The Aftermath of the Great Kiddy-Porn Panic of '77
by Pat Califia
in: The Culture of Radical Sex, 1994
How would you feel if you could be sentenced to spend twenty years in prison for owning a nude photograph of your lover and another twenty years for actually having sex with her or him? If your partner is a minor, you could easily receive such a sentence under new kiddy-porn laws and old age-of-consent legislation. It is a federal offense to produce, own, or distribute sexually explicit material if the subject is sixteen or younger. Thirty-five states enacted similar legislation in 1977 and 1978. The penalties for “statutory rape” (sex between a legal adult and a minor) are grim. Convicted pedophiles may do more time for having sex with minors than they would for manslaughter. Once incarcerated, they have a difficult time securing probation or parole, and other prisoners harass, beat, and even kill inmates who are known to be “child molesters.”
The kiddy-porn laws were passed during a flurry of public outrage over violent child abuse and the sexual exploitation of children, but they have done nothing to diminish the brutal treatment of young people. Children and teenagers are still being sexually abused, beaten, and sometimes put to death by their adult custodians. Young people are still the property of their parents (or, if the parents are not appropriately conservative, the state). They are the poorest group in our society. A minor who attempts to become self-supporting faces discrimination in jobs, housing, and every other area of her or his life. Minors have no control over their educations, their places of residence, or their religious beliefs. They are routinely denied the full protection of the Bill of Rights and thus are subject to searches, curfews, and other indignities that would be illegal if applied to any other group. The laws that make it illegal for minors to work in the sex industry or have adult lovers also make it unlikely that a young woman or man will be able to escape from an abusive family. So, under the guise of protecting children, the great kiddy-porn panic has intensified their oppression.
These laws are being used against segments of our society which are far more vulnerable than the porn business. For instance, artists often do not have the resources or the experience to successfully defend themselves against vice charges, and they may have suspect politics or unconventional lifestyles, making them ideal targets for censorship and harassment. Photographer Jacqueline Livingston's 1980 Village Voice interview was illustrated with erotic photographs she had taken of her son, Sam. These illustrations prompted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to insist on a meeting with staff members of the Voice to discuss “kiddy porn” in their newspaper. Livingston was accused of child abuse, investigated by the Tompkins County Department of Social Services, and only narrowly missed losing custody of her son.1
Gay men who have sexual relationships with boys (and the boys themselves) are the real victims of the kiddy-porn crusade. This result could have been predicted by anyone familiar with Dr. Judianne DensenGerber, Anita Bryant, Detective Lloyd Martin, and their compatriots. These people repeatedly condemn youthful sexual activity of any kind because they believe it turns kids queer. This absurdity is being touted as the new theory of the etiology of homosexuality.
In fact, since 1977 the media has latched onto this theory, conducting and publishing numerous exposés on the subject of child sexuality and its relationship to adult homosexuality. In a New York Post three-part series published in 1979, Stephen E Hutchinson, vice president and general counsel for Odyssey Institute, is quoted as saying that most pedophiles were seduced themselves at early ages. The article also makes the dubious claims that pedophiles operate a national underground network through which they exchange “millions of dollars worth of filth”; that federal, state, and local laws dealing with pedophilia are weak: and that “There is a marked tendency toward leniency toward pedophiles.” Typical of the “statistical” evidence quoted are these two contradictory estimates: Lloyd Martin's claim that there are thirty thousand kids up for sale in New York alone and an estimate that there are twenty thousand pedophiles in this country. The article also states, “The venereal disease rate among children under fourteen has doubled in the last decade and has been termed epidemic.2
In a 1980 San Franciso Examiner article, the experience of Berkeley police officer Seth Goldstein (Northern California's version of Lloyd Martin) is reported as follows: “ten pedophiles have confessed to him. Each one had sexual experience as a child. As adults, their desire for children is overpowering.” Paul Burkhardt, director of the Sexual Orientation Program at Atascadero State Hospital, states that most of the two hundred male pedophiles confined there “had sexual activities with other children as youngsters.”3 Since most kids experiment sexually with other children, this reminds me of Krafft-Ebing's contention that masturbation must cause criminal behavior and insanity since most of the inmates of prisons and asylums he interviewed confessed to practicing self-abuse.
