stranger than fiction

February 6th, 2007 | Interviews & Reviews, Oddments

Today Nerve.com put up their comics issue. It includes an interview with me about Fun Home with a guy named Peter Smith. I had a good time talking to him, and during our conversation he revealed to me that his mother had just written a memoir about her father. Who’s your mother? I asked. Janna Malamud Smith, he replied. She’s the daughter of Bernard Malamud. My Father is a Book came out last spring, and I read a review of it at the time with great interest but hadn’t gotten around to actually getting a copy.

But I’m right in the middle of it now, and it’s amazing. So far, a lot of what she’s doing is examining Malamud’s fiction (he wrote The Natural, and won the Pulitzer for The Fixer) and tracing its autobiographical roots. She’s a therapist, so has lots of smart psychological insights about this. But she’s also a great writer, so what could come across as detached is actually quite moving and intimate.

But what I’m interested in is the relationship between autobiography and fiction, which is what my post here yesterday was about—Virginia Woolf’s actual father throwing the flowerpot being transmuted into the fictional Mr. Ramsay finding an earwig in his milk and tossing the jug out onto the terrace.

Why are we so fascinated with knowing what parts of fiction come from the author’s real life? I know some purists think it’s wrong to fixate on this, that focusing on the writer diminishes the work. But I’m always wondering when I read a novel, how much of this really happened in some form or another?

I guess this is why I like writing autobiographically so much. It cuts right to the chase. Why bother disguising your life as fiction if everyone’s going to interpret it as truth anyway?

Oh, and to close this loop…in my interview with Bernard Malamud’s daughter Janna’s son Peter, we discuss the fiction/reality divide a little bit.

Why did I just spend the better part of an hour on this post? I said yesterday I was going to stop frittering away my own autobiographical urges in this seductive, ephemeral, slapdash medium.

97 Responses to “stranger than fiction”

  1. C. Resmer says:

    First! Ha ha!

    Not that I actually have anything to add here…

  2. Pam I says:

    I had this notion that you worked in the basement. All that daylight says I’m wrong.

  3. I do work in the basement, but my house is on a hill. So one side of the basement is exposed. A “walk-out” basement, I think they call it.

  4. reed_maker says:

    Yes, but what if the milk jug tossed onto the terrace fits into the story better than the smashed flower pot. Can you make that small change and still call it autobiography? I know the line between memoir and fiction has come up a lot lately, but I still don’t understand why people care so much. “Truth” is so mutable anyway–I say just tell us a moving story.

  5. 'Ff'lo says:

    I feel compelled to suggest that pondering stuff about autobiography (casually, “out loud,” or however else one might describe blog-yadda) is hardly tangential to your work/art/life. Not to mention: I appreciate the tip on the book! I’m now 4th in line for it at my local library, where their schnazzy new system tells me that people who’ve checked it out before have also checked out the following:

    • Little women / Louisa May Alcott
    • Vogue knitting baby knits
    • “Excuse me, but I was next– ” : how to handle the top 100 manners dilemmas / Peggy Post
    • Sexy little knits : chic designs to knit and crochet / Ashley Paige ; photography by Yu Tsai
    • Vogue knitting caps & hats / [editor-in-chief, Trisha Malcolm]

    (BTW, hello, I’m Lisa; I’ve been reading here for a good while but don’t think I’ve commented before.)

  6. jmc says:

    First, great, interesting interview.

    I’m not a fiction writer, but as an an academic (historian) I craft stories based on historical facts. Even though I’m early in my career (midway through diss) I’ve realized lately that in some ways I’m already writing the same stories over and over insofar as I’m drawn to topics that articulate a core body of themes that feel incredibly important to me on a personal level, and over and over I struggle with whether / how to let that personal voice speak explicitly in my writing.

    Oddly, I got into being a scholar in part because of an essay by a woman in my field who wrote very movingly about some thinking she had done about the relationship between her experience of being a lesbian and the questions / approaches she brought to her historical work. *Lots* of people responded to the first-person voice of this essay and many folks, queer and not, kind of glommed on to some models she set forth in the essay.

    Anyway, I write this because in conversation with her about the essay she raised an issue related to AB’s above, but from the flip perspective, namely, about how though that essay was highly autobiographical, it was nevertheless a work of fiction in its presentation of her life. Of course, as an historian she didn’t mean that she literally made things up from scratch, but that the fiction came in the deliberate creation of her self-presentation in the essay, the choices about leaving in and leaving out.

  7. jmc says:

    Drat! I should *always* write in drafts!

    The connection between the interview and the post that was very interesting to me was seeing AB reconsider some of her past answers to interview questions, especially about feelings that arose during the process of writing and presenting FH. What was the truth / fiction of both the old and new answers?

  8. shmizla says:

    there’s of course the phenomenal example of carolyn steedman, my personal/academic/writing heroine, and “landscape for a good woman.” ALL should read that.

    being professionally interested in the distinction between how one can write and read facts and fiction, i’d say there is something about the linear progression of writing that makes things appear more tightly connected and appear with an aura of causality. maybe all writing is then “historical” in the sense that it is aligning “facts” and “events” in an order and giving them “reasons” to be together. also, leveling the ground for jugs and flower pots because who’s gonna know anyway.

    btw, i loved that speculation in “the fun home” about the plausible (psychological) outcome of the icarus/dedalus mishap.

  9. Liza from pine street art works says:

    Interesting article. For me, particularly, the bits about the brother and his response. My older brother wrote a book about our family that was quite a hit for a while. It’s called An Orphan In History, by Paul Cowan. He was nine years older than I (he died in 1989)and was the first of four children, so of course his experience of the family was very different from mine, the youngest girl. I couldn’t even control the bits about me, for instance, I begged him to say that I was a Lesbian and he wouldn’t. He wouldn’t change anything major -even though he did give us copies of the galleys – so I annotated my copies with copious margin notes, and those are the copies I lend to the occasional friend who asks to read it. Other than that – ya just got to let it go. The people in the book – who were real – become a kind of fiction.

  10. Jana C.H. says:

    Although I read fiction, for many years I have preferred history. When I see various connections between events in fiction, I often think, “Yeah, but the author just arranged it that way to make a point.” When I read something similar is history, I think, “Wow, look at those connections!”

    If the synchronicities in the summer of Bruce Bechdel’s trial had appeared in a novel, it just would have been the author being symbolic. Ho-hum! But it actually happened that way, and AB has her diaries to confirm it. She selected what to emphasize and how to connect them, but it wasn’t just made up for the sake of being “significant”. She interpreted it to find its significance; she didn’t invent it.

    I came across an example in a book I just finished: “Thirty Years from Home”, an autobiography of Samuel Leech, a seaman in the British Navy who deserted in New York City in the War of 1812 and became an American. He escaped from his ship the Macedonian when the officers were having a big party. Sam, 16 years old, saw a “colored boy” in a boat beside the ship, and demanded to be taken ashore to get more food for the officers. The boy said he couldn’t go without his master’s permission. Sam went away briefly then came back claiming to have gained permission, and the boy rowed him ashore. As a seriously religious adult, Sam regrets, not his desertion, but the way he did it– namely, he lied, and lying is a sin before God. He expresses not one thought about the punishment the boy must have received from his master. Since he was probably a slave, the boy might well have been flogged, and hatred of flogging is one of Sam’s big causes. Yet it never seems to occur to him that his deceit has not only offended God, but has caused serious suffering to another human being.

    In a historical novel, this incident would have been the author creating an example of 19th century racism for the benefit of a 21st century audience. In an autobiography, it’s real, live 19th century racism, with no thought of teaching an audience nearly two centuries in the future anything about race or slavery.

    Jana C.H.
    Seattle
    Saith WSG: It is easy in elegant diction to call it an innocent fiction, but it comes in the same category as telling a regular terrible story.

  11. Jaibe says:

    I always thought using real anecdotes was “cheating”, but as I get older I’m starting to think fiction is really best as a way to communicate reality. I think I started changing my mind around reading “Primary Colors”, though it’s been gradual.

    I’ve been told the point of writing is not to describe your experience of what you’ve seen, but to make your reader experience what you’ve experienced, which takes quite a different perspective.

  12. Trump says:

    Surely wrters write material with things they’ve done/seen/dreamed about etc woven in there, or how would the stories come about? I like the idea that autbiographical bits and pieces can be in writing without us even knowing.

  13. LondonBoy says:

    Jaibe:

    I think you’re probably right when you say that fiction is the best way to communicate reality, precisely because, as you say, the aim is to make the reader experience what you’ve experienced. I was reminded of the observation that painting is a better way to show reality than a photograph ( not sure who said it ), because you can show things in a painting that you can’t in a photograph. This was brought home to me by the works of Edward Hopper: at first they seem to be just like photographs, but then you realise that he’s showing the light falling in different ways in the same picture, and subtly playing with angles, and so showing more of what he saw, and perhaps felt. And of course there’s a sense in which a photograph is always a lie: it purports to say “this is how things were”, and we subconsciously accept this because we know it is “accurate”, without thinking of everything that happens in the moments before and after the the shutter clicked, and in the places where the lens cannot see. Paintings can do what photos cannot.

    This is by way of noting that cartoons also tell truths about reality, sometimes better than other media. Alison used to use a quotation on this site about “telling the truth about the world by the exhaustive review of a microcosm” ( only in better words than those, obviously ), and I think that was spot on. I love the way that DTWOF illuminates the lives of my family and friends, without ever knowing that it’s doing so: we learn something about ourselves by watching Mo.

  14. Maggie Jochild says:

    As a writer who for 30 years has produced autobiographical poetry and only this year switched to “fiction” in the form of a novel, I’ve come to believe that the compulsion to create a narrative is what drives the written arts. In the same way that our brains can only take absorb information in one of perhaps three forms — music, mathematics, and metaphor (read Judy Grahn’s “Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World” for a definitive look at metaphor, check it out at http://bailiwick.lib.uiowa.edu/wstudies/grahn/01toc.htm) — I think we as humans are biologically predisposed to string together metaphor into a story that will, in some way, support the world view and story we’ve already begun.

