Throwing stones

I think I may have posted something to the wrong group. A mistake that will cause me great angst and now I feel sick in the pit of my stomach for my carelessness and I feel such shame and a need to skulk off and hide.

 It’s a familiar feeling. 

You’ve opened your mouth in the wrong place and people will be upset with you and they’ll tell you off and humiliate you and reckon that you’re the worst of the worst. 

Like farting in church as an old friend used to say. But his idea of farting in church was always as an act of defiance and yet he was one of the most bigoted people I remember, especially in relation to homosexuality.

I fear I may have sent an email about bigotry towards homosexuals to the wrong email group because I was careless when I sent the email out and did not check that there are two groups in my mailbox at present, one for whom this is relevant and the other one for whom it’s not.

And now I’m beginning to calm down because I may not have sent it to the wrong group after all.

So, my panic might well be unwarranted.

There’s a scene in the movie Notes on a Scandal where the central character played by Cate Blanchett, a young woman who after a sexual relationship with one of her young students is taken into custody and a crowd of people gather around her and yell at her for her obscenity. 

The look on her face, the angst in her eyes goes somewhere close to describing how I felt after I presented a paper on incest, among other things, to my colleagues and found some of them were enraged.

The same feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

‘Let they who are without sin, cast the first stone,’ but people are quick to cast stones, so fast to let it be known that the one who has transgressed is contemptible. 

It’s the worst feeling in the world and whenever it surges in me, I crumble. Blood thins, stomach drops, all those bodily changes that signify there’s adrenalin coursing through and I’m ready to flee. 

Not fight. Mostly I flee. I hide. I go underground until I can get my mind around the horror of what I’ve done. What badness I’ve brought on.

Ever since I was little and can remember drawing attention to myself by saying something I should not say, doing something I should not do, stealing lollies from the local milk bar when the man who served at the counter turned his back; looking at my father’s art books with their images of naked women and thick penises hidden under fig leaves but still visible in the testicles that curled underneath. The excitement I felt whenever I looked at the naked breasts of women on the front cover of The Truth newspaper, a tabloid my father brought home from work for reasons I never understood given he was an educated man, and someone told me The Truthwas just filth. The excitement I felt when I hid myself in the back of the house in the toilet at the top of the stairs near the laundry, the outside toilet in a house that already boasted an indoors toilet.

All these sins.

In this toilet I could read The Readers Digests my mother brought home from the old people’s home down the road, where she worked. And the Time magazines my father bought from the newsagency, a respectable international magazine that he folded over his Truth.

I went straight to the last two pages of Timewhere they reviewed films or other artistic ventures. 

The pieces on films I had not heard of and was unlikely ever to see, held the rudiments of stories, often salacious, stories of sexual innuendo, of men and women behaving badly, and I relished the frisson of excitement up and down my spine whenever anything sexual was mentioned even if I didn’t understand it. 

I was hunting for something.

In everything I read in those days I was hunting for more information about what happened between grown-ups behind closed doors.

I wanted to understand something that to me then seemed incomprehensible. This thing that men did with their penises and the way women responded. 

In my fourteenth year during the midday movie, I watched a man holding a woman in his arms, her back to the camera. The woman was wearing an evening gown, its back scooped down to the waist so the entire arc of her back was visible and the man who held her rubbed his hands up and down all over as she nestled in close to kiss. 

What if such a man were to stroke my back? 

Never. His hands would slide over the lumpy skin of a pimply adolescent back and he’d be repulsed. 

The actor of the low-cut dress had skin as smooth as the satin of her dress. Flawless. My skin was pockmarked and pitted. No man would ever want to comfort me in this way. 

And so began my foray into feeling bad inside both bodily for its imperfections and in my mind for other transgressions.  And the bad feelings stay. 

So much drama over the conviction of George Pell, the Cardinal who was found guilty of sexually abusing two men when they were altar boys and he the Archbishop of Melbourne.

Picture of disgraced Cardinal George Pell.
By Kerry Myers. CC BY 2.0.

The event has stirred up such a welter of feeling in our community, and throughout the world. Such rage at this man, this icon of the Catholic church this beacon of propriety now fallen from on high into the worst pit a person can imagine, inside with other paedophiles.

I watched a documentary last night wherein Louis Theroux visited an American penitentiary for convicted paedophiles who’d served their term but who would most likely never be able to go back into society because they’re still considered a threat. A place for paedophiles.

A disturbing film, not simply the witnessing of the troubled men who had sexually abused small children but also the treatment approach, which left me cold.

Among other things, they used a device, a type of lie detector to which the men attached their penis via a small elastic loop which was connected to the machine. The whole procedure was measured and filmed.

