication my own, but remained silent as to the reason. A couple of months later, though, the Daily Mail let the cat was out of the bag in a story that mentioned my conviction last year for “historic” offences in 1978. Now that the case had been propelled into the public domain, and not in a flattering way, obviously, I felt the time had come to give my side of the story. So I wrote about it in “A rare escape, without bribery or bloodshed”, explaining my good fortune in remaining at liberty despite the present trend towards very long prison sentences.

The reason I left the court a free man, I wrote, is that neither the judge, nor the prosecution, nor crucially even the “victims” themselves, appeared to have seen me as callously “predatory”. Also, the judge emphasised that I was entitled to express my views.

Why, then, would the case leave me feeling Heretic TOC might lose its mojo, putting the blog’s future in doubt? Put simply, I worried that I might find it hard to write honestly, confidently and positively on Kind issues in future without addressing why anyone had wanted to bring a case against me in the first place. The “rare escape” blog gave me the opportunity to do that. With the cat freed from the bag, I too felt liberated from my silence and able to put my side of the story.

Since then, I feel, Heretic TOC has been substantially reinvigorated. The spring and summer months following my personal revelations saw several of what I believe to have been my best ever blogs, notably  “The law, lore and allure of the jungle”, “Latin lovers versus British bum bandits”, “Acceptable danger: the sky is the limit?” and “Willy power and ‘the will to power’”. There have also been some excellent guest blogs, by  David Kennerly, Feinmann (twice), Cyril Galaburda, David, and Peace. Readers’ enthusiasm and engagement seems to have picked up more in the autumn and winter months, with blogs regularly attracting a hundred or more published comments, many of them of a very high standard in terms of richly informative content and cogent argument.

My anxiety at the end of last year that Heretic TOC might not recover its mojo following my narrow escape from prison was of course preceded by a long period in the run-up to the trial when mojo (by which I mean a mix of excitement, interest, energy and enthusiasm) was the least of my problems. The immediate threat was a long stretch behind bars, with a five- or six-year sentence a real possibility. If that had come to pass, Heretic TOC would probably have ceased to exist in terms of fresh contributions by me, although I did have kind offers from guest bloggers and other friends to keep things going if the worst came to the worst.

I had some very generous financial offers, too, at a time when it looked as though I might be faced with heavy legal costs in order to mount a proper defence. In the event, funds were mercifully not needed for this purpose but I was helped with hotel and travel costs for a trial that was held in Wales, hundreds of miles from where I live. Supporters also kindly sponsored my attendance at a classics conference at Edinburgh University in April and the Battle of Ideas debate forum at the Barbican, London, in November, staged by the Institute of Ideas (IOI). The former enabled me to hone up my knowledge of the sexual mores of Ancient Greece, which should come in handy very soon as I hope to be blogging on this theme shortly. The fruits of the IOI event were harvested much more immediately: as regular heretics here will have seen, a good deal of the information and inspiration for my mental health three-parter had its origins in this event.

There was another truly existential threat, too, one that has since receded but not entirely disappeared. In November last year, on the occasion of Heretic TOC’s third anniversary, I blogged under the title “Extremists plot to disrupt ‘distressing’ dissent”, which reported that the UK government was proposing to tackle terrorism by cracking down on the expression of “extremist” views. Depending on how “extremism” was to be defined, this sounded to me like a potentially very serious threat to free speech which could be used to suppress almost any views at odds with mainstream thinking, no matter how non-violent their expression might be. As Simon Calvert, director of Defend Free Speech, said:

Defend Free Speech believes innocent people will fall foul of this unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation. It will criminalise those who hold unpopular, unfashionable or challenging views. This could include pro- and anti-religious groups, trade unionists, environmental and animal rights activists, critics of UK foreign policy and people campaigning for LGBT rights.

And a blog like this.

Well, a lot of water has flowed under the political bridge since then, and with so much happening on the Brexit front, the government has made little visible progress on countering “extremist” views. Theresa May’s new government revived the plan for legislation but an agreed definition of extremism has yet to emerge, and no parliamentary bill has so far been tabled. But in the wake of the Berlin street market attack and a succession, so we are told, of thwarted plots in the UK, May’s government is understandably loath to let go. So, yet again, it all seems to be a matter of wait and see. For recent parliamentary scrutiny see here and here.