    Memory is entirely subjective. There is no “fact”, not in autobiography or nor in history/herstory. The documents Alison provides us with in Fun Home are themselves interpretations/distillations or her father’s chunks of self-serving narrative. Since it’s all illusion, the point is what we do with it: How we tell the story. Otherwise known as perspective. As Londonboy indicated, once the moment of snapshot has passed, how do we paint it?

    And, yes, great art shows rather than tells.

    I went to a Hopper exhibit once where the docent told us that in not a single painting does Hopper have human beings in conversation with one another. They are all solo and mute.

    Years ago I took a course in writing memoir from Dorothy Allison, and she hammered home the notion that we, as writers, owe NOTHING to those who occur in the stories we would be writing. If we allow obligation to alter the narrative, we will not be honest. We owe only ourselves, the possibility of telling our story in our way. We can, of course, still do that ethically, and that balance between the two has engaged me ever since.

  15. DeLand DeLakes says:

    Alison-

    Whatever you do, don’t make good on that crack in the interview about becoming a celibate devotee to your work! I think that such things can seriously derail people– Nikolai Tesla often espoused the virtues of celibacy, and said that being chaste freed him to concentrate on his work. And sure, he was brilliant, but the last invention he was working on before he died was a death ray! 🙂

  16. Jana C.H. says:

    I don’t think too many people– at least not liberal people– are celibate on principle any more. Most of us are celibate because we don’t at the moment know anyone we want to have sex with who wants to have sex with us. Under those circumstances, not being celibate can seriously derail people.

    Or not. It all depends.

    Jana C.H.
    Seattle
    Saith JcH: Anyone can get laid; all you have to do is set your standards low enough.

  17. No death rays. I promise.

  18. Suzanonymous says:

    Just a quick nod at the effort to spend less time online. I fully approve. Kudos! I am trying to keep it under 3 hours a week. Sometimes I succeed. I mean three hours of goofing off. If I’m researching something I need to know, that doesn’t count as goofing off online.

    Even when we try to write about true events, we’re constrained by the need to get concise (otherwise it’s just a flood of details — have to organize it somehow and it’s not just what went on but the most important facts and the relevant parts of our take on it all) and anyone is constrained by their current thinking (only later to have a new realization or angle on the matter, something that may have helped convey a better understanding of things). So I see a blurry zone between fiction and reportage, almost no matter what you do. Granted, if you take an hour to compose something short, it probably brings more accuracy.. to get the right words and emphases in what you are trying to communicate.

    Now I’m getting self-conscious, self-critical.. or are those the right words? Ah, to hell with it, hit “submit comment.”

  19. Maggie Jochild says:

    A found poem — what happens when I give up on the illusion of trying to control what comes my way.

    Blog Gollum

    Notes on pad beside the monitor
    written at angles, criss cross:
    The problem with deceptively
    How do fritters waste their time?
    Earwig pincers — what the FUCK?
    Maoist oranges are not the only pinko fruits
    Slapdash and smithereens
    Does Alison favor interchangeable baskets? Besides cats in bowls (wink, wink).
    Who’s your daddy?
    Librarian fetish
    Pillsbury Dough Boy’s Buns of Buns
    No deathrays but yes to curare-tipped blowgun dart

  20. Deb says:

    Excellent! I love it! And…………being celibate is a choice right now, and it’s no fun.

  21. eris says:

    I spent about a year intentionally celibate, after a period of throwing myself into some pretty self-destructive liasons. It was a very positive and healing time.

    Being celibate, at least for me, wasn’t just about not having sex. (And it surely didn’t mean not having sex because sex was somehow bad, as the nuns tried to convince me thirty years ago!) It was about paying attention to myself and to others, and expanding the types of relationships I could have with other people by temporarily taking sex out of the equation.

  22. 'Ff'lo says:

    Maggie Jochild wrote:

    I’ve come to believe that the compulsion to create a narrative is what drives the written arts.

    And it’s what drives so much else, t’boot, as you imply, including many a personal sense of identity/integrity.

    I’m reminded of the episode of “Northern Exposure” in which Ed ponders what the white man’s mythology is, coming to decide it’s the cinema. Spun narratives. Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor. The story you decide to tell, the way you decide to tell it.

  23. Deb says:

    That’s pretty much where I am at as well. Being unpartnered at the moment, I am also taking some time to get in touch with issues within myself that seemed to get stuffed into oblivion when I was in my last relationship. And since I don’t do casual sex……hence my choice for my current state.

  24. Silent No More says:

    My mind has been churning ever since I read the interview and I just have to speak my piece.

    First a disclaimer: I adore DTWOF and have loved it since I first saw it, 20+ years ago. I think Alison is absolutely brilliant, both as a writer and as an artist.

    Also, I’m 62 and therefore probably one of the oldest posters here.

    Now to my point. I hated Fun Home. I squirmed with embarrassment for Alison’s family, all the while assuming that they had approved the book because of her note thanking them for not trying to talk her out of writing it.

    But now that I know they didn’t approve, I feel like some horrid voyeur. I could never meet Mrs Bechdel and look her in the eye. She has to live with these terrible revelations about herself and her family for the rest of her life. And in a small community, no less. Everyone knows…Alison’s side. What about her mother’s side? What about Bruce’s side? He doesn’t seem like such a bad father to me. I’ve certainly seen waaaaay worse. And now she’s writing another book about her mother? Poor Mrs B!

    If the book had been presented as fiction, I would have liked it. It’s an interesting story and beautifully done. People who knew the Bechdels would read between the lines and know it was autobiographical, but the public (namely, me) would have been spared seeing strangers humiliated. I feel like I’ve been to a public flogging.

    Why hurt people who love you? Why not protect them by changing a few names? And any potential lover had better consider how she might be portrayed in future works. Alison may well wind up celibate, involuntarily.

  25. The cat herder says:

    Lots of people get written about. Lots of people write about their families. Sometimes, the subject of the story actually likes the attention. Sometimes, they sue. Sometimes, they shrug and accept that as the price they pay for knowing an artist/writer/actor/etc.

    Don’t assume to know what Alison’s family is feeling right now.

  26. Alipsych176 says:

    In response to “Silent No More” and AB’s interview, I, too, worry about the effect of memoirs on loved ones’ lives. “Fun Home” is one example, but so are Anne Lammott, David Sedaris, and David Mura, to name a few. When writers are so brutally honest about their own experience, especially their own pain, it hurts the people in the stories. How does a writer avoid this? I’ve always wanted to write a memoir, or “creative non-fiction.” But my parents and sister are intensely private people. They’d be hurt terribly if I did this, as well as angry because they’d feel their own voices were being ignored. And they’d be right, since I would be author and it would be my story. So how do you get around this? One way is to call your work fiction. But as AB says, readers always want to know what’s “real” and what’s “made up,” or at least they speculate. So in a way only the veneer of privacy is preserved that way, too. Anyway, I bring this up because I wonder about this a lot, especially when I read something powerful like “Fun Home.”

  27. Ellen Orleans says:

    To Silent No More —

    Perhaps it’s a generational thing about privacy, perhaps it’s personal, but I respectfully disagree with your views about “protecting people” by silencing one’s own writing.

    As a writer myself, I feel a calling, both personal and political, to speak the truth about my life. I think Alison presented her reality very even-handedly. She also talked to her former girlfriend about including her (as she said in the Nerve article.)

    As far as Alison “winding up celibate, involuntarily”—sorry, but I just had to laugh out loud at that one. There are probably 100 readers of this blog who would jump at the chance to jump in bed with her. (Some of them would have to enact the “celebrity clause” with their partners, however.)

  28. jos says:

    Ellen Orleans — You took the words right out of my mouth!!

    This is my first post (lurking for about a month now..)and I must say – as a mid 20s, newly out dyke – reading this blog has been an absolutely incredible experience. There is so much wisdom here!

    I feel fortunate to have this undefinable bloggerific connection to all of you.

  29. Agreeing with Silent No More says:

    According to Alison in her Guardian interview (http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/biography/story/0,,1923492,00.html), her mother was “both angry and upset” about Fun Home.

    I believe that it’s important to speak about your truth. I also believe that it’s important to respect other people involved and their truths, particularly during their lifetimes.

    Holding these personal beliefs, I was sad to read that Alison is going to write about her mother, again apparently without her consent.

    And I say that as someone around half the age of Silent No More.

  30. Ellen Orleans says:

    Obviously, this is hitting a nerve for me.

    Following the “stay silent” or “fictionalize it” line of reasoning, should queer people stay closeted because coming out would anger or upsert their parents? Should a survivor of childhood sexual abuse shut up about it until the offender has died?

    Conversely, if a child is embarrassed by a parents’ choice to sing in a chorus or march as a Shriner in the Fourth of July parade, should the parent not express themselves?

    Where do we draw the lines?

    When people speak out, they spread the truth and empower the disempowered. This is not gossip nor exposing “dirty laundry” for the tabloids. This is about human progress, speaking truth to power, and the wonder of literature.

  31. Agreeing with Silent No More says:

    For me, the line is drawn on the issue of consent. If a queer person chooses to “out” themself, that is one thing. To “out” another person without their consent is quite another. When another person is “out”ed without their consent, who does that empower ?

  32. --MC says:

    I have a friend who has survived an amazing life, including familial dysfunction, sexual assault, suicide attempts, the lot. What is amazing about her story is how level-headed she has stayed through it all, winding up on her feet even while others in her family spiralled into destruction. I think it would be a good thing for others to read, to know that you can survive terrible things.
    I keep urging her to write her story, but she says she’d like to but can’t because people in her family would be hurt. So her story goes untold.
    Sometimes you have to zest a few oranges to make an orange cake.

