The Push and Pull Factors
The Emerging Dimension. Adolescent Males and Affection
Sex, Affection and Greek Love
Not all the boys who related to Clarence Osborne came from oppressive, alienated home backgrounds. Indeed, from what can be gleaned from Osborne’s records some of the boys came from environments which were marked by wealth, social status and exclusive educational backgrounds. Boys from the ‘right’ as well as the ‘wrong side of the railway tracks were confidants of Clarence Osborne.
It would be wrong to assume that, regardless of their backgrounds, boys were attracted to Osborne only because of their physical or sexual needs. It is clear that in Greek love relationships generally far more than sex is involved.
Osborne gave, in his own writings, few accounts of the non-sexual aspects of his liaisons. He was so obsessed with the physical details the boy’s development and with the erotic details of his meetings with the boys that he neglected the emotional side of their interactions. It was as though he was writing a novel which he was determined to make a bestseller and therefore wanted to have sex on every page.
In conversations with me, however, Osborne did talk about the emotional elements in some of his relationships. He said at one stage:
This observation of Osborne’s was reinforced by many of the men who, when boys, had short or long-term relationships with Osborne. A theme that they emphasised time and time again was that they were distanced emotionally from their parents and could not communicate with them on matters which they, when adolescents, considered important and critical in their lives. The following comments, made by a young man of twenty-six, recounted some of the reasons why he became involved with Osborne while a youngster of fifteen:
These observations are important because they emphasise a theme that was common amongst many of the young males who related to the older man. Although a thorough statistical analysis of all the males whom Osborne was involved with was impossible, I was struck by the number of men who, when young, became involved with Osborne because of the metaphorical or literal removal of one of the parents. In some cases one of the parents was absent because of separation, desertion or death. In other cases both of the parents were physically living in the home, but because of estrangement between them — preoccupation with climbing up a career ladder, or just plain laziness — they failed to interact in any meaningful way with their sons.
Father was in the house except when he went interstate on a business trip. But when he was home he may as well have been away. All he wanted to do was to read the newspaper and listen to the radio. I hate to think how it would have been if television hadn’t been around! He didn’t like me being around and making any noise and used to tell me to spend my time in my room. I can remember him yelling at me, but I can’t remember him listening to me or trying to find out how I was getting on. He never hugged me or tried to talk to me.
The theme of an emotionally confused childhood demonstrated by an estrangement between the father and son was repeated to me over and over again by the men who, when younger, had intimate relationships with Osborne. The effect of being alienated from the male figure in the family was often, in itself, sufficient reason to drive a boy towards the emotionally receptive climate generated by Clarence Osborne. Often, however, this drive was fuelled by a traumatic event in the family itself which positively propelled a boy or adolescent towards the older man. The comfort and security he offered was a way of shielding the youth against the emotional upheavals generated by desertion, family violence or psychological torment. Nowhere is this better illustrated than by a man who came to see me straight after Clarence Osborne’s death and recalled the night when he first met the man.
I was twelve when I first met Osborne. I think it was Osborne by the picture in this paper because it looked just like him. I guess I was used to my father being away from us all because my mother and father had been separated for many years and I put up with that — not that I had much time for my father anyway. My mother had three boys to look after and that was heavy going in anyone’s language. There was always lots of yelling and screaming around the house and she obviously had trouble coping at times with us all. I had one younger brother and one who was three years older than I was. I suppose all of us were pretty demanding in a way and looking back on it all I can see under what strain she was. All the brothers used to fight and I never really got talking to my mother, even though I was the favourite, so I really didn’t feel as though I had anyone to talk to about anything. I know I wasn’t homosexual, although at the boarding school I went to I had affairs with boys but we didn’t see many girls. I used to think about girls a lot and wanted to get to know them but I guess I was a bit shy; anyway at the school I went to there weren’t girls. There was no one really I could talk to about these and lots of other things. I mean I never really knew my father and I missed him a lot. My mother didn’t try to put him down but she did it inadvertently I suppose, and I used to think of this man whom I didn’t know as being a bit of a slob.
