How to take a vacation from yourself

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When is a paedophile not a paedophile? When, among many other possibilities, he is a fell-walker.

The fells, for the uninitiated, are the high hills and low mountains of northern England, where hiking, unlike in the Alps of Europe, or the world’s even higher ranges, is on a human scale: delightfully, the proud walker may “conquer” several peaks in a single day merely through modest exertion rather than perilous adventure. Having just returned from a week spent hiking in the Cumbrian fells, or The Lakes as the mountains are perversely known in a collective way, I feel immensely refreshed, not least because the vacation has allowed me to take a break from my usual self: instead of being a writer, or an activist, or a sexual dissident, I have been enjoying a bit of an identity makeover as an outdoor type – and emerging as one who turns out to be still quite a fit old feller, if you will excuse the pun, for someone not far off three score years and ten.

That makes me feel extremely fortunate: it’s great to have some sort of positive identity in addition to negatively feeling part of an oppressed minority, and I would urge others to nurture their own more positive sides.

My trip to The Lakes – where there is indeed a wealth of beautiful lakes as well as mountains – also reminded me that I may be far from the only “paedo” who has found it possible to express other aspects of their identity here, including several prominent figures who are known mainly for their poetry, philosophy and love of the region’s natural beauty rather than their sexuality. Famously celebrating that beauty in verse at the turn of the 19th century were the romantic poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, names which are closely associated with two others of particular concern here: Hartley Coleridge, son of Samuel, and Thomas De Quincey, best known these days for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

What is a great deal less well known about De Quincey than his opium addiction (apparently he took the drug medicinally to start with, for the relief of neuralgia), is his love affair with a toddler. An author, journalist and poet himself, De Quincey had “sleepovers” with little Catherine Wordsworth, William’s daughter. She was just a toddler and sadly died at the age of three. De Quincey recorded his grief over her death, writing of his love for her and saying “as it happened that little Kate Wordsworth returned my love, she in a manner lived with me at my solitary cottage; as often as I could entice her from home, [she] walked with me, slept with me, and was my sole companion.” By implication the whole “affair”, written about openly, was conducted with parental permission and was held to be as “innocent” as Wordsworth’s famous daffodils. Perhaps it was, but the language suggests a degree of attachment to the child that would be considered highly suspect today in an adult who was not her parent.

For a while, De Quincey was the tenant of Nab Cottage, a lovely dwelling at the edge of Rydal Water – it being another peculiarity that the mountain area is called The Lakes but almost all of the lakes are called either waters, meres or tarns! Hartley Coleridge succeeded him there as the tenant. His childhood was celebrated frequently in his doting father’s poetry and that of Wordsworth. Whereas Michael Jackson arguably missed out on childhood, Hartley Coleridge in a sense never ceased to be a child. Small in stature as an adult, he continued to look childlike and dressed as a schoolboy. His tastes, too, were largely those of a child. The childish dressing, especially, suggests autopaedophilia – autopaedophiles being those who continue to conceive of themselves as a child long after childhood, and who have a sexual attraction to themselves in that role alongside being attracted to actual children whom they regard as their peers. I have personally known a number of autopaedophilic men (and one woman), so I am sure this is not just an invention of the psychiatric imagination. There is no evidence of any paedophilic behavior by Hartley, so far as I am aware, but it may be significant that he became a school teacher, never married, and showed signs of troubled feelings in his poetry (see Long Time A Child…) and alcoholism.

Not far from Rydal Water is Coniston Water, on the shores of which the more or less all purpose public intellectual John Ruskin set up home in a mansion called Brantwood in 1871. I’ve been there. It’s a splendid place, open to the public, with numerous fine exhibits on show demonstrating the great man’s pioneering environmentalism, his interest in art and art history, his philosophy, politics  and much else. Tolstoy described him as, “one of the most remarkable men not only of England and of our generation, but of all countries and times”, which give some idea of his status in Victorian England.