The third anniversary blog would have been followed by a fourth last month but I had started my mental health three-parter by then and did not want to interrupt it. So today’s blog has ended up being a sort of late anniversary thing combined with a half-arsed end-of-year 2016 review. Messy, but there we are.

In terms of statistics, the present blog is the 195th in a little over four years since Heretic TOC’s launch. By Christmas Day there had been 8057 published comments, which works out at over 40 comments per blog – a very high figure, especially when taking into account that in the early days I was bringing out a new blog every day. The blogs were typically much shorter then but I nevertheless find myself astonished I could find the time.  As for the number of page hits, on Christmas Day they stood at 121, 915 for the year so far, already exceeding the previous highest total for a full year, which was 2015’s figure, 115,904.

Most visitors to the site in 2016 came from UK and US (fairly equally), followed by (in order) Russia, France, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands; then the next Anglophone country, Australia; then Hungary, Denmark, Canada and Belgium. However, I am told that these particular stats are not very meaningful because some readers will be mailing through proxy servers that bear no relation to where the reader is based. That’s a great shame. Until I heard this, I had been delighted to see that Heretic TOC apparently has readers in such exotic places as  Mongolia, Greenland, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and many others! Oh, well, one can dream!

Looking forward, what can heretics expect from this site in 2017? As already indicated, I expect to be blogging on Ancient Greece quite soon, and I said a few weeks ago that the transgender theme is high on my list. Beyond that, I have a whole heap of topics lined up, and so do several guest bloggers. Don’t be deterred, though, if you haven’t tried guest blogging before and are wondering whether you should have a go: I am always interested in fresh thoughts from new people.

The only limitations on Heretic TOC’s activities, apart from the still distant threat of curbs on free speech, are a shortage of time and money. As I have mentioned on other occasions, I would love to be spending time on writing books, and articles for academic publications, in addition to time spent on the blog. Right now, though, it just ain’t happening. Probably that is because I am not getting any younger. I still have immense enthusiasm for writing and research, but not the energy to produce at speed. Even just keeping up with an ever rising torrent of relevant new books, research papers, articles, TV documentaries and video presentations has become a full-time job in itself.

The demands made by the core task have become such that even simple maintenance issues can seem tough. For instance, with substantial help from reader “Ronnie”, I was able to make great strides in summarising previous Heretic TOC blogs with a view to more effective searching of the whole corpus of work and to select particular pieces (plus a limited  selection of the best reader comments) for inclusion in a Best of Heretic TOC book, with an e-book edition. Yet I was unable, in the whole of 2016, to complete the summaries or make the selection. Never mind, I hope to get there in the coming year.

Another neglected task is the Blogroll, where there are dead links, and live links to dead sites. If anyone knows of lively, relevant sites that really should be included, please let me know. Meanwhile, I hope I can find time in the next few days, before year’s end, to do a bit of weeding in this little digital flowerbed.

As for money, I don’t have much but you will probably be relieved to hear that Heretic TOC is able to soldier on without appealing for funds at the present time.

I’ll just give a moment for that to sink in. OK, so….

Must be half a mo by now.

Right, time up! Now that you’ve had time to enjoy a moment of relief in peace I will add that the coming year may see an appeal for funds, depending on how much progress is made towards certain tasks, and clarity over any financial commitments they might entail. We’ll see.

Now, in winding up, just a few words reviewing the wider year, beyond this blog. I’m not going to bang on about the horrors of Brexit and Trump, or Syria and the tragedy of the Middle East in general, or the looming perils of climate change, or the seemingly freakish number of celebrity deaths. I’m not even going to mention the appalling 13-year prison sentence imposed on a 101-year-old man in the UK, nor dwell upon how the hitherto strongly-held value of humane treatment of the elderly could be so deliberately and abruptly consigned to the trash can in this case with barely a whisper of protest.

No, I will remain silent on all of that but will just note, briefly, that this was a year in which, like the trashed old geezer in jail, I have arguably been demoted to a lower status. Nothing so obvious or terrible as imprisonment, mercifully. More a sort of gentle passing on downwards towards Boring Old Fart rather than (as I would prefer, obviously!) elevation to Elder Statesman of Kind advocacy.