I had one friend around the corner from where we lived whom I went to see a lot, not only because he was nice but because he had a proper family with a mother and father and three other kids, and they treated me like one of their own. It wasn’t as though I talked about any of these things with this family but it was just nice being there, the atmosphere and the life. Whenever I got hung up about anything I used to just, day or night, walk over to their place and they would always make me feel at home and I’d always feel a lot better. At times I used to hate my house and going to their house was a real relief.
Anyway, I remember this night well because my mother’s boyfriend was around at our house. I guess it was about 9 o’clock at night and this guy—he was a doctor — was around at our house. They were in my mother’s bedroom and I could hear much crying and shouting and weeping, especially by my mother. Then I heard the door slam and this doctor left all of a sudden and got into his car and went. About half an hour later my brother ran down to the phone. He’d been in my mother’s room and apparently she had taken an overdose of sleeping tablets so he rang the doctor. This doctor came back again and went up to my mother’s room and began to do things to her and I don’t really know what happened. All I know was that I was feeling churned up inside and didn’t know what to do and was both sad and angry at the same time. I guess I felt that my mother was trying to commit suicide — trying to leave me. I took all this very personally and saw it as an act of desertion.
I left the house and was going to walk to my friend’s place. I suppose it was pretty late to go to my friend’s place even though I knew that they would let me in because it would have been about 10.30 or 11, which was fairly late for me to be out at that time. There was a big tree halfway between my place and my friend’s place and I stopped under the tree because it was raining lightly. I can remember beginning to cry and I cried and I cried and I cried and I felt lost, far more lost than I’d ever felt in all my twelve years. A car pulled up after I’d been there about ten minutes and a man got out and I wiped my eyes and he came over to me. I’m sure that was your Mr Osborne. He just talked to me quietly and said what a nice night it was now that the rain had stopped. He asked me what I was doing out late and I said that I was just going for a walk. He said all sorts of other things to me which I can’t really remember at this stage except that he made me feel at ease and I felt comfortable with him. I remember he asked me whether I wanted to come and sit down with him on the grassy banks of a stream which was just across the road from the tree we were standing under. I didn’t think twice about it and just went with him because he seemed a nice guy to be with and I wanted to be with someone at this stage — not just anyone, but someone who wanted to be with me.
Anyway we kept talking about everything, but mainly I think about me and where I went to school and what subjects I liked and what sports I played and whether I liked girls. Eventually all this led to what I suppose he really wanted and I can remember him putting his hand on my fly and saying things about my penis which was growing at that stage. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before and I felt excited but certainly not bad about it. He then undid my fly and talked to me all the time about my penis and how good it felt and what a nice body I had and then asked me if I would take off my trousers. I did this without any trouble at all and he then took down my underpants and began sucking me and he did this for a long, long time until I came in his mouth. I remember being very excited but at the same time feeling a bit guilty so what I did then is rather strange — I asked him for some money. He gave me a small amount of money and I said to him it wasn’t enough. He looked highly upset and said that he didn’t have any more. I told him it didn’t matter but I guess what I was really trying to do was convince myself that I was only doing it for the money which I didn’t need.
I went home after that but I was going to meet him again. I never turned up for the second meeting, I guess because I was afraid of people seeing us together. I thought about it often though and wanted to see him again, both because he excited me and because I felt he had a real interest in me. But I certainly didn’t go to him because of the money. I think I wouldn’t have gone to him if it hadn’t been for my mother attempting suicide, but I don’t really know. All I know is that at that stage it was good for me because I felt that night and many nights afterwards as though someone had taken an interest in me and cared for me.
The Push and Pull Factors
Although the case of the boy whose mother attempted to commit suicide is a rather dramatic example, it does serve to illustrate the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ features that characterised many of the relationships that Osborne had with his partners. In the case recounted above, the adolescent was partly driven towards Osborne by the emotional turmoil in his own family, particularly the immediacy of the suicide attempt, and ‘pulled’ or attracted by the attentiveness that Osborne displayed towards him in both an emotional and physical sense.
