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.

Extremists plot to disrupt ‘distressing’ dissent

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Today is Heretic TOC’s third anniversary. So I hope you will join me, in spirit at least, in celebrating. Cheers!

Looking back, the occasion of the first anniversary was marked by some rather uncharacteristically gloomy reflections on my part titled What’s the point of it all, really?  To my own question, I replied:

To be entirely honest, I am not sure. I know there are umpteen blogs I want to write, and that I am in absolutely no danger whatever of running out of things to say… But I do sometimes wonder whether… I might do better to concentrate my limited time on authoring books, or submitting articles to academic journals.

I am glad that I carried on blogging, and that was reflected in last years’ anniversary reflections, Oh shit, I forgot the kid’s birthday! My own existential angst over Heretic TOC’s purpose and future do not appear to have been shared by visitors, who continue to grow in number. The average hits per day here in the opening month, November 2012, was 89; in the corresponding month of 2013 there were 192; for 2014 the figure was up to 296. This year it is up again, to 363.

The most satisfying aspect of Heretic TOC for me has been the extent of engagement by fellow heretics, with a grand total – a very grand total – of 5,767 comments published so far as I write. One piece in this third year, Inadmissible Testimony, drew an astonishing 484 comments. This year also saw the most page views in a single day since the blog began: 1,685 on 20 July.

One wonderful aspect of this participation has been the generally high quality of the comments, which on a good many occasions have given me information and ideas I have quietly purloined and salted away in my own database for future exploitation. Some of these contributions have even been pressed into more immediate prominence, yoked into service as guest blogs in their own right. One of these, Towards the aetiology of paedophobia, turned out to be the first of a magnificent trio by Lensman (who now has his own excellent blog, Consenting Humans, writing as “leonard sisyphus mann”), the others being The future is green, and liberating for children and The staircase has not one step but many. All three were and remain truly profound analyses, worthy of continued study and reflection. If there is to be any lasting legacy of Heretic TOC, these pieces alone will comprise a mighty chunk of it.

As for any others that may be worth re-reading, I have been telling myself in the run-up to this anniversary that I really must have a good rummage through the back catalogue to fish out the best ones, with a view perhaps to running them as an e-book called Best of Heretic TOC, or whatever. In fact I mentioned just such a possibility in last last’s anniversary reflections. The only problem is actually getting around to doing the task. At least I have at last made a start, though, and following an appeal made here in July I am now kindly being helped by Ronnie (who posted on the About page) to compile an annotated index of every blog.

Looking forward, my feelings are still somewhat equivocal, as they were at the first anniversary. If there were any foreseeable prospect of kind people getting a better deal any time soon, if the mood were shifting towards the liberation of kids’ sexuality, rather than its suppression, I would doubtless feel a whole lot keener. To write in such an atmosphere would be truly exciting and exhilarating.

Even in a bear market, though, there are those who will always make a fast buck out of selling assets short, enabling such speculators to profit from panic. In a way, that is what the now thriving Virtuous Pedophiles are doing. They are selling kindness short, talking down the value of being kind and thereby making capital out of enabling unkindness to prosper. Their brand of writing and putting themselves about in the media might well feel “exciting and exhilarating” to those who sully themselves with it, but their success comes at the heavy price of selling their souls.

I make the point following the remarkable recent media coup by Todd Nickerson, already well known in kind circles for his posts as  “Markaba” at GirlChat and elsewhere. Not that he uses the word kind to describe child lovers. On the contrary, in a long article in the hugely influential American online journal Salon, he went out of his way to adopt the divisive language favoured by the VPs. Thus he disparaged those of us who seek liberation through long-term cultural change as “pro-contacters”, thereby deliberately fostering the false and libellous impression that we invite kind people to be heedless of present laws, or even (since it is left to the reader’s imagination) that we would condone or excuse non-consensual acts.

The media loved Nickerson’s blend of pity-seeking and finger-pointing. Big pieces soon followed in Daily Mail and The Independent; there was an interview on Irish radio.