Why do I say so? I guess it’s the Brexit and Trump thing, mainly. My horrified reaction to these phenomena seems not to be shared by some here, perhaps those of a younger generation. So maybe from now on my opinions will come to seem more and more embarrassingly out of touch as time goes by. I suppose my views might change. I might catch up. Or I might not. Either way, younger heretics will have to decide for themselves whether Heretic TOC continues to be worth reading. I hope so, of course. Again, we’ll see!

Happy New Year!

 

UNSENT LETTERS

Bruce Muirhead, or “B.J. Muirhead” as he publicly presents his name, is a writer and photographer whose thoughtful comments have graced Heretic TOC this year. See for instance what he says here about the ideas of biochemist and controversial parapsychologist Rupert Sheldrake. In another comment accessible from the same link he had occasion to mention Unsent Letters, his own novel.

Among other things, he said the book “is based on many stories told to me, although I did, of course, also draw on my experiences with my first wife – and on my knowledge of girls around 13, resulting from talking to my children’s friends when they were visiting. Interestingly, my second wife attempted to use the first draft to prove that I am a ‘paedophile’ and therefore an unsafe parent for my children.”

Intrigued, I bought a copy of the paperback, although it was the best part of three months later before I got around it reading it, by which time, I confess, I had quite forgotten Bruce’s introductory words, so came to the book with no conscious preconceptions. I was impressed, and decided to review it. A short version of the review appears at the publisher’s website, both for the paperback and the e-book. I gave Unsent Letters a maximum five-star rating on quality grounds but, as I said in the review, that does not mean it is something everyone will want to read, or even every heretic.

By reading my concise review, though, you should be able to get a good idea as to whether this is going to be your cup of tea or not. A fuller version of the review has been posted on a website called  In A Foreign Town, which features Bruce’s poetry and fiction. He also has another website for his photography.

I might just mention a few more biographical details taken from the “About” notes Bruce has posted online:

Earlier in my life I studied philosophy and creative writing at various universities, published a very small amount of poetry, an awful lot of photography criticism in the Courier-Mail newspaper and a few other places, and held a few exhibitions of drawings and paintings, before turning into a full time parent and hiding away for about 12 years.

My aim here, just so you know, is to publish random thoughts, ideas and images and perhaps get some feedback …

The laws against ‘abuse images’ are abusive

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Today’s guest blog is on child pornography, or “abuse images” as the current PC term has it, and is by Feinmann, whose debut as a blogger here was in April this year under the title “War on Kinds disguises one against kids”. Professionally retired, he remains highly active as a field researcher working on the conservation of endangered species. The splendid graphics (not intended for sexual gratification but feel free to enjoy them!) are the author’s own.

 

WAGING WAR ON CHILD PORN IS OPPRESSIVE AND DUMB

Some definitions

Pornography: derives from the Greek: πορνογραφία meaning “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution”.

Child pornography: the term appeared in North America during the 1960s, and is defined thus: “Pornographic material featuring sexually explicit images or descriptions of children”. Child pornography, when back-cast to the original Greek suggests: “a written description or illustration of child prostitutes or child prostitution”. The noun child pornography superseded the noun child erotica, but is now equated with child abuse images.

Inquisition: institutions within a system of government whose aim is to combat heresy, and is characterised by: a lack of regard for individual rights, prejudice on the part of the examiners, and recklessly cruel punishments.

COPINE scale: used by UK law enforcement (also known as officious paramilitary social workers) to determine sentencing for possession of child pornography. This ten-point scale was created in the Department of Applied Psychology in Cork in 1997 and adapted for use in UK courts. In 2002, the scale was amended to a five-point SAP (Sentencing Advisory Panel) scale. It then changed again in 2014 to a three-point SOD (Sentencing Offenders Definitive) guideline. The forging of this scalar weapon and its inclusion within the inquisition’s armoury, furnishes law-enforcement agencies with a most terrible servant to deploy … and deploy it they do with rigid absolutism.

Paedophile: a person who is sexually attracted to children, the word appearing in medical dictionaries in 1918, but, with a lack of distinction between paedophilia and homosexuality. From 1960 attempts were made to distinguish “homosexuals” from people then dubbed “paedophiliacs”. In popular usage, the word paedophilia conflates sexual attraction to prepubescent children with “child sexual abuse”.

Indecent Sentences

From Heretic TOC: What Defines Child Pornography?: “In many jurisdictions this is utterly unclear, because mere nakedness may in theory be permissible, but too close a focus on the genitals may constitute an illegal lascivious display or an indecent image. An allegedly suggestive pose can tip the balance from legal to illegal, even if the child is fully clothed.”

