Proudly sticking out my double CHIN!

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When Dave Riegel kindly offered to host a link to my CHIN paper recently published in Sexuality & Culture, he was more alert than me to the need for an explanatory summary to go with it – a double CHIN, as it were – or an edited highlights version. As he wrote along with the link:

This paper comprises some 15,000 words and 33 pages. While composed with the academic or professional reader in mind, it can be read profitably by the layperson who puts his mind to the task, and who follows the logic carefully. For those who feel the sheer size is overwhelming, it is suggested that they begin at the “An Alternative Ideal” section.

Good advice! And at Dave’s request I am now taking a couple of steps to provide a reader-friendly introduction to the article. One of the steps, for visitors to Dave’s SafeHaven site, will comprise a short piece to go with the link there. The other step, for heretics here, appears below. It aims to encapsulate the paper’s main themes.

Before starting, I will just note that as I write, less than two months after CHIN’s publication, the paper has been downloaded 2,200 times from the official Springer site, a figure that I feel more than justifies splashing out, as I did, to pay for Open Access, making the paper freely available to all. Heretics here have donated generously in response to my appeal aimed at raising funds to cover the fee but I am still considerably out of pocket. So please consider making a donation if you have not already done so: see Donate button near the end text of the right-hand column or email me (tomocarr66@yahoo.co.uk) to ask for my international bank account number.

So, here we go.

It may help to begin with how CHIN came about. This has roots going back seven or eight years to a meeting in a London pub with psychiatrist Richard Green, whose record of pioneering support for gay and trans rights will be familiar to many here and who has recently published a memoir of his involvement in these issues. At Richard’s instigation we were joined for lunch by Agustin Malón, a Spanish specialist in sex education, whose views seemed agreeably liberal. We got on well, and in the years that followed I read a number of his academic papers with growing enthusiasm.

He was never a committed heretic, but his writing always showed understanding and goodwill. Many years ago, he wrote in the preface to his doctoral thesis:

Those who love children – and who very rarely attack them – undoubtedly lead a complicated existence; especially those who are attracted to prepubertal children, since society is not likely to allow them to live out these experiences in relative liberty and tranquillity. We have a lot to learn – as do they – about how to permit them to live out and express those desires through channels that are more acceptable, and that cause fewer problems for both minors and society.

This clearly indicates empathy but it is hardly a radical position. There is nothing to suggest he ever thought child-adult sex could ever be allowed. So I was agreeably surprised when a paper of his appeared in 2015 in a leading academic journal. The introductory Abstract noted that such relationships might indeed be morally permissible under some circumstances, based on his understanding of general ethical principles. What he was saying, in effect, was that the usual “anti” arguments, such as the idea that children cannot give valid consent, are weak: they do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Excitingly, it looked as though Malón was finally getting on board with true radicalism. But that turned out to be wildly over-optimistic. Seeing only a glass half full, I was overlooking the half empty perspective. His article was planned as the first of two. The first would throw out the weak case against child-adult sex; but the second would bring in some new, much stronger, “anti” ideas to replace them! So we would be left not with a radically libertarian analysis but a beefed up conservative one!

This could have been very deflating, but when the second article appeared, in 2017, I soon began to see it as an opportunity. Malón’s new paper was grounded in virtue ethics. And just as he had seen the weakness of the usual “anti” arguments, it seemed to me his “virtue” approach was also full of holes. All I had to do was point them out. Also, without placing any great store on the virtue concept as a basis for deciding whether any sort of behaviours should or should not be permitted, answering Malón’s case appeared to offer a marvellous platform for talking about active child-adult sex as potentially something that could be seen positively, as part of a virtuous adult’s life.

Malón’s appeal to virtue ethics is part of a revival in recent times of a very old sort of moral philosophy, going back to ancient Greece. The person of good character, in this way of thinking, is one who lives life well in the sense that their behaviour tends to promote their own well being and that of their society, and may even be considered good for human flourishing in general. Virtue ethics these days is often referred to as “neo-Aristotelian” moral philosophy, as Aristotle was one of the key figures in the field among the ancients, following Socrates and Plato, and a good deal of his writing has survived.