  33. shadocat says:

    I think “Fun Home” is a brilliant book, but “Silent No More” is entitled to her opinion and her views. I can see why she would feel sorry for the Bechdels; if one of my children wrote a book about our family, I’m sure it would stress me out considerably.

    But—echoing MC’s post—Before I started high school, I entered an essay contest, the winners of which would be allowed to be on the staff of the new high school paper. I wrote an essay some considered funny, about an eccentric aunt. I won a slot on the newspaper staff, but I turned it down, even though I wanted it desperately. Why? Because my parents read the published essay and were extremely upset that I put the family in a bad light. I did not want to take the risk of hurting them again, so I did not take the slot.

    Would my life be different now, if I’d been on the paper? Would I have gone to college and majored in journalism? Would I be making a living as a writer, intead of what I do now? I’ll never know, because I was not courageous enough to answer the door when opportunity came knocking…

  34. PixieLauren says:

    I adore memoirs. I am in 100 percent agreement with Ellen Orleans about “truth-telling.”

    As they say to survivors of sexual abuse: Keeping the secret only protects the perpetrator.

    Alison was so absolutely fair and even-handed with her memoir. Her mother and father were both presented sympathetically. Just humans with flaws. I had compassion for all the people in Fun Home.

    Alison’s choice to press on in spite of the cost, means that a great work of art is now out in the world, working its magic as art does.

    Totally worth it.

  35. Maggie Jochild says:

    During the 1990’s I briefly had a business card I’d hand out that, in addition to the usual “Dyke, Poet” and whatever else role I was claiming for myself at the moment, had in small print “Please be advised that our relationship and life experiences we share may at some point find its way into my writing”. I had to stop using these because they caused so much upset.

    My story is mine. How I choose to tell it is mine. And the privacy rights of the dead end at death. Not respect for — no, I’m not saying that. But right to privacy, yes.

    I see a three-pointed message coming at me from different sources. One is the attempt by Republicans in the Senate to stop debate (not action, just debate) about the godawful war. This is, underneath, an admission that even openly discussing what’s going on can alter the course of the war. Yep, truth-telling IS that powerful, and we are six years behind.

    A second is the wish for some people to limit the presence, or length, or topics, or complexity of posts to this bog — because it somehow interrupts their “pure dose” of Alison. As if Alison’s work is not derived from a community, or the community’s reaction to her plays absolutely no role in her work. They want to read about a strip of mostly unrelated people who have chosen to deeply, messily link their lives together for decades and have both solicitied and unsolicited influence on each other, but they want that reading to be done in isolation. Well, good luck. It reminds me, strongly, of the argument that men around the world use as justification for governing the clothing of women, because they don’t want to be responsible for their own reactions to that clothing — it must become the responsibility of the women.

    And the third issue, which others have discussed eloquently, has to do with the perceived right of families to keep secrets. As if privacy is part of the property of families. An idea which feminism has challenged since its onset, I think. I was raised in a family with a myriad of hidden (or not so hidden) shames, regarding class, race, abuse — the gamut, and predictable. My father chose to stay in denial until his death last October. But when I began peeling away the rotten outer layer, years ago, it was not just that the secrets in which I had been a player were exposed — generations of secrets were exposed. Just about everything came up for re-examination and re-definition. Which, yes, was a piece of work some people had spent their entire lives resisting.

    My generation (and I mean that more literally than most of you can comprehend) is the first to name child abuse for what it is, with all its inroads and guises. Family culture will never be the same, and try as the Right will, they cannot stuff the eel back into the bottle. I am amused when I read about their plan to flood America with their children, over-propagating, homeschooling, bolting down the latches so they can counteract the so-called liberal or homosexual agenda plus all those dreadful non-white immigrants. Where on on earth do they think we all came from? I am THEIR child. They are creating our next generation.

    And so, my final question is this: Which is more disrespectful, raising a child in a household where one parent is a pedophile (which I think is a more accurate sexuality for Bruce Bechdel than “gay”) and all emotionality or discussion which might reveal this fact is cut off at the root, or that child later producing a world-class, painfully self-examining memoir about what it was like to grow up in that lie?

  36. DeLand DeLakes says:

    A clarification for eris- I guess I should say that I think that a person could get along just fine for a year, maybe even several, as a celibate. But if masturbation was also off the table– I know that I would go crazy!!!

  37. Deb says:

    I’m with you right there DeLand DeLakes!!!

  38. chewy says:

    DeLand DeLakes, Me Too!

  39. Duncan says:

    Maggie Jochild, “a household where one parent is a pedophile (which I think is a more accurate sexuality for Bruce Bechdel than “gay”)…”

    As a writer myself, I have to protest here. I have seen NO evidence that Bruce Bechdel, whatever his other faults, was a “pedophile.” Pedophiles are those adults who seek out prepubescent children as sexual partners, and I’ve seen no evidence that Bruce Bechdel had any interest in prepubescent children. Adolescent males and females are not children. They have sexual interests and desires and activity of their own. While we may disapprove, for good reasons and bad, of sexual activity betweeen adolescents and adults, it is *not* pedophilia.

    Besides, it seems pretty clear just from Fun Home that Bruce Bechdel didn’t limit himself to adolescents as sexual partners. He therefore cannot accurately be described even as an “ephebophile,” another of the bogus pseudo-medical terms that fly about these days.

    I have my doubts about the good that has come from the increased visibility and discussability of “child abuse” (a term which ought properly to be used about violence against children, unless it’s qualified as “child sexual abuse” or some such. Often these changes have led to some destructive social panics, like the Satanic Ritual Abuse witch hunt of the 80s and 90s. As Judith Levine described in “Harmful to Minors”, there has been a move to penalize legally children who engage in sexual play with other children. The Tom Delay scandal showed that many people not only can’t tell the difference between children and adolescents, but they can’t tell the difference between adolescents and consenting adults, or between Internet sex chat and actual sexual activity. Substituting panic and disinformation for silence is a dubious tradeoff in my opinion.

  40. PixieLauren says:

    Duncan,

    I suppose it depends on your definition of “pedophile.” There is ample evidence that unbalanced sexual relationships between adults and adolescents profoundly distorts the teens’ sexual development. It changes who they are. Forever. In ways that can be debilitating. Call it something other than pedophilia if you’d like, but it’s still child sexual abuse.

    Additionally, I abhor and strenuously object to your statements about the “discussability” of child abuse. I won’t bother speaking for others; I’ll speak for myself. Silence and secrets were killing me, very literally. Naming my experiences liberated me. (That sounds grand and abstract, but I actually mean it concretely.)

    The “panic and disinformation” that has supposedly resulted from the naming of abuse — A. Isn’t widespread and B. Absolutely pales in comparison to what one suffers with in silence. No contest. Also, I believe most people to be fair and compassionate, even if flawed enough to allow some “panic and disinformation” to exist — And therefore I believe “panic and disinformation” tends to be temporary and self-correcting. Progress’ road is bumpy sometimes — Because we’re not perfect, society is not perfect. But still we move forward at a pace.

    Also: Your definition of “child abuse” leaves out verbal and emotional abuse. Do you deny the existence of these? Emotional abuse is very real, and as millions could tell you, just as damaging and difficult to overcome as physical abuse.

    Lastly, the most difficult childhood sexual abuse for me to untangle and cope with, with was perpetrated by another child (Four years older than me; He was 12). It was still violent, forcible abuse. It was not “sexual play.” I had no choice. Do you understand? Sometimes children are not innocent.

    Wish you could see from my eyes for a fraction of a second. Perhaps it would lead you to dig into your own personal emotional difficulty regarding people speaking about childhood abuses. Wonder what that is about.

  41. Maggie Jochild says:

    Duncan, I’ll begin by agreeing that penalizing adolescents for having and expressing their sexuality is a problem — but, to my mind, it’s part of the bigger mindset that sees them as less than completely equal, powerful human beings. And that same mindset is what makes them attractive to adults who are engaging in pedophile behavior.

    I define pedophile as someone who (at least some of the time) acts on an attraction to someone enough younger than themselves that a power imbalance is clearly in play. According to online data, they are, statistically, stimulated sexually by a variety of triggers, only some of which are young people; they are (around 98%) male; they are heterosexual; they are married or in strong relationship with another adult; and they would not identify their feelings as pedophilia.

    The majority of pedophiles (over 80%) identify as heterosexual and most (at least 90%) prey on children in their own families and friendship networks. Approximately two-thirds of repeat predators select girls when they are able, and about one-third choose boys — but this gender preference is not about being “gay” or “straight”, it’s about access, for the most part.

    At least 95% of pedophiles who have been caught say they were themselves molested as children. Most of these men (over half) claim their early molestation was not really harmful or was in some sense consensual. These same percentage claim the children they victimize are not really harmed and that the children likewise “consent”. Most child predation is not violent; it is coercive, persuasive, and often does not involve frank acts of penetration. This confusion about the nature of consent is woven into the fabric of our culture.

    I remember when Susan Brownmiller’s book about rape came out, one of the arguments used against her theories by the men I knew was that false accusations of rape would become problematic if we just took women’s word for it, or if it became something everyone was talking about. And yes, that did occur occasionally. But the landscape around reporting and identifying rape, while still not level, became markedly better for women since we started naming things as they were.

    And the link, of course, is there: If we stop defining sexual attraction as something which contains a power imbalance (hard to imagine, in our culture, outside of feminism), then all kinds of behavior will be seen as arising from pathology. The result of having been hurt.