What I could not find openly displayed, though, was evidence relating to his sexuality. What we know is that his marriage to Effie Gray ended disastrously, annulled after six years on grounds of non-consummation. Effie, in a letter to her parents, claimed that he found her “person” repugnant. She wrote that finally, after long giving many excuses “this last year he told me his true reason… that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April [1848].” The cause of Ruskin’s disgust, according to his biographer, Mary Lutyens, was his revulsion at the sight of her pubic hair.

This is a very familiar story in the literary world, and there have been numerous attempts to explain away Ruskin’s feelings as having nothing to do with paedophilia: as with other child-oriented intellectuals, such as Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Benjamin Britten and Vladimir Nabokov, the dread diagnosis is always the one that admiring commentators are desperate to avoid.

But can they realistically avoid it in Ruskin’s case? I don’t think so: not when further evidence is taken into account, such as his relationship with Rose La Touche whom he fell in love with after meeting her when she was aged nine. Writing about Rose to Georgiana, wife of his artist friend Edward Burne-Jones, he confessed, “Do I want to keep her from growing up? Of course I do.” As another biographer, Joan Abse, wrote, “No idle remark this for he was well aware by now that the older girls became, the more their attractions diminished in his eyes. He liked them best, as he was to tell his friend, Lady Naesmith two years later, when they were ‘just in the very rose of dawn’.” He also admitted his feelings for young girls from aged 10 upwards n a letter of 1886 to his doctor, John Simon. And in letters to the artist  Kate Greenaway he asked her to draw her “girlies” (as he called her child figures) naked.

Like Hartley Coleridge, Ruskin served as a teacher. Unsurprisingly, given his interests, this was at a girls’ school, Winnington Hall. He even had his own room there, which became a semi-permanent residence – shades of Jimmy Savile in more recent times! On his numerous visits he never failed to spend time romping, dancing, and playing hide-and-seek with the girl pupils.

Later on, he also enjoyed the company of children at the nearby Coniston school. “It is almost impossible in Coniston to meet a child whom it is not a sorrow to lose sight of,” he once said. Children from Coniston came to him for lessons, and for tea on Saturday afternoons. He even wanted to adopt one of the little girls of Coniston, a proposal which so alarmed his cousin Joan that she attempted to end the Saturday afternoon sessions – much to his fury. All in the all, the paedophilic pattern of Ruskin’s interests seems patently obvious, does it not?

Fortunately for Ruskin and the rest, though, it was not that difficult to avoid suspicion and scandal in those days. For one thing, Richard von Krafft-Ebing did not come up with the term paedophilia erotica until 1886, and the subject has only become a media and political obsession in the last few decades. People were a lot less aware of sexual attraction to children in Victorian times. Besides, in those innocent days it would have been generously assumed that the lofty minds of gentlemen and scholars were above the “depravity” (or whatever word they might have used) to which the wretched poor might fall prey. No, sir, they were poets, not paedophiles, two mutually exclusive categories!

These days, with celebrity paedophiles being exposed on an almost daily basis, and the internet buzzing with conspiracy theories of alleged covers ups of scandals “in high places”, the situation has been turned completely on its head: whereas at one time the more educated and wealthier classes were cut a lot of slack, they are now targeted for the highest levels of suspicion. Poets per se are far more marginal figures than they used to be, so no one is particularly targeting them for suspicion. On the other hand, when they are thought about at all it tends to be as oddballs: the male poet is simply assumed to be rather peculiar and pathetic, rather than prestigious as in the days of the dashing Lord Byron – who may have been famously “mad, bad and dangerous to know” but in an enviable way, not a despised one, even though he too chased a lot of very young tail, of both sexes.

Mercifully, though, the outdoorsman, the fell-walker, is still regarded as a healthy sort of cove, and what I understand Americans would call a regular guy. So in the hills I find myself agreeably average, a veritable Norman Normal, invariably greeted amiably by occasional fellow wanderers, as is the tradition: each of us recognizes in the other a kindred spirit as another lover of nature. To paraphrase Keats, that is all we know and all we need to know.

So, to those racked with angst in an identity crisis, whether of the much talked about mid-life variety, or their problematic sexual identity, or whatever, I say stop worrying: come up into the hills and seize an identity opportunity!

All the world loves a lover?