It makes sense to ask, as these great philosophers did, what sort of life a good life is, and what makes for good character. One problem with this, though, is that you tend to get very different answers depending on when and where the question is posed. Different cultures have widely divergent views. Life could be harsh in ancient times and that was reflected in what was seen as morally acceptable. Aristotle, for instance, defended slavery.

Perhaps that is why Malón doesn’t mention him! His approach may be neo-Aristotelian but the figure he draws on for inspiration is a leading public intellectual of our own times, Sir Roger Scruton, knighted two years ago for “services to philosophy, teaching and public education”. The official citation emphasises his promotion of “freedom and Western values” in Soviet-era Communist Europe, but in Britain he is better known for his love of fox hunting, his distaste for homosexuality and his ferocious hostility towards anything he considers to be perverted or obscene – including, of course, paedophilia. He once argued that gays have no children and consequently no interest in creating a socially stable future, so it was justified to “instil in our children feelings of revulsion” towards homosexuality.

His ideas on sexual morality find their fullest expression in his 1986 book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation, which is undoubtedly a hugely sophisticated and erudite work, running to over 400 pages. Unfortunately, Malón appears to have been over-impressed by it and uncritically blown away. In my article, as a result, I found that really I had to regard Scruton as my primary opponent. The first part of CHIN is in effect an attempt to demolish Scruton’s thinking, and I hope readers will feel I have succeeded.

After that I found myself gloriously free on the open philosophical road, able to put my foot on the gas, driving the article hard towards my own vision of “An Alternative Ideal”. Dave Riegel is quite right to propose this section as a possible starting point: it avoids the unfortunately necessary negativity of the early sections, allowing the reader to get straight to what I hope will be considered more inspirational material. In fact, with this in mind, you could perfectly well begin and end with this single section.

Those who want to take that advice are free to do so. What I think may be useful in the remainder of this blog is to give a guide to the overall structure and main contents of CHIN.

Abstract and Introduction

The Abstract and the Introduction were written with the academic reader in mind and will perhaps feel rather perplexing and unhelpful to a wider audience. As Dave says, though, a careful, attentive reading should reap rewards.

The Illusion of Sexual Exceptionalism

This section is one to skip unless you are keen on philosophy. It tackles the idea that human sex of any sort is unlike other aspects of morality and needs a different kind of ethics. This view is at the heart of Scruton’s book, which takes a “phenomenological” approach focusing on human “intentionality”, a tricky concept which takes him 15 pages to “explain” in an appendix that leaves the head spinning. Basically, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors that enables him to claim, unpersuasively, that where sex is concerned the birds and the bees may do it but human sexual desire is on an altogether more elevated plane, such that ethical discussion essentially has to be inward looking:  we must contemplate our feelings for other people without reference to the wider world of nature, or indeed without delving into what science can tell us about our own sexual natures and how best they might be enabled to flourish.

Virtue Ethics and Child-Adult Sexual Relations

Malón’s particular contribution with regard to child-adult sexual relations sets out by identifying three potential lines of argument against paedophilic behaviour made available by the virtue approach. They are considered under these headings: (a) perversion and obscenity; (b) the sexual bond; (c) erotic neutralization and “extended” incest. CHIN responds to each of these three approaches.

Perversion and obscenity

Malón invokes childhood “innocence”, but he does not defend the concept against the charge that it represents a state of ignorance in which children are deliberately kept by adults in order to control them. Instead he seeks to justify the tradition in which a high value has been placed on virginity, a valuation challenged by feminists as being at the heart of patriarchal control of female sexuality.

It has also been put under scrutiny from an evolutionary perspective, and here I draw on the work of psychologist Darcia Narvaez. She suggests that we have been wrongly “projecting onto the past a scenario like today’s of sexual restriction and competition, assuming sexual competitiveness for virginity, and emphasizing the timing of first sexual behaviour”. Evolutionary psychology, she says, has wrongly assumed “mate competition and male desire to control female reproduction to ensure genetic dominance”.  Among the small-band gatherer-hunters of the past, in contrast, “sexual relations are widespread with experimentation at all ages”. Also, “As with our bonobo cousins, individuals do not wait for the right fertile mate. Sexual relations are more about pleasure than control.”