Also in 1980, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece which implied that young female prostitutes can be transformed into lesbians by the nature of their work: “'I'm thinking about women who like to trick with women,' said Brown Sugar, a small boned girl with several gold chains around her neck. 'I'd go for it because men treat me like trash. Seems like women treat a lady the way they are supposed to.'”
Although the article repeatedly refers to the young female and male prostitutes in the article as “children,” the youngest one interviewed was a fifteen-year-old boy. Brown Sugar, the “child” quoted above, has one child of her own and has served a year in a Los Angeles prison for the attempted murder of a trick.4
* * *
Erotic pictures of boys play an important role in a subculture where actual contact between youths and adults is difficult to arrange. Some pedophiles express their sexuality primarily through the use of erotic materials as aids to masturbation. So the federal government's making kiddy porn illegal was a brilliant stroke because it is now actually possible to enforce age-of-consent laws.5 Boy-lovers often take pictures of their youthful partners (doesn't everybody take pictures of loved ones?) and help each other get these pictures developed. They may share photographs with friends. This is a far cry from the myth of the Hydra-headed kiddy-porn industry that is trotted out to horrify and agitate the public, but such photographs do fall under the legal definition of child pornography. So, if police can find such material in the possession of a boy-lover, they usually can locate the boy and try to pressure him into testifying against his adult partner.
Armed with these draconian laws, the police are already making a frightening number of arrests.6 Even more frightening, however, is evidence that the police may be preparing for mass arrests on an unprecedented scale. Three major busts have given the police literally thousands of names and addresses of gay men who might possess prosecutable material.
On October 30, 1979, New York City police broke up a call-boy ring and seized the mailing list of clients, some three thousand names. A few of the call boys were minors. On November 30, 1979, Lloyd Martin raided the Athletic Models Guild (AMG) and seized its photographic equipment and mailing list. AMG produced a wide range of erotic gay male material; however, they are not a source of kiddy porn. The justification for this raid was an alleged complaint from a fourteen-year-old whom police say was photographed at the studio. Police do not have the name or address of this complainant.
George Jacobs, a commercial photographer, was arrested in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on September 13, 1979. His photographic equipment and mailing list were also seized. The police claimed Jacobs was the center of an international child-porn ring. Jacobs says he helped a group of eight to ten men get their pictures of boys developed, and kept some copies for himself.
The police went to a lot of trouble to get Jacobs. Lloyd Martin apparently got his hooks into a boy-lover named Ralph Bonnell and pressured him into becoming an informer. Bonnell was flown all the way from California to Massachusetts, where he set up a meeting with his old friend Jacobs. After spending a few hours at Jacobs's home, Bonnell was picked up by Irving M. Peterson, team leader of the Mail Fraud and Prohibitive Mailings Investigation Unit for the Northeast. After grilling Bonnell, Peterson got enough information to obtain a search warrant. This elaborate effort resulted in Jacobs's being arrested, tried, and sentenced to thirty-nine years in prison. After the verdict, Judge Wagner told Jacobs, “You are a despicable, vile creature, a disgrace to the human race. This conduct is worse than murder.” All but fourteen months of Jacobs's sentence was waived, possibly because he threatened to challenge the constitutionality of the Massachusetts kiddy-porn law. But his troubles are far from over. He could be diagnosed a sexually dangerous person, which means he would stay in prison until that diagnosis is reversed.7 Also, Peterson is urging the feds to try Jacobs under the federal kiddyporn law.8
In addition to the mailing lists, address books, and correspondence they have obtained via arrests, the police are assisted by photo labs which turn in customers who send in film of young people. There is some evidence that they may have acquired names from the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center VD Clinic in Los Angeles.9 Martin Locker, New York's “prohibited mail specialist,” inspects foreign mail specifically to intercept incoming kiddy porn. He has also resorted to placing sex ads soliciting boy-lovers whom he asks to exchange porn with him, and to answering ads. Locker has counterparts in other cities. For example, in Washington, D.C., Postal Inspector Obie Daniels has been involved in actions against child pornography.10
What are the police going to do with all this information? United States vice cops may share their lists with agents in other countries and solicit similar material from them.11 Irving Peterson has been quoted as saying that the U.S. Attorney General has informed him that actions against pedophiles and child pornography are a priority for 1980. It looks like a full-scale offensive is being planned. The gay civil-rights movement ought to be worried.
