As for the related matter of gay non-fiction, here too, judging by the public domain, the subject of boy pedophilia has a manifest niche.
One book only recently available in the "gay studies" section of a Borders in downtown D.C., for example, is a peculiar classic of a sort entitled "Male Inter-Generational Intimacy: Historical, Socio-Psychological, and Legal Perspectives," edited by the aforementioned pedophile icon Edward Brongersma and two colleagues. This book, according to one of its jacket endorsements, "[sheds] critical light on the broad spectrum of man-boy love and its place in ancient and contemporary societies." In other words, it is a series of briefs using scientistic polemics in an effort to rationalize the sexual molestation of boy children. The article abstracts speak for themselves. ("Pedophilia is always considered by mainstream society as one form of sexual abuse of children. However, analysis of the personal accounts provided by pedophiles suggests that these experiences could be understood differently." "The incidence of violence is very low in pedophile contacts with boys. The influence can be strong in lasting relationships; it can either be wholesome or unwholesome." And so on.)
Of course, this opus that "gay studies" bookshelves now reserve space for did not spring from nowhere. The book itself grew out of two issues of the American Journal of Homosexuality (Vol. 20, Nos. 1/2, 1990) dedicated to the pondering of "male inter-generational love." Here again, an ostensibly mainstream gay vehicle was put to the service of advocating pedophilia. In fact, the case of the Journal of Homosexuality is particularly interesting as a case study of how a pernicious idea can spread. The editor of this reputable gay journal, John P. DeCecco, is a psychologist at San Francisco State University. DeCecco is favorably quoted in the introduction to "Male Inter-Generational Intimac"y for having praised the "enormously nurturant relationship" that can result from pedophile-boy contact. DeCecco is also on the editorial board of Paidika.
As one would expect, such cross-pollination in gay fiction and criticism is verifiable many times over via the inhuman efficiencies of cyber-correlation. It was not immediately obvious, for example--in fact, it came as a surprise--that typing "Paidika" into an ordinary search engine would turn up a reference to Gay Men's Press bestsellers; but it did not take long to see why. For one of the books on the Gay Men's Press bestseller list turns out to be "Dares to Speak: History and Contemporary Perspectives on Boy-Love," edited by Joseph Geraci--all of whose chapters but one appeared originally in Paidika itself. Another book on the same bestseller list is "Some Boys," described as a "memoir of a lover of boys" that "evokes the author's young friends across four decades and as many continents." Another on the same list is "For a Lost Soldier" by Rudi van Dantzig, advertised as involving sex between an 11-year-old boy and a Canadian soldier in Holland in 1944. There are more.
Surfing also makes plain that the better-known gay organizations, all of whom stand dead set against any conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia, are nonetheless sending mixed messages about what is and is not off-limits for the underage. Most of them, for instance, now have "youth sections" on their websites for and about legal minors. The justification for this heightened attention to the young is to ameliorate the angst of gay teenagers. At the risk of stating the obvious, though, it is hard to see how this purpose is served by encouraging boys to act and think sexually at ever younger ages, which is an all but unavoidable side effect of the type of "outreach" these sites engage in.
Consider, for example, the website of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), one of the more respected gay rights organizations in the country. It is just a click of the mouse from PFLAG's "useful links" to a site where one can read the "coming-out" stories of children aged 10, 11, and 12. Similarly, the "youth" section of GLAAD's publication list (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) simply assumes that minors are sexually autonomous--and active. One piece ("Landmark Survey Shows Gay Youth Coming Out Earlier than Ever") notes approvingly that most children now "realize" their orientation at age 12. Another piece, "Lesbian and Gay Youth Find Safe Place in Cyberspace," counsels: "Don't believe much of the hype about how cyberspace is populated with pedophiles." These citations are taken from just the first two pages of GLAAD's 15-page list of publications for and about "gay youth."
At OutProud--another site recommended and linked by leading gay organizations--visitors are routed to a comic strip called "Queer Boys." It features two boys who are said to be 16 and look younger. They set off for Manhattan ("Let's run away to New York, where it's safe to be Queer!!" "Kewl!"), where they triumph over evildoers (i.e., parents and reparative therapists) and find happiness at last thanks to the habitues of a bar in the West Village. ("A gay rock club! That's so cool! Damn! I wish we were old enough to get in!!" says one of the boys. "Damn those politicians! Damn them all to hell!!" replies the other.)
For a final example of how pedophilia is being defined down, consider XY magazine--which would doubtless have run afoul of the obscenity laws until very recently. Started just four years ago, XY is now, according to its founder and publisher Peter Ian Cummings, the "third largest gay magazine in the U.S., selling over 60,000 copies per year and [having] more than 200,000 readers." (These numbers are unaudited, but would put XY on a par with the Advocate in circulation, though lower than Out magazine's 120,000.) Cummings also reports that "you can find XY on sale in Borders, Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, and many others."
What gives XY its unprecedented niche is that here, for the first time, is a mass-market magazine "officially targeted toward 12-29 year old young gay men," every issue of which, as one admiring journalist puts it, "features scantily clad young men in several photo spreads and on the cover." Then there is the non-photo content. The first issue was stamped "Underage." Another issue included a sympathetic pro-and-con interview with a prominent member of NAMBLA. An article in another issue was titled "F--the Age of Consent." There is also a smattering of self-help that can only make minors easier to find--for example, advice about what kids should do if their parents install a filtering system that prevents them from reaching gay cyberspace (answer: get around it).
In sum, if one had taken on the challenge of designing a magazine for pedophiles, it would probably look a lot like XY, which is why its market niche and evident reader support invite reflection. So too, for obvious reasons, does the public (gay) reaction to all this. On the one hand, Out magazine referred to XY's debut as a "dubious achievement" and suggested that it was equivalent to child pornography. Similarly, Philip Guichard complained in his Village Voice piece (headlined "I Hate Older Men"): "Mainstream gay culture dresses up its kiddie porn in a pretense of serving teens. As nice as it is to believe that magazines like XY and Joey [a recent competitor] are actually consumed by gay teens, it's obvious to me that the shirtless kids in provocative poses who fill their glossy pages are there for older men." What's more, XY's publisher has complained of "pedophobia" on the part of his gay critics; and most advertisers, by Cummings's account, including those popular with the male gay market (Calvin Klein, Abercrombie & Fitch, the Gap), have demurred from buying space in its pages. Apparently, the fear of supporting child sex, or the fear of appearing to do so--or both--remain potent corporate motivators.5
At the same time, however, to judge by the endorsements on XY's website, numerous other observers have weighed in favorably. The San Francisco Examiner says that of all magazines, XY is "the one most on the cutting edge of change." The Ft. Lauderdale Express Gay News calls it "the most courageous magazine in America." The general-interest entertainment guide Time Out New York observes that "XY has boldly established itself as a unique publication that tackles sex, romance, and other issues facing gay teens and men." But perhaps the most accurate indication of XY's community standing comes from the business publication Advertising Age, which noted: "XY is playing a significant role in mainstream online media. . . . The magazine's site can be accessed directly via America Online, and the magazine is also providing content to the 'youth channel' on PlanetOut.com." This success is a sign of the times. Some of the largest and most respected gay organizations in the country now list XY, of all things, as a "resource" for gay youth--this, alongside a burgeoning number of websites also aimed at minors and replete with personal ads, chat rooms, "pen pals," and other forms of anonymous contact rife with the potential for subterfuge.
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.