With this in mind, I raise the possibility that it might be beneficial to practise intimate relationships well before the time when there could be reproductive consequences. I note that childhood and adolescent sexual experiences with adults have been reported in very positive terms in the research literature as relationships characterised by warmth, pleasure, affection and humour.

The sexual bond

Malón argued that the child’s capacity for intimacy and to be emotionally connected to another person would be damaged by a sexual relationship with an adult. He did not even claim there was any evidence for this in the case of consensual encounters. I decided to stick with a single really good counter-example, that of the psychoanalyst and theorist Heinz Kohut: he claimed his sexual relationship at age 10 with an admired tutor was life-saving for him when his parents’ marriage was deteriorating.

Erotic neutralization and “extended” incest

It is difficult to argue in favour of sex with children in a nuclear family setting simply because behind closed doors it is hard to be sure kids have real choices: no one wants to see them become sex slaves of their parents. This has nothing to do with the danger of producing deformed or otherwise genetically damaged offspring in an incestuous union, as young children are physically incapable of becoming fathers or mothers. And, despite his use of the word incest, “blood” relations have nothing to do with what Malón is saying. He talks about so-called extended incest, by which he means any adult-child contacts that show some of the same psychodynamics as family relationships, especially via the quasi-parental authority invested in teachers, sports coaches, scout leaders, etc.

His argument is not against such authority, quite the reverse. Rather, he thinks that having a sexual relationship is likely to undermine legitimate authority. Good parents, after all, teach their children good values and try to set an example through their own good behaviour. An implicit assumption is that unless they are firmly in control, they will not be able to keep their children on the right path. By revealing their own sexual needs, by “surrendering” to passion, they become vulnerable to the child’s power; and in a consensual relationship the child can withhold willingness to meet those needs.

The argument is a strong one, but I argue that it puts excessive emphasis on the value of hierarchy. I give examples of role reversals that can be valuable for children and adults alike, where the younger party is in command.

An Alternative Ideal

Please simply read this section: it is easier going and arguably more important than some of the other parts.

Some Further Misconceptions

Intellectually, this section is a minor mopping up operation after zapping all three of Malón’s main arguments but it contains some interesting evidence you are unlikely to have seen elsewhere: use the search terms “Bemba” and “Nyakyusa” for some fascinating material on pre-pubertal consummation of marriage in African tribes – as researched by intrepid female anthropologists in the mid-20th century.

A prudential argument

This short section deals with the argument that child-adult sex may be harmless or even beneficial at the time but damaging in the long term on account of the social stigma attached to such encounters. Some give this as a reason not to permit them. I cite philosopher Stephen Kershnar’s powerful counter-argument.

Conclusion

The paper concludes with a plea to look at the evidence rather than just assuming that child-adult sex is harmful; it is also pointed out that relevant research has been systematically blocked and censored in recent times.    

Trans kids 1: Insistent, consistent, persistent

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This is the first part of a two-parter on transgender youth. Heretic TOC’s tentative conclusions on trans kids’ rights and well-being, including the right to puberty blocking, will be deferred until part two. By all means send comments straight away, but it would not make sense to judge my opinions until you know what they are. As for the conclusions being “tentative”, I think that as an outsider parachuting myself into this difficult issue for the first time, that’s the way they should be. My view is offered with due humility and I welcome reasoned dissent, not least from one or two people here whose knowledge goes far beyond my own.    

 

What is best for transgender youth? Noisy militants demand the “right” of even little children to adopt the gender of their choice, so that every Stephen can become a Stephanie, start wearing dresses, long-hair and makeup, use the girls’ toilets at school and require everyone to call her “she”.

And every tomboy Stephanie, it is asserted, should be free to do the opposite. Thus the path may be cleared, or so it is hoped, for a smooth transition at adolescence and beyond to a more complete reversal, if so desired, of young people’s originally assigned sex, through hormone treatments and surgery.

