Turning our view of power upside down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SUFFRAGE LITTLE CHILDREN

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

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

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

 

CAMBRIDGE HANDBOOK

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

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

 

INCREDIBLE AND FALSE

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

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

 

 

Warily going where angels fear to tread

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unintended consequences. Unwitting strategies.

Precisely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing up for justice and diversity

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Galen Baughman is a star, a master of stand-up. Not stand-up comedy, although he is surely smart enough for that, but stand-up persuasion. Telling a personal story with modest, dignified eloquence, this presentable 32-year-old weaves a narrative that artfully compels the sympathies of a mainstream audience who might be expected to loathe him, for he is speaking as a so-called “sex offender”.

He stands, alone in the spotlight, for a TEDx talk delivered late last year to college students in New York about his nine-year imprisonment for sex with a willing 14-year-old boy, and his close brush with indefinite incarceration under civil confinement as a “sexually violent predator”. His presentation was released on YouTube on 26 January.

I was alerted to this by “Salem21” in a comment here on Heretic TOC last time, and emailed my enthusiastic congratulations to Galen after seeing the video. He replied saying “…we’re hoping that this breaks 100k views in the first thirty days and really raises some eyebrows”.

It should, so you might want to click over to YouTube yourself for a bit of that action.

Galen was still a teenager himself,  a 19-year-old college student, when he fell into the clutches of the law. He had been at the University of Indiana, studying at the university’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music to become an opera singer. He was sentenced in a Virginia court in 2004 to 30 years in prison for sex with a minor after having been charged initially with soliciting sex over the internet. The younger teen was a “sexually mature” adolescent, willingly involved. The boy did not want to prosecute, but his parents did.

A Guardian report significantly describes Galen as “gay”, which these days is a liberal media signifier of good-guy status. It is possible to tell a story of state injustice against a gay person but would the same sympathy have been extended to anyone perceived as “paedophile”, as could easily have happened in this case? No way! Not in the present climate, for sure. It is to Galen’s great credit that he has managed to present himself through TEDx and elsewhere as a likeable, regular guy – gay being the new normal – without putting anyone else down. Yes, he notes the “maturity” of his erstwhile boy partner, but the title of his talk, “Are we all sex offenders?”, hints at a bigger message, a message that is truly big on inclusivity and diversity.

The state, he says – and as all of us here know only too well – has gone crazily punitive, especially in the sex-law field, with more and more people, including children, being labelled as sex offenders for offences that give no offence, and for crimes that are not criminal. Instead of being reserved for a relatively small number of cases in which real harm is caused to real victims, the state lashes out indiscriminately with draconian measures. Anyone could be a sex offender, so the term becomes meaningless.

Because the laws have become so overly broad, he says, and because so few people commit a new crime after release, a child is “more likely to be labelled a sex offender, than to be abused by a sex offender” – and if that isn’t a killer observation I don’t know what could be.

Part of Galen’s long sentence had originally been suspended by the judge, meaning that after six and a half years he was due to be released. But the authorities told him they thought he might be too dangerous to let go. In 2007 he was informed he might qualify for civil commitment. A psychologist eventually arrived at the prison to conduct an assessment interview, to decide whether he was a “sexually violent predator”. He refused to answer questions unless he had a lawyer present. Instead of allowing the state to stitch him up with a biased official report, Galen hoped to introduce testimony from his own expert witness, a leading doctor who would have said he was not suffering from any condition making him likely to engage in sexually violent acts.

Galen took his case to a jury trial in a Virginia court. Even though the judge refused to allow evidence from Galen’s own medical expert, a jury of six women and one man decided he was not likely to be a “sexually violent predator”, thereby removing the rationale for holding him indefinitely in civil commitment.

He was the first person in Virginia ever to win such a civil commitment jury trial, and one of only a few nationally. He was released on probation, and subject to a state policy based on a “containment model” involving polygraphs and therapy sessions with a great deal of intrusive non-confidential questioning (anything said to a therapist could end up on a prosecutor’s desk) about sexual behaviour, including masturbation.

