TBP 51


Another look
Fresh takes on "the politics of power
and youth sexuality"

Christine Bearchell, Rick Bébout & Alexander Wilson
(with another opening word from the collective)
The Body Politic, March / April, 1979

MLBLM Again "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" first appeared in the December 1977 / January 1978 issue of The Body Politic. As many people know, its publication at that time resulted in criminal charges, on which this magazine was acquitted on February 14.

Just after the verdict, we announced that we would reprint this article. Many asked why, apparently seeing the act as an intentional provocation, an attempt to rub our opponents' noses in their defeat. That is not our intention. Gerald Hannon's article is reprinted here not to "flaunt" our victory, but to show just how tenuous that victory is.

The day after the acquittal, the Conservative justice critic rose in the House of Commons to ask whether the decision would not persuade the Minister of Justice to speed up passage of pending obscenity legislation. The article, after all, had been described as "a manual for molesters," as "filthy," as "child pornography." To some, it is evidence enough that Canada needs tighter obscenity laws.

We think the people making that argument would rather you didn't read "Men Loving Boys Loving Men." We think you should have the chance. The article appears here in its entirety, and includes the original introduction written by the collective at the time of its first printing.

"Men Loving Boys Loving Men" was never intended as our last word on child-adult sexuality -- though our spirited defence of it over the past year may have given that impression. The article was meant to provide one point of reference -- one not well provided up to that time -- and to contribute to one of the gay movement's most critical discussions.

Despite the legal harassment, it did that. The discussion has gone on and our views have evolved with it. In the pages following the reprint, collective members Christine Bearchell, Rick Bébout and Alexander Wilson examine some of the criticisms the article received and indicate some profitable directions the discussion might take from here.

As of this writing, it is still legal to print an article like "Men Loving Boys Loving Men." Whether it continues to be so depends to some extent on a public aware of what our legislators mean when they say they are just trying to protect us from a "tide of filth."

As we said in the first introduction over a year ago, "We leave it to you."

"Men Loving Boys Loving Men" was reprinted in full in The Body Politic's March / April 1979 issue, immediately followed by the assessment below.

Another look

"A truly safe time
to publish an article like 'Men Loving Boys Loving Men,' we knew, would never come.
Gay people had not achieved what gains they had by waiting to come out until the time was right. They had come out in bad times and had worked to make them better.

"Seeking change means
taking risks."

As the editorial collective's original introduction noted, "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" first appeared at an especially significant, and sensitive, time for gay people.

The defeat of the gay rights ordinance in Miami was still a fresh memory, and the impact of the strategy Anita Bryant and her allies used there was lost on no one: "children" had become a very hot property. The fundamentalist forces were driven to the polls by the fears tapped whenever children and sex are mentioned in the same breath. There they demanded a halt to the "moral corruption" being advanced by the women's, youth, and gay liberation movements.

Miami, they said, was just the beginning. Future crusades would be fueled by the same fears and, as in Miami, they would be focussed on the most terrifying monster of them all: the "child molester."

The fact that this creature was largely mythical stopped almost no one. Myth and reality were hopelessly blurred, a situation which the fundamentalists found both comfortably familiar and strategically convenient. Where the monster was not known, it could be invented: it was a man, first of all; he preyed on little girls sometimes, but his violation of boys was somehow more important. He was a man who wanted boys. He was a homosexual. He was all homosexuals.

The "molestation tactic" was tailor-made for the compressed and unsubtle world of the mass media. It was direct, unencumbered by sophisticated analysis, and could make a dramatic impact in less than ten seconds.

Sometimes the air time or page space had to be bought, but the fact that "Save Our Children" could, with devastating effect, fill their ads with news reports and clippings of "boy sex rackets," "kiddie porn" and "homosexual use" of children showed that the media often provided them with their best copy for free.

In August 1977, the Toronto gay community was given a frightening lesson in this editorial generosity to their opponents, when the murder of a twelve-year-old boy by four men became the "homosexual orgy slaying" for which all gay people might, in some way, be blamed.

It was these times which the December 1977 / January 1978 issue of The Body Politic confronted. The issue, intended as a review of 1977, included feature articles on three of the major themes of the year. Each was preceded by an introduction written by the collective. One was an analysis of the defeat in Dade County, and another dealt with the use of television by, rather than on, gay people.