    Child abuse almost never occurs in just one form. Almost all perpetrators of sexual abuse begin with other forms of abuse, and work their way “up”, if you can call it that. Introducing sex into a conversation with a child or adolescent, if you are an adult, is never appropriate and speaks to the adult’s motive. The younger person is attempted to be seduced. Adult sexuality is learned, not inherent, and each of deserve a chance to grow up with our own definition of sexuality before having the adult version pushed onto us — even if we think we want the information, because how can we know how it will change us? And many of us, who were in such a situation, as adults have to re-define desire and consent for ourselves as a result of being exposed to someone else’s construct too young.

    My first lover was a girl who was two years older than me — but for me at 14 and a freshman, someone who was a junior in high school was considerably more powerful than me. She was already an established pedophile by that time, and only became attracted to me when I told her I had been sexually abused as a child (by another person whom adults would have considered also a child). I loved her, or thought I did. It took me 20 years to name our relationship as having been abusive. When she was 18 and in college, and I had moved on in my affections, she raped my 12-year-old brother in retaliation. He never got over it, and died at 42 in part as a result of the emotional fall-out.

    Statistics aside, anecdotally speaking, in my lifetime I have heard the child abuse stories of literally hundreds of women, because I helped launch the incest survivor movement in this country and I was willing to listen. At least 25% of those women told stories that involved being abused by someone who was also, in adult eyes, another child. And those are just women, mostly lesbians.

    I’m aware that in gay male culture, the introduction to sex for boys is often at the hands of an adult male, and that this is seen as benign. This is part of the gulf between woman-based feminist sexual culture and gay male-based sexual culture. All I can hope for is continued dialogue, which I appreciate doing with you, Duncan.

  42. shadocat says:

    I am no academic; but I am a mother. Ordinarily, I would not talk about this very personal family situation on this blog, but since only a few of you know my real name, I feel it is safe to do so. I keep hearing this argument–that sex between teens and adults is not pedophilia. Well let me tell you my story…

    A few days ago, my younger daughter tried to kill herself. She slit her wrists. Her boyfriend (well one of two–part of the problem) called and told me. I ran to the emergency room, went in the back, but they wouldn’t let me see her yet–told me they were in the middle of a “procedure”. I could see it though, through the parted curtain illuminated by a tiny lamp in the darkened room…nothing can ever prepare you for the sight of a doctor slowly stitching up your daughter’s wrist.

    About three days earlier, she had called me, sobbing “I think I’m bi-polar, mom.”, she said “I can’t stop thinking about Dad.” (He died about 3 1/2 years ago) Then she told me of the whole problem of trying to choose between the two boys, etc.,none of it making much sense. She begged me to make an appointment for her at a mental health center. I told her I’d try, but since she’s 21, they probably won’t talk to me–they’ll want her to call. “No,no, no– I can’t call-promise me you will. Promise me!” So I called–and yes, they wanted to talk to her. I called her back, told her what they said, made HER promise SHE’D call—of course she didn’t—two days later, she’s in the emergency room.

    This is why I get so upset when people don’t want to include adolescents when they define “child abuse” and “pedophilia”. When my daughter was younger, an older, adult man took advantage of her, abused and seduced her.

    Two years before, I was calling home, checking my machine for messages, when I picked one up left for her by a person with an older, very adult voice. I freaked out, took the message to the police. they advised me to get an order of protection against this person; then if he tried to contact my child in any way, they could pick him up. So I went to court.

    My court experience was less than positive, however. I took the stand and told the judge what I wanted. He wanted to know what kind of relationship I had with this man. “Absolutely none”, I said. “Then I can’t help you.”, says he. Apparently in our state, the parties have to be “legally” related to get a protection order. I’ve heard this has since changed–I hope so.

    I came home and told my husband what happened. He and the stepfather of another girl this guy was bothering, had the brilliant idea of going down to this guy’s work, calling him outside, and just “beat the shit out of him.” The other mother and I convinced them not to;”You’ll be the ones that get arrested.” Now I wish we’d let them do it.

    This man, unbeknownst to me continued to contact, stalk and “groom” his victim, my daughter, for the next two years,get her drunk, and convinced her to have sex with him. Some people might call that consensual. I don’t. When she could take it no more, she confided in a friend, who told her mother, who called the police,who then informed me.

    The man was charged with statutory rape, committing indecent liberties with a minor, etc, He was sentenced to 5 years. Only 5 years for destroying my child’s life! And now this creep is as free as a bird while my daughter has continued to suffer. She attempted suicide and was hospitalized shortly after the bastard has arrested. She’s been hospitalized one other time, I thought until recently, she had made progress. . This has been her most serious attempt–so far.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate this man for what he did to my daughter. He took advantage of my child’s adolescent insecurity. He convinced her to yield to his sexual advances, not because he “loved” her, but because he wanted to satisfy his selfish desires.

    She changed from a student who got excellent grades to a girl who couldn’t concentrate,
    fell behind , and eventually dropped out of school. She’s somehow convinced God “took” her father, because she did these “terrible things”. All I can to is listen to her when she cries, hold her if I’m there, and encourage her to go to therapy.Her first sexual experience should of been with a fumbling adolescent that loved her as much as she loved him, Not this. This bastard. took it all away. And people dare to argue he ‘s not a child abuser, a pedophile? Please!

    Duncan, I don’t know if you’re a parent. But I know Judith Levine is not. And sorry, having nieces and nephews is not the same thing. If Judith were to have a daughter, I wager she would have quite a different opinion in 16 years. Until then, Ms. Levine can kiss my ass.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Shadocat,

    I want to express my sympathy for you and your daughter. I’m sorry. What an awful nightmare you and she are living.

    I have a couple things to share with you:

    1. I am not a psychologist, researcher or doctor, but, it always seems to me that “bipolar” ends up being synonymous with “sexually abused as a child.” I know that people say Bipolar is a brain chemistry thing, but why is it that so many of the sexual abuse survivors I know end up with this?

    Maybe it’s time to dig a little into your daughter’s childhood. Or “out” some of those family secrets. So often the pattern begins way before adolescence. Your daughter may have been a victim of earlier abuse that “set her up” for what happened with the older man.

    To complicate things: She may not remember (yet). I did not remember my earliest abuse, what set me up for all the rest, till I was 32 years old.

    2. The most important thing I want to give you is hope. I’m 37 now. Sometimes I think I must be the most grateful person on the planet. I’m happy. The nightmare of debilitating depression, being so emotionally tortured — That’s all completely gone now. Ironically, the past few years have been the most stressful of my life (Divorce, coming out, family of origin stresses, custody battle, total poverty, miserable job) — But I’ve never been happier. I can handle anything.

    After I remembered the childhood abuse, I found an excellent therapist. She changed my life. I’d been to probably a dozen other therapists over the years, and none were able to reach me. So, for me, the formula was: Recovered memory plus incredible therapist plus about 3 very difficult years of therapy/work on my “issues” — That added up to peace and happiness, finally.

    Shadocat, wish I could do more than just write a few paragraphs in AB’s comments. Hang in there. Things can get a lot better. It does happen.

    And lastly, Ms. Levine can kiss my ass too.

  44. pixielauren says:

    Oops, I didn’t mean to be anonymous. I left the name field blank. It was me who wrote that last comment to Shadocat.

  45. DeLand DeLakes says:

    With as much respect as I can muster for the abuse survivors and family of abuse survivors who have bravely spoken up here, I want to add another point of view to the thread. I think perhaps the point Duncan was trying to make, the point that I think it is important to remember, is that sex between teenagers and adults is not always abusive or cooercive. Part of the reason why this issue is so hard to talk about is because the legal line drawn between adolescent and adult is so arbitrary- when I was 16, I dated a man who was 22 (and I knew a lot of girls who were dating men who were still older.) Despite the fact that it didn’t end well, I definately do not think of myself as a victim of child abuse or statutory rape, though by the letter of the law I was. I think that what it comes down to is that everyone, especially the legal systems, needs to put much more stock in the testimony of people who WERE abused- I think that laws that automatically criminalize even sex acts between a seventeen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old do nothing except take away consenting partners right to define their own sexuality- and, in abusive scenarios, statutory rape laws don’t seem to be doing the job they should be doing, as shadowcat notes.

    Also, while I don’t argue that abusive power relations can occur across even the smallest age gap, the problem is that there doesn’t need to be an age gap for these abuses to occur at all- anyone on this site who was ever systematically put down and manipulated by any partner, regardless of gender and age, can attest to that. It is as false to say that people of differing ages only get involved with one another to engage in abusive power games as it is to say that these things never happen with like-aged couples. My current partner is 26, and I’m 24- had we met when we were 16 and 18, would that make our relationship de facto “abusive”?

    Finally, I have twice read and loved Judith Levine’s book, which I think is being drastically simplified here, as the ultimate message of Harmful to Minors is that the attitudes we take as a culture towards sex are hurting children, even to the point of constituting abuse (anyone who needs further clarification can review her chapter on the “correctional” facilities that children who are accused of sex crimes are sent to for proof of that.) And I must respectfully state that I think the statement that Levine is not a mother, and therefore has no right to be writing such a book is ridiculous. Compulsatory motherhood should not be a requirement to write a book on children and sexuality– as Levine’s experience with multiple editors proves, being a parent can in fact make one turn a blind eye to messy issues of children and sexuality. That anyone would say that she cannot write this book as she has chosen not to have children is a frighteningly anti-feminist statement to my mind.

  46. --MC says:

    Shadocat, you have my sympathy also.
    Tell your daughter that her life isn’t over, not by a long shot. What happened to her was bad, but not so bad that she can’t eventually get past the pain and feel happy and strong again.
    It might help her to know she’s not the only one this has ever happened to. It helped my friend (mentioned above) to know that other people had felt the way she did and had lived through it, had bottomed out and been able to rebuild her life.
    When you’re a young person in trouble, it’s easy to fall into patterns of thinking that you’re singled out, you’re fated to a life of suffering because you’ve bad or God hates you or whatever, and you don’t have a backlog of memory to look back on to see that things happen and it’s not because of you.
    I hope she feels better soon. With you in her corner, she’s got a strong chance.