He wanted to resume his studies at the Jacobs School of Music but being on probation meant he needed permission from the governors of both states, Virginia and Indiana, to move from one state to  the other. He managed to overcome the Virginia block, but didn’t have enough political clout in Indiana to secure their cooperation. It would have needed plenty: after all, what state governor would want to be seen letting in a sex offender?

He does not drive a car because he fears any cop who runs his plate will notice he is on the sex offender registry and look for a reason to pull him over, if only to harass him. He still had six years on probation ahead of him at the time of the Guardian’s story in September 2013.

But all is not gloom. For Galen, unlike many whose lives are so routinely trashed by an uncaring system, there would appear to be a future in advocacy.

Following his release in 2012, Galen Baughman spent two years as the Director of Communications at International CURE, a grassroots advocacy organization, where he focused on policy analysis, direct advocacy, messaging strategies and grassroots organizing.

More recently, he resigned from CURE when he was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship. That’s Soros as in George Soros, the fabled progressive-liberal business magnate and philanthropist behind Open Society Foundations (OSF) an international grant-making network. The fellowship sees him at the Human Rights Defense Center, embedded in DC with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs. He is working to end the practice of civilly committing youth as sexually violent predators. He is a campaign strategist on issues related to sex offender policy and trains advocates around the country to build movements against mass incarceration.

He is a JustLeadershipUSA 2015 Leading with Conviction cohort member, and also serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Sexual Justice.

Not bad, eh, for a guy who lost almost the whole decade of his twenties behind bars?

You might also like to read his article “Questionable Commitments”, published by the Cato Institute, which looks at the history and development of civil commitment.

 

ROOM WITHOUT A VIEW

If word reaches you that the first half of a two-hour movie is set almost entirely in a single small room and has garnered four Oscar nominations, your curiosity might be piqued. Mine was when I heard BBC film critic Mark Kermode raving about Room, an abduction drama that he rightly insisted, repeatedly, “is not what you think”.

What Kermode thinks we will think is that it’s all about “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers), the evil abductor of a young woman who is kept locked in a windowless garden shed (there is just a skylight) and routinely raped for years on end while her toddler son is kept out of the way in a cupboard. Plus an escape drama in which the plucky kidnap victim triumphs against the odds.

Room has these elements but they are not the point. This is not a simple goodies and baddies story. The first half focuses not on the kidnapper or his dastardly deeds but on the small room where the victims are held captive, hence the title, and how mother and child make a life for themselves there – a surprisingly bearable one for the child as an infant because this is his whole world and he knows no other, except through the screen of a small TV. Indeed, the illusion that no other world exists is one the mother strives to maintain for the child as long as it is viable, much like the fiction of Santa Claus. In the second half, once the obvious baddy has been vanquished, subtler issues present themselves.

To say much more risks a spoiler so let’s switch focus to an Oscar nomination Room deserved but did not get: Best Actor in a Leading Role, for Jacob Tremblay, who is now nine, was seven as shooting started and plays the little boy, Jack, as a five-year-old. He is on screen for almost the entire movie and carries it off with apparently effortless perfection: not a single syllable or gesture is strained or unconvincing. In truth this probably owes a lot to director Lenny Abrahamson, up for Best Director, who allowed Tremblay to ad lib: an imaginative child will say interesting things that a kid would say and do things a kid would do better than any adult could script it – although another of the nominations is for Best Adapted Screenplay, by Emma Donoghue, from her own best-selling novel of the same title. Another is for Brie Larson, as Jack’s mother, “Ma”, who is nominated for Best Actress.

The film is also up for Best Picture, for Irish producer Ed Guiney, and I would put in a special word for Joan Allen as Grandma, and Tom McCamus, in a small but significant role as Grandma’s wise and sympathetic boyfriend. He is kind, and could easily be Kind.