The third feature was "Men Loving Boys Loving Men." The collective was aware that reactions to the article could be unpleasant; much of what later transpired (with the now glaring exception of the raid and criminal charges) was predicted in the introduction. But the molester myth was not going to be defeated until we refused our opponents their exclusive claim on the subject.

Many agreed, but certainly not everyone. Collective members were regularly asked why we chose to run the article when we did, with Toronto about to face the trial of Emanuel Jaques' accused killers, Anita Bryant on her way and, it was thought, with the sexual orientation amendment of the Ontario Human Rights Code about to be discussed in the legislature.

These impending events, so apparent late in December, had not been known to the collective when the decision to publish was made early in November. That fact could have seemed an excuse, and in making it clear we may, at times, have leaned on it as such. But it said only that we failed to pick a time that was as "right" as we might have originally thought, and that was not the point.

A truly safe time to publish an article like "Men Loving Boys Loving Men," we knew, would never come. Gay people had not achieved what gains they had by waiting to come out until the time was right. They had come out in bad times and had worked to make them better. Seeking change means taking risks.

However, neither the objections to publication of "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" nor the outpourings of support for The Body Politic's right to publish it, which characterized the period following the police raid, really dealt with the questions the article itself raised. But discussion was beginning.

Reacting to an anonymous writer who, after criticizing TBP for publishing the article, had gone on to say that "I find boys pleasant, and there is poetry about their love that moves me," Ronnie Allen of Somerville, Massachusetts wrote: "Does he mean that boys are pleasant like a cup of tea? The 'poetry' business suggests some 1950s mentality, a chauvinism, that I find unpleasant and dangerous. It sounds more like a Milky Way bar having just been consumed by some burnt-out diabetic."

Body Politic Free the Press Fund member Lorna Weir, picking up on Gerald Hannon's admission that his attempts to deal directly with the boys in the relationships he examined were not very successful, noted that this left him dependent on the point of view of the men.

"It would have been hard for the men not to define the boys in terms of the adult needs they fulfilled. Of course, this really isn't so different from the way men define women for men's needs, as floozies or nursemaids or saints, depending on the needs of the moment. But if men involved with boys see them as the embodiment of lost innocence, or as sensual creatures completely unencumbered by adult guilt, then they're failing to deal with them as whole, complex human beings with needs of their own."

Much valuable criticism of "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" came from feminists who reacted not against the subject matter per se, but against a treatment of it which they felt left too many important areas unexplored.

"It is no surprise that women do not usually see sex as a casual and recreational activity; they have long experienced it as a serious and potentially dangerous matter. Women might understandably be sceptical of the notion that sexual relations between men and boys could be mutually satisfying and beneficial."


In a letter sent in support of TBP's legal struggle APPLE, the Atlantic Provinces Political Lesbians for Example, made clear the deficiencies they saw:

"It is not, nor do we think it was meant to be a definitive article on the subject. It was written from the point of view of the men's, more so than the children's sexuality. The inequality inherent in most child-adult relationships is not adequately dealt with."

This last concern -- that the article did not reflect sufficient awareness of the element of power in sexual relationships -- was shared by most feminists.

Their criticisms were based on experiences common to women but, for the most part, unknown to men. Many lesbians and feminists speak with authority about child-adult relationships from having participated in such relationships themselves -- as children.

Their recollections conform to the pattern established in the statistics on sexual encounters between adults and children: they were more often psychologically than physically coercive; they involved members of, or persons known to, the family; they were, in the overwhelming majority of cases, heterosexual. They were not usually pleasant experiences. Knowing this, many women doubt that the situation is really so different for boys.

In the lives of both girls and boys, men are generally cast as authority figures and disciplinarians. Our culture reinforces this role and doesn't encourage men to develop warm, tender or physically affectionate contacts with children, not even their own offspring. Some of the discomfort expressed by criticism of "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" seems implicitly to accept, rather than question, this conditioning and the sharp division of sex roles it encourages.