Heretic TOC has always keenly advocated children’s rights, so cheerleading for the right of youth with gender dysphoria to change their gender may seem an obvious choice. What is definitely a no-brainer is that we should favour policies and practices aimed at securing their dignity and well-being – aims which should include promoting both a happy childhood and long-term flourishing in adult life.

These welfare aims are not necessarily best advanced, however, simply through declaring and implementing a child’s right to transition. This is because, unlike children’s sexual expression and self-determination, gender transition involves setting out on a path that becomes increasingly harder to reverse as time passes; and irreversible changes of a profound nature, especially sex reassignment surgery (SRS), are sometimes profoundly regretted.

ng-trans-cover-pic

On its Facebook page, the American Family Association posted about this magazine cover: “BE WARNED PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS!!! National Geographic shakes a fist at God and biblical authority on their radical mission to advocate gender confusion…” The nine-year-old trans girl in the picture, Avery Jackson, and her parents, Debi and Tom, have received an outpouring of public support following the appearance of this very high-profile publicity, but also lots of internet trolling.

This is not to say there should be no early start to transition. Some children make their feelings very clear, very early. From as soon as they learn in infancy about the traditional dress codes and gender roles, they will begin telling their parents they have been assigned to the wrong gender. They just know, from as early as age two or three, that they are really a girl not a boy, or vice versa. In the mantra of therapists approved of by the trans community, if these children are “insistent, consistent and persistent” in such beliefs, then it makes sense to start treating them as belonging to their chosen gender, with a first name and clothes, etc., to match, perhaps just at home to begin with and later at school.

There is nothing irreversible about these symbolic changes, and for that reason there can be no strong reason for making a child’s life miserable by sternly ruling them out. But there are hazards, even at this stage. “Being” a girl instead of a boy, or a boy instead of a girl, may be relatively easy if your mum and dad are relaxed about it and they are the only ones to know; and so will changing back again if so desired. At this stage, there is no commitment beyond the level of any other “let’s pretend” game.

It is much more of a commitment to go to school with a new name and gender though. And a vastly bigger commitment if – as is increasingly happening now that transgender is suddenly such a fashionably high-profile phenomenon – your life as a trans child is featured on a TV reality show such as I Am Jazz, or if your photo is featured on the front cover of National Geographic magazine, as happened to nine-year-old Avery Jackson last month. Once things have reached this stage changing course could be as psychologically tough as getting to the altar with the dreadful sinking feeling that your betrothed is not going to be Mr or Mrs Right after all, but you are already caught in a trap.

The psychiatrist Richard Green, a pioneer in the field of transsexuality since the 1960s, expressed a dim view of transgender children being exposed to the full glare of the media when I heard him speak in London last month on the development of transsexual surgery for adults from its beginnings in the 1930s.

“I’m not convinced that going on TV to announce your child is dysphoric is the best way to ensure their development,” he said. “It might even be considered child abuse. Better if it’s under the radar: allow the child to go to a new school. You test the water. Being on the cover of National Geographic is not necessarily in that kid’s best interests.”

I agree. The high-profile route is a sign not of children being legitimately insistent, consistent and persistent, but rather of militant activism by adults who have shown themselves all too willing to use ruthlessly dishonest tactics. Think of the aggressive noisiness we hear all the time from “victims” of “historic child sexual abuse”: the pushiest ones tell the most sensational yarns and grab the most media and political attention. In this post-truth era, few seem to care whether their stories – with lurid “Satanic abuse” and improbable conspiracy theories based on “recovered memories”, or outright lying – have any basis in reality.

It’s the same, unfortunately, with some trans activists. On BBC’s Newsnight last month, for instance, an activist called Shon Faye made swingeing allegations against Dr Ken Zucker, one of the world’s most eminent clinicians in the transgender field. He falsely claimed that Zucker’s peers, in a  review of his clinical practices, found he had a habit of taking unnecessary photos of his young patients “in various states of undress” and he was “asking them very lurid sexual questions”. Zucker’s long-time colleague Ray Blanchard, also on the programme, intervened to say the allegations were untrue. The presenter stopped Faye from going any further, but by then the damage had been done. The allegations appeared to have been an attempt to recycle an earlier one. A former client, now an adult, claimed Zucker asked him to remove his shirt in front of other clinicians present, laughed when he complied, and then referred to him as a “hairy little vermin”. The accusation was subsequently retracted by the accuser. The resurrected form of the accusation on Newsnight was potentially even more damaging; its vagueness hinted at the possibility of a sexual motive on Zucker’s part – and we need no persuading as to how destructive that can be.

