LSM interviews Yours Truly

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Leonard Sisyphus Mann, distinguished guest blogger here at Heretic TOC, has interviewed me for his own blog, Consenting A̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶ Humans, focusing on my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons – how it came to be written, for instance, and the high drama over its publication, including a ferocious and sustained attack against the book from thousands of Jackson fans around the globe, even before its appearance.

The first part of the two-part interview is scheduled for publication tomorrow evening, so you might want to watch out for it. Also included is a Special Offer – a bargain price for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, exclusive to readers of Consenting A̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶ Humans. The second part is due to follow a week later, on Wednesday 19 April.

So, that’s it for now, just the above brief news item: short, but sufficient, I trust, to pique some interest.

Creating victims, real and imaginary

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How do you turn a so-called child victim into a real one? One sure-fire way is to have her locked up for 20 hours in a police cell after she has refused to give evidence against her lover.

That is what Judge Robert Bartfield did earlier this month when a 15-year-old girl would not testify against her 32-year-old boyfriend at Bradford Crown Court in northern England.

After the girl eventually testified under duress, the man was found guilty of sexual activity with a child. A spokesperson for Victim Support rightly said the girl had been treated in a “grotesque and, frankly, degrading manner by those who are supposed to be protecting her”. Even the NSPCC managed to get this one right, saying it was shocking – and, for once, they were not talking about the behaviour of the man on trial.

Judiciary officials have launched an investigation into the case.

It is probably too much to expect, but let’s hope the judge’s barbaric insensitivity will be followed by a change in the law, as happened in California following at least one similar case back in 1983, involving a 12-year-old girl called Amy. Her step-father, a US Air Force doctor, was on trial for alleged sexual contact with her.

Amy did not want to lose the man her mother had married four years earlier. Reportedly, she feared the family would be broken up in the event of a conviction. She was kept in solitary confinement for eight days but bravely remained rock solid in her refusal to testify. The case was abandoned only after she had been brought back to court six times, each time defying the judge’s demand that she give evidence.

The new law, passed the following year, was an amendment to the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1219, to the effect that “no court may imprison or otherwise confine or place in custody the victim of a sexual assault for contempt when the contempt consists of refusing to testify concerning the sexual assault.”

Ten years later the authorities tried to change this law in order to force 13-year-old Jordie Chandler to testify that Michael Jackson had molested him. It didn’t work, and the law fortunately still stands. As I wrote in my book about the superstar’s relationships with boys:

… here were the authorities proposing to force Jordie to testify against his will. Even Michael, with all the insults and humiliation that had been heaped upon him, was never accused of resorting to forcing a child into anything.

Arguably even more shocking than the judge’s tough tactics in the Bradford case was the reaction of at least one feminist commentator, Deborah Orr, in her Guardian column. She supported the judge, on the grounds that his hard line was for the girl’s own good in the long run: just what Jordie’s father said when he betrayed his son’s confidence – which turned out to be a disaster. Feminists rightly used to be angry over men telling women what is for their own good; now they have become the new authoritarians.

Orr then went on to describe a really sinister recent addition to the ever-expanding empire of false victimhood. It goes like this: if the “victim” you aim to “protect” does not feel like a victim, and refuses to be cast as one, then you just change the rules of the game to make sure they cannot escape the victim label you are determined to pin on them.

The “victim” refuses to say they have been sexually assaulted? Very well, in that case you re-brand the man’s crime: it was not sexual assault but “exploiting the victim’s vulnerabilities”. In this scheme of things, if the child had been a willing participant in a sexual act with a grown-up she must have been vulnerable by definition. In other words, she would be deemed automatically to have been unwilling but for her vulnerability to the wicked attractiveness of the adult, who must have been criminally handsome, or outrageously charming, or talented, or famous, or rich, or strong, or protective, or maybe even just a diabolically nice guy. Any or all of these attributes, which might be thought positive qualities in another context, are perversely turned by this dogma into negative ones. They just become tools of “the grooming process”.

The fundamentally anti-sexual agenda behind all this becomes apparent when we see that the vulnerability concept is being applied to adults as well as children. These extremists effectively want to abolish the age of consent. Yes, you did read that right, but don’t rush to crack open the champagne. They are trying to infantilise everyone, making consent more and more difficult at any age. The logical endpoint is no sex at all for anyone, no matter how old they are, rendering an age of consent redundant.