Boy-lovers are of course frightened already, and they have reacted the way oppressed groups traditionally do: they have organized. In December 1978, a group of concerned individuals sponsored a Boston conference, “Man/Boy Love and the Age of Consent.” After the conference, thirty legal adults and minors formed the North American Man! Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
Members of NAMBLA risk penalties which a garden-variety lesbian or gay man currently doesn't have to sweat about. It obviously takes considerable courage for them to go public, but the mainstream gay movement has not been supportive. Many gay papers refuse to carry ads for pedophile individuals, publications, or groups. Three exceptions are Pan: A Magazine About Boy-Love (published in the Netherlands), Gay Community News, and Gay Insurgent. The ban on open debate of boy-love is so pervasive that at least one gay journalist, Sidney Smith, lost his job for not observing it. Smith worked for a gay radio show in New York City. He aired an interview with Dutch Senator Edward Brongersma, a regular contributor to Pan. Smith was fired on the grounds that the material did not represent and might hurt the interests of the gay community.12 Ironically, Smith was also employed by the station's art and literature department, which retained him despite its being a “straight” department.
At least three major gay events have been disrupted by conflicts over how much support should be given to boy-lovers and sexually active youth. In addition to drastically reduced participation in the April 12, 1980, March on Albany that resulted from a dispute over NAMBLA spokesperson David Thorstad's participation, the October 14, 1979, March on Washington dropped its demand for the abolition of age-of-consent laws because conservative lesbian and gay groups threatened to withdraw their support, and New York City's gay-pride march was torn in half this year because members of the Lesbian and Gay Pride March Committee were “vociferous in their opposition to the abolition of age-of-consent laws and the participation of NAMBLA. ..as well as transpeople, in the gay rights movement.”13
This hostility is sad, but it isn't surprising. Despite all our hard work, the economic and political situation in this country is getting worse, not better. Our standard of living is dropping. Jobs are getting harder to find, and working conditions are worse than ever. Financial hardship results in more violence in the streets (much of it directed against visible lesbians and gay men) and makes it more likely that our nation will go to war. This atmosphere of scarcity and patriotism encourages the use of gays as scapegoats. Our civil liberties are being eroded by a Supreme Court that steadfastly refuses to extend equal protection under the law to homosexuals. We can't even get the ERA passed! The right wing has got us on the run.
In this climate, the cost of dissent has risen sharply. Gays comprise one of the most well-behaved minorities, perhaps because we are always trying to get back into our parents' good graces. We also have the illusion of the option to go back into the closet if things get too tough. Nobody wants to come under surveillance by the secret police. Nobody wants to go to prison. We can't seem to do anything to halt inflation, curb jingoism, or silence the well-financed voices of bigotry. And yet we can succeed at purging our own movement, jettisoning the controversial planks of our platform, and doing some of the vice squad's dirty work. But in so doing, we postpone open warfare—and our own liberty—for a few more decades, perhaps indefinitely.