What is certainly true, as H-TOC has reported previously, is that there has been a long-term campaign against Zucker, who is seen by some as a monster who practised a brutal form of “conversion therapy” in which he tried to make kids’ gender identity “normal”, otherwise known in the terminology as cisgender. All this agitation led to a highly critical external review last year of Zucker’s work at his clinic, Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as a result of which he was sacked. Investigative journalist Jesse Singal wrote an in-depth series of articles about this, and concluded:

…the truth about Zucker and his clinic is a lot more complicated. Many of the claims activists have made about him are false or seriously overblown, and the “external review” that led to his firing… was absolutely riddled with errors and falsehoods. CAMH itself quickly decided it couldn’t stand by the review it had commissioned; after we reported that the single most damning allegation in the review was completely false, CAMH yanked the document off its website entirely, replacing it with a toned down “summary.” Zucker has since sued CAMH for releasing what he and his lawyer claim was a defamatory report, and that suit is ongoing.

Zucker had a great chance to put the record straight last month in a BBC 2 documentary called Transgender kids: Who knows best?, and to a significant degree he succeeded – despite a vigorous censorship bid in the shape of a the petition aimed at stopping the show going out, and Shon Faye’s libellous trashing of Zucker, broadcast as part of a Newsnight preview of the show. The programme as a whole was generally well-received by mainstream reviewers, who judged it “cautious”, “well worked out”, “even-handed” and “sophisticated”.

Crucially, it considered the controversial and all-important question of what gender dysphoria actually is. There are those, including clinicians and activists, who believe it always reveals a key aspect of an individual’s innermost, stable identity, by showing there is mismatch between their gender identity and their assigned gender, as traditionally determined by their visible genitalia at birth. Thus until they transition they will never feel at ease with who they are. Arguably, they feel a bit like a gay person before liberation or a Kind one now – forced to hide and deny a fundamental aspect of themselves, and hating the idea that the medical profession wants to wish them out of existence through a “cure”.

Zucker does not deny the importance of the fundamental identity question, but as a clinician he is also aware that people are very complicated and that any particular case may actually be driven by other factors. “Taking any behaviour in isolation when thinking about gender dysphoria is not the way that I think about it,” he says. You also need to know about the child’s family and life history. He gave the example of a girl whose mother had been murdered when she was four. The child wanted to be a boy, he said, in the belief that a boy would have been better able to protect her mother and look after himself too.

It sounded very plausible, but I note that Mike Bailey, one of the top research scientists in the field, is sceptical. Addressing him on Sexnet, Bailey said:

Ken, this mantra that there are many ways to gender dysphoria is possibly true, but it is also possibly false. That your clinical team comes up with various formulations about family dynamics that make sense to the team and that the child gets better when problematic dynamics are treated are not very convincing to me as evidence. (I think a plausible alternative is that the passage of time and a shared commitment to helping the child desist are the active ingredients.) Clinical formulations of this general type (family dynamics) have virtually no evidence supporting them.

What does have strong evidence going for it, though, is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can definitely be a profound mental health issue at the severe end of the spectrum. According to paediatric neuropsychologist John Strang, children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD. Zucker has himself pointed out this connection; pro-trans activists play it down.

James/Jasmine, are you reading this? Our brilliant, geeky, teenage male-to-female transgender contributor here at Heretic TOC a couple of years ago also identified as autistic, but at the mild end of the spectrum, such that she felt it was not a mental health problem but a valid and positive aspect of her identity. If you see this, Jasmine, we’d love to hear your reaction!