Orr quotes with approval a certain Professor Betsy Stanko, assistant director of planning with the Metropolitan Police. After a decade of research on rape (note that we are talking primarily about adult alleged victims now) she concludes that a way to deal with low conviction rates is effectively to ditch the consent criterion. If the woman consented, so you cannot convict a man, you find ways of finding that consent did not count because the woman was vulnerable. What makes her vulnerable? Being drunk at the time, wearing sexy clothes, being swept off her feet by a tall, dark, handsome stranger, especially if he happened to be rich and famous. Pretty well anything, really, that would show she was up for a roaring good time.

Neatest of all, vulnerability would be demonstrated if the woman had been in a steady relationship with the man. By the Stinko Standard, evidence of such a relationship would count against the man, not for him. What absolutely Orr-some Alice in Wonderland logic!

Bearing in mind the interesting current debate here about feminism, in the comments on Gentle poet Ginsberg doesn’t deserve this, I should perhaps ask fellow heretics whether Deborah Orr is a feminist worth discussing things with, or whether she and her ilk are beyond redemption. I would just throw in the thought that she is married and has children (which in itself surprises me, in view of her seeming anti-sexuality) by the novelist and ubiquitous public intellectual Will Self. I cannot say I have read his books or have any in-depth knowledge of the guy, but he comes across in his articles and broadcasts as intelligent and perceptive.

Maybe we should write to him, in a devious attempt to influence his wife. How about this:

“Sir, your wife is a shrew. It’s time you took her in hand.”

Umm. Maybe not. The Cunning Plan might need a bit more work.

One angle might be to play on his justified sense of grievance over being suspected as a paedophile by a security guard and a police officer when he was in the countryside hiking with his 11-year-old son last year. Justified, as I say, but by Jesus, Mary and all the saints did Self bang on about it! A torrent of indignation poured forth from his keyboard about what was admittedly bound to have been an upsetting experience, although it’s not as though he was arrested or had his reputation trashed in the media. His tale of woe was nevertheless spun into an epic yarn of over two and a half thousand words in the Daily Mail.

As the Mail’s headline put it, “Will Self reveals moment an innocent ramble became a nightmarish tale of modern Britain”. Who knows, having had a slight taste of the nightmare some of us have to put up with every day of the week, maybe the traumatised Self could be tapped as a source of sympathy.

The high price of respectability in Brazil

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As slums go, the Santa Marta favela in Rio de Janeiro is remarkably pretty, even glamorous.  The stinking open sewers, garbage-strewn alleys and tumbledown shacks are doubtless much like those in many hundreds of such favelas, home to almost a quarter of the city’s population of over six million.

But Santa Marta is special. One thing that makes it so, in the mantra of the real estate dealers, is “location, location, location”. Unlike the  vast, sprawling, nondescript favelas of industrial north Rio, Santa Marta lies in the favoured south, only a couple of Metro stations away from well-heeled Copacabana, with its famous beach.  Actually, Santa Marta doesn’t really “lie” anywhere. Instead, it clings precariously to a steep and, as it were, “holy” hillside, directly beneath Rio’s truly most iconic feature – tourists make thousands of “icons” of it every day – the huge and imposing mountain-top statue of Christ the Redeemer, whose open arms embrace the city.

Perhaps this special location lay behind the decision to use Santa Marta for filming the video of Michael Jackson’s song “They don’t really care about us” in 1995. As many here will be aware, the shoot featured local kids (surprise, surprise!) singing and dancing along with Jackson.  He was accused at the time of exploiting their poverty, which may be true.  But it is also true that the massive worldwide publicity generated by the event meant that suddenly, the image-conscious Brazilian authorities – then bidding for the World Cup and Olympics that are finally now coming their way ­– started caring about Santa Marta. Artists were commissioned to beautify the place with murals; the more prominent houses were painted in bright, cheerful colours.  More practically, a cable car was built, so that favela dwellers would no longer have to sweat their way to the top; concrete steps replaced slippery mud banks; railings were installed so that kids would no longer tumble and hurt themselves.

Jon, my guide when I visited the favela a few days ago, testified personally to the importance of this last improvement. A Santa Marta resident all his life, when he was little he fell off an unguarded sheer drop, badly injuring his back.

