(The Poet’s Eye rarely deals in disclaimers. If they are necessary they are usually also ineffective. But I would like to preface this edition of The Poet’s Eye with the disclaimer that this article in no way promotes, justifies, excuses or otherwise endorses pedophilia. I appreciate the profound difference between child-love and child-rape. I usually give my readers credit for having enough intelligence so as not to require explanations or warnings but this is a special case with respect to subject matter and I had an experience which caused me to make an exception to my non-disclaimer policy. For some years now I have shared my commentary at various web locations among them being the Daily Kos. I sometimes test fly my articles there because I can usually expect to be called out on my factual errors and challenged honestly on my opinions with courtesy if not always with tact. It is a useful tool when honing my ideas. But as I say, this is a special topic. When I published this article on the Kos there was a shit-storm of a couple hundred comments most of them in the irate and name-calling vein, whose tone and tenor were exquisite proof of the premise advanced by the article itself, namely that pedophilia is a subject which evades rational discourse. You can’t attempt sensible conversation on the topic, you can hardly utter the word without being accused of advocating it or at least advertising it. This is precisely the attitude and environment that fosters our immaturity on the subject. The upshot is that Kos was placed in much the same position as Amazon on the topic and they banned me because their customers demanded it. So, before I start getting anti-fanmail over this article just let me say that I’ll slap the first muthafucka silly who tries to call me a pedophile just for writing about the topic.)
Amazon and Pedophiles — Grow Up!
Pedophilia is one of those subjects which cannot be discussed in a cool, intellectual way. Reason is not the language we use to utter the unspeakable thoughts and emotions aroused by the topic. The Poet’s Eye must squint to see any profit at all in even mentioning sex and children in the same sentence because it causes a flood of adrenalin to be injected into our blood streams effectively bleaching any tint of sensibility or reason. We react to the whole subject with our primal selves, the earliest vestigial parts of the mammalian brain, the pure instinct to protect our offspring. It is hard to consider pedophilia with any degree of intellectual detachment because all the words are charged with emotion and fear and there is a general atmosphere of hyper-vigilance which pre-defines our way of thinking. The taboos and corresponding hypocrisies surrounding the topic prevent us from treating with it honestly. Even as you read this, your heart-rate has increased 7 beats per minute and you are beginning to feel your blood pressure swooshing in your ears.
If there is another sub-set of humanity which enjoys more universal derision than child-lovers, I can’t think of it. We reserve our most caustic and public disdain for pedophiles. There is no accusation you can hurl or name you can call that packs more toxic octane than the term child molester. They are truly on the lowest rung of our social ladder, our pariahs, our outcasts, our untouchables. They have no advocates and no decent person would raise a finger in their defense for fear that there is some secret disease that lies dormant in us all which might be awakened by mere proximity.
So, maybe I won’t talk about pedophilia, I’ll talk about censorship instead. It appears that the largest bookseller in the world, Amazon, has been bullied into removing some books from its cyber-shelves. These books, written by one Phillip R. Greaves II, are how-to manuals for pedophiles. It’s not my choice for Sunday morning reading but this is America and we have our quaint notions of Freedom of Speech. Amazon at first resisted the public outcry to remove the Ebooks from its online inventory but they have a business to run and must make their decisions with this in mind no matter how much it might strain their ideology. They had a couple of thousand customer complaints so they folded and took the books down. Some are crying Censorship. I can’t call it censorship if you won’t sell my book in your store. It’s only censorship if I can’t open my own store, so I’m not quick to condemn Amazon. They are in a tough position caught between two conflicting ideals, one being ‘the free market of ideas’ while the other is ‘the customer is always right.’ Community standards are fairly well enunciated on this subject. But I ask myself, What if the book in question were about a subject that was less offensive to me? Would I be more likely to join the chorus and shout Censorship?
