This is a guest post by Kristin Rawls. Kristin Rawls is a contributor at Religion Dispatches and Global Comment. In September, you’ll be able to find her blogging at Bitch Magazine.
Trigger warnings for discussion of rape apologism and pedophilia. Please take these seriously. I have no personal history of either, but I had an emotional—even a visceral—response to the article that I discuss here.
When you go to a liberal news site like Salon.com, you expect writing with a point of view, right? When you want analysis that treats morally repugnant views as legitimate ones, you’ve probably learned to look to NPR or The New York Times by now. Sure, Salon’s reporting can get a little fluffy at times, but it’s mostly harmless.
At least, this used to be the case, though they’ve published some truly cringe-worthy work lately. Still, you’re not expecting uncritical reporting about a convention of pedophiles who just want a little more understanding and acceptance from society. But that’s what you get. Reporter Tracy Clark-Flory writes:
We usually hear pedophilia talked about in terms of mental illness—if not evil—but Aug. 17 a motley crew of self-identified “minor-attracted persons” and mental health professionals have gathered in Boston to talk about it as a sexual identity.
That’s right, a group of mental health professionals and pedophiles at a conference helmed by the organization, B4U-ACT which aims to “to provide caring and inviting services to clients who are sexually attracted to minors.” The organization stops just short of calling itself “affirming” of “minor-attraction,” but it’s not hard to see that this is where it’s going.
It’s true that “mental illness” isn’t sufficient—not because it prevents pedophiles from gaining acceptance in society—but because it reinforces ableist beliefs that link mental illness and criminality. It’s not fair, in other words, to non-neurotypical people. But just in case you were hoping this was a legitimate mental health discussion, well, on the B4U-ACT site, you will see blurbs like this one, from Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins:
Just as has been the case historically with homosexuality, society is currently addressing the matter of pedophilia with a balance that is far more heavily weighted on the side of criminal justice solutions than on the side of mental health solutions.
That’s right, it’s just like homosexuality. And all they want is for the upcoming DSM-V to reflect their conclusion—that is, that pedophilia is not a mental illness—“that so pathologizing!”—but a “sexual orientation” just like being gay.
The problem with this is pretty self-evident, but I’ll spell it out: “Sexual orientation” is not an apolitical designation in the world we live in. The Christian Right routinely equates LGBT people with pedophilia. They’ve been clamoring for years to convince the public that NAMBLA is a part of the mainstream queer community.
Then there’s the strange decision to assign this story to a reporter who currently “covers sex, love and relationships” for Salon. That’s “sex, love and relationships,” not “sexual abuse, pedophilia, sex, love and relationships.” That’s part of the rub, isn’t it? Salon.org got its “sex, love and relationships” reporter to write a piece about sex abuse. It’s not that she hasn’t written about sexual violence before; she has. In fact, she has a bit of a fraught history when it comes to writing on this subject. Still, she has covered it. This isn’t really about her per se. It’s about the fact that that her title—“sex, love and relationships” writer—seems to lend legitimacy to the pedophiles in the article, as if the editors saw it as a piece about “sex, love and relationships” rather than abuse and power.
To her credit, the author does hint at the fact that the conference might serve as a place for pedophiles to conspire and swop tips after she looks through another community for pedophiles seeking to enter the mainstream called Boy Chat:
One man says he is renting a room in his house to a woman with custody of her grandsons. He writes, “The boys have taken to me, naturally, and my landlady loves me. I’m taking it slow, but I’ve already been trusted to watch the boys…another night coming this week—an overnight. They’re cutie pies.”
But there’s very little analysis—no serious discussion about the dangers of hosting a big pedophile convention in Boston.* The author claims that “there is a general consensus within the medical community that pedophilia is a sexual orientation” without unpacking what this actually means—that is, that pedophilia tends not to go away, that people who are sexually attracted to children do not generally get over this attraction. The medical community is not interested in normalizing pedophilia as this crew is doing, but the article never makes this distinction.
It only offers this to soften the story and let the reader know the author feels icky about it:
Few of us in the general public are capable of thinking about pedophiles, or hebephiles, in emotionless, scientific terms—but, luckily, we aren’t the ones charged with treating them, or defining who ‘they’ are.
Aw, poor… Poor specialists like Fred Berlin in his job at what is only one of the top-ranking medical facilities in the world? Really, Salon?
All I know is: Cue the Christian Right, because they’re about to be all over this story. I begged Cara to let me write this because we need to start talking about it before they pick it up and use it as one more piece of ammunition in their crusade against basic civil rights—and against families and children. We’re going to have to keep saying it until it no longer needs to be said: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, queer: These are not—and never will be—synonyms for “pedophile.”
*Speaking of which: Residents of Boston, had you heard that there’s a big pedophile convention going on in your town?