Many well-intentioned people in our movement are working overtime to do just that. Steve Endean, our first gay lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and a speaker at a NAMBLA-sponsored forum, expressed this fear:
“What NAMBLA is doing is tearing apart the movement. If you attach it [the man/boy love issue] to gay rights, gay rights will never happen.”14
Endean's view of boy-lovers corresponds to Edmund White's:
Who's being naïve is debatable. First of all, nobody is fooled when we proclaim that the gay movement has nothing to do with kids and their sexuality. Lesbians and gay men don't magically spring into existence at some arbitrary age of consent. Many of us know from the time that we are small children that we are attracted to members of our own sex. Many of us—both women and men—had our first homosexual experiences with partners who were older than ourselves. Parents start looking for signs of homosexuality in their kids at about age two. Sexual repression isn't one hundred percent effective, but it does keep some young women and men from forming gay identities. To leave that repression unchallenged is to leave a major bastion of gay oppression untouched. It's absurd to say that sex between a man and a boy or a woman and a girl is not a gay issue. It certainly isn't a heterosexual issue.
Second of all, the police do whatever we let them get away with. They don't bust the biggest gay-lib organization or the most popular bar in town. They close down the hustlers' bars, the drag bars, and the leather bars. Right now they can get away with collecting the names and addresses of gay men who might be pedophiles, entrapping boy-lovers, and putting them in prison. They can get away with intimidating and persecuting lesbian and gay minors. Does anybody seriously think they will stop there unless we force them to? There are enough archaic sex laws on the books—laws relating to pornography, sodomy, public sex, and prostitution—to put many of us in prison if the police are allowed to use entrapment and surveillance. Even states that have decriminalized sodomy could easily alter their statutes so that they applied only to heterosexual activity, making homosexual oral and anal sex special, prosecutable offenses. It would take only an uproar of public outrage similar to the Great Kiddy-Porn Panic of 1977. Are you sure the police don't have your name and address?
Endean and others who argue for a politics of expedience are dead wrong. Gay rights is a question of right and wrong. Our strength comes from the conviction that we are combating injustice. Our enemies espouse simple-minded obedience to outmoded, inhumane superstitions. They are not moral: they are moralistic. But our movement is profoundly moral. It stands for the ethics of self-determination, for human happiness, and against the tyranny of conformity. By abandoning boy-lovers to the police and gay kids to their homophobic families, we may hasten the day when adult lesbians and gay men have full civil rights, but will we ever be able to forgive ourselves? Can we honestly say we have freedom if gay minors do not? Our movement cannot survive the loss of its conscience.
Of course, there are those who claim that we must disassociate ourselves from pedophiles as a matter of principle. They agree with the stars of the great kiddy-porn panic that it is wrong for adults and young people to have sex with each other. It is sometimes hard to tell the rightwing position on this issue from the position that many prominent lesbian-feminists have promulgated. For instance, there's Elaine Noble's response to the 1977 Boston/Boise arrests:
When the police set up a hotline to take anonymous tips that would lead to further arrests, this lesbian legislator actually urged the gay community of Boston to cooperate.
As a sacrilegious, defiant deviant bent on corrupting anyone who's susceptible, I am angered by the sight of another lesbian's vehemently waving the American flag and spouting apple-pie slogans. Noble blindly accepts the Judeo-Christian belief that sex is dangerous and bad and the ridiculous notion that children are asexual. Young lesbians and gay men don't need to be protected from “corruption”—they need protection from their repressive families; nonjudgmental information about human sexuality and gay lifestyles; and the economic freedom to make their own choices. The “gross personal abuse and effrontery” they suffer usually does not occur in their relationships with older lesbian and gay male friends and lovers. It takes place on the school playground, where they are hounded for being “bulldaggers” or “fags.” It takes place in the school counselor's office, the rabbi's or the minister's office, and over the supper table, where they are bullied and harangued about being freaks and about disappointing their parents. Robin Morgan has congratulated Noble for having the courage to express this “unpopular” opinion. I do not see how it could have taken great courage for Noble to urge the gay community to inform on itself and turn its back on its younger generation. In the middle of a police crackdown, a right-wing backlash, and inflammatory attacks in the press, Noble chose to side with the police, the right wing, and journalists eager to discredit the gay movement. This choice represented a simple loss of nerve. It is no cause for congratulation.
