Chapter 4

Disclosing a Minor-Attracted Identity


In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in the United States. He urged LGB individuals to come out of the closet. Milk’s logic was this: If everybody realized how many LGB people there actually were, it would be incredibly difficult to continue discriminating against them. The subsequent victories achieved by the LGB rights movement were strongly correlated with this strength-in-numbers approach.

I speculate that if minor-attracted people are to have any hope of receiving better treatment at a societal level, they will need to emulate the tactics of the LGB community and reveal their identities in great numbers. This speculation is one of the primary reasons why I was drawn to the subject of this thesis – I wanted to know how people would respond to a person who shares the fact that he or she is sexually attracted to children and/or adolescents. I theorize that their reactions might give some indication of what the future will hold if minor-attracted people do decide to identify themselves en masse.

While Milk's logic is sound, the decision to publicly reveal oneself as mino-rattracted is akin to a prisoner's dilemma. If only one minor-attracted discloses this identity, there is a strong possibility that his or her life will be ruined.

Consider the following case: In 2005, an American man named Kevin Brown publicly identified himself as a “pedophile” (Goode, 2011). He phoned a conservative radio station's call-in show to take them up on their offer of a $1,000 bounty to anyone able to provide information about pedophiles and/or members of the North American Man-Boy Love Association.
During his conversation with radio host Rick Roberts, Brown claimed that he was attracted to children, and that he belonged to NAMBLA. Brown requested that he receive the $1,000 bounty in exchange for this information. Rather than provide the bounty as advertised, the radio station informed the local authorities about Brown’s sexuality.
Goode (2011) writes that as a result of the investigation that followed, his son was taken away from him by “child protection services” (p. 14). His wife also filed for divorce, and he became “embroiled in a lawsuit which cost him his job, his home and his financial security” (Ibid.).
Brown neither stated nor implied that he had engaged in criminal sexual activity with a child, nor was there evidence to suggest that he had. Nevertheless, identifying himself as a pedophile resulted in a dire set of circumstances for Brown – many would say that his life had been destroyed.

Brown's story is a tragedy in isolation – however, if all minor-attracted people disclosed their identities at once, the outcome might be less grim. By even the most conservative estimates, millions of people around the world are minor-attracted. How would our society treat such a profusion of minor-attracted people should they all reveal their identities at once?

The accounts of the minor-attracted people with whom I spoke provide some evidence as to how members of mainstream society would react if minor-attracted people identified themselves on a large scale. This chapter explores these accounts. I examine my participants' motivations for disclosing their identities, who they chose to talk to about their desires, what reactions they received, and whether they have any reflections on their disclosure experiences.

Why Minor-Attracted People Disclose their Identities

  • As long as we stay hiding, it allows other people to define us. [Liam]
  • I don't want to live my life with kind of like, that double life syndrome. It's not healthy. It's just not the way I want to live. There's no point to it. [Zachary]

The men with whom I spoke provide a variety of explanations for why they reveal their sexual interests to others. One of the most common reasons is a desire to feel completely accepted by loved ones.[Explanation/reason # 1]

  • Both Liam and Nathan describe having an underlying fear that their friends would abandon them should their attraction to minors become known. They question whether these friendships are authentic under such conditions. Liam did lose a friend shortly after disclosing his identity to her, and he wonders whether they would have been friends for so many of the preceding years had she known about his sexual identity earlier on in the friendship. Liam claims this experience led him to decide that he would want to tell any future close friends about his sexual identity as soon as possible, since losing a friendship of eight years in this manner was extremely painful.
  • Lucas maintains a similar line of reasoning, explaining that he would not want to “invest in a friendship” or “devote time to a relationship” if he could not be himself, or if he suspects that he would not be able to talk about his sexuality with that friend at some point. He asserts that as a result of this conviction, he does not have many friends.
  • Nathan discusses at length his uncertainty about whether people would want to be friends with him “if they knew,” and explains how this fear has led him to withdraw from many social interactions. He often thinks other people would view him as a “sicko” if they knew about his attractions, and this belief prompts him to isolate himself. Nathan says he wants to be friends only with people who know about his identity and who accept him for who he is.