  47. shadocat says:

    Pixielauren- thank you for your comments and support, And as for previous abuse–she says there was none, but I haven’t ruled anything out. BTW, this was they main reason I was a bit hyper in my posts a few days back. I was dealing with this as well as other issues.

    DelanDeLakes– to clarify my statement: I NEVER said motherhood should be a requirement to write a book on CHILDREN (curious that you chose this word, and not adolescent).Please don’t put words in my mouth. I said she MIGHT feel differently, or have a different position if she had raised and mothered a child.I never said she shouldn’t have written this book. I do reserve the right, however, to believe she is full of shit.

    Also, the six years age difference between you and your boyfreind cannot compare with the 18 years that separated “Roy” and Bruce Bechdel, a grown man with a wife and children, who was also probably his teacher.

  48. Even if I had the time, I don’t have the skills to moderate a discussion on child sexual abuse. But I’m feeling some responsibility here to weigh in on this. First of all, to thank the people who’ve shared their painful personal stories, and the people who’ve contributed their keenly reasoned insights. And second of all, to defend my friend Judith Levine, whose important contributions to the dialogue about child and adolescent sexuality are often, I think, misunderstood.

    Also, I feel compelled to go on the record in agreement with Duncan on the use of the term “pedophile.” I think it’s important to reserve a word that explicitly defines adults who have sex with prepubescent children. My father—as far as I know—was not a pedophile. I’m not saying that adults who have sex with adolescents aren’t engaging in abuse, just that the distinction between pre-and post-pubescence is worth taking note of. Specificity of language is important.

  49. shadocat says:

    Re: my last post: I apologize for the typos. I’m still pretty raw right now, and think I need to take another “blog break”. It’s just when I hear and read people tcomment that adults having sex with adolescent minors (which btw, is against the law) doesn’t necessarily qualify as child abuse, it makes my blood boil. To those who will quest (and I’m sure they will) if something else caused my daughter’s problems, all I can say is before this man disrupted our lives, I had a happy, healthy child, who did will in school and ahd many friends. After he came along, her life spun out of control. That’s all I have to say.

  50. pixielauren says:

    There are age differences, and then there are age differences. A 19-year-old with a 47-year-old is much different than a 17-year-old with a 20-year-old.

    And “consent” doesn’t apply to minors. Gee — Bet a lot of kids “consented” to abuse because they were manipulated, tricked, talked into it, told they’d like it, etc.

    A child cannot consent to sex with anyone, under any circumstance. Period, end of story.

    The “age of consent” varies by state, I think, but is usually around age 16. Therefore, DeLand DeLakes, your ages 17 and 18 example would not be criminal. Additionally, most states have a “close in age” exemption to the “age of consent” laws, i.e., an 18-year-old can’t be charged with statutory rape for having sex with a 16-year-old — Because there is only a two-year age difference.

    A 14-year-old girl may “think” she can consent to sex, and may consider herself a willing participant in the sex she’s having, but does she really understand the nature of sex, of sexual relationships, or of the consequences of her acts? Can she “stand up” mentally or emotionally to somebody much older than she is? Even marginally older?

    The laws out there are pretty darned reasonable, with exceptions for the examples that are being pointed at here in this thread. Before we get up in arms about 18-year-olds going to jail for having sex with 17-year-olds, we need to realize that just does not happen.

    I wouldn’t assert that Judith Levine “has no right” to write a book about childhood and sexuality because she’s not a mother. However, I would suggest that motherhood gives one not a “blind eye” but a different wisdom. A desire to shield children from sexual abuse isn’t a bad thing — It’s a very wise and noble thing, even if our implementatioin is not perfect.

  51. Silvio Soprani says:

    I am probably wading into deep waters here where I have no business wading, but let me just share this. First of all, shado, I appreciate your telling the story of what you and your daughter have been going through.
    Duncan, I respectfully disagree with you about the issue of older men initiating younger ones, and Deland’s points further complicate this issue from being an easy one.

    I have had many gay male friends (good friends) and am familiar with the drastic difference between the way they viewed sex as a social phenomenon and the way I do. I have continued to ponder this over years. A while back I spent six months working as a teacher in a boys’ juvenile detention facility in the Southwest U.S. The boys ranged from as young as 12 to as old as 18, at which point they were free to leave.

    I watched very naive and immature 12 yr olds arrive, and within days or weeks show up in class with hickies on their necks, bruises on their faces, and a drastically different attitude.

    I spent time in their residential quarters and saw the communal showers, the bunkbeds, the locked doors after bedtime, etc.

    I was told by the facility nurses how boys were having anal sex without condoms, and these were probably not gay attractions, but an older boy preying on a younger one as an enhanced form of masturbation.

    What is my point? Perhaps some of this sex was consensual, but I am sure most of it was rape and abuse of a less powerful person, and it was accompanied by other forms of bullying and “patronage.” A popular one was to collect medication from other boys and then “resell” it in exchange for snacks. The 12 yr old I am thinking of told me that he was coerced to give up his snack each day and in return was given some other boy’s medication, which he did not want, and did not like. the loss of a snack may seem trivial, but it is really just one moment in a long series of trials each day where one must choose to submit or fight. It must be exhausting. As a woman, and one living quite a safe life at that, I can’t even imagine this ongoing war to maintain one’s foothold.

    I suppose some of my gay male friends would gladly make jokes about being locked up with a bunch of attractive young boys, but the truth is, I don’t think the power game is much fun, either for the victims or even for the aggressors. It is all just a power struggle that takes a lot of energy and stress to perpetuate. (And being quite a non-competitive female, I have never understood the thrill of domination.

    The above is an exaggerated example of sexual predation, but for a young woman (or man) living out in society, in school for instance, I think there is a similar cycle of trying to maintain one’s emotional, psychic space. Trying to have friendship, love, and society in a climate where one must defend oneself constantly in order to feel loved and safe.

    So I sympathize with a parent (and I AM a parent) who watches their child (yes, a 17 or 18 yr old is still a child) be disadvantaged by someone who is not respecting their boundaries.

    Our children do have to learn these lessons for themselves, but sometimes it is a terrible price to pay.

    The children I worked with were not even MY children, and most of them were damned unpleasant to be around, and yet my gut reaction was to protect them, not to protect their right to have sex with each other.

    And to jump back to the subject of whether writers owe it to their families to suppress information, I just have to say here that if you are a writer you just have to accept that you have made yourself an outlaw in some ways, just to do your job. It can’t be helped.

  52. Deb says:

    I think I can weigh in on this to some extent, having worked as a victim advocate for almost 30 years. Alison is correct! There is a very real distinction between pre-and post-pubescent childen being abused sexually. A pedophile SPECIFICALY, targets, stalks, grooms and molests prepubescent children. In the state of Oregon, it’s also legally defined as such. The physical damage can be severe and the psychological ramifications of the abuse can last a lifetime and affect the ability to form lasting, healthy relationships. In Oregon, if there is an age difference of 7 years, this is termed child abuse…………period. If the child is under the age of 10, then the offender is given the label of possible pedophile. There must be other criteria to reach that legal definition as well. But, in the counseling office, pain is pain no matter what the age. When one person of power takes from another with perceived lesser power…..the balance is off and there is the potential for abuse…….no matter what the situation. Sex, domestic violence, financial, elder………the list goes on and on……….unfortunately!

  53. pixielauren says:

    I appreciate the respect being shown here, even during such a sensitive debate.

    Shadocat, if you come back and see this, you can email me at aurorapixie at gmail dot com if you would like. Hang in there.

  54. Suzanonymous says:

    I haven’t had time to read all of these posts, often very long posts. I did read PixieLauren’s post (looks like the second one — February 8th, 2007 at 8:40 pm) and I must say I agree 100%. Well said, glad you’re here. Gotta go now, unfortunately.

  55. Ginjoint says:

    Um, I’m sorry…now for something completely different…Alison, I too often wonder how much of an author’s life experience figures into their fiction work. Recently, I’ve been on a Margaret Atwood kick. I think she’s a bit of one of the “purists” you mention. She kind of confuses me in this area, as she has most definitely used many elements from her past in her books (notably in “Cat’s Eye” and the recent “Moral Disorder”), but, in interviews, seems to get rather frustrated when readers attribute the ENTIRE book/story to autobiography (again, notably with “Cat’s Eye,” when lots of people assumed she was writing about her own experiences as having been bullied as a child. She denied this.) She treads a fine line with this, and I bet a lot of other writers do too. (I’m guessing here, because I’m not a writer.) Write about what you know, and look what happens, right?

    OTOH, reading interviews with her wherein she expressed this frustration, I felt a little frustrated back – as in, “Well, what the hell did you expect? Your story line uses huge chunks of your own known childhood, of course people are gonna think the second half of the book is your own history as well!” (I still lurve her dearly, of course.) I wondered why I was so curious to know what parts of her works were “true” and which were fiction. The only thing I could come up with was that because I admire her skill and her intellect, it naturally followed that I would want to know more of her story. Why? Jeez…I dunno…I guess to ultimately enrich my own story, by learning from, and enjoying, hers. (BTW, Atwood is a person who not only said, “Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate,” she had it embroidered and hung on her office wall. Or so I’ve read on the intarweb. Which you know makes it true.)

    That’s all I’ve got.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Someone very close to me is bipolar and was never sexually abused as far as anyone can tell. Several of his genetic relatives probably were based on their histories.

  57. Anonymous says:

    That is, they probably were bipolar.

  58. 38 & kicking says:

    My mother is bipolar, so is my daughter and a niece. I doubt my mother or niece were abused, I know my daughter wasn’t. I think it’s a tad irresponsible to suggest a correlation.