In his consultation paper of 2002, Sentencing In Child Pornography Cases, Tom wrote: “The danger lies in the vagueness of the word indecent. As Geoffrey Robertson QC says: ‘Indecency…is assumed to have an ascertainable meaning in law. Jurors and justices who use it as part of their everyday language are trusted to know it when they see it.’ Yet ‘scientific surveys, parliamentary debates and jury verdicts demonstrate no measure of consensus either about community standards or the sort of material which infringes them.’ It seems to me far from self-evident that indecent photographs necessarily involve exploitation in their making, especially as regards those at the lower end of the scale, in COPINE classes 1-6. Indeed, the Sentencing Advisory Panel concedes this point by saying: ‘Images that are relatively less harmful … may still involve … exploitation or degradation …’ They may. Or they may not. Unfortunately, the Sentencing Advisory Panel fails to pursue the logic of this ambivalence. Taking a shotgun approach, the Panel opts to assume the worst and blast away regardless.”

“Shotgun approach” indeed. Fifteen years on, governments still blast away with their indecent bullets to the point where free expression and free speech is critically riddled with holes. In relating the anger expressed over the murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, Peter Herman in Heretic TOC highlighted the following bitter irony: “It has come to a point where, in many parts of the English speaking world, any image of youthful sexuality and even written descriptions of it will at the very least ostracize the individual, land him in jail or possibly get him killed.”

Endlösung der Pädophilenfrage – Final Solution to the Paedophile Question

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But why is war on minor-attracted individuals waged? Why have those elected to protect the civil liberties of every citizen, failed to do so for members of this group? Why have law-makers labelled every member a sexual predator and treated them as a deformity on the body politic?

Being a paedophile has become a crime of such importance that merely to accuse someone brands them a child sexual abuser. The term crimen exceptum, a mechanism vital to the functioning of inquisitions executing social control via justice systems built on barbarism, describes this process well. The crimen exceptum updates the Magna Carta to read: we are all guilty in a court of law.

As with all inquisitions, the crimen exceptum enables a monstrously corrupt false allegations industry to flourish, enthusiastically stoked by child charities and accusers – the latter in the full knowledge that they will be believed, that their anonymity will be guaranteed even if they are found to lie, and that they can profit from selling their lies to a salaciousness-hungry media. These bounty-hunting allegators doubtless obtain an extra buzz from ruining the lives of the innocents they accuse.

To heighten the moral panic and hysteria, the inquisition classifies an image of a naked child as obscene. Ironically, perversely, and hypocritically, one cannot be arrested for possessing images of terrorist crimes or violent crimes, no matter how sadistic or sickening. Heretic TOC recently discussed additional un-prosecuted “child pornography” in the public domain. It also flagged circumcision and the curious failure to prosecute the genital mutilation of some 10,000 and 1,000,000 male babies in the UK and the US, respectively, annually.

Conclusion: it has nothing to do with the image, and everything to do with the discrimination of those that promote and enjoy child sexuality; that includes the kids themselves.

The estrangement of adults from the lives of children

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Frank Furedi in Spiked: “The promotion of paranoia in relation to every aspect of children’s lives accomplishes the very opposite of what it sets out to do.” With nearly one quarter of UK households with dependent children managed by a lone parent, 91% being women, one might envisage such homes to be fertile ground for feeding the paranoia Frank highlights: stranger-danger outside; evil internet inside. Any child daring to display natural sexuality will be instantly hermetically sealed within a bubble of suppression, any adult moving a hand to break the bubble, ostracised.

This from Moor Larkin: “Look after the children, the idea seems to go, and then by the time they see all this filth and perversion, they will be adults and thus impervious to any of its pernicious effects. However at the same time, a legal norm has built up that anyone looking at pictures of children in sexual poses will be likely to want to emulate that imagery in reality, and thus must be treated to remove these pernicious effects, and if they refuse to comply then they must be removed from society.”

Moor’s final comment applies increasingly to children. A primary source of child abuse images rather ironically, is the children themselves. Pediatrics in 2014 states: “That we did not find a link between sexting and risky sexual behavior over time may suggest that sexting is a new ‘normal’ part of adolescent sexual development and not strictly limited to at-risk adolescents.” With the ever-earlier onset of puberty – the term “adolescent” implies a person between 10 and 25 – time perhaps to review age of consent laws.

