"Pedophilia Chic" Reconsidered, Part 2
Jan 1, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 16 • By MARY EBERSTADT
It is tempting to throw up one's hands on reading a litany like this one, and to blame it all on our anything-goes postmodern life. But this is determinism masquerading as pessimism, and a determinism that does not fit the facts. Today's pressures to normalize pedophilia are not the result of some omnipotent and unstoppable taboo-devouring social and moral juggernaut; they are occurring one bookstore, one magazine, one publisher and advertiser, one author and editor and consumer at a time. Case by case, given a more enlightened public, it is not hard to imagine these decisions--like the one that led to Penguin's putting its imprimatur on a pedophilic sex scene, or like the misguided efforts by some gay organizations to refer teens to unsavory and perhaps even unsafe websites--being made otherwise. Such a turnaround is particularly imaginable in the case of chain bookstore merchandisers, who routinely place pro-pedophile works on the gay-interest shelves--a phenomenon that thoughtful movement activists must find outrageous.
It would help immensely if those members of the gay rights movement who have not realized what is being committed in their name--along with those who do realize what is going on, and who deplore it--join forces against this trend. Here too, one can imagine progress being made; decent people, by definition, tend ultimately to do what decency requires. When "Pedophilia Chic" appeared four years ago, for example, a poignant response soon came from Paul W. Simmons, the political director of the Log Cabin Republicans in Houston. He feared that the piece would leave readers with the "erroneous impression that the gay male community endorses sexual exploitation of adolescent males." The letter continued: "Unfortunately, the homosexual community's political leadership, which is dominated by radical leftists, has failed to denounce loudly the North American Man-Boy Love Association and other nefarious groups. But on this issue, as with many others, the leadership is removed from the constituency it purports to serve. For a sizable majority of gay men, sexual relations with children are viewed as morally appalling, and the adult practitioners of it are seen as pathological deviants."
These are words with which any reasonable person will agree. They also raise the question of why--particularly in light of the astonishing political and social victories of the last several years--leaders of that movement have not been more scrupulous about some of its ranks.
In an interesting pro-movement 1996 book, "Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s," authors John Gallagher and Christopher Bull propose an answer of sorts to this question. Most national gay groups, they note, opted for respectability as the movement grew, particularly by passing resolutions denouncing NAMBLA and all it stood for. At the same time, according to the authors, pedophilia advocates did enjoy lingering protection among parts of the movement because "many thoughtful activists who opposed NAMBLA's goals could not escape the suspicion that to denounce the organization would be to mimic society's condemnation of their own sexual orientation."
Whatever its origins, the reluctance by some activists to draw such lines means this: Today, instead of standing foursquare with the rest of the public against this evil, the gay rights movement appears divided. A few proclaim boys to be sexual fair game. Influential others disavow pedophilia per se, but tolerate its advocacy on grounds of political solidarity with persecuted groups. Still others, in the relatively new development noted earlier, appear to have opted for a kind of anti-anti-pedophilia, according to which the "real" problems for the movement are somehow Dr. Laura and the religious right, rather than the facts to which such critics draw attention: e.g., that efforts are being made to destigmatize the sexual exploitation of boy children; or that positive portrayals of "inter-generational sex," which are extremely rare in the rest of the culture, are not rare in gay literature and journalism. And, once again obviously, there are the many, many other people--representative of that "sizable majority" of which the Log Cabin Republican wrote--who must be as distressed by such advocacy as he is, but appear undecided what to do about it.
Today's gay rights advocates preside over what is probably the single most successful domestic political movement of the post-Cold War era. The sine qua non of its dramatic advance has been the tolerance of the civic majority, for whom the movement's most stirring appeals--to equity and fair treatment and "a place at the table," as Bruce Bawer put it--have turned out to resonate more deeply than even most activists could have imagined. This is not to say that public unanimity reigns here, any more than it does over the agendas of other special interest groups. Reasonable people, both inside and outside of the gay rights movement, disagree in good faith on profound points--from the interpretation of Judeo-Christian teachings, to the implications of civil unions, to the appropriate public health measures in the wake of AIDS, to the judicial propriety of hate-crime laws.
But it is not and will not be the case that this same tolerance can be parlayed into support for predators. About pedophilia there remains one and only one proposition that commands public assent. It is this: If the sexual abuse of minors isn't wrong, then nothing is.
Mary Eberstadt's essays and reviews have appeared in The Weekly Standard, Commentary, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. She is a former executive editor of the National Interest and more recently a consulting editor to Policy Review.
1 These included, among other events and soundings, a much-publicized Calvin Klein ad campaign that paid homage to the conventions of child pornography; the publication by a reputable publisher, Prometheus Books, of a book advocating "intergenerational intimacy," i.e. pedophilia; a still-notorious piece in the May 8, 1995, New Republic praising NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, for its "bravery" and suggesting that we lower the age of consent for boys; a sympathetic profile in Vanity Fair of a convicted child pornography trafficker; a sympathetic profile of a pedophile in a celebrated book by author Edmund White; and a review of the writings of several prominent gay authors, all published and acclaimed in mainstream circles, whose books featured sex scenes between men and underage boys. Literary critic Bruce Bawer was a minority voice objecting to the latter trend. See "Pedophilia Chic," The Weekly Standard, June 17, 1996.
2 The antinomian and arguably malignant exercise of Nabokov's "Lolita," written 45 years ago, has not only not been surpassed, but remains so controversial today that the latest Hollywood version of the story was not even released in movie theaters in the United States.
3 In response, Drabelle wrote that he "supported the laws that protect children from the sexual advances of predatory adults," that nothing in his review "says or implies otherwise," and that the reader is "entitled to his opinion" about whether "any such affair would inexorably result in wreckage."
4 Drake's own answer: "Even as the homo culture of this fin de siecle seeks to puritanically clamp down on boy-love advocates, it riddles itself with a fixation on lithe, boyish sexuality and smooth-chested youthful attractiveness--and the perpetration of same as the physical and erotic ideal apparent in clubs, online profiles, porn films and mainstream advertisements. It is nothing more than blatant hypocrisy."
5 According to the publisher, Virgin records, Tower Records, and Smith Kline Beecham have been among XY's few paid advertisers.