Here, bathing in the warmth of physical attentiveness, the boy could forget the loneliness of his homelife. And, as with adults, the sexuality and eroticism generated by one person obsessed with another person’s body acted as strong diversion against the traumatic memories of the immediate past. The physical attention just reinforced the psychological attention. The boys — indeed, I would suggest that most boys — would assume that at last they had found a man who really was interested in them. Why else would he listen to them so carefully, stimulate them so delicately and generally make them feel so good? And all this was done without their basic masculine identity being threatened. After all, they were just playing around weren’t they? That was what the older man said they were doing and that was all they must have been doing.
Unlike the case of the boy who was attracted to Osborne because of a traumatic event in his home and who only met him once, other boys had less dramatic precipitating incidences that led them to Osborne. Strangely, however, some of these boys became involved with Osborne over substantial periods of time.
Let us take the case of Ted. He told me that he met Osborne at a camp which Osborne was involved in running. While there is no mention of such a camp in Osborne’s own manuscript it is highly likely that, in his capacity as a youth organiser, he administrated such activities.
Ted said he was twelve at the time and this was the first occasion that he had been away from home. ‘Home’ to Ted was in name only. His father, while nominally living there, would often spend days away with what his mother sarcastically referred to as ‘his other girlfriend’. And, even when home, the father would rarely talk to the boy. The times when his father was home were, according to Ted, punctuated by violent verbal arguments between his mother and father, often with one or both of his parents hurling objects at each other. While these scenes are the stuff out of which cartoonists create the image of contemporary married life, they are hardly the scenes which would lead a young boy to feel loved and wanted.
Nevertheless, despite the unhappiness of his home life Ted was very anxious about his first away-from-home camp. His anxiety was not eased by the heckling he received from some of his fellow students when he was unable to complete a junior marathon course organised by the camp controllers on the first day of the camp.
Ted was pleasantly surprised when one of the adults at the camp came up to him and told him ‘not to worry’ about the jibes of the other boys and reassured him that he was not a failure. This man, according to Ted, became his friend and over the next few days was always around to support him whenever he got into a fight with the other boys or was left to play by himself.
Ted liked the man enormously. He was nothing like his father whom he saw as distant, cold, uninterested in his fears and fantasies and singularly lacking in affection. This man was, instead, always ready to listen, to offer counsel, and to talk about anything that Ted wanted to talk about. He was affectionate too, but not in a way that unduly disturbed the youth. For example, he would put his arm around the shoulder of the youth when they were walking together and would also frequently tell him that he cared for him very much. At last, Ted thought, someone really does like me and worries about what happens to me.
It came as no surprise therefore, to find Clarence Osborne cuddled up close to him late one night. He shared a tent at the camp with three other boys and at first thought it was one of his tent-mates just fooling around’. But when he felt a hand far longer than his own on his penis he realised, without seeing the man’s face, that it was Osborne.
The older man stayed with the boy for about an hour, stimulating and gently talking, reassuring the boy that ‘everything was all right’, that he really cared for Ted and that he would look after him.
Ted was embarrassed the next morning when he met Clarence Osborne, but the embarrassment was only short-lived. Osborne acted as though nothing had happened the night before and was friendly and warm towards the boy. During the rest of the camp the older man made no more physical overtures to the youth but their friendship was consolidated by frequent meetings and shared activities. And towards the end of the camp Osborne arranged to meet Ted after school in a nearby park.
Once, occasionally twice a week, Osborne would meet the boy in the park and either take him for a drive or bring him back to his house. At these meetings sexual activity would sometimes take place, but more often than not they would just talk. Their conversations would range far and wide from the problems that Ted had at school with the teachers and other youngsters, through to small talk involving the boy’s interests and activities. Often they would playfully wrestle together, ending up on the floor with most of their clothes off panting and laughing together. Ted remembers the occasions with warmth and affection.
The relationship lasted two years, although in the second year the meetings between the two become less and less frequent. Ted began to ‘grow out’ of Osborne, preferring to mix with youths his own age and to make his first furtive attempts at meeting girls. But Ted considered those years with Osborne important. For this boy quickly moving into adolescence, Clarence Osborne became a father-figure, a man who offered him affection and attention that his own father failed to provide him with. Like most of the men I interviewed who had relationships with Osborne, Ted had no regrets about the times he spent with the older man. For Ted, Clarence Osborne was an emotional anchor at a time in his life when he very badly needed one.