That youngsters experience fun (kid’s code for excitement) showing off to peers and strangers alike as cameras roll, has been self-evident to child erotica aficionados for decades. Kids, particularly boys, evidently have an interest in sexual imagery. Nothing really new there, but danger lurks on the internet. The inquisition’s Five Eyes will be quick to pounce and arrest young perverts. Oh yes, the inquisition wages a vicious war against youth sexuality too. Heretic TOC highlighted a sad fact that around one in three registered sex offenders in both the UK and the US are themselves minors. Society has totally acquiesced to the implementation of savage lunatic discriminatory laws that, far from protecting children, systematically abuse them, and go on punishing for the remainder of their hellish lives. It is time to STOP IT NOW!

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out

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This poisonous lie from those who claim to protect society exposes the dark heart of the inquisition: “The FBI on behalf of the US government, claim that children are re-victimized every time images of their sexual abuse are viewed or transferred. That argument is one of the main rationales for punishing mere possession of child pornography, which under federal law and the laws of some states can be treated more harshly than violent crimes, more harshly even than actual abuse of children. That penalty structure is obviously irrational unless you believe that serious harm is inflicted every time someone looks at the image of a child’s sexual abuse. In that case, a large enough collection of images could equal or even surpass the harm done by a single child rape, so that it could make sense to impose a life sentence on someone who has done nothing but look at pictures.”

Another poisonous US Government lie states: “The commercial enterprise of online child pornography is estimated in 2005 to be approximately $20 billion, and it is an industry on the rise.” The lie is not easy to refute because it is illegal to research the facts, allowing the inquisition to launder statistics with impunity. In 2006, the Wall Street Journal in an investigative article commented: “to track down the number’s source yielded lots of dead ends.” A further source in 2001 concluded that the market in child pornography was actually negligible. Hyped claims that child pornography is a massively profitable industry appear to have been largely abandoned in more recent years, as the continuing lack of supporting evidence makes such claims less and less plausible. Attention is now focused more on estimating viewing figures, with people looking at what are now being called “child abuse images” being presented as a ‘social emergency’ (see also the BBC Child Pornography Epidemic link referenced in the bullet points below). The 2015 annual report of the Internet Watch Foundation claims “21% of the webpages confirmed as containing child sexual abuse imagery were assessed as commercial.”

More poisonous lies are recounted here.

Anglosphere child charity ‘statistics’ can be equally poisonous: “… research has shown that one in four children (27%) will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18.” This is 1,258 times more than the figure given by the Parliamentary Education Committee for England. The treacherous NSPCC is no better.

These poisonous lies oil the vicious circle and empower the inquisition to:

A model for the future

When any item in demand is outlawed, mechanisms arise that circumvent prohibition. Child pornography was legally produced and sold across several European countries thirty years ago, but is now restricted to, but freely available within the dark web. As images can be viewed, downloaded, copied, and distributed to a thousand destinations instantly, the war on pornography (as for drugs) is unlikely to be won despite huge commitment, funding, and, inane declarations of war.

By waging an intelligent, pragmatic, anti-war on drugs, certain countries in Europe ensure the cure costs less than the problem. Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs for personal use in 2001 by implementing wider health and social policy changes. Results have been remarkable. The fact that Portugal benefited overall from the intelligent reversal of its stance on drugs, should be a wake-up call for governments that pig-headedly persist in waging costly, ineffective wars on items that society clearly wants.

Anglosphere countries should institute an anti-war on child pornography to unstitch manifestly corrupt and repressive laws that discriminate against citizens on the basis of their sexuality, and deny everyone the basic human right to articulate opinions and ideas. Articles 7, 12 and 19 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration are relevant here; these continue to be breached with impunity. The unstitching process should dismantle dangerously unaccountable law-enforcement agencies (plus their allies) that design and deploy McCarthyesque witch hunts to create immense damage across society. One candidate the author would recommend for retrospective prosecution on the basis of discrimination is this one. If any single institution is guilty of fomenting mass-hysteria, discrimination and misery across the world over many decades in the total absence of any scientific justification, this is it.