“I still have the scars to prove it,” he told me, in good English learned not in school but from the internet and talking with tourists.

As the author of a book on Michael Jackson (and his boys), I was particularly keen to explore the superstar’s connection with the favela. Not that Jon would have let it pass unnoticed: a visit to what has become a Jackson “shrine” is a highlight of his tour. The Jackson area includes a balcony with a statue of the late great in an open-armed gesture, appearing to – ahem – embrace the city below, rather like Jesus.  Accused in his lifetime of presenting himself as a messiah (not the only allegation he faced, of course) at least he cannot be blamed for this little excess.

Little, indeed, is the operative word here. The statue is tiny, less than life-size. By contrast, Jackson promoted his History album with a 60-foot statue of himself, floated upright on a barge down the River Thames, in London. Now that was a statue fit for a god!

Why all this is expected to be of interest to readers of Heretic TOC is a bit obscure, I confess. My interest in Jackson is primarily rooted in his boy-love rather than his over-the-top self-presentation or the way his fans idolised him. Unsurprisingly, there was not a trace of evidence in Santa Marta that I could find in my brief visit to suggest any BL connection, other than the faint echoes discernible from the video itself – which was played to me in the inevitable souvenir shop and which I felt obliged to buy. Oh, yes, there is another thing I nearly forgot to mention: Michael had a couple of young boys in his entourage, so he wasn’t exactly short of company!

What I’m trying to do, I suppose, in a roundabout way, is to let y’all know that Heretic TOC is on vacation in Brazil right now, escaping the horrible wet, windy, grey English winter for a few weeks. After a very agreeable week spent in Rio seeing all the usual tourist sights, I will soon be off hiking deep in the interior. I expect this will be all about mountains, rivers, waterfalls and valleys rather than a “heretic” thing, so it is entirely possible my next blog won’t even mention Brazil, although it will probably be written in this country.

I should not leave the favela theme, though, without some acknowledgement of a much bigger issue than Michael Jackson’s fleeting presence long ago. Apart from poverty, which is still the defining feature of favela life for many, although it could be worse – satellite TV dishes festoon the rooftops – violence has also been endemic in these communities, as those familiar with the film City of God will be aware.

That has changed for the better quite a bit in recent years, thanks to police “pacification” programmes: one by one, dozens of favelas, starting with Santa Marta itself in 2008, have been subjected to intensive policing, resulting in the expulsion of the criminal gangs that used to rule the roost, dominating entire communities not just the drug  scene. Without such pacification I could not have entered Santa Marta without severe risk of being intimidated and robbed.

The price of such victories has been high, though. The police in Brazil are often accused of brutality, the latest allegations arising from their handling in recent days of demonstrations against the World Cup ­– a popular protest  despite the country’s fabled love of football, because people would prefer to see the money go on decent public services, especially in education and health provision.

But I digress. The allegations have often all too clearly been true, although a culture of impunity means police officers are very seldom held to account for actions that include outright torture and murder of suspects, with even mass killings not unknown. Not so long ago, Human Rights Watch reported over 3,000 deaths annually from police violence in Brazil. In one appalling incident, the Candelária church massacre of 1993, eight minors were killed by the police, including two boys aged 14, one 13 and one 11.

Basically these kids, and others like them in many cities, have been treated like vermin who need to be exterminated in order to “cleanse” the streets, making them safe for the prosperous classes who don’t like their pockets picked by Dickensian gangs of urchins, or having their stores robbed – and who, in their respectability, don’t much care for kids to be hanging around plying a trade as prostitutes either.

Pacification, then, has its agreeable side, as I discovered: it is good to stroll about in a relaxed, crime-free environment. But the flip side has been ugly and vicious in the extreme. And the favelas have arguably been not just pacified but stultified. When the law rides into town a lot of the colour and the fun rides out!

P.S. Director Spike Lee also shot part of his Jackson video in the city of Salvador, where I am staying right now. This location was in the historic district of Pelourinho, originally a slave market. Naturally, I plan to pay a visit!

N.B. For one week, starting on Monday 10 February, I expect to be hiking in remote places away from any internet connections. Accordingly, I will be unable to approve and posts your comments in this period. So, if you have anything to say about this or other H-TOC blogs, get in quickly!

