A guest post by David Garrett:
Men of my generation live in a world which is becoming increasingly bizarre in many respects: women who think it’s attractive to have a “sleeve” of tattoos; young people of both sexes wearing bits of wire stuck through various parts of their faces; marriage between two (thus far only two) people of the same sex – and ever increasing tolerance of sexual and gender deviance.
First, a couple of definitions. My trusty Concise Oxford defines deviance thus: “thing or person that deviates from normal behavior”, and abnormal as “exceptional, irregular; deviating from the type”. That being the case, no exception should logically be taken to describing gays as being abnormal or deviant, since we now know that only roughly 3% of people are gay. (Even if one believes the long discredited Kinsey findings that 10% of people are homosexual that still means they are abnormal in the strict sense of the word).
I hasten to add that I am not suggesting for a moment that gays ought to be discriminated against, or worse, harassed or beaten simply for being what they are, as was the case not so long ago. Many readers under 40 may be surprised to learn that up until 1973 homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness in DSM-II, the American encyclopedia of mental illnesses (now DSM-IV). Few would now argue that that should still be the case.
I wonder if I am alone in finding the pace and degree of language change regarding gender and sexuality bewildering? Look at an old movie (of which I am a great fan) made more than about 50 years ago. The word “gay” then meant a light hearted happy person, as in “The Gay divorcee” (note the two “e’s denoting a female divorced person) or a place in which people were enjoying themselves and were probably a little tiddly – even back then not necessarily caused by alcohol.
In the mid sixties everything changed: by 1970 you would have to have been living in a cave or be an elderly person who never got out much not to know that a “gay person” was a person of either sex who fancied their own kind rather than members of the opposite sex. By the end of the 80’s everyone under 50 would know that “LGB” meant people who were either lesbian, homosexual, or bi-sexual.
In the past 30 years – and more particularly the last 10 or 15 – what has derisively been called the “alphabet soup” of variations in sexuality and gender was growing like Topsy: in addition to Lesbian Gay and Bi-sexual, we now had T for transgender, I for intersex, and A for asexual. Eventually people began to see that the list of letters was getting a bit ponderous, and so the latest version – well, so far as this somewhat bewildered senior knows – is LGBTIQA+, the + standing in for letters denoting all the other supposed variations of sexuality and gender.
Very recently, we are told – instructed might be a more accurate word – that to obey correct “trans etiquette” when meeting new people we should not only say “Hello, my name is David”, but also add “and my pronouns are he/him”. Readers wishing to make sure they get everything absolutely right in that regard may like to read this article which appeared in Stuff on 5 December. What, you don’t know what “deadnaming” is yet? See below and all will be revealed.
Given the pace of change in the area of sexuality and gender, surely it is reasonable to ask at least two questions: When and where if anywhere, is this going to end; and How much acceptance of what was once considered to be abnormal or even abhorrent should we be expected to tolerate?
I am of the view – not shared by any means by all those who study human sexuality – that people are probably born heterosexual, bi-sexual, asexual or somewhere in between. That said, I suspect the nature/nurture debate on the degree to which deviance – used in the correct sense of the word – is innate or learned is going to continue for a long time yet. It is still quite common to see even well educated people talking of homosexuality as “a lifestyle choice.” For the record, I am with those gays who ask “why would someone choose to be a member of a group or class of persons who continue to suffer discrimination at best, or in some cultures be at risk of their very lives by loving as they do?”
Now for the tricky bit. While I believe heterosexuals and homosexuals (let’s just stick with those two for the moment to keep it simple) are indeed born and not made, I believe the same is true of paedophiles. While I am exclusively sexually attracted to women, and the Godfather of my children is exclusively attracted to men, paedophiles are “wired” to be attracted to children. Again let me be clear: I am not suggesting there is any connection between homosexuality and paedophilia – clearly paedophiles may be either straight or gay.
Just as unsuccessful attempts were made as recently as 30 years ago to “rewire” homosexuals, equally unsuccessful attempts continue to be made to rewire paedophiles so their sexual urges are expressed in a more “acceptable” manner. While there is some limited success with “rewiring” young paedophiles, it seems that if paedophilia is maintained into adulthood, it is very unlikely to change, and even drastic measures like chemical or actual castration are of limited effect.
Logically then, surely the question must be “If we accept that homosexuals should be allowed to express their sexuality as they choose, why not paedophiles?” The usual response from people who haven’t thought about it very much is “Oh, that’s quite different; having sex with children is against the law.” The response to that is of course that 40 years ago it was also illegal for men to have sex with men, and terms of imprisonment with hard labour for doing so – even with consent – were common perhaps as recently as the 1940’s.
The response of those not caught at the first logical hurdle, as it were, is that paedophilia is different because children cannot give consent. The problem with that is that there is no universal agreement on how old a “child” needs to be to give informed consent. We know that Mohammed had at least one bride who was nine years old. While the age of consent in all US states is now between 16 and 18, in the late 19th century the age of consent was between 10 and 12; in 1880 the age of consent in Delaware was seven – two years younger than Muhammed found acceptable, but which most reading this would find disgusting. In Louisiana, as recently as the early 70’s, the age of consent was 13.
So to return to my original question: how much further acceptance of sexual deviance is or should be acceptable? What should society’s answer be to groups like AMBLA, the Aotearoa Man/Boy Love Association – derived from a similar group in the US with the same acronym – who say children under 10 can give consent to sexual activity? Put bluntly, my answer is “You can all fuck off”.
For me, we have come as far, or almost as far as we should, in accepting as normal and acceptable what quite recently was not. I can live with the age of consent being 16 for any and all sexual activity, although as with any other arbitrary age limit, some “young” 16 year olds clearly are not ready to decide whether they should allow someone else intimate access to their bodies.
But while the above view may well be that of most people in 2020, has change in this regard gone as far as it should be allowed to go? I fear that it has not, and just as the alphabet soup of sexuality and gender increased to the point where it was getting ridiculous, the question of whether paedophiles should be allowed to “express themselves” like everyone else who fall somewhere within that alphabet soup is far from determined. But for me at least, sex with children will always be taboo, and Hell will freeze over before I list my pronouns when introducing myself or expect others to do the same.