We do not want future generations to have insanely fucked-up attitudes towards human sexuality like those that lie within the heads of the fascist moral “protectors” that infest Anglosphere governments today. To this end, society must ensure that every child receives adequate education on: human sexuality and human relationships, and the illegality of discrimination on the basis of sexuality. It would be instructive to highlight the fact that the animal kingdom is saturated with sexual deviance (for example: casual intergenerational sex play), and that as deviance is widespread in nature, deviance in humans is natural too.

This inquisition has been successful in suppressing free thought and scientific thought on the issue of child sexuality and intergenerational sex. Peter Herman again: “Following surveys in a number of countries, including, Denmark, Germany, Japan and the Czech Republic, a strong association has been demonstrated between the ready availability of pornography and reduced levels of sexual offending, including against children. Research also shows that non-coercive sexual acts with minors, in themselves, do not result in psychological trauma.” ipce summarises similar research findings. It is high time we revisited these findings and conducted additional rigorous scientific research to clarify the full diversity of human sexual needs, regardless of age.

Driving kids crazy: Part 3, gender

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In Part II of this three-parter on the mental health of young people, the focus was on that part of the lives of children and adolescents in which adults are not present, a realm where there is the possibility of developing self-reliance and confidence in peer groups. It was concluded there is a strong case for saying their independent culture has been disastrously undermined.

It would be simplistic to suppose, though, that the present crisis of mental health begins and ends with this dimension of concern. As well as culture there is gender, for instance. In our present era of relative equality of the sexes compared to the patriarchal past that dominates the historical record, and the gender fluidity that is becoming increasingly fashionable, we tend to downplay innate psychological differences between the sexes to an extent that appears to be exacting a severe mental health toll.

One of the key lessons I took from the Institute of Ideas (IOI) forum discussed in Part I is that boys’ needs and problems remain very different to those of girls. Evidence consistent with this view is to be seen in the epidemiological data, which show that far more boys need mental health treatment than girls in the pre-teen years but the pattern is reversed in adolescence and early adulthood, with females suffering from a rapidly rising epidemic of anxiety, depression and self-harm that has not been experienced by males. Anxiety and depression in teenage boys have actually fallen in the last decade.

Let’s start with pre-teen children. Their basic needs, in addition to being part of a loving and secure family, are for the most part relatively straightforward and apply to both sexes. The Mental Health Foundation lists them, including

  • being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
  • having time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors

I single out these two bullet-pointed factors because they both include elements – vigorous exercise and outdoor play, especially free-range exploration – that we have reason to believe boys need to an even greater extent than girls. Boys in general (though “tomboys” are a fairly common exception), tend to be a lot more energetic and adventurous. It is no accident that in the cooped up conditions now prevailing, it is boys, far more than girls, who are diagnosed with ADHD.

Boys may also be suffering more pre-teen mental problems than girls because the things they are good at – fighting, making a lot of noise, disappearing for hours on end and coming home with grazed knees, muddy clothes and a dead frog in their pocket (or worse, a live one!) – tend to be systematically not just forbidden but far more disapproved of than used to be the case. Parents have always punished boys for their wilder transgressions but usually in an indulgent, admiring way: boys will be boys, they would say. Now, though, in a world with less use for muscle-power and manliness, and with fathers encouraged to discover their “feminine side”, the pre-teen boy has no clear masculine role model to follow. Cross-gender boys might feel liberated, but most will not.

This diminished use for muscle-power, and lower levels of physical activity, are reflected in an actual loss of muscle-power among children. A survey published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica on 10-year-olds in England showed they are weaker now. The number of sit-ups they can do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008, arm strength fell by 26% and grip strength by 7% and twice as many children (one in 10) could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars. That is a staggering difference over a relatively short period and one likely to have a differentially greater psychological impact on boys, who have traditionally been more invested than girls in seeing their growing physical strength as a source of pride.

Even more striking is the literal disappearance of boys’ “manhood” as they put of weight through lack of exercise. Parents have increasingly been turning up with their prepubescent male children at doctors’ surgeries anxious about the boy’s penis size and asking for a physical examination. Writing in the New York Times recently, family doctor Perri Klass said what he and his colleagues have found is that increasing levels of obesity have meant boys are losing their dicks – or losing sight of them at least – as they disappear beneath layers of fat. It’s not that the todgers are tinier now, just that the boys are bigger. It’s a worry that will often resolve itself once they hit puberty and the penis grows rapidly, but only if they can get their weight under control, and that is often not the case.

