Judgements, Processes, and Adolescent Sex

I’ve recently been proved wrong about someone who I don’t actually know (and probably never will), but have been quite fond of most of my life. Apparently a judge penned a 33page document on the issue of whether or not Mia Farrow and her daughter Dylan’s allegations against Woody Allen, and he found that Allen did have an inappropriate fixation on the then-eight-year-old. Now, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, as people my age and older might recall, had a very ugly split (I don’t believe they were legally married, but whatever, they acted married, so a lot of people refer to it as a divorce) in the early 1990s, and one of the many reasons for this was Allen had professed to having fallen in love with Farrow’s adopted daughter (adopted with a previous partner), Soon-Yi Previn, who had just turned 18. This is not the first time Woody Allen had been romantically linked to a “barely legal” young woman, when filming Annie Hall, he was involved with a then-17-year-old actress (whose scenes had been cut from the film). Both he and Soon-Yi insist nothing sexual ever happened between them until she had turned eighteen, and frankly, given Allen’s height of about 5’5″, skinny frame, and admittedly nebbish personality, it’s easy to believe him when, in the midst of their ugly, and very public separation, Mia accused him of molesting her other adopted daughter, Dylan. It’s especially easy to side with Allen when Mia, to this day, still refers to the incident as “her [Dylan’s] truth” rather than “the truth” –it sort of feels like Mia Farrow wants people to believe it because Dylan Farrow is saying it did, and not because it actually happened, but I’m sure Farrow has her reasons for choosing her words the way she has, regardless of how curious I find them.

The “news” (well, it’s about twenty years old now, but it’s news to me) that a judge decided there was sufficient evidence that Allen had an inappropriate fixation on the girl that led to “fondling’ (judge’s word), at the least, has me very conflicted. I’m assuming this judge knows how to weigh various evidences and all, after all, he was appointed this position for a reason, but there’s a part of me that always identified, in a way, with Woody Allen: His public image and his self-insert character in many of his films is a physically small, bespectacled man with anxieties and neuroses, fairly intelligent but lacking the character to do much with it and finding relationships, especially romances, hard to manage in spite of his desire to keep one. Hell, many people feel like “the Woody Allen character” at various points in their life, which is probably why a lot of his work endures the way it has. It’s also hard to hate someone with poignant wit as his. I don’t know if I ever could hate his work or his wit, but I’m seeing some things in a different light now, and the shock to my emotions to learn that there was, indeed, sufficient evidence for a judge to put that mark on Allen’s record –hell, I’m even having a hard time saying “Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow”– is a process that shares some traits with the grieving process. There is certainly shock and denial, a bargaining between my feelings for his work and my feelings between right and wrong, and an anger with myself for feeling blindsided by his talents as a writer/director and humorist where I end up saying things that, if another were saying them, I’d be quick to point out it’s dangerously close to making excuses or victim blaming. Hell, I’m even hoping and praying that Dylan Farrow was an isolated incident in Allen’s history –controversial as it may be, he’s managed to keep his known relationships with very young women in the realms of legal, and I hope Soon-Yi isn’t too blinded by her love him or intimidated by his celebrity to notice if he’s developed an unhealthy fixation on either of the girls they adopted together.

For this reason, I’m starting to have some sympathies for Klein’s supporters. It is definitely a process, dealing with this kind of news about someone one likes or admires. Even T Thorn Coyle has recently (as in yesterday, just around the time I started writing this) published a three part post about Gavin & Yvonne Frost and her personal conflict between liking them, as individuals, and finding their infamous book worthy of the controversy it’s garnered (read her statement: Part One, Part Two, Part Three).