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All the world loves a lover, according to an essay on love by the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson; but he died long before today’s bleakly unromantic killjoys got to work on “underage” love. A classic case of the misery merchants’ baleful influence was to be seen in the British courts recently, when maths teacher Jeremy Forrest was sentenced to five and a half years in prison after his relationship with a 15-year-old girl pupil seemed near to discovery and the pair escaped to France.

She went willingly; but the authorities called it abduction, a view supported by the law – which, as everyone knows, is an ass. In this case its asininity is demonstrated by the fact that it is an offence in Britain, regardless of the child’s own views or best interests, to remove a child under 16 “from the lawful control of any person having lawful control of the child” (Child Abduction Act 1984, Section 2). This offence was enough to put the teacher into the same legal category as those who kidnap kids for purposes of ransom, rape, slavery and murder. The girl was an ardent participant in the pair’s sexual life too (up to eight times a night, the jury were told!), and in the country to which they fled their love-making would not even have been illegal: the age of consent in France is 15. But that did not prevent Forrest’s conviction for “sexual activity with a child”, as well as abduction, after the couple returned voluntarily to England.

As for what the girl’s best interests might have been, had anyone bothered to give them due weight before a monstrously unfair and ill-judged prosecution was launched, they would have discovered remarkable elements of positivity in the relationship. She was from a difficult home background, leading to significant emotional problems including depression and self-harming. Jeremy Forrest helped her slay those demons at a time when no one else was helping. His influence inspired her to take an interest in schoolwork: her grades and attendance records improved significantly under his tutelage. For legal reasons her identity can no longer be revealed. More importantly for our understanding of the case, though, her opinions can no longer be hidden: she has emerged as a young lady with a mind and will of her own, not as the mere puppet of an allegedly “manipulative” adult, as the dogmatists insist must always be the case with adult-child sexual liaisons, regardless of the facts.

These ultimately undeniable facts, facing off competitively against the dogmatists’ version of events, have resulted in a strikingly split narrative across the British media lately, especially in recent post-trial days.

The prosecution version, faithfully echoed across much of the media, was so comprehensively and viciously distorted as to be all but indistinguishable from malicious lies. Forrest was callously chain-sawed in an attack that had all the integrity of illegal logging in Amazonia. His lover was a physically mature 15 but that did not stop him being “a paedophile”; and just in case there is anyone alive who fails to get the message that being a paedo is a bad thing, prosecutor Richard Barton called Forrest a “coward” – not the most convincing insult to hurl against a guy who had the balls to defy the most potent taboo of our times. But that wasn’t all: Forrest had “groomed” the teenager to “satisfy his own carnal lusts” – an outrageous claim that brutally bulldozed out of sight the girl’s active and willing part in the relationship.

After the trial, this pattern of distortion was reinforced by the usual suspects in the usual clichéd way. Dr Michael Hymans, an educational psychologist, said “The crucial thing here is that this took place in a setting in which the adult was in a position of power. He carried all the trump cards.” The NSPCC, meanwhile, was telling the media what to think and say: “the media must be careful of presenting relationship between teacher and pupil as love story”, said a spokesperson . In other words, it was indeed a love story (otherwise why mention such an angle?) but the NSPCC felt this reality should be suppressed.

Fortunately, not all of the media were ready to swallow the in-denial approach taken by an increasingly vituperative abuse industry, whose rhetoric in Britain is now so hysterical it begins to resemble the worst excesses of the “culture wars” in America. In sharp contrast to the unlovely anti-love lobby, several tabloids rejected the NSPCC’s advice: the Romeo and Juliet angle caught their imagination when, after the trial, the couple were still defiantly sticking together: Forrest had blown a kiss at his girlfriend in court before he was taken to jail, mouthing “I love you”. They have marriage plans. The girl’s father approves. He has been quoted as saying he would like to shake the teacher’s hand and thank him for protecting his daughter, adding “I’d be proud to walk her down the aisle.”

It was the girl’s mother, not her father, who had given her a tough time. The youngster went into the witness box and testified that she got little attention at home. Her mother was divorcing her stepfather and was pregnant with her new boyfriend’s child, her fifth. Forrest was the only person who could deal with her mood swings, she said. He was the first person to show an interest in her problems and she took great comfort in being able to confide in him about her troubled relationship with her mother, her depression, self harming and an eating disorder. She said she felt safer with Jeremy than with anyone.