Robin Morgan gave to Jill Clark her own views on cross-generational sex. They are less simplistic than Noble's, but have the same law-and-order flavor.
Morgan acknowledges that children are sexual, but states, “the only way that sexuality has a chance of flowering in any non-damaging, power-free relationship is with another child.” If there is a difference of more than three or four years between the children or if one partner is bigger and stronger than the other, Morgan questions the consensuality of their relationship. She believes that young people are not attracted to adults because they are sexually appealing or have likable personalities, but because “power is attractive and interesting, especially to the powerless.” She perceives a female/male split over the issue of boy-love (and pornography, sadomasochism, and promiscuity) which she attributes to “the bonding of women, straight or gay,” which opposes “the bonding of men.” She goes so far as to state that “the issue of child-love is almost zilch among lesbians.” Her theory is that women don't eroticize children because they raise them. Specifically, she mentions the process of changing a diaper and dealing with baby shit as an experience that prevents women from being sexually turned on to children's asses. She suggests that if more men performed child care, fewer of them would find children sexy. This interview includes an interesting statement: “There comes a point when you realize that sexuality and emotions are involved with one another, and to break the one off from the other is to do something horribly divisive to your own psyche and spirit, let alone to the other person.”18
The core of Morgan's argument is her characterization of boy-love as “a euphemism for rape.” Feminist antirape activists have worked long and hard to educate the public about the difference between consensual intercourse and rape. Many people, if not most, blur these two categories and believe that every sexual act involves a degree of force which a woman invites and enjoys. Thus there is no such thing as rape, just a more or less forceful attitude on the part of the male partner. This view of sex is based on the assumption that women don't enjoy sex, don't initiate it, and never give clear consent to engage in it. Thus, women must be taught to initiate sex and explicitly indicate their interest or lack of interest in it.
The onus of guessing when “no” means “maybe” must be taken from men's shoulders. People also need the kind of sex education that makes mutually pleasurable sex possible. Morgan's specious redefinition of rape could undo years of laborious public education. There is a clear difference between a consensual sex act which takes place between two people of different social status and a sexual assault (which can easily take place between people of equal social status). Her concept of rape implies that all kinds of relationships are inherently nonconsensual—sex between men and women, between people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, between people of different socioeconomic levels, between able-bodied and physically challenged people, and even between partners who differ greatly in size and strength. It harks back to the days when everyone believed that homosexuals forcibly seduced impressionable victims into lives of vice and misery. It seemed obvious then that nobody would freely choose a lesbian or male homosexual lover.
Our society is made up of class systems and runs on arbitrarily assigned privilege. Loving relationships provide ways to cross barriers, forge alliances, and redistribute power. Granted, they cannot substitute for full-scale social change. But we cannot forgo all intimacy until these inequities are finally abolished. There is nothing wrong with a more privileged adult offering a young person money, privacy, freedom of movement, new ideas, and sexual pleasure.
Morgan's assumption that adults have more power than young people is not an adequate description of the social conditions that surround cross-generational relationships. Any minor has the potential power to send an adult partner to jail for half of her or his life. It is condescending to assume that young people are so dazzled by the power of adults that they cannot tell the difference between being molested and being in love or being horny. Any child old enough to decide whether or not she or he wants to eat spinach, play with trucks, or wear shoes is old enough to decide whether or not she or he wants to run around naked in the sun, masturbate, sit in somebody's lap, or engage in sexual activity. We should be working to enil the artificial state of sexual ignorance in which children are kept—not perpetuating or defending it.
Morgan's contention that there is a natural female/male split on this issue is questionable. It seems to be based on an acceptance of traditional sex roles. To begin with, all women are not mothers. Some of us find the notion of pregnancy and child rearing repugnant. It is possible that sexual activity occurs more often between mothers and children or other women than between men and children. Women have more access to kids, and there are fewer taboos surrounding women's handling young people's bodies. Granted, given feminine conditioning the women who have erotic contact with young people probably don't think of it as sex, but this is hypocrisy, not liberation.