Amazon doesn’t sell my books either. It’s not that they are offensive, it’s more to do with the fact that I’m too much of an outlaw and a pauper to buy ISBN numbers for them. But I sell them nevertheless. My friends have copies. I don’t feel censored, just obscure, not so much suppressed as ignored. But when I heard of Mr. Greaves’ titles on Amazon and the controversy they were creating, the wildcat opportunistic publisher inside of me said, “Damn, I wish I had thought of that!” Books about forbidden subjects have a guaranteed audience. How hard could it be to write Diddling for Dummies? I played my share of Doctor when I was a kid. I’ll bet that all of the public outrage and cable news mastication of the subject won’t hurt his book sales either. It’s better than being banned in Boston and firmly in the shock and scandal journalistic tradition of Guccione, Flint and Hefner as well as Pulitzer and Hearst. Controversy sells books and nothing causes controversy like challenged taboos.
One of my nobler and Christlike qualities is a reflex which causes me to defend the weakest among us. I can’t help myself. Show me a lost cause and I’m there for more than the free food. It’s my romantic notion that poet’s have a duty to explain the misunderstood and to remind us that we are measured by how we treat the lowest of our fellows. Pedophiles have achieved this unexalted status in our society. They are universal outcasts. We hang signs around their necks and strap transmitters to their ankles to know just where they are so we can fear them in the night when we put our children to bed. We have whole bodies of literature dedicated to the reinforcement of the taboo we have against sex with the young. Media whores like John Walsh have made pitiful careers out of stoking the hysteria about child abductions which are fewer per capita than lottery winners, lightning strikes or most unknown tropical diseases. If you watch enough Law and Order SVU you can get the idea that there are legions of overcoat-clad salivating child molesters lurking behind every lamp-post on every school campus in the country. It’s hysteria plain and simple and it sells like tacos at a bullfight. This would be merely amusing but for the fact that this caricature obscures the true nature of child sex abuse which most often occurs between family members and close members of the community known to the victim, not lurking and predatory outsiders. But this is the part of child sex that we don’t want to face or talk about.
Another part of our problem with the subject of pedophilia is that our laws and customs and beliefs are all based on a false axiom. This piece of fiction which pervades our way of thinking is that children are devoid of sexuality. This is patently untrue and yet has been laid like a crooked cornerstone in the foundation of our hypocritical moral edifice. Children ARE sexual creatures and any moral system which denies this is destined for the kind of trainwrecks we see in our churches and schools and families today where shame and guilt and secrecy are the life-destroying forces much more than any erotic behaviors might be. I would advance the notion that being felt up by a priest shouldn’t be a life-ruining event in itself, but the attendant shame, guilt and secrecy might be. Our problems come not so much from this old man playing Knick-knack paddywhack as from our prurient and uptight attitudes about the subject of sex in general which prevent a frank and honest communication with our children on real topics like the meaning of consent, the natural consequences and hazards of sex and who owns our bodies. This Victorian, unrealistic protectionism demeans children and leaves them completely vulnerable to exploitation of the most nefarious sort.
The Poet’s Eye sees that sexual exploitation is not determined by age but by consent. Instead of pretending that our kids don’t grow genitals until the age of 18, we should teach them the meaning of consent and about the ownership of their bodies. Children armed in this way are much less likely to become victims. The answer is not to picket Amazon because they are selling a handbook for dirty old men. If you think the book is dangerous then you should buy it and read it. Know thine enemy. But more likely the book is inconsequential as is the likelihood that your daughter will be snatched from her bed in the middle of the night by a maniacal sex fiend whose DNA is on the National register. We have inflated this hazard beyond all reason and proportion to the level of hysteria. America has always relished a good witch-hunt, it’s a sign of our basic immaturity but we shouldn’t need a handbook to tell us that the only sure cure for pedophilia is just to Grow Up, at least enough to talk about it.
This old man, he played ten,
He played knick-knack once again;
Give a dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.
