This week I’m publishing a series of posts about what I’m calling the Active Pedophile phantasy. Read Parts I and II.

Lately, the pedophile has been hidden, even harbored, by such institutions as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America; those institutions’ knowledge of and work hiding these abuses reeks of the Kentler experiment and deepens the tragedy already in place when a trusting boy is abused. If we’re to better understand the phantasy, or better prevent CSA, it’s good to pause and ask a tough question: What is it about Catholic priests and scoutmasters, or the environments in which they do their work, that seems to have led, so often, and for so long, to these men abusing the boys in their care?

It’s easy, as a writer drawn to sex-liberationist stances, to blame the Church’s prohibition of sex among priests. ‘Let priests fuck,’ as I’ve written about another sex scandal whose coverage was thoughtless and stupid. But Scoutmasters can fuck, many if not most are married, and so cause must lie elsewhere. What both institutions seem to share are plenty of scenarios in which a boy is alone with a man of let’s say benign authority, a man who has or is something the boy desires: ability, piety, maturity. Which leads us to ask an even tougher question: What is it about the Man And Boy Alone Together scenario that invites some men to decide to add sex to it?

The other (perhaps more comfortable) way to look at this is to go back to ‘harboring’: the Catholic Church and the BSA attract men who know themselves to be pedophiles, and who want to find boys to molest. Unlike in schools or little league sports, these two environments provide pedophiles close, trusting, and often solitary contact with potential victims under the cover of organizations with vested interests in looking the other way.

This is akin to Ghost’s position, per the Times:

When asked if he believes that pedophiles can change, Ghost says perhaps people in their 20s.

‘But the older ones? No, I don’t think they can change. They’ve been doing it for their whole life. It’s not like, one day out of the blue, when they’re 50 years old, they wake up and they want a kid. It’s not how it works.’

How does it work? What’s that ‘it’ refer to exactly, and is that pronoun the same ‘it’ in his ‘They’ve been doing it for their whole life’? This pseudonymous 20-year-old San Diegan is certain that pedophilia is a thing people do, their whole lives, but that early intervention can get them to stop ‘it’. (Most of his victims the ‘predators’ he catches are in their 20s.) That is: if one’s sexuality is flexible, then it’s flexible the way our limbs are, getting increasingly calcified in old age. What does it reveal of our thinking about sex when we hold onto positions like this that no sexologist alive believes? There is only and everywhere evidence to the contrary. Two ready examples are people who discover queer desires late in life (click through for studies), and pedophiles who stop abusing children, as Kentler did (more on this on Friday).

We’re now at a nature-nurture origin story for the Active Pedophile. Are they born or made? Are they a crime of opportunity or against humanity? The confusion is infecting even my thinking on this, in that I seem to answer ‘Nature’ when I call for sympathy for someone who, like me, grew up with a desire he didn’t want, and then I answer ‘Nurture’ when I ask what it is about certain environments ‘that invites some men to decide to add sex to it.’

Another way of figuring this out is to ask my straight readers: What made you heterosexual? When did you realize your sexual desire was oriented toward people of the opposite sex? As Gayle Rubin taught us ages ago, one of the privileges of heterosexuality is not to need an origin story. Everyone else, however, has to explain themselves. (Which brings us back to the NY Hospital Bulletin’s disinterest in heterosexual pedo-, ephebo-, or gerontophiles.)

In medicine, you seek an etiology for a disease to isolate and thus stop its spread. If we think of pedophilia as a disease (of the mind, say), then the hope is that by understanding what makes a pedophile, we can catch them early and rid them from the world.

We used to treat homosexuality this way, until we saw the numbers and started looking at the history. We might start trying to do this work with pedophilic men. The number of such men[4] is tinier than the number of men who desire sex with men, but if they exist, if we believe the Active Pedophile phantasy, then we should understand these men aren’t going away, no matter how much we scare them.

Read Part IV.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Women are perpetrators in about 40-55% of all sexual abuse cases, but I’m tacitly claiming throughout this piece that we don’t consider the Active Pedophile to be female. We’ve been trained not to, and here’s what I’ve got by way of evidence: (1) The female homosexual was less problematic to the patriarchy in the persecution era than the male homosexual was. (Witness the prevalence of the former in the patriarchy’s porn.) (2) The old 1960s film Girls Beware is not about ‘homosexual’ women preying on them, but hetero men looking to rape and kill them. These men are pedophiles, too, but nobody in the 1960s is calling them that.