Are we making ‘useful idiots’ of ourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRANSLATOR ARRESTED FOR PRO-PAEDOPHILIA DEMO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gives a different reason though.

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

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

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

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

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

 

A TALE OF TWO OTHER ACTIVISTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE AND SOLIDARITY

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

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

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

 

 

 

Desmond is truly amazing – and hot!

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Child drag artist Desmond is Amazing is indeed amazing.

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

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

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

Red hot! Amazing Desmond Napoles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump that! Nemis opts for the Lolita look

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

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

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

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

Good for her!

 

RICHARD, A LIONHEART FOR MINORITY RIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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