Ultimately, though, it may be thought that no movie, even a beautifully crafted “arthouse” offering such as Room, would win plaudits in Hollywood without conforming rather tightly to mainstream mores. A film can ask some big questions, as this one does, about what it means to be a good parent and a good person, but it cannot afford to hint at the “wrong” answers. It cannot be subversive. That may be so, but this is a film worth seeing for all that.

 

ETHICAL  CARTOGRAPHY

Like Galen Baughman’s work, Cart O’Graph’s new channel on YouTube is far better than Hollywood for delivering usefully subversive content. Our host makes use of his moral compass to guide us over the ethical territory he has mapped out in over half a dozen videos so far. He writes:

“On this channel, I provide information and make rational arguments on the topic of Minor Attraction and Child Sexuality. I also speak with people who are Kind, to show that we are human beings. If possible, I will also engage non MAPs in discussions or debates. This is an informative channel, but I do hope to entertain as well.”

I checked out “Is Minor Attraction Wrong?”, a 12-minute talk piece, illustrated with well chosen stills, including wittily amusing ones. Cart, if I may be so familiar as to use his first name (!), modestly disclaims much knowledge of philosophy, but argues reasonably and presents some useful information. He cites James Prescott’s work, familiar to many of us here, on the link between a sexually repressive upbringing and the genesis of harsh, aggressive, violent attitudes and behaviours as kids grow up, and into adulthood.

He also mentions an “Express newspapers” report comparing the benign upbringing of French children, who typically get a lot of parental and other adult affection, including kissing, with that of their less fortunate American counterparts. Good information, but I found myself wanting to know the research source it was based on, or an exact reference for the press report at the very least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mickey and Maria make out in kindergarten

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Gail Hawkes, who co-authored the excellent Theorising the Sexual Child in Modernity with Danielle Egan, responded last month to Heretic TOC’s Being a predator is child’s play. She requested, “I would love to read some of your comments or translation of the Norwegian book.” Well, how could I refuse? My response has been a bit slow off the mark, but perhaps I can make amends by throwing in that Danielle Egan has a new book out this month, Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls. The title sounds conservative, but a review in Times Higher Education suggests otherwise. I’m sure it is good and I imagine Gail is rooting for her colleague’s success with it.

There’s not much space, in a reasonable blog-length, to give comments as well as translation, so I’ll focus mainly on just two passages of the latter. To recap briefly, the Swedish pre-school scene was extensively reviewed in The Lovelife of Children by Gertrude Aigner and Erik Centerwall, published in Sweden in 1983. It came out in Norwegian the following year, and my translation is from that. It is worth noting that in a cross-cultural comparison between North American and Swedish children aged three to six, more sexual behaviour was reported among the Swedish children (Larsson, Svedin & Friedrich, 2000). Among the boys, behaviour such as walking around with no clothes on, using sexual language and talking about sex, touching the mother’s breasts and touching their own sex organs in public, demonstrated the greatest differences between the countries.

In another work, IngBeth Larrson noted that “In the 1970s and 1980s, in the spirit of sexual liberalisation, some pedagogical literature on children and sexuality was published in Sweden. The books were based on the idea of ‘good sexuality’ and included advice on how adults could teach small children to masturbate using a good technique and how day-care staff could encourage children to play explorative games of ‘doctors and nurses’.” The Lovelife of Children is one of the books Larrson mentions. (Larrson, 2001)

Teaching kids to wank? That’s enough, right there, to give many Americans hysterics. Even heretics here might puzzle over the need to teach “what comes naturally”. But what if a kid isn’t doing it right, so that he or she gets frustrated over not being able to come? That’s the sort of issue The Lovelife of Children gets into. But here’s a little boy called Kim, aged seven, who clearly does not have that problem. He tells of his feelings in an account called When I think about Tina (Når jeg tenker på Tina…, Aigner & Centerwall, 1984, pp.37-8):