I am struck by the similarity in what Nathan, Liam, and Lucas have to say. All of them express a strong desire to build friendships based on truth and acceptance, and all of them shy away from exploring new interactions due to a sincere belief that the chances of meeting people who will accept them are slim. Their social isolation is therefore not due to any form of social awkwardness or lack of social graces. In fact, these three men – all of whom I met in person – come across as socially adept people. I imagine that if they did not choose to isolate themselves from others, they might have rich social lives.

This point of analysis is supported theoretically by Goffman's (1963) work on identity development and management. In his book Stigma, Goffman explains that

  • “the stigmatized individual may find that he feels unsure of how we normals will identify him and receive him” (Ibid., p. 13).

He argues that the stigmatized person is therefore plagued by a constant underlying

  • “sense of not knowing what the others present are 'really' thinking about him” (Ibid., p. 14).

Furthermore, Goffman maintains that the anticipation of contact with so-called normals can lead stigmatized individuals to go out of their way to avoid others. As a result of this self-imposed isolation, the individual

  • “can become suspicious, depressed, hostile, anxious, and bewildered” (Goffman, 1963, p. 13).

This description accurately characterizes some of my participants; they express feelings of anxiety and suspicion regarding the possibility of forming relationships with new people, and they cite depression as an outcome of their social isolation.

In addition to the sociological analysis offered by Goffman, the fear stigmatized minorities hold regarding how they will be treated by others is well documented in the field of social psychology.

In the 1990s, the concept of “stereotype threat” was developed as a means of understanding how minorities cope with discrimination. Some studies show that individuals who belong to a stigmatized minority group may sometimes behave differently than they otherwise would due to their anticipation of being discriminated against.

For example, African-American students have been shown to sometimes perform poorly on intellectual reasoning tests in part because they are cognisant of the widely held stereotype that African-Americans are less intelligent than people of other ethnic origins (Steele & Aronson, 1995).

Likewise, members of nonvisible minorities may also behave differently if they fear they will be discriminated against upon making their identities known.
For example, a gay man who can easily pass as straight may choose to do so if he suspects he will be treated poorly upon revealing his sexual identity.
My participants' decisions to engage in self-isolation may also be explained by stereotype threat. Because they do not know how they will be treated if their sexual identities became known, they may choose to remain secretive and isolated from others.

Like Nathan, Zachary regards disclosure as both a method of discovering what others “really” think about him, and an opportunity to determine which of his friends and loved ones truly accept him. However, he refers to another reason for telling others about his sexuality – namely, a desire to be himself. [Explanation/reason # 2]

Zachary does not want to be in a position of having to constantly censor his words. For example, all of his friends can freely point out an attractive man or woman passing by on the street. Zachary explains that he wants to feel that he can do the same if he passes by “a cute 15-year-old boy.” Holding these thoughts inside when everybody else can express them feels like selfcensorship – a practice in which he has no desire to engage.

James, too, discusses the importance of being able to speak freely. In fact, he cites this factor as one of the primary reasons he revealed his identity, maintaining that it was very difficult for him to hear about his friends' experiences with love and sexuality and not be able to talk about his own. He explains:

  • It's difficult not to be able to share something that is so important as to be in love, or even sexual attraction. I mean, we are in a society where there is hyper-sexualization. It's like, over focused on sex, you know. So everyone's talking, talking, talking, and acting. But then we cannot. So this is difficult, like you’re excluded.

James told me there was a time in his life when nobody knew about his attraction to boys, and he eventually reached a point where he needed to talk about his feelings of attraction and of being in love. He said that he could not keep his “emotional life” a secret anymore.

Feelings of exclusion and isolation have been documented among sexual minorities who keep their identities hidden

  • (Bond, Hefner, & Drogos, 2009).