While I am certainly sympathetic to what Klein’s supporters must be dealing with, I still contend that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with this sort of news. A healthy way to deal with it is to recognise the feelings, talk about them with yourself and others, and recognise that it’s a process to deal with it. It’s unhealthy to think about how this makes the community look, or accuse those testifying to Klein’s abuses as “rumormongering”, or go on and on about how “well, we just don’t know!” as if it isn’t already an established fact at this point that Klein was arrested after a sting operation of several months and as one in a ring of over forty child pornographers and confessed to owning the computer and trading the images on it. It’s healthy to come to concern for Klein’s accusers –and it’s also healthy to try and see what facts can be verified and what cannot, but when the facts come up as his accusers say they did, to at least some degree, then it’s unhealthy to continue to cast doubt on the accuser and blame Klein’s victims for not saying things sooner (especially cos most have said that they did, and no-one believed them), or not going with their gut (especially considering how often the pagan community preaches tolerance and open-mindedness, which can make people question their gut feelings), or whatever else. It’s also kinda healthy to hope and pray it was an isolated incident but only until more facts come to the fore that say it wasn’t –and needless to say, the facts against Klein are pretty damning.

Also in light of this, I’ve seen a handful of pagans and polytheists make some posts about sexual ethics, especially with regard to young people. This is great, but a lot of the posts I’ve seen fail to recognise a lot of things.

First off, the law, with regards to sex and young people, is not as clear-cut as a lot of people with blogs like to think it is. In the US, age of consent laws are not “18 and over only”, as Lydia Crabtree and PSVL have said in their otherwise great posts. US age of consent is determined at a State level, not a Federal level, and is generally between 16 and 18, depending on the state, and most states say 16+, and a small handful say 17+ (though as recently as 1980, in Utah the age of consent was 19 and in Kentucky it was 12), and contrary to popular belief, even when the age of consent is 16, there are not necessarily clauses that require the older partner be within a certain age –in fact, most of the time, the additional clauses are related to people under the age of consent, even when age on consent is under eighteen. In Michigan the AoC is 16, and the only restriction is that an older partner may not be in a position of authority in the young person’s life –this would certainly include school teachers, foster parents, and employers, but may likely extend to positions like dance tutors and people who oversee volunteers and also certainly those recognised as spiritual leaders. In Minnesota, sex between adolescents as young as 13 is permitted as long as the oldest partner no more than 48 months (four years) senior, and adolescents 16 or older seem to be under no restrictions on potential partners. In Illinois, the age of consent is 17, with the exceptions of the eldest partner being in a position of authority of the 17-year-old. In Washington State, the age of consent is sixteen, with some pretty particular restrictions, but mostly with regards to those under the age of sixteen. Furthermore, in Canada and the UK (between them and the US, making up a majority of the on-line Anglophonic pagan community) the age of consent is 16, age of consent in Australia is also 16 except in New South Wales and Tasmania, where it’s 17, making Crabtree’s and PSVL’s claims about age of consent laws false for many people who may read their blogs –as the great Stephen Patrick Morrissey once said, America is not the world, and even if we assume it is the “world” for which their blog posts are speaking, they are not protraying the age-of-consent laws of the US accurately for most of the country (age on consent is 18+ for only eleven out of the fifty states in the union, and in DC, and most territories, the AoC is 16)

Now, I’m not saying this because I think we should go out and start boinking people as young as the laws allow us to; just to be clear, I don’t think that at all, but because i think we should be familiar with our local laws, and also think about how this affects the sexual ethics people are proposing.

I also understand the reasoning that Coyle is using with regards to what she suspects might be a major underlying factor in Gavin and Yvonne Frosts’ most controversial teachings: For many years, reaching a critical mass in the 1950s and early ’60s, North American culture especially suffered from a most vile sexual repression and body shaming. The history of that goes back at least to the mid-Victorian and the creation of the modern sense of childhood, which I’m tempted to go on about in-depth at some point (but that’s another story for another time), but by about 1964, the sexual repression of society reached a breaking point, and by the end of the decade, basic standards were eroding quickly within various countercultural movements, and thus the birth of the pagan community’s “anything goes” ethos. Some people sought to re-invent the standards in a way that would be “positive” toward bodies and sex, even for young people who are trying to figure themselves out as their hormones bounce back and forth.

Even throughout the 1970s and 1980s, people, especially Queer activists, were still writing and fighting against a system that is broken toward sexuality and young people. Pat Califia, back when “Pat” was still short for “Patricia”, even wrote a piece I can’t find on-line (and while I know I have a book that has it [Public Sex, I believe], I’m certain that book is in an unmarked box in my basement), that has had passages taken out of context by people as vile as NAMBLA; the piece itself, which is certainly thought-provoking and potentially controversial (as most of Califia’s writing has always been) basically carried the jist that teenagers are dependent on learning about sex and their own sexuality from adults, and this is especially so in the Queer communities; Califia has since noted that he regrets having written the piece the way it was, if only cos he has had to repeatedly make it clear that he does not believe that meaningful consent can happen in certain age disparities.