The assumption that only men engage in cross-generational sex with girls and boys permeates nearly every feminist argument against it. Lesbian Feminist Liberation of New York (LFL) is against any lowering of the age of consent because “the repeal of the age of consent laws presents greater dangers to young women as 97—99 percent of molested children and teenagers are girls who are raped or taken advantage of by heterosexual men.” This dubious statistic comes from Florence Rush, who is achieving some prominence in the lesbian-feminist press as an expert on child molestation. LFL's position is based in part on Rush's research, which supposedly “shows vast differences between young women's and men's feelings about their sexual experiences with adults.” Rush reports that most of the young women in her sample felt coerced into sex and carried fear, guilt, and shame about the experience. The boys tended to have mixed reactions. “Those who were approached 'man-to-man' tended to feel natural about the experience while those who were coerced like the young women felt ashamed or guilty.” LFL rather smugly denies that age-of-consent laws are a children's liberation issue.19 This position is heterosexist, homophobic, and ageist.
Why is there no discussion of the frustrating and tragic situation of young girls who know they are lesbians in grade school, junior high, or high school? As Beth Kelly has pointed out in her autobiographical article, “Speaking Out: Woman/Girl Love,”20 relationships between young girls and women do exist. Kelly's article contains a moving and beautiful description of her relationship with her great-aunt, which began when she was about eight years old. She says, “I think I can safely say, some 20 years later, that I was never exploited physically, emotionally, or intellectually...I can only empathize with all of the young women and men out there now, who are being and will be sold short by adults who will not or cannot face these issues.. .We seem to be so hung up on trying to protect ourselves and our hard-won gains that we are willing—and quick—to deny powerless others the right to be and affirm themselves sexually.. .I must reiterate that lesbians have no room for righteous indignation.”
Why are lesbians willing to cooperate with the patriarchal conspiracy to silence the truth about the intensity and diversity of female sexuality? This attempt to define pedophilia as a male issue simply alienates and estranges women whose lesbian experiences include cross-generational contact. It is one more brick in the Great Wall of Feminist Propriety that separates the ladylike lesbians from the female sex perverts. This new category of sexual deviant, created by real feminists, includes women who do S/M, women who crossdress, butches and femmes, women who are promiscuous, women who use pornography, transsexual women, women who work in the sex industry, women who have fetishes, girl-lovers, bisexual women, and just about anybody who has a clearly defined sexual preference and spends time trying to fulfill it.
Rush's research clearly demonstrates that it is consent, not gender, that makes the difference in young people's reactions to sex with adults. It also seems to indicate that the sexual orientation of the adult is an important factor. Boy-lovers seem to have more concern that the desire for sex be mutual than heterosexual men do. The study might justify a condemnation of heterosexual child rape (not pedophilia, since the sample included no consenting sexual activity between young girls and men), but it is being used to trash gay men.
LFL has no right to speak for children's liberation. That is the right of young people. It is odd that LFL's definition of liberation does not include a young person's right to control her or his own body. This implies that sex isn't so important for young people as for adults. Try telling that to a fourteen-year-old who's in love with her gym teacher.
The antiporn movement's position on boy-love doesn't differ that much from the other arguments cited above. It's just more extreme. Women Against Violence in Pornography and the Media (WAVPM) sees erotic activity between adults and young people as a part of the backlash against feminism. According to their analysis, as women become more powerful men become so intimidated that they turn to helpless little girls and pictures of helpless little girls. Thus, by definition, every pedophile is antifeminist. A 1977 issue of WAVPM's newsletter stated the following argument:
We see this proliferation of pornography, particularly violent pornography and child pornography, as part of the male backlash to the women's liberation movement. Enough women have been rejecting the traditional role of subordination to men to cause a crisis in the collective male ego.. As women have become stronger and more assertive, some men find it easier to feel powerful with young girls, including children. Hence the enormous increase in child pornography in recent years.21
This argument is tautological: Boy-love is bad because it is antifemmist. How do we know David Thorstad is antifeminist? Because he is a boy-lover. Never mind that Thorstad has worked for many years to support the goals of the women's movement (and made himself unpopular with many gay men in the process). His political identity is being defined by his sexual identity—which is like saying that all homosexuals are godless communists or that all sadomasochists are secret fascists. There is no one-to-one correlation between an individual's sex life and her or his political views.