In writing about gay fathers in TBP, Michael Lynch quoted Adrienne Rich: "It can be dangerously simplistic to fix upon 'nurturance' as a special strength of women. Whatever our developed or organic sense of nurture, it has often been turned into a boomerang." Men may be more nurturant, more capable of dealing warmly and positively with children, than either their critics think they are or society encourages them to be.

"Beneath the scolding a boy may get if he's 'caught at it' there lies tacit parental -- and especially paternal -- approval. Little Johnny is growing up, 'sowing his wild oats,' learning, thank God, to be a heterosexual man."


The full implications of "mothering" fathers, however, have yet to be explored. Most children are still presented with a cool, threatening image of men. Boys and girls react in different ways to this image (and thus to men) because of the ways they have been taught to see themselves and their own sexuality.

Girls are given little reason to feel positive about sex. They are taught that they do not really have sexual feelings of their own. Their lot in life is to please others in all things, and when they grow up that will include pleasing a husband sexually.

Girls learn that they may pay enormous and often terrible penalties for "indulging" in sex. They are raised in the shadow of the spectre of rape, and surrounded by the demeaning myth that it doesn't happen to "good girls." Rape victims, society insinuates, invite and deserve their fate. Even if a girl is pleased at the prospect of a (hetero)sexual encounter, it is she and not her partner who faces the possibility of pregnancy. She risks not a brief fling, but the fate of her body and her life for months -- or years -- to come.

Unless sex conforms to very specific conditions, girls are expected to see it as devaluing. Women who act on or even acknowledge their sexual needs are "loose," divorced women are "cheap," victims of rape have been "used." Nonetheless, by a cruel twist of logic, most straight men have traditionally viewed women's resistance to sexual advances as a deceit camouflaging their real desire to submit -- if "seduced."

At the heart of all these experiences lies the assumption of sex-as-heterosexuality. The prospect of relationships with other women would probably not give rise to the same anxieties, but then, girls are not generally raised to be lesbians. They, and all children, are taught to view the world in heterosexual terms.

It is no surprise, then, that women do not usually see sex as a casual and recreational activity; they have long experienced it as a serious and potentially dangerous matter. Women might understandably be sceptical of the notion that sexual relations between men and boys could be mutually satisfying and beneficial. Their own experiences with men were anything but.

It's dangerous, though, to apply heterosexual judgments to homosexual acts. Feminism and gay liberation both make clear that girls are not raised like boys, nor boys like girls.

Boys are expected to be more active and aggressive than girls. They are taught to take risks, to set their sights on the things they want and to go after them. They are "toughened up" to deal with failure, taught to be resilient, to bounce back from reverses and expect success.

These expectations naturally affect the way boys are encouraged to deal with their own sexuality. While they may not be actively urged into sexual encounters, it's assumed that by the time boys reach their teens they will have begun to seek them out for themselves. Specific instances may cause a bit of trouble, but beneath the scolding a boy may get if he's "caught at it" there lies tacit parental -- and especially paternal -- approval of his acts. Little Johnny is growing up, "sowing his wild oats," learning, thank God, to be a heterosexual man.

Sex is less a threat to boys than it is a tool, a thing that is theirs to apply in casual play or in their battle for social prestige and authority. As with girls, the end result of their training is intended to be heterosexuality, but even boys growing up gav carry with them the notion that sex is not something that will be imposed on them, but rather something they control, something that can be serious or fun, as they see it.

Both boys and girls would bring the results of their different sexual socialization to any relationship with an adult. Boys, more confident of getting what they want, could bring more genuine willingness to a sexual encounter with a man than most girls would -- more willingness, in fact, than many women might believe possible.

It seems clear that judgments based on heterosexual experience cannot fairly be lifted, unmodified, and applied to encounters between adults and young people of the same sex. But feminist concern about powerand the possible abuses of power in these relationships remains a valuable touchstone for analysis.

Power is an element in all relationships, but the obvious social inequality of children and adults makes power a more visible element in any relationship between them. In two areas especially -- those of physical strength and economic clout -- adults have glaring advantages.

"The basic inequalities inherent in an encounter between a man and a boy -- those of physical strength and freedom of economic and social mobility -- are not unique. They are the same, in kind if not degree, as the inequalities affecting relationships between men and women. Straight relationships provide a model of power unbalanced and open to abuse."