Keeping an alternative sexual identity a secret is associated with high levels of stress

  • (Cox, Dewaele, Van Houtte, & Vincke, 2011; Vaughan & Waehler, 2010),

and this seems to be the case for several of my participants as well. Eventually, disclosing one’s identity in spite of not knowing what the reaction will be is regarded as a better option than continuing to hide.

While the desire for acceptance and the ability to have intimate conversations with others are two of the primary motivators for disclosure, Nathan cites another reason, one which revolves around changing the opinions of others. [Explanation/reason # 3] He argues:

  • Those people that I come out to, now they know someone like me. And they know I'm a good person, and they know I don't hurt anyone. And then they can’t think about people like me in a stereotypical bad way, and they can't be ignorant anymore. And then they pass that on to other people, hopefully, by speaking up when people say ignorant, stupid things.

Disclosure has the potential to change public perceptions of who minor-attracted people are, and what they are like. As Thomas points out, the mainstream belief about minorattracted people is that they are “all at high likelihood of offending against children.”

Jack, too, argues that minor-attracted people have been “vilified” in the media, and that openly talking about his sexuality gives him an opportunity to be “identified as a person of worth.” He has discussed his sexual desires with approximately a dozen individuals, and each one has reacted positively. Jack says that while some of the people were surprised or shocked, none acted in a “dramatic” fashion or changed their overall feelings toward him.

According to Goffman (1963), becoming familiarized with the difference present in a stigmatized individual might eventually lead to acceptance of that person. Over time, the issue or condition that was initially considered troublesome may become normalized due to the frequency of contact. Essentially, the so-called normal person becomes accustomed to the “abnormal” condition present in the stigmatized person, and as familiarity develops, the individual with the abnormal condition is viewed simply as another human being not entirely dissimilar from the normal person. Thus, it could reasonably be anticipated that the problem of encountering negative reactions after disclosure is one which will occur most often between strangers. Presumably, once a minor-attracted person gets to know someone, the risk of rejection is reduced.

However, Goffman cautions that an improved response due to familiarity should not necessarily be expected. In fact, so-called normals

  • “often manage quite handily to sustain their prejudices” (Goffman, 1963, p. 53).

I found evidence of both an openness to changing one's existing opinion, and a refusal to consider an alternate viewpoint among those people with whom my participants chose to talk about their sexual identities. Goffman (1963) notes that either reaction should be expected when “normals” engage with the stigmatized.

A fourth reason [or explanation # 4] for disclosure is to establish connections with other minorattracted people. Ben articulates a desire to be around people who “understand and get it.” He explains that even the most sympathetic and well-intentioned “non-BL” friend could not provide the same level of support as could a minor-attracted friend. James says that by knowing other boy-lovers and girl-lovers, he is “not alone in my dreams, or alone in my loves, or my frustration, or my sorrow.”

Goffman emphasizes the importance of “sympathetic others” (Goffman, 1963, p. 19) in the lives of stigmatized individuals. He explains that one type of sympathetic other is the “own” - those who are also members of the stigmatized group. In this case, the “own” are other minor-attracted people. Reaching out to similar others can provide the stigmatized person with opportunities to receive “instruction in the tricks of the trade and with a circle of lament to which he can withdraw for moral support and for the comfort of feeling at home, at ease” (Goffman, 1963, p. 20). James and Ben appear to experience these benefits.

Although most of my participants were able to raise the topic of their sexual desires on their own terms, three of them did not do so of their own volition. Liam, Jacob, and Jack all encountered the experience of being exposed. Jack told me that his sexual identity was revealed when he was living with a co-worker whom he described as “incredibly perceptive.” One evening she flat out asked him if he was attracted to boys, and he answered in the affirmative.

While Jack maintains that the conversation which followed deepened their relationship, he explains that the nature of their work situation was such that his co-worker felt it necessary to tell their mutual employer about his sexuality. She declared that she wanted him to come forward with the information, but that if he did not, she would feel compelled to do so on his behalf.