(c) James Bidgood

(c) James Bidgood

One of the most undersung iconic photographers and one-time director of Pink Narcissus (who released it anonymously, at the time), of this 1960s / early ’70s queer culture world, James Bidgood (many of whose photos I’ve used in posts here), is renowned for his fantastical erotic, sometimes nude, and often mythically-informed photographs of young, and young-looking men, often appearing ambiguously aged in this vague 16-22-years-old range. Bobby Kendall, the star/subject of Pink Narcissus, was allegedly a “teenage runaway” when he met and moved in with Bidgood in 1962, the year before Bidgood began filming Pink Narcissus in his tiny apartment; I can get no confirmation on Kendall’s year of birth, but Bidgood was at least ten years senior. Even one of my idols, Derek Jarman, in his many volumes of published diaries, largely written in a swirling poetic prose that would (and likely has) made Storm Constantine envious, would wax nostalgic about sex amongst schoolboys and himself as an adolescent with older men and vice-versa, sometimes we’re not even sure if Jarman is writing of his own experiences or a friend’s or a dream about Shakespeare, in a completely non-judgemental manner, because that’s just what things were like, at the time –there was consent, explicit and ostensibly implicit, but youths of sixteen with men twice their age just happened. (And it still does, even in places where sixteen is regarded as “too young”.) Furthermore, Califia and Jarman wrote of (and during) a time when homosexual intercourse was subject to sodomy laws and thus essentially illegal, even between people who were otherwise at or even far above the local age of consent. Also consider that especially in the 1960s and 70s, it was still fairly common for homosexuality to be pathologised and treated as a mental illness (some, especially effeminate homosexual men, were even coerced by that system into transitioning to female –which certainly played a part, among other more obvious abuses of power and authority, in a 1970s scandal of high suicide rates among trans women in transition [in the States, trans men were not recognised by the APA, and thus almost never given treatment within the US until 1977] through the now-defunct gender clinic system). It’s certainly arguable that for a period that ended between fifteen and thirty years ago, the only affirmation of normalcy queer teens were getting, “normalcy” in the sense of it being OK for boys to like boys and girls to like girls “in that way”, was from otherwise consensual sexual contact with adults in the gay and lesbian communities –contact that would include what could be defined as “statutory rape” by current standards, in at least certain parts of the world. That sense of normalcy is something quickly being taken for granted by people about my age and younger, people who know nothing of the history of sodomy laws and psychological abuses at a widespread institutional level that extended far beyond a few “kooky” churches.

Hell, even in Immanion/Megalithica Press owner Storm Constantine’s most popular works, her Wraeththu series, it’s easy to forget that we’re introduced to one of the main characters, Pell when he’s fifteen, and is soon “seduced” away (a term used variously by both the character and critics of the series) from his family’s home on a farm in a distopian world much like a future version of our own, by Cal, who is around nineteen or twenty. While their relationship is ostensibly consensual throughout (and for in-story reasons doesn’t consummate sexually for what seems to be some months), I’ve seen this as a sticking point for the series’ critics: “It’s like every negative stereotype about gay men, ever –these androgynous men will steal your young boys and transform them!” Yes, this is a fantasy setting in a world with harsher realities, but it could certainly be easy to see how people may twist the ideas, even in work clearly marked as fiction that is not intended to represent current real-world ethics and morality, into something repugnant. For this, and also the frank depiction of queer realities of the 1960s and 70s by Jarman and Califia, I can certainly understand Coyle’s defence of the Frosts and her speculation on their state of mind when writing their most controversial work.