Every morning I get a prickling in my tummy – I think I am the only one who feels like this. I have tried to talk to Mummy and Daddy about it, and at the kindergarten with Karen and Michael who are staff – I can’t talk with Magda, she doesn’t listen, she only talks. She certainly doesn’t like children. When I think about Tina my willy goes all hard. When I’m on my own I take my cock between my thumb and three fingers and pull backwards and forwards, right till I begin to get a shudder in my body. It’s really strange, because the feeling goes right into my bum-hole, and up into my hair and down into my toes. I often want to press myself up to Tina, stroke her and kiss her, and sit and look at her. She smells s good. Her hair is golden. When the sun is shining the light shines off it. Her hands are so beautiful. I would love her to take me and stroke over my whole face. I want her to like me as much as I like her. But when there is something I don’t know, when I don’t dare ask, the blackness comes on in my eyes and tummy. Strange that I am alone in this, maybe I was really born earlier than my Mummy says, so that I am older. After all, it’s only adults who do such things. That’s what I saw in a porno magazine that Daddy had under other books and papers in a drawer of his writing desk. Besides, why did he hide it? He puts all the other magazines out on the newspaper shelf. Grownups are so strange! Why don’t they talk about what they do? How it feels to be in love – like I am with Tina, even though she is only six. I’ll ask Michael today. He is going steady with a girl, so he must know. Maybe he knows about these feelings I have, these black feelings. I wonder if girls feel the same thing?

We are not told how Kim’s story was compiled. As presented here it is a much longer and more coherent narrative than we would expect from most children of his age. Perhaps his story has been pieced together from what he said at different times; perhaps his writing truly was as precocious as many would feel his sentiments and sexuality to have been. What we may be sure of, though, is that such fully realised expressions of love among quite little children are not just a freakish quirk of an exceptionally liberal childcare system. The early sexologists Sanford Bell and Albert Moll encountered similar childhood passions over a century ago and have been rediscovered more recently by Floyd Martinson and others.

Kim’s lust, if not his love, appears to be expressed from afar. Aigner & Centerwall also present accounts of somewhat more consummated attraction in the kindergarten’s “Cosy Room”:

Maria, Susanne, Mickey and Tomas are playing “mother, father and children”. Three of them are making up the bedding in the doll’s pram: Maria, Susanne and Tomas lie the dolls on their sides, wrap the quilt over them, kiss the dolls in turn and rock them.

Mickey sits looking on through all this play, then he gets up, goes over to Maria and says: “I want to fuck you. Come on, we can do it in the bedroom.” “Wait a bit,” says Maria, but then she goes off with him into the Cosy Room, where they lie down clasped tight together, hugging and kissing.  Maria sits astride Mickey’s midriff and makes coital movements. Then Mickey asks: “Is this what people do? Maybe we’re not doing it right?” Maria answers: “It’s what Mummy and Daddy do anyway.” Mickey: “Do they let you watch? I have never seen my parents do anything like that. They lock the door sometimes, and then I try to peep in through the keyhole, but I don’t see anything. Can I come to your house and watch your Mummy and Daddy?” Maria is silent for a while before she answers: “I don’t know. No.Yes. No, but you can always stay for the night at our house one Saturday, but they don’t fuck all the time.” Mickey asks: “Can I see your bottom then?” Maria pulls her trousers down over her backside and shows it, but then Mickey protests: “I want to see the whole of your bum.” Maria says that the front side is not called bum, but lap or cunt or pussy or pisshole. “But I say ‘lap’ because that is what Daddy says to Mummy: ‘Now, Lena, what have you got in your lap today?’ ” Mickey listens and asks if it is possible to have anything there. Maria answers: “Yes, of course, Daddy’s penis or Mummy’s tampon, if she’s having a period, and sometimes she has a yearning there as well, but I don’t know what it looks like. Funny, isn’t it?”