Shortly after this conversation, Jack made the decision to tell his parents about his attraction to boys. He knew that if he was going to be telling his employer about his sexuality, there was a possibility that the information could spread. He wanted to ensure that his parents found out from him, and not from someone else.

Jacob recalls going to see a therapist when he was a teenager in order to address what he describes as “anger issues.” He says that his mother would accompany him on occasion, and it was during one of the sessions where she was in attendance that Jacob revealed he was attracted to children. Afterwards, Jacob's mother shared the information with her boyfriend, and eventually Jacob's entire immediate family came to know about his sexuality.

Liam's situation is similar to Jack's in that he was directly confronted about his sexual interests. Liam was in his early 20s and living at home. He recalls that one day his parents found a book in his bedroom entitled “Harmful to Minors,” authored by Judith Levine. This book explores issues relating to pedophilia and youth sexuality, and Liam's possession of this book led his parents to investigate further by looking at the Internet browsing history on his computer. He recounts the moment they asked him about what they had found:

  • Of course normally I delete the browsing history, but that day I didn't. And so I think what they found is probably Girl Chat, and I had been out on a walk somewhere, and I got home. I guess they kind of politely and calmly confronted me about it, and I think when I saw the book I thought maybe I could come up with some sort of excuse, or a clever lie, but I think once they told me that they had found the Girl Chat site, and that I was going to that online, I figured I would tell them.

Although Liam had been keeping his sexual identity hidden from his parents, once he was directly confronted about it, he decided to be honest.

My participants' decisions to disclose are associated with strong feelings of desire to share the true nature of their sexual identities with others. In fact, this desire is even referred to as a need. James argues that he feels a “need” to talk about the boys he is in love with, and that he “needs” to share his emotional life with other people.
Similarly, Nathan describes being alone as “almost more intolerable” than the fear of what might happen after revealing a sexual interest in children.

Over the course of the interviews, I found that the decision to disclose was motivated by a variety of factors, including

  • [1] a desire to be truthful or authentic with others,
  • [2] a desire to know if one’s relationships are genuine,
  • [3] a desire to feel completely accepted,
  • [4] a desire to talk about one's innermost thoughts and feelings,
  • [5] a desire to be oneself without self-imposed censorship, and
  • [6] a desire to change the opinions that other people have about minor-attracted people.

Recipients of Disclosure

Deciding who to tell was frequently described as a difficult task, and most of my participants spent months or even years going over the pros and cons before reaching a decision. Friends were the most frequently cited category of people that my participants disclosed to, but other choices included spouses, therapists, researchers, other minor-attracted people, and members of sexuality discussion groups to which they belonged.

Seven of the nine participants I talked to specifically chose to confide in friends but not family members. [*10]

  • [* 10] One participant, Thomas, has not disclosed his identity to either friends or family members. The other participant, Jacob, has told his mother.

The decision to keep their sexual identities hidden from their families was usually based on a weighing of pros and cons.

  • Nathan explains that he does not want to tell his family about his sexuality because “the risk of them hating me if they knew is too great.” He is not willing to lose the bond he has with his family, even if the bond is based on ignorance.
  • In addition to the risk of losing relationships with family members, Lucas points out that revealing his sexual identity is a big risk because the news could potentially result in lifelong conflicts that spread throughout the family, whereas disclosing to a friend – especially one who is not connected to other friends in one's social circle – might only mean the loss of a single friendship. While still a significant concern, losing one friend may be less of a hardship than disrupting an entire family dynamic.
    Despite his concerns about causing a rift in his family, Lucas did consider telling his older sister about his sexuality. He eventually decided not to because she has young daughters, and he worries that his sister would want to keep his nieces away from him if she knew about his attraction to minors. He explains that even though he is not attracted to girls and could not imagine being attracted to any members of his own family, he suspects his sister would “irrationally” conclude that he would be a danger to them.
    Lucas asked himself whether he had more to gain or to lose by telling his sister, and in the end he decided that it was too risky. He would simply have to keep his sexual
    identity hidden from his entire family.