This is a difficult topic, and uncomfortable for many people, if only because since the creation of the modern childhood, it’s become especially uncomfortable for adults, especially parents and others of authority in the lives of children and adolescents, to acknowledge emerging sexualities in young people. I’d even wager that it’s that discomfort that makes it easy for people to promote an ignorance of age-of-consent laws by white-washing it as an across-the-boad “18+ only” –if one can believe that the law universally doesn’t recognise varying sexual maturities of minors, then people in real-life authority (or potential authority) in the lives of young people –both adolescents and legally recognised adults– don’t have to, either. Which doesn’t fix the broken system Coyle hopes that the Frosts, very poorly, tried to address. (Not knowing the Frosts nor having read their book, I’m not forming a real opinion on them yet, but I do certainly acknowledge their controversial standing in the pagan community.)

I don’t even know how to propose a solution or add to any of those already proposed. Not having kids of my own, nor really feeling the urge to work with young people any more (I entertained the notion, pre-transition, but I’ve since decided against it, superficially for appearances but specifically because I don’t think I have the emotional strength to balance public Eros devotion as an effeminate queer man of trans history who would also be working with adolescents and the potential for criticism, smears, and harassment that might bring out of people), I also don’t know if anyone in those positions would be inclined to take me seriously.

This said, I do hold that consent is important –that no means no and yes means yes, and (as someone familiar with the BDSM community) anything in-between is best left to people who trust each-other and have long negotiated what various in-betweens actually mean.

I also believe that the pagan and polytheist communities should constantly be working toward making their spaces safer for potential victims to come forth and share without judgement. I believe that it is important to establish the facts of any incident, but that we cannot establish those facts when we’re letting emotions and personal feelings about a person or their work get in the way.

I do also believe that sexuality is a sacred thing, or rather, it was given to us as such and there are times when it is especially holy and times when it is especially primal, times when it can be full of emotions and times when it can just be a release. I also believe that there are those who pervert sex into something evil –rape and paedophilia– and we should remain aware of this, and the fact that anyone, especially in a position of power and influence over others, has the potential to be an abuser and not above investigating, should accusations of abuse surface.

I also believe that laws do not necessarily reflect real sexual maturity. In most cases (at least going by myself and the people I have known, personally), there is very little difference in the physical and emotional maturity between a sixteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old, and I’ve known people in their twenties and thirties who clearly weren’t mature enough to handle sex. Furthermore, there are places in the world (including the Americas) where the age of consent is as young as 13, and there is a huge difference in a person’s body, especially one with an ostensibly female physiology, between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen –such a person is at a greater physical risk, should they partner sexually with an adult, especially if the thirteen-year-old in question is at risk of pregnancy; such a precocious pregnancy can stunt further growth and physical development, and is especially risky to the foetus, as well, and not to mention can wreak havoc on emotions. While I do not condone breaking the laws of any lands, I also feel we owe it to ourselves and our communities to not only be aware of the laws, but also to be self-aware and learn how to develop a decent gauge to assess the potential maturity in others.

In theory, I also have no problem with treating one’s first sexual intercourse as a rite of passage, but it’s something that should take not only the age of consent laws, but also the individual’s personal maturity into account –after all, in some still-existing tribal communities in the underdeveloped world, passages into maturity as one recognised by an adult of the tribe tend to have a minimum age, but some communities recognise no maximum age to take part in the ritual, you can be recognised by the tribe as a man at fourteen, or as a child at thirty. I don’t think it’s at all necessary to treat sexual intercourse as a rite of passage, but without a major change to the culture (and even then, it’s still likely that people will mature differently), it certainly seems abusive to make that an initiatory, compulsory step in a person’s growth.

Lastly, I agree wholeheartedly with PSVL’s statement that Greco-Roman pederasty was a characteristic of a different time and place and certainly different degrees of acceptable sexual conduct and sexual ethics. Because of that, it is, as Neitzche warned, unfair to judge those relationships by current standards –hell, it’s unfair to judge Califia’s old essay, or Jarman’s menoirs, or Bidgood’s art, or Constantine’s speculative fiction by current standards and current laws. And because it’s unfair to judge by current standards, it’s also disingenuous to present those ancient or otherwise outdated standards as a template for reshaping current culture. The way it was is not the way it is, nor is it the way that it has to be in the future.

Note: I’m finishing this up on the tablet, so apologies for the few links, at the mo. I’m making myself a note to fix this later.

Also: If people think I’m at all unclear about anything here, please ask and allow me to answer before assuming. Thanks. 🙂

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