  59. Silvio Soprani says:

    Ginjoint, whether or not Margaret Atwood really said it, that quote about authors and ducks and pate makes a certain amount of sense to me. The simile I would make is “Asking an author what parts of their life inspired their work is like asking the hostess which cow (or pig, or chicken) in the barn she slaughtered to make this delicious dinner.”

    Speaking as a performing songwriter, I have always felt it betrays a certain lack of graciousness (or just plain bad manners) when an audience member comes up to a singer and asks, “WHO did you write that song about?” Isn’t it enough that the song touched them in some way? Can’t they just appreciate it for itself; why do they need a translation?

    Or perhaps it is like attending a fashion show. You liked a certain outfit so you ask the model to take off all her clothes so you can see her REAL shape underneath.

    Artifice has a power of its own, and connecting the dots one to one only subtracts from that power..

    That is how I feel about it.

  60. Kendall says:

    A dear friend just sent me the link to this blog today, and I am swept away with delight in the blog and the people who comment on the blog. What a great community! I have much to say on the subjects of celibacy, autobiography, ethics, and parents who are, well, dwelling in alternative realities, but rather than write a way-too-long comment here, I have just celebrated your blog in my blog, to which you are invited to come on over if you want: http://blogs.bootsnall.com/Grannygold

  61. Anna says:

    I am also a writer, and I can honestly say that no story, I have written has actually happened to anybody. However I gather up bits and pieces of true life events to be used later in my writing. Like sometimes when a friend says something, I ask, can I use that? and normally the answer is yes.

    Now to a little more delicate issue, after reading all these comments I started to see my own sexual behaviour from a totally different angle. (I probably have to mention being bisexual, that this makes any sence to anyone)

    When I was a teenager I was always attracted to boys who were few years younger than me, one reason could have been that since in school boys were the ones bullying me I felt that boys or men of my own age were a threat.
    Back then me being 17-19 years old the difference in maturity must have been bigger than I then realised.
    My behaviour could be described a little obsessive. When I grew older this kind of attraction faded away.
    I did not intentionally hurt anyone
    Was I a pedophile?

  62. Maggie Jochild says:

    Let me say up front, I have not read Judith Levine’s book but would like to, definitely. And I’m not demonizing her, or arguing with her. I have read an excellent interview with her on Salon.com (at http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2002/04/19/levine_talks/index.html?pn=1 ) and understand she is addressing, in particular, age of consent issues for adolescents. From what I can tell, I think she’s “one of us”, folks — even though I do disagree, strongly, with some of the things she said in the article. So, let’s not focus on her or her book as the “other” here, is my request.

    I have not felt sexual attraction for an adolescent since I stopped being one myself. In saying that, I’m well aware that I’m lucky rather than morally virtuous — given my background of abuse, it would be easy for me to have gotten stuck in the realm of seeing teenagers as possible sex partners. But, I will also say that if I were to begin having sexual interest in adolescents, I would immediately get clinical help and do everything I could to change the desire, because it is inappropriate desire. I do think it’s all right to define, for ourselves, desire as appropriate or inappropriate — not just all right, but essential to having free desire. For an adult to have sexual interest in someone who cannot have an equal relationship with her/him is a sign of pathology, an indication of having been hurt somewhere along the way. I deserve my desire. For me, part of having it means removing all the overlay that came from adult sepsis — from my parents’ beliefs, from how I was exploited, from the larger culture. I think being willing to sort through the stimuli for my desire and scrub out all the misinformation, the conditioning, the crap is the most pro-sex stance around. It’s often heartbreaking work, but in my life, it’s been worth it.

    I’m not going to argue with Alison and Duncan about the value of language specificity (we share that value), although as long as we’re questioning terminology I’d like to come up with another word for pedophile than something containing the Greek root for love — nothing in it is about love. But — and I pose this question to everyone who thinks a line should be drawn between adolescents and children when referring to adults who prey on them — WHY do we need to make that distinction? Does this not arise from some cultural belief that one group is more “accessible” sexually to adults than the other? For me, it’s all part of a continuum, and arises from two deeply imbedded lies: (1) Non-adults do not have the complete civil rights of adults, and/or are the property of adults, and (2) Sexual desire is reliant on some version of a power imbalance to be unfettered and “hot”.

    Given that most people, when they think of teenagers, think of rebellion, violence, and sex, it’s hard to imagine a culture in which adolescents are not constantly bombarded with adult preconceptions about who they are and what they should be doing. I don’t know what a rational “age of consent” would be, but I do know it won’t be fair across the board (damaged children will likely reach the ability to intelligently “choose” later in life). And it does not address the fact that teenagers are profoundly exploited as consumers, as symbols, as cheap labor, as cannon fodder, as well as sex interests, all by an adult culture which is highly unlikely ever to give them room to sort things out among themselves, without adult pressure coming to bear. To me, there seems to be a hidden adult agenda on both sides of the aisle, those arguing for prohibitive restrictions around sex between teenagers (the Right wants nobody to have sex outside of marriage, period) and those arguing for the elevation of adolescents to an adult sexual level (although those same people would never, say, give them the vote).

    It’s a dilemma which has only intensified as I’ve raised children, to echo Shadocat’s post. I’m all for allowing kids to make their own mistakes, even serious mistakes. It’s how we learn. But I don’t know how to keep them safe from adult interference — including my own, at times. And sexual objection of pre-adults in our Western culture is, I firmly believe, the rule rather than the exception. Shado, you’ll like this: In the interview with Judith Levine above, she says “A conservative is a liberal now with a teenage daughter.” (I’m quoting from memory, not cut-and-paste.)

    On another note: The diagnosis of bipolar is a catch-all, as so many psychiatric terms are, a cluster of observed behaviors rather than a scientific explanation of cause (or solution). The medicalization of behavior, just like the medicalization of disability, of gender, soon no doubt of race, is usually dehumanizing. I know (first hand) that the after-effects of abuse require serious help, but simply associating one particular difficulty with another particular difficulty doesn’t seem to address the issue of recovery.

    I, too, want to thank all the attempt to keep this highly emotional, often deeply personal discussion on a track of kindness and listening. I’m reconsidering things as a result of posts here (as usual). And not just the morphology of earwigs, although I have to confess, I hit Wikipedia and learned enough about earwigs to have an easy dream about them that night!

  63. Pam I says:

    What did the earwig say as it jumped off the tree?
    Ere we go….

  64. Silvio Soprani says:

    Welcome, Kendall! Nice blog!

  65. Kendall says:

    Thanks! I want to hang out in this blog-house and hear what this group has to say about just about anything.

  66. DeLandDeLakes says:

    shadocat, I’m sorry if I offended or misinterpreted you. The only point I was trying to make with this thread is that when it comes to the highly contentious issue of adolescent/adult sex, the issue needs to be addressed on an individual basis. I’m not a mother, but at one point I was a teenager who had sex with several individuals that ranged from one to five years older than me. Not all these experiences were positive, but ultimately I look back at them all in a positive light because they helped form my attitudes towards sex and realtionships today. True, I might not have been your average post-virginal teenager in that I was very well informed about sexual and reproductive health (Thanks, “Our Bodies, Ourselves!”), and I was very straightforward with my partners about these things. And I didn’t always make the right decisions, but I get very upset when teenage sex encounters are invariably cast in a negative light. I remember my own mother, upon learning about some of my escapades, screaming at me that “the kind of girls who do things like this are the kind of girls who were molested by their fathers and grandfathers!” My reaction both then and now was no, I am NOT having sex because of latent abuse memories, low self-esteem, or any other various demons- I’m doing it because I want to, and because its part of growing up. Teenagers don’t (always) have sex becuase they are self-loathing or sick in the head, which seems to be the predominant popular opinion in this country.

  67. Jana C.H. says:

    Re: Bipolar.

    As I recall, it was Shadocat’s daughter who originally used the word “bipolar”, which I would interpret “I think I’m going crazy.” It was not a serious diagnosis.

    Jana C.H.
    Seattle
    Saith Floss Forbes: If you don’t know the tune, sing tenor.

  68. Lisa Guidarini/Bluestalking Reader says:

    I’ve known people who won’t read fiction for the very reason you state, that it’s frustrating not knowing what’s autobiographical and what isn’t. (What?!) Fiction’s my primary reading/reviewing/writing genre. I guess I’m just pre-disposed to get lost in it, never worrying that much what came from where.

    The thing is, we all use our experiences if/when we write anything, and it’s just impossible NOT to. We’re more than the sum total of our experiences, but our experiences form who we are. It may even be subconcious that we’re using our experiences, but really what else do we know?

    And, would it have been possible for me to use the word “experience” more in that paragraph?

    I don’t worry too much about what’s real and what isn’t, I guess because I get in those weird existential phases in which I ask myself “is anything real.” But when that happens it hurts my brain, so I’d rather avoid the issue entirely, enjoying fiction for what it is.

    I bought your book yesterday, by the way, in a veritable orgy of book buying (and I’m worth it!). Good lord you’re impressive. Save some room for the little people, won’t you?

    Harrumph.

  69. D.F. says:

    Hey all – I have to agree with DeLand DeLakes here. I don’t think one can paint all instances with one brush, nor all intentions. Where that leaves us in terms of policy, I don’t know. A standardized age of consent doesn’t make much sense to me: there are adolescents who are capable of exercising agency, as D.D. shared, and there are 20 year olds who are not (or 30, for that matter). I felt like I lost my innocence to V.C. Andrews, who I read at 13 and immediately wished I hadn’t been exposed to. (Talk about someone who hasn’t worked through her issues!)

    Of course, there are patterns and general stages of development. Still, I think very few relationships occur in a context of a balance of power or equality. What we don’t have but need are tools to address and negotiate relationships through differences in power in healthy ways, rather than hard and fast rules. By healthy, I mean ways that support and do not do violence to the spirit of either person involved. And I do believe that violence can go both up as well as down power formal differentials. As well as straight across.