Although most of my participants have chosen not to disclose a minor-attracted identity to their families, I was fascinated to learn that Lucas came out to his family as gay. He felt that he could not be honest about his interest in minors due to the possibility of a negative reaction from his sister; however, he determined that he could at least be partly truthful about his sexuality. In telling his family he is gay, Lucas was able to convey that he has no interest in women. He describes having mixed feelings about coming out as gay.
His parents were both incredibly supportive, and his mother even cried tears of happiness, telling him, “I'm so happy for you now that you don't have to pretend anything, that you can be yourself!” Hearing these words was extremely difficult for Lucas, since he is, of course, still hiding his true sexual identity.

While I was not surprised to learn that my participants overwhelmingly chose to confide in friends rather than family, I was surprised to discover that four of my participants – Ben, Zachary, Jacob, and Jack – have disclosed to therapists.

My reaction was likely influenced by my interview with Nathan, who was one of the first men I spoke with. I had asked Nathan whether he would recommend that other minor-attracted people reveal their sexual identities, and he responded with a specific recommendation against telling a mental health professional, claiming that “there's a lot of hysteria” and suggesting that therapists would be inclined to call the police even if no criminal act or intention had been discussed in therapy.

In addition to friends, family, and therapists, three of the men I interviewed told me that they have discussed their sexual desires with their romantic partners.

  • Ben, who is a boy-lover, has some attraction to adult women. He explains that “women with a certain body type can appear more like boys than adult men, who have no appeal to me.”As such, he said that he is able to “make do” with women as partners. When he was first dating the woman to whom he would later disclose his identity, Ben kept his true sexual desires a secret. Their relationship ended, but they remained friends. It was while they were friends that he told her about his sexuality. Later on, they started dating again, and were eventually wed. Ben believes that he thought their relationship could work because her initial reaction to his disclosure was so positive. However, his sexuality eventually became a source of tension in their relationship, and after seven years together, they split up.
  • Nathan told me about his experience with disclosing his identity to two of his romantic partners. The first was his first girlfriend. He recalls that she accepted the information, and was “pretty easy going” about it. He speculates that because she was fifteen and he was twenty-two, [*11] it must not have been very surprising to her to hear thathe had a preferential interest in minors.
    Nathan looks back on this conversation as a very positive experience. He also told me about disclosing his identity to his present partner, whom he had been with for seven years at the time of the interview. He explains that he told her about his sexual desires when they were friends, prior to the start of their romantic relationship. She, too, was accepting.
  • [* 11] At the time of their relationship, the age of consent in Canada was fourteen. Regardless, Nathan clarified that they did not have sex until she was sixteen.
  • Jack is also upfront with his present partner, although his situation is quite different from either Nathan’s or Ben's, because his partner is a fellow boy-lover. He explains that they met through an online community for minor-attracted people. Most of their friends assume they are a gay couple, and Jack says they “struggle with this gay face” because it feels like a deception. However, despite the frustration they experience, they generally have no desire to clarify the nature of their relationship to others due to the risks involved.

Six of my participants have disclosed their identities to other minor-attracted people. In most cases, they initially met these individuals in online communities, which then led to meeting in person.

  • Thomas came to know other minor-attracted people more by chance than by intention. He explains that in the year prior to our interview, he attended a queer rights conference, and while there, encountered another attendee whom he overheard talking about sexual attraction to minors. Thomas went out of his way to strike up a conversation with this person, and as a result, was introduced to a group of other minor-attracted people. Although Thomas notes it was implied that they were all minor-attracted people upon meeting each other, he did not specifically identify himself as such. In fact, I am the first person with whom he has directly discussed his sexuality.

Although I did not realize it when I was creating my research plan, talking to me represents a form of disclosure. After all, Thomas and I met in person, and he identified himself to me as a minor-attracted person – something he had never done before. My preconceived notion that I would primarily be hearing stories about conversations with friends and family left me somewhat ill-prepared to consider the possibilities of other types of disclosure, and as such, I was frequently surprised by my findings.