Even more convincing evidence on Zucker’s side came in the programme from “Lou”, who was born female and had a double mastectomy as part of transitioning to a man. Now she feels “freakish” and regrets it deeply. She says it is a decision that “haunts” her and she feels her gender dysphoria should have been treated as a mental health issue. The identity that now feels truest to her is as a cisgender lesbian.

And yet when she was a girl entering puberty she was desperate to be a boy. Distressed by her unwanted periods, she attempted suicide. She was told by the trans community she really had no choice: it was transition or die. She did not think he had a mental health problem.

Also on Who Knows Best? was trans therapist Hershel Russell, who is based in Toronto, like Zucker, and was one of the people who helped get him sacked. Russell  tried to talk Lou’s case away as a rare exception. But even one exception is enough to prove that matters are not as simple as the more gung-ho activists would have us believe. They also have a problem with the widely-touted claim (albeit the figures are disputed) that around 80% of children and adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria do not in the end go through with transition: they desist, sticking with their sex as assigned at birth.

In the Q&A session following his talk on transsexual surgery, I asked Richard Green about the reasons for this desistance. I was particularly interested to know whether he thought the persistors were mainly people with a potentially diagnosable gender-related biological condition underpinning their gender dysphoria, whereas perhaps the desistors had become transgender for socially-motivated reasons.

He favoured a biological explanation for persistence, especially when it was really insistent and consistent. As for those who desist, he said a lot of them become gay or lesbian. And nobody knows better than Green, who wrote a classic book on the subject, that gender non-conforming boys tend to be homosexual later on. It appears to me that gender dysphoria and sexual orientation probably have a connected common origin. Given the present scientific consensus that sexual orientation has pre-natal biological origins, it also seems a good bet that gender dysphoria is triggered further back in an individual’s development than any social influences.

For yet another Toronto angle on all this I can thank Peace, who has guest-blogged and commented here. Transitioning from female to male, Peace has chosen not to guest-blog about his personal journey, but responded instead to my request for general information, thoughts and resources on the subject. One such resource I found particularly helpful was Families in TRANSition: A Resource Guide for Parents of Trans Youth, published by Central Toronto Youth Services.

What struck me most from this publication was its calmly reasonable tone – a million miles, one might think, from the militant, angry activism that sees Ken Zucker libelled and branded a monster. Bizarrely, however, one of those pleasant, sensible contributors turns out to be none other than Hershel Russell, one of Zucker’s most strident critics. He confesses he worries a bit about parents who seem immediately very accepting of their child’s wish to transition. Zucker himself could have written that!

A point I feel Peace would particularly agree with is this:

Trans people often describe puberty, the point at which their bodies begin to change and visibly betray their inner experience, as traumatizing – “nature’s cruel trick” – and a time of true despair. It is a time when feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide may emerge or worsen.

But the guide makes clear that being transgender is not always about heading towards radical anatomical change:

Some youth are clear that their survival depends on fully transitioning from one gender to another. Other youth find that they only need to change one aspect of their bodies, or need no medical interventions at all but rather wish to express their unique gender identity through clothing and behaviour. Whatever the case, these needs come from inside the child and, for better or worse, are unlikely to be changed by pressure or persuasion.

 

The next part of this two-part blog will go deeper into the question of what being transgender really means. It will introduce the scientific basis for a striking claim: that there is such a thing as an intersex brain. It will also discuss transgender choices in relation to wider cultural issues.  

 

Tromovitch sets a poser on prevalence

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I promised (or threatened !) more about the Cambridge conference on DSM-5. Groan ye not, though, dear heretics, as this week’s despatch will be a tad less arcane.

Turning to the poster presentations, in particular, several of these were lively sessions, with subject matter of wider potential interest than the knotty diagnostic concerns that constituted the main business of the event. Three stand out: Noëmi Willemen, from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, speaking on “Liberating the paedophile: a discursive analysis”; Diederik Janssen, editor of Culture, Society & Masculinities, on “Specification of the perverted: anthropologizing bad sex”, and Philip Tromovitch, of Doshisha University, Japan, on “The prevalence of pedophilia: What little we know”.