Osborne generally did not have long-term relationships with his boys. His modus operandi was essentially to concoct short-lived and passionate affairs with his youthful partners and then move on to other partners. His constant search for new stimulation with new boys was perhaps the most predominant feature of his life and his record of 2500 contacts bears witness to this observation. But like all rules there are exceptions and Clarence Osborne himself records occasions when he became utterly obsessed with specific youths. It was rare for him to talk about ‘love’, but in recounting his affairs with two particular boys to me, Osborne displayed an intensity of emotion reminiscent of is Hollywood love films. Take for example, Osborne’s description of his two ‘favourite’ boys with whom he had frequent meetings over a number of years:
Although I did not interview ‘John’, it seems likely that if I had, he too would have been defensive and supportive concerning his relationship with the older man. For this was the pattern with the twelve partners of Osborne’s whom I did see. Some were at great pains to point out that their relationships were just a bit of fun’ while others imputed deeper meanings to their contacts with Osborne, suggesting that they filled emotional vacuums in their lives.
All defended him and some wanted to ‘put the record straight’ regarding the media accounts of the man. These men were indignant concerning press coverage of the case and were careful to point out that Osborne did not pressurise them into sex or invade their privacy in any way. Of course the small number of Osborne’s partners I interviewed makes it hazardous to generalise about all of Osborne’s youths, but given his own writings, and his own personality as seen by others, there is nothing to suggest that Osborne was a pressurising kind of individual.
Certainly there is nothing in the account of Osborne’s former partners to suggest that they idealised the man or that they necessarily admired him. But at least they saw him as a friendly man with a personality very different from the monster image painted by the local press. It was clear that Osborne showed these youths degrees of affection and respect which they did not receive from their friends, relatives and most of all from their parents.
Osborne may not have deserved the respect he earned. While he was perfectly capable of being affectionate, his own writings and conversations with me indicated a ruthlessness in pursuit of sexual adventures that lies uneasily with the accounts of the encounters given by his former partners. One often wonders whether Osborne treated his partners with affection and respect in order to ensure that they did not report their meeting to other adults or whether he really wanted to be affectionate and respectful towards them. When I asked Osborne whether he was afraid that some of the youths would tell their friends or parents about their sexual activities Osborne just laughed and said:
The Emerging Dimension. Adolescent Males and Affection
Clearly Osborne was attuned to the fact that adolescent boys need affection from adults but rarely obtain it. Part of the reason why they do not receive this emotion lies in the fact that except for men like Osborne, it is seldom given by other adults. And the reason for the dichotomy between the need for affection and its non-occurrence is the failure of youths to ask for it.
The reasons for these situations lie in the sexual stereotypes we impose on males and females. A boy or girl soon learns through subtle social reinforcement what behaviours and emotions are considered to be appropriate for girls and boys. Our notions of masculinity and femininity do not flow from our sexual organs but come instead from the socially constructed stereotyping about the appropriate behaviours that go with being a man or a woman.
In many different ways boys, adolescents and men are taught that they are the dominant sex and that this domination carries with it responsibilities and privileges. The privileges are self-evident: males generally have more success on the occupational ladder, are more affluent, and control the nature of sexual interactions between the two sexes. The responsibilities are equally apparent, or at least made apparent, to males at a very young age. One such responsibility is to be in control of their innermost thoughts and anxieties when dealing both with men or with women. Boys soon find by mixing with other boys and by observing their own fathers and other men that in order for them to maintain their male image they should not discuss their emotions, pains and fears. They cannot ‘let go’ of their own emotions and anxieties and must grapple with their innermost fears them-selves. They cannot, as well, ask for support or affection from other people although in childhood, if not in adolescence, this is often allowed when interacting with their mothers. [*1]
Boys soon learn that the privilege of being male has to be earned in many subtle ways. In competing for money, status, sex and power, men lose much of the sensitivity and humility that could be theirs, and this loss is exhibited by their inability to experience and express spontaneity, to ask for and to receive love, and to display openly and non-defensively the whole gambit of human emotions.