Benjamin Britten: both ‘gay’ and a boy lover

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Benjamin Britten, as a boy lover, will need little introduction to many heretics here, especially after a new biography in this centennial year of the great composer’s birth, and all the other razzmatazz that attends celebrity.

So is there anything more to be said about him, as the year draws to its close? There’s the usual exclusion principle to note, of course, which makes it impossible to be simultaneously both an esteemed figure and a paedophile, or not an active one at least. Britten still just about makes the cut in this regard: his hebephilic, rather than truly paedophilic, preference for barely pubescent boys was always highly visible, but he was never metaphorically caught with his pants down (or theirs) even though he hugged them, kissed them on the lips, declared his love, swam naked in their company and even – shades of Michael Jackson – shared his bed with them.

No doubt he has been cut some slack because some of his most important works, especially the operas Peter Grimes, The Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice, all strongly feature the theme of childhood innocence and appear to abhor its “corruption”. In this, too, his career is strongly reminiscent of Jackson’s. The pop megastar was a very different musician and personality but both artists surrounded themselves constantly with children, especially boys, who were featured extensively in their work. Both took boys to bed with them and both insisted – or had others insist for them – that it was all entirely “pure”, and they were protective, not predatory. The comparison is at times uncannily close: Here’s Michael’s little friend Brett Barnes: “I was on one side and he was on the other, and it’s a big bed.” And Ben’s beloved David Hemmings: “It was a very big bed.” Or what about the first time Michael slept with young Jordie Chandler? They had been watching a video of The Exorcist and the boy said been so frightened he had not wanted to sleep alone. Hemmings again: “I have slept in his bed, yes, only because I was scared at night…” No videos in those days: he had been scared, so it was claimed, by the crashing of waves on the seashore near Ben’s house!

Unlike Chandler, though, who very credibly testified that his relationship with Jackson became overtly sexual, Hemmings, who was decidedly not an innocent child, always protected Ben’s reputation. Young David, who played the role of the “corrupted” boy Miles in The Turn of the Screw, later went on record saying he flirted with Ben. A sexual advance would not have shocked him as he had already been sexually involved with a couple of boys and began a long heterosexual career as early as age seven, when he was getting his hands in naughty places with little girls – something it would be ill-advised for even a child to confess these days! But Ben, if we are to believe Hemmings, kept himself on a tight rein, so nothing illegal happened between them.

Britten’s close, but possibly unconsummated, relationships with many boys has long been uncontested, following Humphrey Carpenter’s candid biography in 1992 and John Bridcut’s even more comprehensively revealing one in 2007, Britten’s Children. The new biography by Paul Kildea, Benjamin Britten: A Life in the Twentieth Century, adds little to the story of his sexuality except a sensational and almost certainly false claim that the maestro contracted syphilis, probably from his long-term adult partner, the singer Peter Pears. This claim “fell apart within about four days”, according to reviewer Philip Hensher, when a doctor who cared for Britten in his final illness went public to say that the diagnosis “does not fit with everything else … there is no serological, bacteriological, pathological or histological support for the diagnosis.”

The pox, mercifully, need not detain us, but Pears should. Bridcut writes that 13-year-old boys were Britten’s ideal, but he apparently also gained some sort of sexual satisfaction from his relationship with Pears, who was less complicatedly gay, having no apparent interest in youngsters. According to Carpenter, Pears described Britten as more masculine than himself in every way, except in bed, where the composer preferred the passive role. The biographer’s informant was John Evans, who later edited Britten’s letters, for a volume that would appear in 2009. After Britten’s death, Pears confided to Evans that Britten had “needed the active figure (Peter) to his passive, but he also needed to be active to a boy’s passive. And I’ve always had the impression that Peter meant that both types of relationship had been consummated – which left me absolutely thunderstruck.”

As well it might! One possibility that appears to have been overlooked by all the biographers is that Britten’s inhibitions, fostered in the cultural and climatic frigidity of his native England, might have melted quickly away in sunnier and sexually hotter spots abroad, as has happened to many a frustrated Brit. He spent a lot of time in the East, touring in, notably, India, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Ceylon. He wrote of seeing “the most beautiful people, of a lovely dark brown colour…wearing strange clothes, and sometimes wearing nothing at all.” He even notes that he became accustomed to boys “attaching” themselves to him.