Liberating the paedophile! Wow, we don’t hear that kind of talk much these days. Unfortunately, interesting though it was, Willemen’s poster was an analysis of the rhetoric of paedophile liberation in the Olden Days several decades ago, rather than a rousing call for liberation right now. Janssen’s work, by contrast, is far more radical than his use of expressions like “perverted” and “bad sex” might suggest. For colourful, provocative mischief, though, I must hand the palm on this occasion to Tromovitch, and thus will focus on his contribution.

But first, a fanfare is in order. Tromovitch will be revered by many here as part of a team, Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, whose valorous deeds set them among the immortals of heresy over a decade ago.  Their work had the temerity to challenge the term “child sexual abuse” (CSA) as unscientific, and demonstrated through careful statistical analysis that the psychological harm thought to be caused by child-adult sexual contacts is instead far more strongly associated with non-sexual factors such a poor family background, including issues such as violence and neglect. Their meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin in 1998 was so powerful, so high-profile, and so threatening to the entrenched interests of the abuse industry that it was condemned in a resolution passed by both house of the United States Congress – the first and only time any academic paper has been thus attacked in the nation’s history, in a move many have compared to the Pope having Galileo tried for heresy in the 17th century based on his “heretical” view that the earth orbits the sun.

After more than three hundred years the Catholic Church finally admitted that Galileo was right. While it is to be doubted that the US Congress will ever rescind its vote against Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, even in a thousand years, the tremendous trio, a veritable holy trinity of heresy, can at least take satisfaction from the fact that in the academic world, at least, their work has earned lasting respect and is widely cited.

There is a price to be paid for heresy, though. Work in cancer research, say, or particle physics, of a similar quality to Rind et al.’s contribution, might lead to a Nobel prize, or at the very least a top professorship in a world famous university. The careers of Rind, Tromovitch & Bauserman, by contrast, have all suffered, and getting further work published has been a struggle. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that Tromovitch’s role at Cambridge was relatively modest. Presenting a poster is a fairly humble task, whereas he might have been invited to give the keynote speech in more favourable political circumstances.

Never mind, the modest status of the presentation was more than made up for by the punch it packed: in its way, the claim put forward was just as shocking and sensational as the paper denounced by Congress. Put it this way: What proportion of the male population do you think are paedophiles? One percent? Five? Surely it has to be less than the number of adult-orientated gays, right, a figure variously estimated at between five and ten percent?

Well, no, it ain’t necessarily so. According to Tromovitch – and I quote directly from his poster – “the majority of men are probably pedophiles and hebephiles”. Of course, much depends on precisely how those terms are defined, but it has certainly long been known that when so-called normal men are used as control group subjects in laboratory research they will typically show arousal (usually measured by increase in penis volume) when exposed to sexual stimuli featuring children, such as erotic pictures or stories. Startlingly, as Tromovitch points out, “89% of community males exhibited some sexual arousal while viewing slides of female children” (Hall et al., 1995).

Whether a small degree of arousal to children is significant is open to doubt, but Tromovitch’s presentation brought together a range of research data which together introduced startling evidence that around 20-25% of men actually test as paedophiles, by which he appears to mean significantly or preferentially so, although this would need further elaboration. What is more, these figures are supported by self-report studies, of which Tromovitch cites a good few, including these:  22% of male students reported that they were sometimes attracted to little children (Briere et al., 1996); 19% of male students reported unwanted, personally unacceptable, sexually intrusive thoughts involving sexual acts with a child or minor (Byers et al., 1998). Perhaps most strikingly, based on a number of studies, Tromovitch reveals that “Approximately 10% of normal men report that they would have sex with a child if no one would know and there would be no punishment”.

All this, says Tromovitch, need not surprise us if we think about the characteristics of different age categories and their likelihood of either eliciting or inhibiting sexual arousal in adult men. Older children (pubescent, 8-12), he points out, and young biological adults (adolescent 11-15) are the only groups in seven age categories, from infants to the elderly, whose characteristics comprise no factors usually regarded as off-putting (such as sagging breasts and blemished skin) along with the positive presence of factors usually regarded as sexy (arousing body shape, high libido, not too hairy).