People over twenty-one can take for granted their right to earn money, to live on their own, to go about unaccompanied and to enter into relationships without having to get anyone else's permission. Children and teenagers can't count on any of these freedoms, regardless of how capable they may be of exercising them.

But, as Boston gay activist and boy-lover Tom Reeves points out, boys are not completely without power in relationships with men. "Seduction of men by boys is at least as frequent as seduction of boys by men," says Reeves. Boys are aware of their sexual allure and of the ways they can use it to manipulate the men they're involved with. Despite their own superior physical and economic strength, these men say, it's the boys who hold the final card: they can always talk. Exposure of the relationship is a constant threat to the man.

This logic, however, ignores the fact that exposing the relationship could have disastrous consequences for the boys as well. The contention that the boys' power lies in their seductiveness and in the threat that they might "blow the whistle" also has a familiar -- and suspicious -- ring for many women.

"Arguments that boys seduce men sound frighteningly like what men have always told us about rape," wrote Amy Hoffman in a recent issue of Boston's Gay Community News. "The power attributed to the boys sounds like the devious passive / aggressive modes of gaining some control which are the only ones powerless people have available to them."

The basic inequalities inherent in an encounter between a man and a boy -- those of physical strength and freedom of economic and social mobility -- are not unique. They are the same, in kind if not degree, as the inequalities affecting relationships between men and women. Straight relationships provide a model of power unbalanced and open to abuse. If there is hope for heterosexuality (and not everyone thinks there is), it must rest on the assumption that abuses can be controlled and imbalances rectified.

Forces more subtle and sophisticated than physical strength and socially sanctioned power also come into play in any human relationship. Psychological power may be less concrete than money and muscle and it may finally be secondary to them as well, but it is nonetheless real and must beconsidered in any calculation of equality or inequality.

"In defiance of the fact that most sexual abuse of children takes place within the family, the mythical 'molester' is cast as an ominous, tempting stranger. He embodies not the fear of injury to a child, but a threat to the 'rights' of parents."


To shift the discussion of child-adult relationships away from the notion of age, and suggest instead that the most useful criterion for judging the validity of any human relationships be the distribution of power, does make one thing clear: most relationships are based on inequality.

Despite this, many interactions between people of unequal power are seen to be of mutual benefit -- to a point. Teachers are usually assumed to have more power than students, even if they are of the same age. Yet students benefit from their relationship, at least ideally. Many high school students and even those younger, however, may question just how great the benefit is when weighed against the control teachers and schools impose on their lives.

Parents are clearly more powerful than their children. In infancy and early childhood that imbalance more often than not serves the child's interests: among the powers she or he doesn't have is the ability to provide the necessities of food and shelter. Parents do. But even at this early age, children often suffer at the hands of those who take care of their physical needs. The imposition of parental will may be necessary in the socialization of children, but the means used have been known to cause harm that never heals. Children who are beaten do not usually have the power to hit back.

The very language used to describe children indicates that the function of the family goes well beyond merely providing for the material needs of the child. Mothers and fathers talk about "having" children who, once they are born, are "theirs." This arrangement is convenient for society: able to count on parents to feed and clothe "their" young, our social system escapes the need to treat children as citizens by saying that, in return for their efforts, parents get to control the lives of their offspring.

Nowhere is this control more apparent than in the increasingly insistent claim that parents and parents alone have the "right" to determine the sexuality of their children. Interference from outside the family -- sex education programmes, birth control information provided by public clinics, even a friendship with another boy or girl whom parents find a "bad influence" -- is seen as a threat to parental prerogatives.

Clearly, the ultimate threat is another adult willing to interact directly with a child's or teenager's own sexuality. In defiance of the fact that most sexual abuse of children takes place within the family, the mythical "molester" is cast as an ominous, tempting stranger. He embodies not the fear of injury to the child, but the fear of a threat to the "rights" of the parents.