This poet caught considerable flack for the above article which, because of its occasionally facetious language, insulted some readers’ sensibilities on the subject of pedophilia. There was outrage and name calling, even accusations that I was myself a pedophile for even mentioning the subject. In some circles it seems that anything short of a chest-thumping display of near-murderous hostility toward pedophilia or anything resembling it, is considered an endorsement of the practice. Despite my disclaimers and statements to the contrary, many readers took my assertion that children had their own sexuality to mean that I thought that sex between adults and children was somehow acceptable or that I was blaming victims for their own abuse etc. Again I emphasize that this is not my message. My message is that we don’t do our children a service by over-protecting them to the point of neurosis which leaves them ill-equipped to cope with predation should it occur. The whole area of sexual initiation and consent and arbitrary age-limits on majority etc is so shady and muddled with emotion and superstition that it’s no wonder so many of us don’t graduate from high-school without being emotional basket-cases who are already ruined for the possibility of a normal sex-life even if we had a vague idea of how ‘normal’ might look.
I don’t remember my circumcision. This worries me because I am told that painful events early in life, especially ones involving private parts, can twist us for the rest of our days, particularly if memories of them are blocked out or repressed. I know my winkie wasn’t very big a few moments after birth but I can’t imagine that such an amputation could have been anything but a terribly insulting and painful experience nonetheless and certainly no way to be welcomed into the world. The fact that I can’t remember such an event, one that left me physically changed for life, causes me to wonder what other sordid events of my childhood I might be suppressing? What terrible things might have happened to me that marked my personality but left no fingerprints in my memory? It’s a scary thought. The only reason I don’t dwell on it is because I doubt that the memory of an event that was not significant enough to remember is likely to have any appreciable effect on a person’s future behavior. Yet I have met any number of people of the victim mindset who claimed that such events had crippled them and who made careers of blaming such unpleasant experiences for everything that is wrong in their lives and soliciting sympathy for their emotional damages.
I don’t mean to trivialize the potential effects of a traumatic event. When we experience trauma or any intense event it leaves a deeper impression on our psyche than everyday events. Sometimes it takes time to process such strong feelings or profound happenings. But I must assert that there is a certain amount of responsibility that comes to the victim when he chooses to define himself by his abuse. In other words, I don’t see myself standing up at a support-group meeting and saying, “Hello, my name is Lightning Rod and I was circumcised as a child and my life has been a living hell ever since.”
Psychology is profusely populated with poetry about pederasty. The witch-doctors uniformly agree that childhood experiences are formative ones and many of them even notice that how the culture and the individual understand and evaluate these experiences is often more important than the experiences themselves. It is our culture’s job to prepare us for the pleasant and unpleasant things which might happen to us in our lives and to help us adjust to and understand them when they do. A huge vacuum exists in our culture when it comes to having an agreed-upon mechanism to help people deal with the subject of sexual passage and initiation. Various religions handle it in different ways most having little relevance to modern lifestyles. Different cultures provide for different methods of courtship and sexual initiation. Jews think that 13 is a good age to be a man or a woman. Mexicans throw coming out parties for their girls when they are 15. States place the age of consent at variously between 12 and 18. It can be very confusing in the melting pot of a large American city where a Mormon teenager with two or three ‘sister-moms’ might be sitting in English class next to a Muslim girl whose family thinks that clitoral amputation is the best way to deal with youthful sexual urges.
Aldous Huxley, in his utopian novel Island, recognizes the confusion and harm caused by social ambiguity when it comes to early sexuality and rites of passage and initiation. He proposes sort of a guided Montessori approach to sex education with children exploring and engaging in sex-play with each other. In his imaginary ideal world, young men were initiated to sex by an older woman and an older man brought the girls to womanhood. These were like witch-doctors or shaman-instructors who would properly teach the erotic techniques. Many primitive and tribal cultures use this method. I don’t know if that is a good way to do it or not, but anything is better than the emotional cage-fight and confusion factory that our current don’t ask, don’t tell system of sex education guarantees. We seem content to have the children learn about sex on the playground and in the multi-plexes rather than be guided in such a way as to prepare them for a fulfilling life. By denying them their sexual identities, we leave them defenseless to predation. If we have taught them that, ‘You are just a child and you aren’t capable of judgment and consent. You can’t think for yourself because you aren’t really a person yet,’ then we are setting them up for the predator who tells them it’s OK because I’m an adult and I say it is. Even a six-year-old who has been sensibly instructed and has the esteem that comes from understanding his personhood can say No to an out-of-line uncle or priest or teacher. And being able to say No has no meaning unless you can also say yes.