It doesn’t happen to me very often that I run into such a complicated social issue that I have literally no idea where to stand, but it can happen; hence today’s column.
On Saturday morning I was happily sitting in bed with a mug of coffee, wasting time on one of my favorite Czech blogs. In one of the discussion threads a member made a nasty comment about the last LGBT Pride Parade in Prague as “a parade of pedophiles”. Naturally, I considered the comment homophobic and the lady who wrote it a judgmental, narrow-minded bitch.
Except that this time it turned out to be less simple. As the discussion continued, I learned to my amazement that yes, the last Pride Parade really included four pedophiles, who marched publicly side to side with the LGBT community on the grounds that they couldn’t help being born pedophiles and therefore they had the right to be accepted by the society as everybody else.
I can’t lie to you, my friends, my first response was a total freak-out! Mainly because the argument that “we can’t accept homosexuals because they sexually abuse little boys” has been pissing me off for a very long time, and I like to see myself as a part of the crowd that patiently educate the public that no, homosexuality and pedophilia aren’t a same thing. What on Earth, I thought, possessed the LGBT community in Prague to invite pedophiles to their parade?! Isn’t that precisely the thing that would cause most religious fundamentalists go “I knew it!!!” and throw a beer can at the TV screen?!
Intrigued, I read through the whole thread and then clicked on a link provided by some of the members, which led me to a website that is supposed to be the most comprehensive Czech informational and psychoeducational source about pedophilia. Further research discovered that:
1) Most pedophiles will not sexually abuse children or become consumers of children’s pornography. When we hear in the media about cases of a children’s sexual abuse, they were usually committed by a person who isn’t a “true pedophile” (i.e. a person who is sexually attracted to children), but a person who has an entirely different issue, for example sadism. (I must admit that this information is consistent with what I learn from literature both professional and popular about these predators).
2) Pedophiles don’t have a choice in that sense that no matter how hard they try, adults simply don’t turn them on. They usually become aware of their sexuality as adolescents or shortly after. Fear, disgust, and self-loathing follow.
3) It’s not all about sex. One of the differences between true pedophiles and other kind of sexual predators is that pedophiles are capable of genuinely falling in love with children. Because children’s world is close to their way of thinking and being, they often become terrific teachers, or writers of children’s books (I couldn’t help but remembering a recent Facebook argument with a former classmate, who couldn’t deal with my observation that “evidence suggests that Lewis Carroll might have been a pedophile”).
4) Many pedophiles are trying very hard to not commit an act of sexual abuse against children; they often voluntarily undergo treatment and spend most of their lives in therapy. In those cases where a pedophile “slips,” the abusive act is significantly milder that act of a sadist, usually limited to, say, masturbating in the front of the child. (I’m still recovering from reading an autobiography of a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. Her description of what her stepfather used to do to her truly makes a masturbation in front of a child a piece of cake – by which I’m not by any means trying to say that it’s okay, God forbid! I’m making this comparison because it supports the idea that a pedophile and a sadistic sexual deviant are two different matters.)
All right, so I read the website. The question is: Where do I go from there!?
I remember a psychopathology class in college back in Czech Republic, taught by a psychiatrist who specialized in sexual deviations. Learning about the most bizarre types of sexual attraction made me feel deeply sorry for people who seemed to be born that way and there was nothing they could do to change (can you imagine spending all your life being sexually attracted to, say, trees?! Yes, that exists.) But that’s the thing: While I have never had a problem to accept the LGBT minority as equal, I confess that pedophilia, together with all sorts of other ‘ilias, has always been on my list of “sick people”. My mindset was therefore such that I was ready to treat such people with compassion (especially those who made a serious commitment to do no harm), but not to perceive their condition like something that the mainstream society should accept as a norm.
Intellectually, I’m capable to comprehend that if pedophilia is a sexual orientation people are born with, the society probably should treat them like human beings. In my heart, however, I’m not yet quite ready to hear at a parade:
Say it now and say it loud,
I’m a pedophile and I am proud!
Some aspects of the website I reviewed are not helping matters. Women in the original blog where I learned about the site’s existence complained about some of the pedophiles having photos of kids as their profile picture and about the forum being littered with photos of kids (fully clothed – the website wouldn’t allow anything inappropriate) randomly downloaded from Internet with comments underneath like “oh, this little cutie is so adorable!”
And once again I’m asking: Am I a bad person for cringing?
As a mental health professional, I like to believe that should I ever find myself counseling a pedophile, I would treat him as any other client, i.e. with compassion and unconditional positive regard. However, from a societal perspective I struggle with trying to determine how far as a society we should go in normalizing these issues. I have been going back and forth ever since Saturday morning and so far a conclusion isn’t in sight.
One thing is for sure though: I don’t have children of my own (and no intention to get any), but there are some children in the world that I happen to love dearly. If I imagine, say, one of my best friend’s little boys being salivated over on a pedophile website – even if I knew it was fully platonic - well, let’s just say that I would feel a very strong desire to kick somebody’s ass, possibly even balls!
So, what really interests me today is how do YOU feel about this?