  • For example, I discovered that Liam had talked about his sexual desires with a researcher prior to me. He told me that he had been interviewed by a university student who was interested in learning more about minor-attracted people. They stayed in touch after the interview, and he said that she has been very supportive and positive about his sexual identity.

The final type of disclosure I learned about involved participation in discussion groups. Two of my participants, James and Lucas, attended group meetings where a variety of people would get together to talk about sexuality. The topics ranged from trans to gay issues, to pornography, to any number of issues relating to sexuality. During these discussions, both James and Lucas revealed themselves as minor-attracted people.

  • [*12]It is unknown to me whether James and Lucas were participants in the same group or different groups. In order to protect confidentiality, I did not ask questions about where or when these discussion groups took place.

Reactions to Revealing a Minor-Attracted Identity

  • I would say that they're not totally accepting, but they haven't disowned me, thankfully, like other people I know about. [Jacob]
  • When it goes well, one of the main reasons is because they say, ok, you know, it’s a big thing, but you cannot be different now than you were five minutes ago. You're still the guy I know. You're still the man I love. You're still the friend I like. You're still my brother, you're still my cousin, you're still my best friend. [James]

The men I interviewed have discussed their sexual identities with a variety of people in their lives. Some have talked to only one or two individuals, while others have disclosed to over a dozen. Reactions to their disclosure have been mixed. Some people have been very supportive, to the point of encouraging their minor-attracted friends to point out cute girls or boys they see, or prompting them to talk about their feelings and desires freely.

Others have responded very differently – by cutting off the friendship, for example, or by telling the minor-attracted person that he needs to change. In some cases, one person might display a few different reactions that change over time, or that vacillate between being supportive and unsupportive.

Ben and Nathan describe receiving mixed reactions from loved ones. Ben says that at first, his girlfriend was very accepting of his interest in boys. However, he claims
that she “didn't really seem to get what it meant.” Although his girlfriend thought his attraction was “natural,” Ben believes his interest in boys eventually became too great a
source of tension in their relationship.

One of Nathan's partners displayed a similar pattern of being alternatively accepting and non-accepting over the course of their relationship. While she was very encouraging of his sexuality for the most part, he described an incident that left him feeling very uncertain about the future of their relationship. One night they had been sitting around drinking with a couple of friends, and everyone present was talking about which celebrities they found most attractive. Nathan mentioned that he had a crush on a 12-year-old girl actor. Shortly after this conversation, he and his partner left the social gathering. At this time, she fell into a “drunken jealous fit” over his interest in the girl. He described the situation to me in great detail:

  • She didn't look like the girl of course, and she knew that I was a lot more attracted to the girl than I was to her. And she spent the next two hours screaming at me and kind of tormenting me and calling me a pervert and saying she couldn't believe I was attracted to such a young girl, even though she really had known I was attracted to girls like that before. And saying, kind of cruelly threatening to tell people about it. And talking about what a freak they would think I was if they knew that I liked this girl. So this was one of the most traumatic experiences I've ever had. And it came from someone who I know doesn’t really have negative feelings towards minor-attracted people and thinks it’s perfectly fine. But it was just an irrational jealous moment fueled by alcohol that lasted for like two or three hours. And it was, it was really horrible.

Jacob has also been called names by someone close to him. When his mother told everyone in the family about Jacob's attraction to children, his sister told him that he was “sick” and “a pervert.” I asked Jacob if she still said these things to him, and he replied that she does not accept his sexuality, but that she still loves him. He says he is grateful that he has not been disowned by his family, noting that other minor-attracted people he knows have been.