Susan Brownmiller, in her classic work on rape, Against Our Will, notes that a stranger who has sex with a person under the legal age of consent "may draw a life sentence in many jurisdictions, yet a conviction for incest rarely carries more than a ten-year sentence." In her analysis of the history of rape legislation, Brownmiller shows that it was less often intended to protect women from assault than it was to avenge men for damage done to their property --wives and daughters -- by other men. Rape, marriage and divorce laws codified the terms of the social deal by which women gained material support and "protection" from men; in return they gave up control of their sexuality.

Age of consent laws strike the same sort of deal: parents provide for and protect children, and children must, in turn, submit to parental control of their sexual lives. Age of consent legislation is as much an expression of property rights as the laws which "protect" women from rape, and both are equally ineffective in defending anyone from assault.

Rape victims find themselves interrogated in public cross examination about their past sexual experience in order that the "value" of the property damage can be assessed. Children assaulted in the home rarely get their cases heard in court; those genuinely abused by strangers may end up there as witnesses, to be grilled by the defence. And those under the age of consent who willingly gave consent anyway may find themselves categorized as juvenile offenders, "incorrigibles" or if they have already escaped parental authority, "wards" of the state.

"Laws that define an act as criminal because of its sexual nature, rather than for its violence or injuriousness, are not the kind we need.

"Laws designed to reinforce the control of one group of people over another -- cheered through legislatures under the guise of "protecting children" or "stemming the tide of filth" -- are the kind of laws we should be eager to expose for the repressive measures they really are."


Despite this, Brownmiller still sees value in age of consent legislation. Feminists who have studied the problem, she says, conclude that anyone under the age of twelve deserves "unqualified" legal protection, "since that age is reasonably linked with the onset of puberty and awareness of sex, its biologic functions and repercussions."

As perceived here, sex is not warm or sensual. It is a serious, possibly reproductive and probably coercive experience, something from which children should be protected. It is the heterosexual invasion which women (especially a woman dealing with the subject of rape) would understandably see as a threat.

The concepts of coercion and consent are critical to an understanding of how power operates in sexual relationships. Discussion has hardly begun on what these words really mean; up to now, they have been used not as terms on whose definitions there is common agreement, but as brickbats.

"We are taking the bait and accepting straight society's definition of the constraints of the problem," Ian Johnson, a social service worker who deals with young gay men, wrote recently in Gay Community News. "The real issue is not one of age of consent... but the more elusive concept of consent itself. Central to this concept are: an informed awareness of alternatives, the ability to discern and accept responsibility for the consequences, and free choice from a position of self-power."

Consent might be defined as saying yes in a situation where one has the power to say no and be taken seriously. It might be defined as the power not only to enter relationships but also to leave them without suffering drastic consequences.

Until recently, coercion has almost always been defined in law as a matter of physical force. Rape was a "forcible" act, and signs of violence were helpful as evidence that the victim had not given consent. Few would now say that pressure has to be that extreme in order to be called coercive; how subtle or unintentional it has to be before it no longer qualifies for the term is less clear.

However we decide to apply these concepts to judgments of sexual relationships between adults and younger people, it's clear to us that the ways they are now enshrined in law not only fail to prevent abuse, but actually contribute to it.

"Laws are responsible for the bulk of abuse and violence among men and boys engaged in sex," says Tom Reeves. "Laws lead men to panic, to paranoia, to hit-and-run relationships. The laws lead boys to blackmail, to secrecy and lying, and to link sex with crimes. Sex between men and boys does not lead in this direction, the law does."

Sexual abuse of children and teenagers does really happen, and sometimes it is committed by strangers who have no concern for the well-being of the unwilling victims. Young people do deserve legal protection from this kind of assault, just as everyone else does, and we need laws to provide it.

But laws that can be used to lock up a twenty-two-year-old man for fourteen years because of a single, consensual sexual act with a sixteen-year-old "boy," laws that can land the same sixteen-year-old in a juvenile detention centre for his part in the "crime," are not the kind of laws we need. Laws that define an act as criminal because of its sexual nature, rather than for its violence or injuriousness, are not the kind we need, either.

Laws designed to reinforce the control of one group of people over another -- cheered through legislatures under the guise of "protecting children" or "stemming the tide of filth" -- are the kind of laws we should be eager to expose for the repressive measures they really are. Further repression is not the answer to abuse of power between people.