Now Mickey wants to see the front: “Front, Front, blunt, dunt”, I can talk in rhyme he says to Maria. [TOC: “Skyød, skyød, brød, sprød”. Literally: Lap, lap, bread, nonsense word.] Maria takes an active part in the play. She takes her trousers off first, then continues by taking off her frock and becoming quite naked. She challenges Mickey to take off his clothes, but he hesitates and says: “What if Miss sees us and tells Mummy. Then she’ll be angry.” Maria answers: “Miss won’t do that. What’s wrong with being naked? Grownups are so funny, apart from mine. If you don’t take your clothes off I’ll put mine on and I won’t play with you.”

Mickey takes out his penis. Maria feels it, caresses it and at the same time says: “Daddy’s is much bigger, and the top of his penis is as big as everything you’ve got, and he can get it even bigger when it stands out straight. Then it gets hard and then Daddy says he’s sticking out and that often happens when he plays with Mummy.” Mickey says: “So exciting.” Maria kisses Mickey’s penis: “Oh, it’s so sweet, so pretty.” Mickey: “It’s standing up!” Maria wants intercourse: “Lie together, lie together, fuck, bonk, fuck!” [TOC: “Samleie, samleie, knulle, pule, knulle.” In Norwegian “samleie” is the usual polite word for sexual intercourse. It is derived from component words meaning lying together. It may be thought a small child would be unlikely to use the word “intercourse” unless specifically taught it but the more graphic “lie together” would trip from the tongue more easily.]

There is a ring at the outer door. Mickey hears it, snatches his trousers on again and runs out of the Cosy Room. Maria is less bothered. Mickey comes back and says to Maria that she should hurry up, that no one should see her naked. “And if Mummy comes soon, you mustn’t say anything to her.” Maria looks slightly uncomprehending but pretends to accept it. (pp.40-41)

The kindergarten staff were evidently able to observe and hear exactly what was going on without the children’s knowledge. In the introductory chapter much is made of the need to respect children’s sexual feelings, experience and secrets. Some would doubtless argue that spying on the children was itself a breach of their privacy and that the book compounds the intrusion by sharing these children’s secrets with a wider public. That would be to interpret respect far too narrowly. Real respect lies in keeping a distance in a practical sense: not storming into the Cosy Room to chastise the children for their sexual behaviour, not suppressing that behaviour or valuing it negatively. Keeping a secret in this case would have meant not rushing off to Mickey’s parents to “tell Mummy and make her angry”.

Maria’s remarks about seeing her father’s erect penis would set alarm bells ringing furiously in modern America. It would instantly be suspected she was a victim of sexual abuse at home. Her frankly sexual invitation to Mickey would clinch the matter. This would identify her not only as a victim but also as a perpetrator in need of treatment to prevent her “harming” other children. But would this be a reasonable reaction? Maria had not been coercive towards Mickey; neither did she disclose any coercive behaviour by her parents. It is not clear how intervention would serve any purpose, either for Maria or any of the other children in the kindergarten. The downside of such intervention becomes massively apparent, of course, when we consider the impact such interventions have in the United States, as shown here so recently.

Aigner, G. & Centerwall, E.; The Lovelife of Children (Barnas kjaerlighetsliv), Pax Forlag AS, Oslo, 1984

Larrson, I., Svedin, C.G. & Friedrich; W.N. Differences and similarities in sexual behaviour among pre-schoolers in Sweden and USA, Nordic Journal of Psychiatry 54, 251-257 (2000)

Larrson, I., Child sexuality and sexual behaviour, Linköping University, Sweden, 2001

Being a predator is child’s play

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The father of a four-year-old boy, his face torn with anguish and tears, his voice so choked with emotion he can hardly whimper out his words for the TV interviewer, tells of the terrible fate that his befallen his child.

Kidnapped? Murdered? A sex predator’s victim?