WAVPM's theory does not explain why an adult man would prefer boys (who have more social and physical power than girls) if he is motivated simply by a fear of powerful partners. It also does not explain why women have sexual relationships with girls. Yet this theory, which might explain heterosexual pedophilia, is being used to attack gay men.
What is missing from all this sanctimonious cant is the fact that some adults and young people care so deeply about each other that they are willing to risk long prison sentences, social stigma, and violence to make contact with each other. Morgan is right: sexuality and emotions cannot be separated from each other without doing something horrible to the human spirit. But what makes her think that tenderness is not present in cross-generational relationships? The shrink establishment used to say that about lesbian relationships—that they were hopelessly neurotic because two women couldn't really love each other.
I think it is interesting that so much of the new, ostensibly feminist morality dovetails with the old, Judeo-Christian morality. But while the American left is used to dealing with its own sectarian elements, the women s movement is not. We do have a conservative wing trying to turn feminism into a campaign against pornography, boy-lovers, sadomasochists, drag queens, transsexuals, and prostitutes. It cannot be mere coincidence that so many groups of people who already have been outlawed, depersonalized, and termed sick are being turned into symbols of women's oppression. The feminist jargon that justifies this process is becoming the new language of sexual repression, the new justification for punishing or eradicating dissenting sexualities. It may replace the language of the New Testament and psychiatric rhetoric.
Fortunately, not every feminist falls back on conventional sexual mores when the issue of sexual variation comes up. Jane Rule has written a very sensible article, “Teaching Sexuality,” in which she argues that adults should take more responsibility for educating children about sex. She says, “When the relatively simple task of teaching table manners takes so many years, why do we assume that sexual manners need not be taught at all?” She argues:
Kate Millett has also made a statement supporting youth sexuality, including children's right to express themselves sexually with adults if they choose to do so. Of course she believes that increased sexual freedom for young people must be part of a complete program for their liberation.23
It is disheartening that some boy-lovers have not taken note of the diversity of feminist thinking on this issue and assume that all women oppose cross-generational sex. This assumption has been the excuse for some boy-lovers' misogynist statements, which do nothing to further their cause with lesbians and feminists.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole debate over youth sexuality is that the opinions of young people and youth liberation groups are rarely solicited. Back in 1978, when this controversy was heating up, FPS: A Magazine of Young People's Liberation put out a special editorial statement on children and sex. It's a pity that more adult lesbians and gay men have not used FPS's position to inform their own. The editors of FPS believe that children (even very young children) are capable of making their needs and wishes known if adults will pay attention to them and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with young people's having sex with each other or with adults. They say, “current morality more often inhibits people who would be good with children rather than the abusers.” They believe that in a sexually liberated, economically just society, prostitution would not exist. However, until that time they support the right of young people to have access to all jobs, including prostitution. They call for better working conditions, decriminalization, and an end to stigmatization of prostitution. They oppose any attempt to ban child pornography because such a ban would weaken the Bill of Rights, and they remind their readers that “taking nude photographs of children doesn't necessarily involve force or evil.” Instead of censorship, they support working to end the sexual repression they believe makes such material profitable. FPS's editors acknowledge that many other issues are crucial to the liberation of young people and regret having to defend youth liberation on the grounds of prostitution and pornography. However, they point out that these areas of young people's liberation are currently under attack, and that we have no choice but to meet that attack head on.24
Mark Moffett, a fifteen-year-old boy who has had relationships with men, was interviewed for FPS by Sylvere Lotringer. This interview provides rare insight into cross-generational sex from the point of view of the minor partner. Moffett believes that it is easier for gay boys to find adult gay men than it is for men to find boys, and he documents the fact that boys often must locate, proposition, and persuade their older partners. This is his position on age-of-consent laws:
The lesbian and gay movement must stand firm against attempts to isolate us from gay youth and their adult partners. We must make it costly for the state to attack any segment of our community. The police must be taught that they cannot go after drag queens, leathermen, boy-lovers, visible lesbians, or hustlers without having to deal with all of us. There is no other way to keep the witch-hunt from spreading. We are, after all, a minority. We must present a unified front. There are not enough of us to make any other strategy practical.