Unfortunately, we can expect more of the same. Much more. The VPs, with whom Nickerson is now actively associating himself, have for some time been presenting a package that clearly appeals to the media, and they are now becoming a widely recognised brand.

Posting their own facts and figures on Sexnet recently, they claimed to have over 1,000 members now, albeit, in the words of Nick Devin, co-founder of VP with Ethan Edwards, “They don’t all stay around obviously, and not all participate.” Sexnet moderator Mike Bailey humorously replied: “Congratulations! (I know it’s not true, but kind of funny to think of Nick, Ethan, and 998 FBI agents on a website.)”

Many a true word is said in jest, for sure, but I rather think those FBI agents and their British equivalents will be focusing harder on Heretic TOC than the VPs, for the obvious reason that we are more likely to be perceived as a source of “extremism”.

If the success of the VP brand presents a threat to heretical thinking – and make no mistake, it does – the crudely coercive agencies of the repressive state constitute a far bigger one. In the UK, especially, where this blog is written, the latest ominous development is the government’s plan for a  new Extremism Disruption Order, already briefly mentioned in the comment columns here.

British radical Peter Tatchell has set the scene on his website, in an article titled Extremism Disruption Orders menace free speech.

The government’s main intention, announced earlier this year, is to crack down on Islamist extremism, with a view to stopping the process through which young Muslims become radicalised into taking part in bomb plots and going abroad to join “Islamic State”.

That sounds fine, but the measures the government has outlined strike at the heart of free expression. They are so broad and vague they could penalise a range of dissenting and minority opinions. The government has refused to define what it means by extremism, but the legislation will clamp down on “extremists” even if they have not broken the law. Don’t take my word for it, or Tatchell’s. Here is what prime minister David Cameron said when he was introducing the proposal:

“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” He then went on to promise that the government “will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.”

So, no more tolerance! Obeying the law is not enough! What will be demanded in our supposedly liberal society, it seems, is total conformity.

Simon Calvert, director of Defend Free Speech, set up to oppose the initiative, said:

“Defend Free Speech believes innocent people will fall foul of this unnecessary and dangerous piece of legislation. It will criminalise those who hold unpopular, unfashionable or challenging views. This could include pro- and anti-religious groups, trade unionists, environmental and animal rights activists, critics of UK foreign policy and people campaigning for LGBT rights. Indeed, we have already seen police urging teachers to report on parents who go to anti-fracking protests.”

In such a climate, it does not need much imagination to understand that pro-kind views will be in the firing line and that a blog such as Heretic TOC will immediately be branded extremist, even though it could hardly be more polite and moderate. Indeed, when the politicians talk about what “extremism” should be taken to mean, they tend to talk in terms of “glorifying” terrorism and “normalising” paedophilia. Unlike the anti-frackers and the rest, us heretics would be seen as prime targets along with the directors of obscenely glamorised beheading videos.

Defend Free Speech has warned that EDOs could be used to prevent individuals from going to certain places, mixing with particular people or even using mobile phones, the internet and social media. The group says the government will use the civil law test of “the balance of probabilities” rather than the stronger criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt” in order to impose the EDOs and that even the mere risk of causing “distress” could be enough to trigger the new powers.

My guess is that the worst fears expressed by Defend Free Speech will not come to pass. This group appears to be very broad-based, and its leadership includes heavyweights such as former Conservative Party leadership contender David Davis MP, former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP and ex-Chief Constable Lord Dear. Robust resistance to the worst excesses of the EDOs can be expected from the now rather splendidly militant House of Lords.

Whose freedom of expression will not be accommodated though? Why, us heretical kind people, of course. In these circumstances, it may become impossible in the coming year to continue a blog such as Heretic TOC unless it is written from outside the UK. In any case, there must come a time when, as an individual, one’s contribution has run its course. While this is not quite a valedictory on my part, it is intended to hint that others – especially those in other parts of the world – should be thinking how best to sustain a discourse of heresy in the perhaps not very distant future.

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