But, hey, never mind, fat boys and indeed pretty well all adolescent males have a great source of consolation these days, especially if they can get online: pornography. A recent report for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner by Miranda Horvath et al. was titled Basically… porn is everywhere, which says it all. Overwhelmingly, these days, boys have seen pornography by the time they reach adolescence and often well before, although the official euphemism that they have been “exposed” to porn disguises the fact that most adolescent boys need no encouragement to go looking for it.

As the report coyly puts it, “Boys and young men generally view pornography more positively”, while “girls and young women generally report that it is unwelcome and socially distasteful”.

Disapprovingly, the report continues, “pornography has been linked to unrealistic attitudes about sex; maladaptive attitudes about relationships; more sexually permissive attitudes; greater acceptance of casual sex; beliefs that women are sex objects; …and less progressive gender role attitudes (e.g. male dominance and female submission).”

In these remarks we find an important clue as to why boys tend to feel better about their adolescence and early adulthood than girls these days, and why girls are experiencing much greater mental health problems. In traditional cultures where the virginity of young women is tightly guarded, boys in their bachelor youth have to put up with a lot of sexual frustration,  albeit ameliorated through homosexual encounters with their peers or with men. Today, all underage sexual relationships have become dangerous, with negative implications for healthy sexual development within actual, fully human, person-to-person relationships.

The world of person-to-object pornography thrives, though, with boys and young men loving it. For an underage boy real girls are usually hard to get, but virtual ones are everywhere and a source of easy and immediate satisfaction. As for young men, they can find sex if they are presentable, and can even successfully demand that girlfriends do all sorts of “advanced” stuff they have seen in the porn movies, such as shaving their genitals and submitting to anal sex – or even acts where misogyny seems a likely factor, such as being urinated or spat upon. If women refuse to put up with it, no problem: males may opt to take the porn in preference: Generation Masturbation rules, OK! Not only that: young women are also under pressure to have a perfect figure and complexion, just like the porn stars, in an era when so many women fail to shape up on account of poor diet, leading to obesity. It should hardly be surprising they feel bad about themselves and self-harm more.

We know the standard feminist response to all this. Most feminists hate porn. Fat feminists even celebrate their own corpulence and insist it is the men who must shape up, not by getting thinner but by not “raping” women – an insistence which tends to mean making the rules of consensual sex ever tighter, so that everything except sex between fat man-hating lesbians is ruled off limits.

Rosamund Urwin, of the Evening Standard, had a telling anecdote along these lines when she was speaking at the IOI forum. She had heard from one poor young guy who was trying to keep up with these ever more impossible standards. He thought he had better be verbally explicit on a date, asking the woman outright if she would consent to sexual activity, so there would be no misunderstanding. Instead of being pleased by his gentlemanly determination to go through the officially correct procedure, the question “weirded her out” and she asked him to leave!

Camile Paglia, speaking in the same session, was robust against such nonsense and against the kind of so-called feminism that encourages women to see themselves as weak and vulnerable: women who cower in “safe spaces” and refuse to takes responsibility for their own behaviour (getting drunk, for instance, and then blaming men for “raping” them) do nothing for the equality of the sexes. As for porn, she is all in favour, not least because its wildness forces us to confront our repressed sexuality and the price we pay for denying it. “Toughen up!” is her message to the delicate ladies, or even “Man up!” Hearing her, in effect, urge women to be more like men as a solution to their mental health crisis came as a refreshing change to the more familiar feminist idea that men should be more like women.

Not that it strikes me as a great solution. Absolutely we need toughness in some respects, in defence of free speech, for instance, against the Snowflakes who can’t stand to be offended by unwelcome opinions. But we also need empathy, and social relationships that are not merely exploitative and objectifying – as in the worst kind of porn, which one suspects is a projection of the violent domestic abuser’s mindset – or overly competitive and individualistic.

The environmentalist George Monbiot has captured the personal appearance question from a slightly different angle:

Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do. As Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett has brilliantly documented, girls and young women routinely alter the photos they post to make themselves look smoother and slimmer. Some phones, using their “beauty” settings, do it for you without asking; now you can become your own thinspiration. Welcome to the post-Hobbesian dystopia: a war of everyone against themselves. Is it any wonder, in these lonely inner worlds, in which touching has been replaced by retouching, that young women are drowning in mental distress?