We also must avoid replicating oppression within our own movement. Straight society would like to deny us the right to choose our lovers, our sexuality, and our lifestyles. Gay freedom means freedom to choose, freedom to be different, freedom to live openly without fear. The outside world does not make the same fine distinction between political theory and sexual practice that we do. Conservative gays may object to drag, leather, sex with youth, hustlers, or other fringe aspects of gay culture because they aren't erotically appealing, seem shocking, or don't appear to be politically correct. But straight society recognizes only two categories—heterosexuals and queers. America does not reward conservative gays for being emotionally stable, working hard at their jobs, or having long-term relationships. It rewards them for being invisible. And America does not hesitate to use whatever vicious tactic is necessary to destroy homosexuals who get too rebellious. The irony is that fringe gays are often the most active, committed, and vocal workers in the lesbian and gay liberation movement. There is nothing more embittering than being sold out by other lesbians and gay men to a society that holds all of us in contempt.
Feminists must realize that we have little to gain by perpetuating outmoded concepts of childhood and repressive methods of child rearing. The subservience of women is built on the idea that every adult human female ought to spend most of her life caring for helpless children. We ought to be creating child-rearing methods that produce self-managing girls and boys. We also ought to be prepared to have them talk back to us. Truly autonomous girls and boys are entitled to accurate information about sex, and lots of support—but they will make their own choices.
Kids should not have to become prostitutes or porn models in order to escape their families. But if we support a campaign to do away with youth prostitution, ban kiddy porn, and stop at that, we leave the nuclear family intact and mandatory heterosexuality unchallenged. We should probably be doing just the opposite—demanding that workers in the sex industry receive the same decent, safe working conditions, wages, respect, and benefits that other workers feel entitled to. We need openly lesbian and gay teachers in the schools. We need to get good information about homosexuality into sex education programs. Foster homes should be available for lesbian and gay kids who cannot live with their parents. We have to make our movement more accessible to young people—let them know where to find it, hold our events in places and at times that will allow them to attend, listen to them, and help them instead of ignoring them and discounting them. Gay money should be allocated to provide employment for young lesbians and gay men, and our social-service agencies should be educated and pressured into giving them full assistance.
Boy-lovers and lesbians who have young lovers are the only people offering a hand to help young women and men cross the difficult terrain between straight society and the gay community. They are not child molesters. The child abusers are teachers, therapists, cops, and parents who force their stale morality onto the young people in their custody. Instead of condemning pedophiles for their involvement with lesbian and gay youth, we should be supporting them. They need us badly. Forty years in prison is a long, long time. Only a very sad society with some very sick attitudes toward sex could think such a sentence is just. Forty years for what? For experiencing sexual pleasure? When the capacity to have orgasms is present at six months of age and possibly even earlier? God help us, it's a wonder any of us manage to feel love or make love with training like that.
We were capable of smashing windows at City Hall and torching
police cars when somebody we loved was taken away from us—and it was already
too late. It is not too late to stop the police from seizing vulnerable members
of our community and sentencing them to a living death. We should not allow one
more boy-lover to go to prison. If we do, his misery is on our heads.