    While guidelines to ethical behaviour around formal or externally-seen power differences can be helpful, I think it’s difficult to legislate or or judge any particular instance by hard-and-fast rules. These “that’s the way it is, period” rules also obscure the violence that can be done in unexpected ways. As a peer counselor on a hotline for many years, I sometimes heard stories of those whose experiences were not supported or even seen b/c they didn’t fit the “in this case, it’s like this, period” rules; sometimes, they were the ones with more formal power.

    shadocat, thank you for sharing, and wishing you strength in this time.

    Anna, I have usually dated younger as well — boys/men (when I dated boys, which was initially), girls/women, and transfolk. Usually not much younger, but younger. I have also dated older, which is really really nice. Once I dated much younger, once much older. I’m pretty much at peace with these choices.

    Maggie — I do have to say, I do find sex across power differences hot. This I discovered in my first butch-femme relationship; I often was the person who gave up power (and we were nearly the same age; I think I’m a few months older actually, or a year and a few months). Although outside of bed the dynamics were admittedly more equal.

    Just some thoughts. Thanks all for sharing.

  70. Aunt Soozie says:

    Shadocat,
    Just to clarify…
    The age of consent varies from state to state but in New Jersey, the age of consent is 16. So, a 16 year old can legally choose to have sex with anyone age 16 and older.
    An adult can engage in sexual activity with anyone over the age of 16 and it is not illegal or reportable, unless, and only unless the adult is a “caregiver”, ie, a parent, teacher, member of the clergy, someone in an official caregiving capacity. In that case the situation is considered child sexual abuse and is reportable.

    That’s how the law works here in my state.
    If a “minor adolescent” is 16 or older an adult can engage in consensual sex (and I won’t debate whether or not a 16 year old can make that choice, but, in the eyes of New Jersey law they can) with him/or her and it is not considered illegal or statutory rape.

  71. J.C.M. Catherine says:

    Peter Smith is a journalist?! His mother Janna and I were in a writers’ group together when he was a wee little boy. (And she is indeed a good writer.) I can’t believe that much time has gone by…

  72. mlk says:

    Anna, this may not be much of an answer to your question, but for what it’s worth . . . the fact that you no longer “date” males who are in their teens says to me that you aren’t a pedophile. it’s possible, though, that you may have caused unintentional harm to some of your younger boyfriends. I sometimes consider what harm I’ve caused out of ignorance or in the process of learning, and pray that it’ll somehow be remedied. some may consider that a cop out, but I’ve found some things, particularly things that are ambiguous, are best turned over to a Higher Power. if nothing else, it brings peace of mind in a matter that’s truly outside my control.

    please don’t spend too much time feeling guilty over actions that were a part of your life experience — and may not have even caused harm to others.

  73. Jaibe says:

    Maybe I shouldn’t wade in either, but here goes — when I was in school I thought all the people who were dating were crazy, almost all of them seemed scared & hurt — though I admit even then I noticed a *very* few were genuinely happier & more confident after taking a lover. Anyway, I was raised religious & played by the rules & didn’t even really notice I might be missing something until I was 24 or so. It took me another 7 years to form a sexual relationship. I usually envy people some of their adolescent & young adult experiences, but you people make me think I was right all along!

    But I’m sorry shadocat, but your story just makes me really angry about religion. Why do we have to lie to our kids that the world makes some kind of sense & that everything has causes and all evil is punished? Then half the victims in the world blame themselves & self harm, and the other half blame the world for being unfair & harm others. Why can’t we all realize that crap happens for no good reason & when it does you lose all your confidence for a while & you are at least a little hurt forever, but it’s not because you are bad, and there are still just as many good people out there who want to make you feel better as there were before?

    I supposed days ago I should have some comment on voluntary celibacy, but I still really don’t. Except I kind of liked the note someone said about it giving you a chance to get to know yourself. But really, we didn’t evolve to be isolated, and the self you get to know if you are too alone may not be the self you would be in a family or with friends.

    And LondonBoy, you caught me out — I did get that about writing from twisting around some art criticism theory I was taught in a pub once — sorry, I have no idea who I owe the idea to.

  74. Jaibe says:

    Oh, I remembered, I did think of a comment about celibacy — at least Alison’s. Alison, as far as we currently know, you are an adult with no partner obligations, and you are a rock star right now. If you can deal with the attachment issues, then live like a rock star as much as you like for a while & don’t let all the new age stuff hold you back! Lots of people really do find a life-long partner that way. And anyway, you deserve some fun.

    And writing — writing is putting your ideas, your observations out where they educate the world. When I saw you speak the thing I was struck by was that you yourself seemed pained by the revelations you felt obligated to make about yourself, your own actions. But for those of us who read your books, it helps the situations that embarrass you to relate become less taboo. How can one of the main people who helped me get over my taboos still be stuck in her own? Writing — art in general — is an amazing thing.

  75. shadocat says:

    Okay, I’m going to try to get back into this conversation without being too emotional. Just be forewarned, it’s still a little difficult for me–I don’t want to dunk my freshly broken heart into a big barrel of salt. So if I feel myself starting to get too defensive, rude or disrespectful, I may have to take another “chill pill”, and bow out for awhile…

    Just wanted to address some of the things that have been said here; first, I want to thank everyone for sending me and my daughter, such kind and supportive thoughts.This is a good group of folks, for the most part, that come here to talk, and I appreciate reading what everyone has to say.

    Second, my daughter is the one who brought up the subject of being bi-polar; probably because her father was. She hasn’t formally gotten a diagnosis yet. Just wanted to clarify that.

    Jaibe, I agree with you on the religion issue–I was raised Catholic, and raised my children that way too, up to about two years before their dad and I split up. I even sent them to Catholic and later Episcopal schools too, mostly because I wanted them to get good educations. But I’m sure they got some hefty doses of guilt along with that, although someone also told me people often blame themselves for things as a way to make sense or gain control of an out-of-control situations. So I don’t know why she blames herself. But then, I don’t know why I blame MYSELF.

    After I came out, I went on a sort of religious journey, looking for a new spiritual path to follow. One of my Buddhist friends trying to tell me about the Buddhist idea that “life is suffering.” At first I thought, “Life is suffering? What kind of bullshit philosophy is that?” But after thinking about it, I found it sort of comforting. Bad things happen. God is too busy to single you out and punish you for making mistakes. She has mor important things to do. As another anonymous poet once said, “Shit happens.” Now I’m not Buddhist, but I do like many things about Buddhism–also Judaism, even my old religion Catholicism, and many others.
    Maybe I’ll just take a bit from each and create a whole ‘nother religion; how does “Barbarism” sound?(my real name) Wait–I may have to re-think that…

    Aunt Soozie, just an FYI, the age of consent in Missouri is 18. Now, they do have what is called a “Romeo and Juliet” clause, which I believe is allows a 4 year age difference. I don’t know how these various ages have been determined: if studies or research were done, of if some lawmakers just decided, “I think 18 sounds about right.”

    But one thing I am sure of: as a society, we have recognized the need to set age limits, not just to protect our children from predatory adults, but to protect our chidren from the bad decisions they often make.

    Professionals such as teachers, counselors, doctors, etc. also have “boundaries” which may be written into their contracts, or may be just implied. This is to protect the client/student/patient from be seduced into a relationship that starts off from the get-go as one where the power is extremely unbalanced.

    Now I know that these laws are broken all the time. Boundaries between professionals and clients are frequently breached. Everyone knows someone who’s had an affair with a teacher, or their shrink, or their boss, and everything worked out fine. There are exceptions to every rule. But the reason these rules exist at all is for all the others who are not the exceptions; the teen who has an affair with a teacher and is not ready for the intensity of a physical relationship, the patient who is in an emotionally dependent state, and would be damaged by getting involved with her doctor etc. At least this is what I believe.

    One more thought and then I’ll go—I have an idea why Mr. Bechdel may have tried to mark out the year on the photo of “Roy”. Could it be because anyone who knew this boy could easily have figured out his age at the time of the picture? Perhaps Mr. Bechdel was afraid of the legal ramifications if the picture fell into the wrong hands? Or maybe he was embarrassed? Or just ashamed? I guess we’ll never know for sure…

  76. Deena in OR says:

    On power relationships…sexual and otherwise. When I was underage, and in high school, serial monogamy was the norm at my school for “dating”. I “went with” a guy 18 months my senior during my sophomore and junior years. We started dating because he had a crush on me, and followed me every where around school for two weeks until I gave in and began dating him. As I look back on it, he was stalking me. He was a controller, not physically, but emotionally. We didn’t break up until he graduated and left the military base we were on. As I remember the relationship, we spent most of our time looking for opportunities to make out.

    I spent the rest of high school dating GIs who were significantly older than me. I was a churchy kid at the time, and these were guys I met at Chapel, so it wasn’t all that physical. But they *were* older than me, and there was a power imbalance. I was under age, and my parents were aware of the relationships, didn’t ask questions, and didn’t attempt to set limits on them. They’re good parents, too. What they were thinking I will never know. I ended up losing my physical virginity to a thirty year old Englishman who basically seduced me, and pressured me into unprotected sex. In retrospect, I’m lucky I didn’t get pregnant or worse.

    There were *definite* power imbalances in those relationships, even the one when I was eighteen, although that was technically an adult relationship. I wasn’t ready for it. I was unconsciously running headlong from my orientation, hadn’t been the most popular kid in high school, and was emotionally an easy mark. Stuff I’m still sorting out to this day.

    Shado, I doubt that your daughter wants to know that she’s been discussed on a blog, so I won’t ask you to share this with her. But know that I’m sending all kinds of healing energy and thoughts her way, and your way, too, as you love her, support her, and help her to heal.