Be that as it may, the revelation that Britten appears to have experienced two distinct sorts of homosexual attraction, passive in relation to the adult Pears, and active (psychologically at least) towards young boys, is surely worthy of thought and comment, especially as regards the current “politically correct” claim that gay men are no more likely to “molest” underage boys than straight men are likely to “molest” underage girls. It depends how you define “gay”, of course: the term tends to be used to describe adolescents who are attracted to physically mature males, but less often the other way around, when the preferred words usually change to “hebephile”, “paedophile” or just “child molester”. The language has now largely abandoned the older words “pederasty” and “sodomy” (no great loss in the latter case), which in the days of Oscar Wilde a century ago were applied almost indiscriminately to man-man contacts and man-boy ones.

What Britten’s case exposes is the falsity of the new language, which obscures an extensive “cross-over” phenomenon: “gay” men, such as he undoubtedly was, do sometimes like boys. In fact, whether we call it “gay” or not, men show a disproportionately higher homosexual interest in children than heterosexual. Research suggests that about a third of male paedophiles prefer boys, about a third prefer girls, and a third are attracted to both. The one third preferring boys is a very high figure given that only about 5% of all men in society are preferentially homosexual. Consider, too, Ray Blanchard’s experimental work: he has demonstrated that men typically have a significant degree of sexual response to their second age category preferences as well as their first: the erectile response of teleiophilic men (i.e. “gay” ones, preferentially attracted to adult males) to erotic images of pubescent boys is on average well over 60% of their response to such images of grown men. A key implication is that the gay men who loudly insist there is no connection whatever between gayness and boy love are making a politically expedient but factually flawed claim.

Enough with the technical stuff already! Let’s get back to Britten in this festive season (for which Heretic TOC wishes all readers well!) with a rousing operatic finale. Admittedly his opera Death in Venice is not that cheerful, but if his librettist Myfanwy Piper had had her way it would surely have cheered us up. The opera features child dancers taking part in “the Games of Apollo”. Bearing in mind that these children were meant to represent athletes, she suggested they should be attired just like the competitors in the games of Ancient Greece, which had inspired the theme – in other words, naked! Britten loved the idea but turned it down because, in Bridcut’s words, it might have attracted “unwelcome publicity”. One suspects that these days, alas, he would have more to worry about than sniggering reviewers!

New quests sparked by fading old charts

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Heretic TOC is delighted to report that readers here are increasingly leaving comments on old blogs – even from last year – as well as the latest one, and these comments include some excellent contributions. This reflects the fact that Heretic TOC aims to do more than just respond to the latest headlines: a goodly proportion of the blogs so far have engaged with topics that will remain live issues long after many “major” news stories have been forgotten.

Admittedly, the mainstream media is where the “dominant narrative” is at its most comprehensively, well, dominant, and this blog is pledged to challenge that dominance. But the narrative doesn’t just spring out of nowhere: its sources and headwaters need tracking down, with careful exploration and mapping of some remote and obscure places. The commentators I am talking about are actively engaging themselves in that process: where Heretic TOC’s fading charts may say little more than “Here be dragons”, a new and determined quest may yield more accurate knowledge .

This is great, but it presents a bit of a problem because it is easy to miss some of these wonderful responses to the older blogs. One solution is to offer a guest blog slot to the best contributors. This has already worked very well, in my view. But what do you do when a new contributor simultaneously sends in four superb comments, amounting to over two thousand words in response to old blogs, raising  all manner of interesting discussion points? A useful way forward, I think, is simply to trumpet their presence, which I will now do.

These four posts all come from “A”, who I gather is female, but about whom I presently know nothing else. Two of her comments are in response to Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence; another is about How to take a vacation from yourself; finally, there is one on Adultophilia or teleiophilia? This last item is on a long page with 35 comments, and quite hard to find: the search term “curly hair” will get you there. I absolutely urge everyone to read all of these posts, and to read especially carefully those in response to the Tromovitch piece, as they require some concentration.

I am tempted to wade in with some response of my own to A’s detailed points, but further words from me will only distract from what she is has written. So I say no more, except go to the links and see for yourself!

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