Touching replaced by retouching. This is very telling. Monbiot is talking not about sex here but about human connection, our vital need to keep literally in touch with each other. Last time, in a comment responding to Part II, Christian briefly alluded to the work of Tiffany Field, which is well worth elaborating on here, because her research gives strong support to a link made by psychologists between high levels of crime and societies where touching is frowned upon. It is thought, in particular, that parents who starve their children of physical affection are damaging them physically and emotionally.

Physically touching children is especially frowned upon in the US but is much more acceptable in France. So Dr Field and her team had the bright idea of comparing physical interaction between parents and children sitting in restaurants in France and America. The French, who have a strong culture of openly displaying physical affection, were found to touch their children 110 times in only half an hour. Whereas in America, which has a higher rate of abuse and adult violence, the parents only made contact with their children twice in 30 minutes. The researchers also watched children and parents together in playgrounds and found that youngsters who were not touched very often were far more violent and aggressive towards other children. Field said that people who are starved of cuddling when they are young are also more likely to grow up with depression and anxiety because they feel unloved.

I doubt anyone here will be surprised by these findings. They are not the whole story, of course. This blog series has looked at a range of factors contributing to the mental well being of the young and commentators here have identified others. I have focused mainly (in Part II) on the significance of children’s own independent culture and self reliance and (in Part III) on gender as a complicating factor. These musings barely scratch the surface but I hope nevertheless they will be found thought–provoking.

WHAT A LOAD OF FOOTBALLS

I’m not sure darts champion Eric Bristow was entirely on target when he tweeted “Might be a looney but if some football coach was touching me when i was a kid as i got older i would have went back and sorted that poof out”; but, like the little missiles he chucks for a living, he did have a point.

The lachrymose old leather bashers who nearly set the studio furniture afloat on a sea of tears in the course of Victoria Derbyshire’s daytime TV show may well have had something genuine to cry about and it is right that they are heard out.

But Bristow will be speaking for many in also tweeting that these guys are “wimps” and not “proper men”. It’s not so much that being openly emotional is necessarily a bad thing in a man, or that paedos deserve a kicking – a view one of the alleged victims rightly dismissed as evidence of a “stone age mentality”.

It’s more a feeling that whatever “abuse” (if any) these guys suffered could have been done and dusted long ago without the never-ending soap opera of trauma and tragedy now being played out as part of the travelling circus of historic abuse narratives that began with the Catholic Church and his since moved from one institutional setting to another.

It’s a feeling that this whole show is being kept on the road by vested interests in the therapy industry, the media and politics, and that what these particular victims are victims of is not, fundamentally, sexual abuse, but their career disappointments. They were hugely ambitious guys in a fiercely competitive business. They were not quite good enough, which is no disgrace; but now it seems they want to blame their bitter disappointment on someone else, and that is another matter entirely..

I see that Barry Bennell, the coach accused on the Victoria Derbyshire show and elsewhere in the media, has already served a long time in prison, apparently tried to take his own life recently and now faces further charges. I make no comment whatever on the legal merit or otherwise of these latest charges. I do not know who is making the complaint(s) or on what basis and it would be wrong to say anything that could prejudice the case either way – not that this blog is likely to have any influence.

What I will say, though, is that Bennell is the one I feel sorry for: a brilliant, inspirational coach, as all concerned admit, whose life has been destroyed far beyond any suffering of the supposed “abuse” victims, or so it seems to me. There were those among them who appeared content to be “raped”, in at least one case for years on end, as long as they stood a chance of getting to the top in football.

No, sorry, Bennell’s is the real tragedy.

Or one of them. In all the fuss over the snowballing football coach saga the loss of photographer David Hamilton, found dead in a suspected suicide by asphyxiation at his Paris home at the age of 83, has gone almost unnoticed in the UK.

Known for his work in fashion magazines as well as, more controversially, his top-selling books featuring nude photographs of underage girls, his death follows historic allegations of rape and sexual assault against a number of schoolgirls in France. French radio presenter Flavie Flament, 42, in particular, claimed she was raped by Hamilton when she just 13 in 1987. She and three other women were attempting to launch a prosecution against him. He denied all the allegations.

Unlike Bennell, at least Hamilton made it to a grand old age before coming unstuck, an element of relative good fortune we may be seeing less in France and elsewhere in future as the mania of the Anglophone countries spreads.

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