No. The little boy is not the prey. He is the predator. Or at least, thanks to the lunacy that is America’s prevailing sexual culture, this is how a desperately unfortunate and clearly loving father was driven to describing his own child, after kindergarten incidents reported earlier this month in which the boy is said to have received oral sex from a five-year-old girl. The distraught dad said oral sex took place in the classroom, the bathroom and the playground. He said his boy had been given feelings “he doesn’t know how to process” but wanted to repeat.

“I can’t take him to another school and be that parent who let a predator loose,” he said.

Understandably, KABC-TV’s interviewer Elex Michaelson queried this:

“You think of your own son as a predator?”

“How else do you explain it?” he sobbed.

Clearly, it was not the boy, but his father, who was having trouble “processing” the incident.

This kid was just four. The mother of the girl, also interviewed, was just as agonised as the father of the boy. Far from accusing the boy of being a predator, she seemed to think her own child – a year older – had taken the initiative, and blamed herself. She said she had asked her daughter where she had got the idea to do such a thing. From another little girl at the school, said the child.  The pre-school in question, the First Lutheran Church of Carson School, California, was closed down soon after a teacher reported seeing one of the oral sex encounters taking place in a bathroom.

The girl’s mother told KABC-TV News, Los Angeles, she had learned from her daughter that sexual incidents appeared to have been “an everyday thing” at the school. Not oral sex, but the kids pulling each other’s pants down and exposing themselves.

The most shocking thing about all this is that anyone was shocked by kindergarten sexuality. It is shocking it was big TV news. Shocking anyone thought it necessary to close the school, or to inform the police, and bring civil legal actions, as is reportedly happening.

Don’t these people know anything about kids? And with apologies to sensible, well-informed Americans (the sort who read Heretic TOC!), don’t they ever bother to ask themselves how most of the world outside the USA manages to bring up its kids without this all this hysterical angst? The other predominantly Anglophone countries, especially Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, share this malaise thanks largely to American cultural influence, albeit mercifully to a lesser degree. That influence is reflected in writing and research about children’s sexuality, or rather the absence of such work. Not since Kinsey’s heyday, sixty years ago, has there been significant research in the field published in the English language. Larry Constantine and Floyd Martinson were doing fine work around thirty years ago, but not on a scale comparable to Kinsey’s: their contribution was too easily marginalised.

So to find out how they do things elsewhere, we need to turn to other countries, as did Constantine and Martinson themselves. Their book Children and Sex included a chapter by Gundersen et al. on the sexual behaviour of preschool children at kindergartens in Norway, based on teachers’ observations of the children, who were aged from six months to seven years. The results would astonish many Americans, not because Norwegian kids all have oral sex by age five – they don’t – but because the teachers calmly report observing the kids exploring each other’s genitals, masturbating and “coitus training” without intervening to stop it. Nakedness was also permitted, both indoors and out. Not all parents were relaxed about the nakedness but “The teachers solved this problem by seeing to it that the children were properly dressed when the parents arrived to pick them up.”

Swedish kindergartens would have scandalised the Americans in those days, too, and doubtless still would, despite the encroachments of anti-sexual feminist influences. The Swedish pre-school scene was extensively reviewed in The Lovelife of the Child by Gertrude Aigner and Erik Centerwall, published in Sweden in 1983. I remember it well. It has never to my knowledge been published in English but it did come out in Norwegian in 1984, at a time when I was an enthusiast of that beautiful language. The book impressed me so much as a valuable source that I read the whole volume very thoroughly and translated substantial chunks of it – a task for which I was equipped after studying Norwegian at Oslo University.

I have dug the hard-copy out of a dusty old filing cabinet. Once I have gone through it I suspect I will find several revelations and translated passages that are worth introducing here. In the meantime, if any heretics have good information on the present practice and ethos of the kindergartens in Scandinavia, plus the Netherlands, Germany and any other developed countries noted for their relatively liberal attitude towards child sexuality, Heretic TOC would be pleased to hear.

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