  77. PixieLauren says:

    Shadocat, glad to see you back. I stuck my email address in a comment up there a few days ago, if you still feel like using it, please do.

    Glad you’re hanging in there. (Oh and I did sorta laugh at “Barbarism” — That sounds like a horrifying religion! No thanks — Heh heh.) I’m a Catholic too. Gotta love all that guilt.

    And on an entirely different note: Did Jaibe just tell Alison to get laid?

  78. Deena in OR says:

    Pixie…that’s what I saw :-O

  79. mlk says:

    Shadocat, I’m also glad to see you back on the blog. I attempted to post something awhile back that didn’t make it on. so . . . I’d like to take this opportunity to (again) say that I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s recent hospitalization and the events that caused — or contributed — to it. like others on the blog, I’ve found it’s possible to recover from debilitating depression, self doubt, even self hatred. your daughter has a wonderful support in a mother who loves her as you do. you’ve got more strength than you probably realize.

    I’ve found spirituality (not religion) to be a huge help dealing with stuff that happens and the damage it causes. really, my life hasn’t been too bad; seems that I’m just something of a sensitive plant.

    anyway, the damage was done. I’ve found God to be a presence that doesn’t generally beat people up with guilt and condemnation and is quite capable of handling our being pissed with him (or her, or whatever).

    a closer reading of Jaibe’s comment to Alison indicates that she *was* suggesting this might be a good time for Alison to get laid, and repeatedly! the caveat there was “if you can deal with the attachment issues.” for me, at least, that’s a big IF.

  80. AnnaP says:

    I have a bit to say about religion and guilt. When I was 14 I seriously considered giving my soul to Lucifer since I doubted that I was not good enough for God anyway.

    And I was raised in a family of two atheist, I only heard of religious things in school.

  81. silvio soprani says:

    Speaking of the age of consent, do any of you recovering Catholics out there remember that our catechism taught us that the “age of reason” (was that the term?)(the age at which you can tell wrong from right) was SEVEN?

  82. Deena in OR says:

    Ooooh, yeah. Former catechist here. Why do you think they do First Reconciliation (Confession, for you pre-Vatican II types) and First Communion during the second-grade year?

  83. shadocat says:

    Silvio-yeah I DO remember that; the thing that really frosted my weenie was they waited until we we SEVEN to tell us! I mean, like all this time I could’ve been having fun SINNING and it wouldn’t have counted?! Thanks for waitin’ to tell me, Sister Stephen Marie!

  84. shadocat says:

    Deena and mlk–you all are so nice; I’m very grateful for the suport. And DeLandDeLakes: I want to to apologize for jumping all over you—I was just crazy with anger and scared I was losing my kid–sorry for being so rude.

    Deena you did mention something that has caused me to think—maybe I shouldn’t have talked about my daughter here. I was reading the posts on sexual abuse, and seething with anger, and I thought,”I need to tell them how this has affected our family.” I figured most people here don’t know our real names and wouldn’t tell if they did. But now I wonder if I shouldn’t “come clean” to her in some later point in time, and tell her what I did. It’s really her story to tell if she wants to; just because I was affected by it, did that give me the right to tell it? I wonder…

  85. Deena in OR says:

    Shadocat,
    We all need our places to vent. Goodness knows I did last week, and what was going on wasn’t entirely my story. I would hope this is a safe place for you. Others may feel differently here, I don’t know. I dunno…if it affected you, doesn’t part of it become your story too? My comment wasn’t meant at *all* to chide. Just that you had support. And I think you know that. Peace.

  86. anon-eponymous says:

    Doesn’t “guilt” have it’s good side? I bet there are people out there whose feelings of “guilt” at thinking about it prevented them from molestiing small children.

    I read some interesting studies that purported to show that feelings of “guilt” are tied in most people to the likelihood that you might be found out. The more likely you think you are to get caught, the worse you feel about what you did or thought of doing. So a God who you seriously believe can read your thoughts is a great way to prevent you from doing actually bad things, as well as a great way to make you feel miserable all the time about things that aren’t particularly bad.

    Given all the bad impulses people have—maybe guilt is the brake on our behavior that we need in order not to become monsters. And maybe incommensurately large guilt about relatively small things conditions us to avoid doing other things for which no amount of guilt would really be commensurate.

    I don’t know what I would have done without it.

  87. meg says:

    >But now I wonder if I shouldn’t “come clean” to her in some later point in time, and tell her what I did. It’s really her story to tell if she wants to; just because I was affected by it, did that give me the right to tell it?

    My gut reaction is that there’s no need to discuss your posting with your daughter. Unless there’s a chance she may come across it on her own, in which case letting her know beforehand would be wise, so that she can be prepared to see it discussed on a board, and make her own choice as to whether to read or not.

    Otherwise, what purpose does it serve? Your immediate reactions are part of *your* story, and she doesn’t need to be burdened by them, IMHO. ‘Coming clean’ may make you feel better, but what is the likely effect on her?

    NOTE: Author’s opinions are being influenced by the following:

    My mother is married to my ex, though they no longer live together – it was a long time ago, folks, and it’s still an odd and awkward situation, to say the least. Still, in the interests of honesty or something, she has told me details I would have been much happier not knowing. For example, I would have been just as happy never knowing that they discussed our sex life. Now I have to live with that knowledge.

    yuck!

  88. silvio soprani says:

    shado,

    I agree with Deena that “we all need our places to vent.” I don’t think you need to tell your daughter that you shared her story here for a bunch of somewhat complicated reasons:

    1. Consider if you had a “best friend” with whom you share everything that is happening in your life. That would be a private, confidential conversation. I know we are not that private or even that confidential, but still, this blog does serve as a confidant of sorts.

    2. The knowledge that lots of others heard her story is not necessarily a useful thing to add to your daughter’s current load. I know this sounds like “I lied so I wouldn’t hurt you” but really it is different than that, given that we don’t know her name. Her story, however real and painful it is to you and her, is really only a story to people who don’t know her.

    I do respect your sensitivity in realizing that sharing her story with us has some consequences, at least for your psyche. If it helps, look at it as support. For you to remain supportive of her, someone has to be supportive of you, and if talking it out helps, then it is a good thing.

    I do relate to this situtation myself, because some of my family members have had some unfortunate things happen to them that I never talk about with anyone; partly because I have not fully come to terms with the issues, but also because it is a responsibility, carrying around someone else’s private information. For a mother, sometimes there is such a fine line between beneficial “breaking the silence” and outing someone else.

    And I have to say that growing up Catholic and in a socially and politically conservative family, it is still a struggle to talk openly about a lot of issues that perhaps todays’ teenagers feel much more comfortable discussing. (or maybe not…)So I am still never sure whether my reticence is repression or perhaps just sensitivity.

  89. mlk says:

    anon-eponymous, your comment about guilt made me think of the people who DO do monstrous things. I haven’t read extensively, but seems that at least some of them resisted their impulses — because they found them horrifying — and, for a time, felt great guilt after succumbing (sp?) to them. I can see that as a logical succession, and then a growing callousness the next step in the progression because the guilt for a horrific deed is so great.

    let’s face it, when people share monstrosities that they carry — guilty secrets — most folks aren’t able to handle them and freak out, shame, them etc. the reaction they receive, shall we say, isn’t very helpful.

    I tend to put myself in a position where I seem to be defending horrible people, as though I’m incapable of being horrified. maybe I’m coming to the defense of (hypothetical) horrible people, but I don’t think I condone their actions!! the breadth of human experience is fascinating to me and we all have our own capacity to process/use/transcend it. how many people out there have been given more than they can bear? I, personally, don’t believe that everyone is given the ability to deal with their experiences, perhaps because of the choices that they make? I really don’t know.

  90. Maggie Jochild says:

    MLK, I’m reminded of someone Jean Swallow (author of “Sober Dykes: Out From Under) once said in an interview. When the interviewed trotted out the cliche “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear”, Jean replied “There are cemeteries and mental hospitals full of people who prove that is wrong”. Especially hard-hitting, given that she committed suicide. I knew and loved her.

    One thing I remind myself is that most people who do monstrous things on a regular basis (Gunner and Chimpy, f’example) don’t think of their actions that way. Pretty much everybody believes they are doing what’s best. Or, if they recognize that others would maybe not agree, they can still minimize their “guilt” in their own heads. Telling them they are bad — indeed, most forms of punishment — don’t rewire their brains for them. Interrupt their behavior, absolutely, name it for it is, but don’t count on that inducing a “corrective” form of guilt.

    I think most folks who feel remorse, guilt, make a decision toward recovery are exercising a kind of judgment that is inherent (all of us are born with it, except in very rare instances of profound brain injury). But child abuse, in all its forms, has a direct impact on our judgment. I believe monsters are made, not born. Therein lies my optimism. Damaged judgment can be repaired. Or it can be reinforced, colluded with, added to the bad judgment of another/others and turn into a layer so thick it looks hopeless. It’s all usually incremental. And a question of resource.

  91. Deena in OR says:

    How meta is this? On a blog on a website maintained by a woman who has written a very personal autobiography that includes her family, we are blogging about our families and personal lives, and meditating on the ethics of the same. My head hasn’t spun like this since Philosophy 1001. (And, no, that isn’t a typo. I went to a *huge* university.)

  92. DeLandDeLakes says:

    No offence taken, Shadocat- needless to say, this is an emotional issue, especially for someone in your position. Thanks for being so civil and letting me and others speak their peace.

  93. Deena in OR says:

    Silvio,

    Thank you for making clear what I should have. You verbalized the thought process that went into my post to Shado perfectly. How did you get into my head like that?

  94. mlk says:

    Maggie, thank you for sharing that bit from Jean Swallow’s interview. I’m sorry to hear that she later killed herself; I expect that’s painful still.

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