Like "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" these remarks are clearly not intended as the last word on the subject of child-adult sexuality. Discussion has gone on despite legal efforts to limit it; we have tried to reflect that discussion and to show how it has influenced our own thinking since Gerald Hannon first presented his article to the rest of the collective in the middle of 1977.

It should be apparent by now that this topic is too complex to be dealt with as a debate "for" or "against" sexual relationships between adults and people under the age of twenty-one. We should be beyond that point. We should be trying to find out more about those relationships themselves, trying to discover the ways in which power operates within them, and for whose benefit.

We should also be applying the same kinds of questions to other relationships. No one group of people alone should be called to answer for shortcomings in their dealings with each other if the "flaws" in their interactions are common to most human relations.

In December 1978 more than one hundred and twenty-five people directly involved in man-boy relationships met in Boston. It was the first such conference ever to take place in North America, and was an incredibly emotional and cathartic experience for those who participated. Getting their personal stories of rage, frustration and grief out in a collective forum and coming to a realization of their common oppression, they took the first small steps toward working together to confront society with the reality of their lives.

Almost all of these people were boy-lovers, not boys. It's unrealistic to expect, at this point, that it could have been otherwise. But it's also unrealistic to slip into the old, comfortable pattern of letting those with the power to speak define the truth for those who are stuck in silence.

Boy-lovers do suffer a special and vicious oppression in a society that has fabricated its own rigid notion of what they are like, a notion truer to the paranoid purposes it serves than to any reality. But the boys these men love are at least as much oppressed, and nobody will have the whole story until the boys tell their half of it in their own voices.

Many at the conference were aware of this, realizing that their own predicament is a result of the controls society has imposed on the sexuality of its younger members. Common ground with the youth liberation movement is being discovered; the next meeting planned by the people who met in Boston will occur in New York in March, and members of that city's gay youth group will be there.

"Rigorously marginalizing and disassociating ourselves from'transvestites,' 'pedophiles,' 'coprophiles,' 'fetishists' (in short, freaks) verges on the nervous assertion that we can't begin to comprehend these variations on sexuality, that we're just nice normal gay people. Almost as normal as straights."

Terminology is still a problem. We have very consciously avoided the one term most commonly used to name what we're dealing with: pedophilia. It is inaccurate technically in that it refers to an attraction to pre-pubescent children (the "correct" term for male adult-adolescent love is "ephebephilia"), but it is even more objectionable for naming the emotion of only one of the parties involved.

"Boy-love" clearly serves no better as the name of a relationship, "boy-lover" says as little about the loved one as "cat-lover" or "art-lover" does, and "transgenerational love" brings to mind bizarre images of an airline that flies back to 1967 and lands only at San Francisco.

Even the catch phrase we have favoured, "child-adult relationships," says too much and too little at once, categorizing eighteen-year-olds as children and evading the clear statement that sex is part of what we're talking about.

There's a danger in naming things too neatly, anyway. The urge to slice up sexuality into distinct categories may simply cover a defensive desire to put its more unacceptable manifestations into a box clearly different from the one we've decided to take for ourselves. We are not all the same, to be sure, and the realization of our difference is necessary for the development of minority self-identity.

But rigorously marginalizing and disassociating ourselves from "transvestites," "pedophiles," "coprophiles," "fetishists" (in short, "freaks") verges on the nervous assertion that we can't begin to comprehend these variations on sexuality, that we're just nice normal gay people -- almost as normal as straights.

Applying an analysis of power to human relationships means looking beyond these pigeonholes. People who are young or female or gay, and who have tried to examine the implications of being these things in a world that is run primarily for the benefit of those who are adult and male and straight, have a perspective on power because they know powerlessness. Those used to power rarely perceive it, rarely see how it works. But we have seen it from the bottom up; we have watched it in operation and have kept careful notes.

What we know about power's intersection with sexuality, about coercion and exploitation and violence, as well as consent and sensuality and affection, can contribute to an understanding of all sexuality, not just that between adults and the young, or between men and men or women and women.

Our job is to keep watching, to keep taking notes, and to keep open a discussion of what we find.

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June 2003 / Last revised: June 23, 2003
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