To show affection or emotion towards another person is generally not a way of demonstrating one’s masculinity. However, while the penis may not be seen by all boys or men as a bludgeon or weapon, it certainly is seen by most boys and men as a concrete manifestation of the vibrancy and strength of one’s masculinity. Hence males become concerned about the size of their penis and these concerns are a constant preoccupation from childhood to middle age. Inevitably, masculinity involves genital worries and obsessions about sex and as Clarence Osborne knew only too well , the resolution of these obsessions in boys or in men, either through sexual activity of sexual reassurance, is a way of reducing anxiety about their masculinity.
With females, of course, the expectations are completely different. The female learns to be ‘feminine’ with all the adjectival components that the term connotes: relative passivity, deference, low intellectuality, co-operativeness. In short, the female learns to fit in, to know her place and to take the cues from males. Traditionally, of course, females are supposed to have a lower sex drive than males and social comment is uniformly negative about extensive sexual activity of young females. The same social restrictions do not apply to males, which is one of the reasons why this double standard of sexual behaviour appears to be under direct attack from females. However, as researchers have recently demonstrated, females increasingly allow themselves, and are allowed by society, to be permissive in their sexual behaviour provided they are affectionate with their partners. [*2] No such demands are made on males. Being males, they are expected to form sexual relationships and not expected to seek or show affection in those very relationships. A large number of social science researchers have measured what the Americans popularly call ‘dating behaviour’ amongst adolescent boys and girls, using scales that allowed females to show that they were not interested in sex, but only interested in affection, and allowed males only to show that they wanted sex without affection. [*3]
Recent work in adolescent psychology however, has suggested that this may not be the case at all. This research suggests that cultural forces are leading many adolescents and adults to reject traditional sex roles and adopt emergent ones. [*4] The roles, which may be adopted by either males or females, involve an integration of both masculine and feminine characteristics inside the one person. In fact, psychologists such as Bem suggest that the androgynous person is one who is able to incorporate both masculine and feminine characteristics into his or her personality and so respond to a wider range of situations. [*5] And the clinical testing of what boys and girls want out of relationships seems to indicate that elements of androgyny are incorporated in both sexes. [*6] So we find, for example, recent studies indicating that girls are not as disinterested in the sexual aspects of a relationship with a boy as was previously thought. While boys often have an interest in the emotional component of a relation-ship that is sometimes equal to that of their girl partners.
Australian psychologists, Doctors Collins and McCabe from Macquarie University, Sydney, produced conclusive evidence to validate these assumptions. [*7] Surveying groups of adolescent and young adult males and females they found that females at no stage in a dating relationship expressed higher levels of affection than males of the same age. Moreover, while males may still have strong sexual feelings in a relationship, this does not mean that they do not have equally strong affectional feelings and needs also. So what the Australian study was able to do was to lay to rest the commonly accepted notion that young males and females want different things out of a relationship. In many ways both sexes are remarkably similar in that they enter into a relationship wanting to give and receive affection and the desire for this affection increases with increased commitment to the relationship.
Clarence Osborne was well aware of the need to give affection to the boys and adolescents that he was with. It is also clear from his case studies that the longer the relationship between himself and a particular youth lasted, the more the boy was likely to lose his inhibitions and to give and receive affection. When we look through Osborne’s case histories we find that the nature of the physical relationship changes with increased contact between Osborne and a specific boy. It is found, for example, that mutual cuddling between Osborne and a boy increased in occurrence as a relationship developed. There is nothing particularly startling in this observation as a vast number of experimental and clinical psychologists have formulated well-tested theories that a lack of affection in primates and other animals has adverse emotional consequences and, in the case of humans, badly impairs their own capacity to give affection in later life. [*8]
In attempting to understand the attraction that Osborne held for the young men he was with over extended periods of time, it is useful to look at the theories Abraham Maslow expounded in his book Towards a Psychology of Being. [*9] Maslow distinguished between what he called ‘being love’ and ‘deficiency love’. Maslow’s proposition is that most human relationships that go under the name of love or friendship or infatuation or anything else, are in reality a mixture of ‘being love’ and ‘deficiency love’ with the ingiedients differing in proportion. For Maslow ‘deficiency love’ is a projection of one’s own need to be loved and it comes from what Eric Fromm has called a basic primordial anxiety which is the fear of being abandoned and the fear of unending loneliness. It is, as Eglinton points out:
If we accept the personal testimony of many of the boys and youths who were involved with Osborne that they were abandoned by their parents, then clearly one of the major reasons why Osborne was attractive to them was that he minimised their fears of being entirely abandoned. In Maslow’s terminology Osborne provided the object for ‘deficiency love’ that the boys and adolescents so badly needed.