Is he right? Well, you can check out the details of his poster, Page 1 and Page 2, and decide for yourself. I would just note that in his authoritative book Pedophilia and Sexual Offending Against Children, Michael Seto puts preferential or exclusive attraction to prepubescent children at around 4% or less. The most obvious reason for scepticism, though, seems to me to be this: If such a high proportion of men really are significantly or preferentially attracted to children, how come our political presence is so feeble? Why don’t we organise and fight the oppression against us far more powerfully, like the massively successful gay movement? Is it just fear of the majority’s ferocity? Or is it mainly, as I suspect, that most minor-attracted adults have fallen prey to all the moralistic propaganda that so besets our ears on a daily basis?

But, hey, enough of the heavy stuff. Who’s ready for some tittle tattle about personalities?

Phil Tromovitch and Diederik Janssen, I am pleased to say, both proved to be “up for it” when I suggested chatting over drinks in a riverside pub garden after the conference ended. Huge guys, both of them – black-clad, shaven-headed, muscleman Janssen, especially, would make a very credible night club bouncer, an image massively at odds with his subtly teasing academic prose – so it felt like I had a couple of body guards. Not that I needed any: the atmosphere in the ancient university city on a lovely English summer’s evening was very relaxed. So was the conversation, which flowed most agreeably, along with the drinks and the beautiful River Cam.

Unsurprisingly, after his defeat, Blanchard himself was not at the conference, but other big-name figures did attend, such as Richard Green, emeritus professor of psychiatry, UCLA, a leading figure behind the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness thirty years ago, who courageously attempted to do the same with paedophilia early in the new millennium. As President of the International Academy of Sex Research (IASR) he even invited me to address that august body in a symposium on paedophilia.

I guess he had to take some flak for that, some of it quite probably coming from the far more conservative Ken Zucker. As IASR’s conference treasurer at the time, he found himself obliged to hand me a cheque to cover my speaker’s expenses – and judging by his cool demeanour he was none too happy about it.  But Zucker, present in Cambridge having been chair of the DSM-5 work group on sexual and gender identity disorders, has had to take his share of flak too over the years. A psychologist working with children, he has long been under attack by activists for allegedly pushing transgender kids into accepting their biological gender. Transsexuals even demonstrated against him outside the conference building: they included a female-to-male trans guy dressed as a baby and holding a placard saying “Ken Zucker – hands off our kids!” And I learned in Cambridge that a recent journal article published under the auspices of  the British Psychological Society was memorably titled “Zuck off!”

Wonderful! It was a rare few days when I could feel relatively popular!

That was fun, and even more so was the chance to chat to so many folks (including the demonstrators) on a one-to-one basis. Why, I was even able to pin Zucker to the wall over not answering my emails in recent years! He denied it was on account of personal animosity. I don’t believe him but I was too polite to say so. Well, he can read it here!

Approaching gay historian Jeff Weeks for the first time in decades, I was delighted he recognized me but saddened that his speech “Beyond the categories”, which closed the conference, was tired, bland and utterly devoid of the radical edge that characterized his exciting early work. Again, unfortunately, I was too nice to tell him so, although a question I raised from the floor was a pretty big hint. Was the current obsession with crushing paedophilia, I asked, harmfully also leading to the denial of children’s sexuality, and leading to sexually active children themselves being criminalized as sex offenders? His answer was evasive and vacuous. Very disappointing.

Shit! Every week I tell myself I must make these blogs shorter and snappier but I still haven’t delivered on saying I would tell you more about the interesting exchange when I was buttonholed by philosopher Patrick Singy, a conversation also joined to great effect by the delightful Noëmi Willemen. It would take too long to start on that now but I should add a couple of brief and hopefully useful points about my earlier Cambridge blog (11 July):

  1. I have added a paragraph to it (in square brackets and italics) in connection with Singy’s argument.
  2. Also in that same Cambridge blog I mentioned Blanchard’s fraternal birth order effect on sexual orientation in males. A brief, sharp, interview with Blanchard about this, Did having a big brother make me gay?, has just appeared in the Boston Globe online. Recommended.

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