None of this counted for much in the eyes of Judge Michael Lawson QC, who implied that her statement did not reflect her real views, saying she had been coached as to what to say – an allegation totally belied by the couple’s declared intention to marry.

Another excellent riposte to this and other denunciations of the relationship came in a superb article by another woman who, as a child, had been in a relationship with a teacher. This was Don’t tell me my affair with a teacher was abusive – I’ll be the judge of that, in The Guardian. This piece is so good I can do no better than urge everyone to read it. Among a host of interesting points, the author is very clear on the need for professional rules governing teacher-pupil relationships. Jeremy Forrest broke those sensible rules and should be held to account for that.

But the issue of good professional conduct is a hugely different matter to criminal sanctions. It might be pointed out, briefly, that even in a university setting, where the students are all adults, affairs between students and academic staff are generally frowned upon, and with good reason: if a student is given high grades by a professor she is sleeping with, it can often lead to suspicions of favouritism and indeed the reality of corruption: the victims in such cases are not the student in the sexual or romantic relationship, but all the other students who are not in bed with the prof and not lucky enough to benefit from special treatment! So perhaps there should be a rule that if a teacher has sex with one of his pupils he must, in fairness, then offer similar opportunities to the rest if the class!

A small personal footnote: I see that Jeremy Forrest has been sent to Lewes Prison, where I served time in 1981 for an offence of “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”. I can’t say I recommend the place, but it should be better than the London prisons where I served the greater part of my sentence, HMP Wormwood Scrubs and HMP Wandsworth: in those far off days they were hell holes. Jeremy should also have an easier time than I did when he emerges as a free man: while not everyone loves a lover of young(ish) girls, they do love a love story that ends in marriage.

Remember the American teacher Mary Kay Letourneau? The one who had an affair with a 13-year-old boy pupil? They married after she had done her time inside, and the couple won over many hearts. They co-authored a book about their relationship, which was published in France as Only One Crime, Love (French: Un seul crime, l’amour). It has never been published in the United States. However, Letourneau’s story is recounted in the 2000 TV movie All-American Girl: The Mary Kay Letourneau Story.

Researching MAPs: the B4U-ACT initiative

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Glen Lamb, Science Director of B4U-ACT, sets out in this guest blog for Heretic TOC the difficult challenge of encouraging better research on minor attracted people.  He describes his organization’s developing work in this field and how it relates to differing elements of the MAP community.

Because of previous discussions about B4U-ACT on this blog, I wanted to clarify B4U-ACT’s approach and explain some differences between our approach and VirPed’s (Virtuous Pedophiles).  Because I am B4U-ACT’s Science Director, I will do this by focusing on the political difficulties in promoting better research on minor attracted people (MAPs), how we are working to overcome them, and how people can get involved.

Most existing research on minor-attracted persons has relied on people in the criminal justice system (forensic samples) or people seeing clinicians about their attraction to minors (clinical samples), sometimes voluntarily but often not.  Both of these are unrepresentative of MAPs more generally, and in both settings people often feel that it is not safe to be honest, thus leading to unreliable information.  Since becoming B4U-ACT’s Science Director last fall, my primary goal has been and continues to be to get more researchers to study community samples of MAPs (i.e., non-clinical, non-forensic samples).  Realistically, the main means of doing this will be online surveys promoted on various MAP message boards, forums, blogs, and listservs. This kind of sampling is far from perfect but would still be a major improvement over the status quo.

For researchers to do this with decent sample sizes, they must develop collaborative relationships with MAP communities or with people well-respected by MAP communities.  They need to convince MAPs they are trustworthy and that they will treat them ethically.  Basically, researchers will have to follow the same ethical guidelines they are expected to follow for virtually any other population.

Ideally, such researchers would over time develop relationships with the MAP community and come to understand its concerns and dynamics, but very few have attempted to do this, while those who do face grave skepticism (one researcher’s recent efforts to bridge the gap with MAPs online merely resulted in a flame war).  If we just wait for researchers to successfully develop good relations with MAPs, we’ll be waiting a long time, so I am trying to establish B4U-ACT as an effective middle-man.  This is no easy task.