Liam struggles with the reaction he has received from his family as well. Only his parents know about his attraction to minors, and they place pressure on him not to tell anyone else about it, even though he would like to. They fear that he will be treated poorly and that they themselves will suffer as a result of their association with him. In addition to insisting that he keep his sexual identity a secret, they regularly remind him of the consequences of being caught with child pornography, or of engaging in illegal sexual activity with a minor. They tend to bring up this topic after seeing a news report  about child sexual abuse. Liam told me that “when they bring up all these horrible abuse stories about priests and stuff, I kind of feel offended that they think of me when they hear that stuff.” Furthermore, his mother will occasionally tell Liam that she wishes he were different, or that she would prefer not to know about his attraction to girls.

Goffman asserts that to a certain extent, the loved ones of a stigmatized person “are obliged to share some of the discredit” that person receives from the rest of society, because there is “a tendency for a stigma to spread from the stigmatized individual to his close connections” (Goffman, 1963, p. 30). As such, relationships with stigmatized people tend to be avoided if possible, or terminated where already existing (Ibid.).

Liam's loved ones found themselves in a very awkward social position when he disclosed his sexual desires to them. Upon review of the matter at hand, his friend of eight years apparently decided that terminating the relationship would be preferable to maintaining a bond with a person deemed utterly abnormal and unacceptable by mainstream society.

Liam's parents, however, would presumably have a harder time breaking the parentchild bond, given the importance our culture lends to notions of unconditional love, support, and loyalty from one's immediate family. Instead of disowning Liam as their son, they attempt to cope with the stigma that extends to them as a result of their association.

When I initially embarked upon this research, I anticipated finding out about a wide variety of reactions to a person disclosing a minor-attracted identity. I expected to hear about both positive and negative experiences. Still, I was surprised by the extent of the positive reactions. Many of my participants have extremely supportive people in their lives. Even the negative outcomes – while still upsetting to my participants – were not as drastic as I had expected. In fact, I had envisioned that some people would have called the police upon finding out that someone they know is attracted to minors. Ultimately, I was taken aback by the extent to which people were supportive of the minor-attracted people in their lives.

Consequences of Disclosure

I asked the men I interviewed to reflect on their disclosure experiences. I wanted to know whether they would make the same decisions if they could do everything all over again, or whether they would do anything differently. My participants talked about the significant benefits of revealing their sexual desires as opposed to keeping them a secret, but they also reported major drawbacks and elaborated on the potential for unwanted consequences.

  • Eight of my participants report experiencing positive outcomes after disclosing, and six report experiencing negative outcomes. [*13]
  • [*13] One participant, Thomas, had not disclosed his sexual desires to anyone prior to me, so we were not able to discuss what kind of experiences he has had post-disclosure.

The benefits of revealing a minor-attracted identity include

  • lowered stress levels,
  • developing a sense of community and belonging,
  • receiving compassion and sympathy from others,
  • experiencing more meaningful friendships,
  • increased self-esteem and pride, and
  • gaining the ability to participate more freely in everyday conversations about topics such as love, attraction, and celebrity crushes.

Drawbacks of disclosure include

  • the loss of relationships,
  • strained relationships,
  • increased vulnerability,
  • increased stress levels,
  • frustration over having to explain the nature of the attraction,
  • being on the receiving end of threats and insults, and f
  • ear of being outed to others without prior consultation or consent.

After disclosing his sexual identity, Nathan came to believe that telling other people about his desires was like giving them “a weapon” that can be used against him. He explains:

When you come out, people have power over you. Not only because they can tell people and ruin your life, even if you haven't done anything illegal.

  • But they have power over you because they can call you names, or they can tell you that you’re sick or wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it. You can't complain to other people about it, because they'll just side with the person who's calling you sick, because of course you're sick.
    Or they can use it as ammunition in a fight. Like, well why don't I just tell people that you're a pedophile and then see what they think of you, etcetera, etcetera. So it makes you very vulnerable, and it can change the power dynamic of your relationships or friendships quite a lot. And it can be very frustrating and intimidating if people don't agree with you, because they have the weight of society and social norms behind them.

It is illuminating to consider Nathan's point about the change to power dynamics within existing relationships after disclosure. Even an otherwise completely supportive individual can still choose to use this knowledge against their friend at any point. Thus, a minor-attracted person may always be afraid that if the friendship falls apart at some point in the future, their private information could be revealed in a retaliatory fashion.