To determine his progress in treatment, each man sat alone and pulled the loop onto his penis then sat, with penis attached, under a desk onto which they rested both hands. Their hands needed to be visible because men could cheat at this test simply by attacking the loop to a finger.

Then they were required to watch a series of images, some ordinary, some sexually suggestive, some subtle, some not so, some with children, some without. And the degree to which their penis swelled in size was used as a measure of whether or not they had overcome their desires to interfere sexually with children.

It seems such a basic and primitive measure as if the men are merely a function of their brain and penis.

The whole time I watched I wanted to cry. But could not.

These men, most of whom had been sexually abused themselves as children in one way or another, and who then found themselves unable to resist the temptation to perform sexual acts on children.

They emerge out of our society. They are of our society and yet when we hear of them, we want nothing more than to expel them forevermore.

As if we can be rid of paedophilia forever, if only we can be rid of such monsters.

But are they monsters or do they represent something gone wrong in our society?

This is not for one minute to condone any of this behaviour.

But to lock them away forevermore is harsh punishment indeed.

Which brings me back to the beginning, the harsh punishments we mete out to those who’ve done wrong.

How tempting it is to throw stones and at the same time duck for cover.

For the question always follows, which one of us is without sin?

6 thoughts on “Throwing stones”

  1. Good points. I recently posted something publicly that was meant to be a personal email. After over twenty years on the internet, I should have learnt. The person I sent the email to quickly sorted it out and it disappeared. Yes, I too was reader of Readers Digest and already read copies of The Truth newspaper. I am not sure if I have written about when my mother sought consul by Truth columnist Father Glover.

    More complex is the age of consent. I understand the abuse by Pell of the boy was of the age of 13. But then by the age of 13 I was hunting for sex. I would hate to think that anyone who I could have managed to snare would have committed a criminal act and be gaoled.

    But Pell and what he did is not about sex. It is about gross abuse of power committed upon a victim. I fully understand how such a thing could have impacted on the victim for his whole life. Pell had a lifetime of being a powerful person, and it is rather unlikely that this was his only offence.

    The television programme you describe rather reminds me of shock treatment to homosexual men, Show them a picture of a naked man and give them an electrical shock if they react.

    Sentences are harsh, but pedos are notorious reoffenders. We have a friend whose brother has done time for a pedo offence, not justified in my opinion for the specific offence, but our friend had to move to country with his brother to get him away from underage. Who knows what else he has done.

    Over many posts, I realise your father was a complex man but I don’t think you should ever underate what he did.

    1. I don’t think I under rate the seriousness of what my father did, Andrew, but at the same time I recognise something of the difficulties that led him there. I recognise the same in so many people who have behaved appallingly. Even Hitler’s behaviour which is unforgivable becomes more understandable if we look back into his childhood experience. That’s not to condone, just to understand. My concern is that we need to understand what drives the people who behave appallingly in our society and at some level develop some compassionate understanding of them rather than just vilify and boot them out. That’s not to say, such offenders should not be punished nor that in some instances, people who cannot alter their pathological behaviour at the extreme end, need to be separated so that they cannot continue to do harm. Still, I think we need to embrace them in our minds as containing aspects of most if not all of us. If we don’t do this, if we simply say they’re bad and I want nothing to do with them, as opposed to me and my friends who are good, then we deny the complexity of human experience and run the risk of not being able to learn more. Thanks for your very thoughtful response, Andrew. I appreciate it.

  2. What does it take for something to be regarded as normal? For the longest time homosexuality was considered abnormal but now you have to watch what you say for fear of causing offence. Apparently some 6% of the populace here in the UK identifies as either homosexual or bisexual. The figure’s about the same for Australia. I wonder, not that we’d ever get an honest answer in the current climate, how many people out there find minors sexually attractive? Do you remember Sam Fox? In 1983, at age sixteen, she began appearing as a topless model on Page 3 of The Sun. In some countries that would’ve been illegal. And yet over three million Brits—ergo circa 1.5 million men—gazed at her that cold February morning. And no one made a fuss. I wonder how many men are turned on by the likes of Maisie Williams or, before her, Emma Watson. Okay they’re in their twenties now but did they only suddenly become attractive they day they turned sixteen? Of course not. But how many men felt their loins stir when the girls were still fifteen or even fourteen? 3%? 4%? More? The men in Theroux’s documentary are exceptional, yes, because they acted and they hurt people. Most men, for a host of reasons, wouldn’t. I find women of all ages attractive. Simply because I’m nearly sixty doesn’t mean I’m only interested in GILFs or even that interested. There’s a healthy thirty-year-old inside me and a twenty-year-old and a sex-crazed fifteen-year-old who doesn’t really understand what’s happened to him. There’re no easy answers to the issues we’ve raised.