Maslow’s other form of love, what he calls ‘being love’, is more the ‘pull’ in the Greek love equation. ‘Being love’ is defined as a type of participating appreciative awareness of the other individual in his or her uniqueness, as in loving him or her exactly as he or she is and seeing him or her with all their good and bad points.
Proponents of Greek love make much of the fact that boys are attracted to mature men by ‘being love’ considerations. The argument is that:
Clarence Osborne could hardly be described as an ideal model of this type of man because, as his manuscript indicates, there is nothing to indicate that he was mature, poised or sophisticated. Of course, it could be argued that in the eyes of the boys Osborne had these attributes and therefore they were attracted to him because of these traits. And it is probably true that some of the boys who had long-term relationships with Osborne were fascinated by what they saw as his worldliness and verbosity.
But even given Osborne’s personal attractions it seems, from all the available information, that the boys were ‘pushed’ towards the older man because of the lack of warmth and security they found in their families. Osborne offered them a source of security and affection from the immediate loneliness that enveloped their lives. Many people, after reading the extracts from Osborne’s manuscript given in this book, will consider .that this man was nothing more or less than a sexual pervert obsessed with the physical attributes of young males. To the young males, however, he was seen quite differently, being at various times a social support, a source for finding one’s identity, and a person who offered affection in an affectionless world.
Sex, Affection and Greek Love
It is worth repeating that boys who enter into a Greek love relationship do not always do so because they come from disturbed, alienating homes. Many boys and adolescents, simply out of sexual curiosity or sexual ignorance, seek out an older man as a way of exploring their sexual potential. And if society wishes to ascribe moral ‘blame’ to this situation, then it should first ask itself whom it should blame, society or Clarence Osborne? Osborne was the catalyst that enabled the boys to explore their sexuality and find answers to questions about their physical development that had worried them for so long. But before we turn him into a monster let us look at our rather prudish attitudes towards sexuality that both objectify and trivialise a natural human function.
When we search for reasons why boys seek affection and security in men such as Clarence Osborne we should be careful before we blame the men rather than blaming ourselves. For even though we cannot precisely define the exact number, it is quite clear that a substantial proportion of the boys who had long-lasting relationships with Osborne did so because they lacked intimate and affectionate relationships with their own family. One can reject or accept the hypothesis that a combination of ‘being love’ and ‘awareness love’ pushed and pulled the boys towards Osborne. There is always an element of uncertainty involved in theorising about human motivations. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt from the material available in this case, that Osborne provided youths with affection and security — no matter how tenuous that security might have been — which the boys felt was lacking in other parts of their life. We, as a community, might not like the fact that security and affection have to be provided by a man so unattractive. But if the older man was a parent substitute, are we to put all the blame onto him or should we instead consider the obvious voids in contemporary family life that alienate so many youngsters from their parents?
Clarence Osborne’s case confirmed what some psychologists are just beginning to tell us: that boys and adolescents have a need for affection and emotional involvement which is far stronger than we have recognised in the past. To paraphrase the words of Rollo May, we have taken the fig leaf from the genitals and (particularly with the case of adolescent males) put them on the face. [*12] In doing so we have denied young males their need for affection and love just as we have for so long denied young females their need for creative sexual experiences. And if the Sydney psychologists are correct then adolescents are now changing their social behaviour in a more androgynous manner so that they are no longer bound by the rigid sex role stereo-types that dominated them in the past. The implication of this trend is that in the future adolescent boys will be looking for ways to have their affectionate and what could be called ‘feminine’ needs met. The question will be whether we as a society rely on the Clarence Osbornes of this world to fulfil these needs, or whether we are willing to more radically reorientate our attitudes towards what we consider to be appropriate masculine and feminine behaviour.