For reasons that many have speculated about, the proportion of views on certain issues seems to be very different among MAPs than in the general population, and these are often extremely strongly held opinions.  I will not speculate here on the reasons for this, but simply state that it merits serious research.  It is also the most politically vexing challenge for my job as B4U-ACT’s Science Director, because it makes it difficult to simultaneously maintain good relations with MAPs and with mainstream mental health professionals (MHPs), scientists, and journalists.  The huge difficulties in doing this can be seen by contrasting VirPed with some of the larger MAP sites.

VirPed is as palatable to the general public as any group of pedophiles could possibly be, but they are reviled in most MAP communities where they are discussed.  By contrast, many researchers seem wary of establishing collaborative relationships with larger MAP sites like BoyChat or

GirlChat.  I suspect this is because a great many MAPs on those sites openly express disagreement with many existing laws and moral positions, and to get along in those communities, MAPs who largely agree with these laws must be willing to agree to disagree.  This differs greatly from how things are in society at large, so these sites gain a reputation among outsiders for supporting the abolition of AoC laws.  A common mistake made by newcomers to these sites is that they fail to remember that disagreeing with a law is an entirely different thing from violating it.  Based on these public perceptions, researchers do not want to be seen as being closely associated with these sites.

B4U-ACT’s mission is to promote the availability of quality mental health services for MAPs who want them and to promote the collection and dissemination of more accurate information about MAPs.  People with a wide range of views on deeply divisive issues can all agree on the need for improvement in these areas, but the great difficulty is uniting such diversely opinionated individuals to work together on these critical areas of common interest.  B4U-ACT’s commitment to promoting better research on MAPs requires that we work with researchers and that we develop and maintain amicable relations with the MAP community, ties we can definitely afford to strengthen, especially with members of various BL boards.

I have been in communication with a few researchers who want to work with B4U-ACT to research community samples of MAPs.  If these go well, we will likely be getting more requests from researchers.

However, in much of the research, there are various constructs that many MAPs find deeply offensive and may even regard as pseudoscience.  Some of the researchers with whom I have communicated have wanted to extend research with these constructs on forensic samples of MAPs to non-forensic samples.

This puts me in a difficult situation.  If I refuse to recruit for them because they use these constructs, this suggests that B4U-ACT is taking a position which it does not.  If I try to recruit widely for them, I run the risk of alienating MAPs who find these constructs offensive and think that B4U-ACT is endorsing them. Recruiting participants for the wrong researchers risks jeopardizing B4U-ACT’s potential to act as a middle-man for researchers in the future.  My personal commitment to promoting quality research on MAPs exceeds my commitment to making B4U-ACT the premier organization responsible for doing so, but we are in a better position than any other group to assist in such research.  I fear that any harm we may suffer in our ability to recruit research participants will increase the likelihood that the research simply will not happen, and we’ll be back to relying on forensic and clinical samples.

To address this difficulty we developed our Research Ethos, a document indicating what it does and does not mean when B4U-ACT recruits participants on behalf of a researcher.  This document also describes how to reduce the barriers to communication researchers face in conducting MAP-based studies.  The only alternative to B4U-ACT’s research initiative is to limit recruitment of community samples of MAPs to VirPed’s listserv of about 70 people who are more ideologically homogeneous than MAPs in general, something we’d prefer to avoid.

There are a number of ways for people to help in this effort.  B4U-ACT recently began recruiting for three new volunteer positions especially important for promoting research on MAPs.  When posting links to surveys, B4U-ACT encourages people who meet the participation requirements to take the surveys, although please note that we do not maintain an email list of people interested in taking online surveys.  If you are thinking about conducting a study on a community sample of MAPs or if you are interested in volunteering for B4U-ACT, please contact me at glamb@b4uact.org

Glen Lamb, Science Director

B4U-ACT, Inc.

P.O. Box 1754

Westminster, MD 21158

(443) 244-9920

www.b4uact.org

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