    1. I agree, there are no easy answers are, Jim, to the question of paedophilia, but I reckon the patriarchal attitudes that are so deeply entrenched in our society they go almost without question has contributed. The stuff about who holds power and what enables them to hold onto that power. You might not feel particularly powerful, Jim, but you belong to a privileged group, white middle class cis gendered males, and as such you’re unlikely to see some of the gender issues people raise because you’re looking from inside out. It’s easier to look from outside in. I cringe when you write about your ‘male gaze’ because I think it needn’t be like that. It’s just that sexual desire is the one emotional experience alongside aggression that is encouraged in little boys beyond the age of about seven. After then all their other emotions and impulses are suppressed. Boys don’t cry etc and so the only ones allowed to flourish are those of sexual desire and aggression. Women feel sexual desire too and they can be aggressive, but as a rule – and again I generalise to make a point – women are socialised from earliest days to keep these things under wraps and to develop their nurturing side, which suits those in power because they get looked after without having to acknowledge their own vulnerability. Once everyone is able to admit to their vulnerabilities and needs and not use power in destructive ways then I reckon these problems might shift. But I can’t see anything changing soon even after the third wave of feminism and #MeToo because these attitudes have been around for millennia and there’s too much investment in keeping them in place. Thanks Jim.

  3. “Like farting in church as an old friend used to say. But his idea of farting in church was always as an act of defiance and yet he was one of the most bigoted people I remember, especially in relation to homosexuality.”

    Do you feel that because your friend wasn’t religious, that makes it inexplicable that he would be homophobe or any other type of bigot? I wish that were the case, but, unfortunately, it’s not. My personal opinion is that homophobia has less to do with religion and more to due to with the fact that heterosexuals enjoy a numerical superiority, a numerical superiority that became incorporated into religion. But there are plenty of secular homophobes out there who can find reasons outside of religion, which brings me to the next unfortunate point, the topic of your post.

    As a member of the LGBTQ community, I cringe at seeing “homosexuality” and “pedophile” in the same article, even if they’re separated by several paragraphs. I’m not taking you to task, Elisabeth, as I don’t think you meant any harm, but “pedophile” has become a new weapon in the homophobe’s arsenal. I think everyone needs to be reminded that there’s plenty of heterosexual pedophiles out there. In fact, they’re a numerical superiority, too.

    The word “pedophile” is misused in other ways as well. It technically means being attracted to people who have not yet reached the age of puberty. Obviously, the age of consent in most places these days is already a couple of years after puberty has been reached. But age of consent laws weren’t specifically crafted to ward off pedophilia. They’re there because of the problems that can arise when adults have sexual relations with adolescents. For instance, a teacher can get a student pregnant. Obviously, if a teacher and a student (or a priest and an alter boy) are of the same gender, that’s not going to happen. But modern society had determined that the average person between the ages of 13 and 18–that person would have been considered an adult in an earlier era when impregnating or impregnation was the sole determining factor of adulthood–are not the best judge of what’s good for them. It’s why someone between the ages of 13 and 18 legally require a guardian (usually a parent.) A “statutory rape” may be 100% voluntary but still considered rape because the minor who consented, in the opinion of modern society, didn’t know any better. But it’s not the minor that’s prosecuted (after all, they’re ignorant in the eyes of the law) but the adult who SHOULD have known better, so that person is the one that is fined or (as seems increasingly likely these days) goes to the slammer. Also, to Andrew’s point, it’s hard to determine what’s “voluntary”, especially if the adult is in a position of authority, another reason for an age of consent.

    1. I’m sorry for that unfortunate juxtaposition, Kirk. And you’re right I did not intend any causal link between homosexuality and paedophilia, but I recognise there’s a societal view that links the two. As far as I’m concerned, paedophilia is not so much about sex as it is about power. And I suspect the suppression of homosexuality has also been about power, the patriarchal pull for power that seeks to keep the other down in order to promote the interests of the dominant class, most notably, white, middle and upper class, cis gendered males. And this so in order to hold onto long standing privilege. And I agree, there are far more heterosexual paedophiles than in any other group. Also, this tendency to conflate the two paedophilia and homosexuality is to protect against a fear of same sex attraction that I suspect exists in all of us. By conflating the two, those who have the dominant voice can keep any other voices as ‘other’ and therefore to be shunned or distanced and devalued. Thanks for your thoughtful response, Kirk.

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