According to Goffman (1963), this type of fear is present among many stigmatized individuals. He explains that the relationship between the individual with a stigma and those who form his close social circle can be

  • “an uneasy one” (Goffman, 1963, p. 31).
    A “reversion” to mainstream values “may occur at any moment, and at a time when defenses are down and dependency is up” (Ibid.).

This observation certainly holds true for Nathan.

Jack elaborates on his own experience with this sense of uneasiness. As recounted earlier, when Jack first disclosed his identity to his co-worker and roommate, she insisted that the information be made known to their employer. The information was also spread to other people with whom he worked, with the result that several people in addition to his co-worker and their boss came to know about his sexuality. While the spread of information was controlled and purposely decided upon by those who were given this knowledge (as opposed to general gossip), Jack says he experiences an underlying anxiety that someone will divulge his sexual attractions without his knowledge or consent. He has attempted to mitigate that risk by asking people who know about his sexuality to inform him if they are going to tell someone else about it so that he is “in the loop” regarding who knows and who does not.

In addition to feeling vulnerable about what someone could do with their personal information, some of my participants endured threats and insults from their loved ones after disclosure.

  • Liam, Jacob, and Nathan received direct insults, with both Nathan and Jacob being called “perverts,” and Liam's mother telling him that she wishes he “weren't that way.”
  • Lucas has received threats, with one friend warning him not to do anything about his attraction, or else the police would be called.

Ben, Nathan, and Liam sometimes experience stress as a result of other people knowing about their minor-attracted identities. Nathan, in particular, finds it very frustrating to have to explain the nature of his attraction to others, claiming that it causes him a great deal of stress. In fact, he describes it as “an excruciating process” made worse by the fact that he is required to provide intimate details about his sexual attractions every time he discloses to a new person.

This phenomenon has been well documented in the LGB population; Orne (2011) notes that revealing one’s sexual identity is not a single event, but a lifelong endeavour. If a person wants those close to him to know about his sexuality, then he must engage in a process of disclosure every time he becomes sufficiently close with a new person.

Even after he has clearly described the type of people he is attracted to, though, Nathan's friends regularly ask him why he does not like slim, boyish-figured adult women. They do not seem able to grasp what qualities he finds sexually appealing in other people. Because he wants to be understood by his friends, Nathan feels compelled to explain over and over again that there are differences between an eleven-year-old girl and a flat-chested, slim-hipped nineteen-year-old woman, and that while he may seek out relationships with adult women who are slender and young-looking, they are “not really” the type of people he is attracted to.

During our conversation, Nathan made the incisive observation that most people go about their daily lives assuming that others around them are straight. This point is well established in the LGB literature – Cox et al. (2011) note that everybody in our culture grows up with an assumption of heterosexuality, and Riley (2010) explains that there is nothing comparable to coming out for straight people, because straightness is viewed as the default orientation unless otherwise specified. While heterosexuality is still the assumed orientation in mainstream society, there is growing awareness about the prevalence of same-sex attraction, and straight people continue to become more
educated about LGB issues.

According to Nathan, if people happen to find out that someone is gay, they simply

  • “switch over to a new way of thinking.” Everybody “knows what 'gay' means,” and all that is required to relate to this new information is a simple “mental shift.”

However, many people, if not most, do not understand what it means when they discover that someone they know is attracted to children and/or young adolescents. The attraction thus has to be clarified and explained in great detail.

Nathan finds that he constantly has to assert that no, he is not attracted to children because they are “innocent,” and no, he is not attracted to children because it is “forbidden” and no, he does not have a fetish. He laments that elucidating the nature of his attractions over and over again makes him feel “freakish” because nobody asks straight men why they like women, nor do they as often ask gay men why they are attracted to men. The absence of a schema through which to understand minor-attraction in our society seems a very important factor in accounting for the widespread discrimination faced by minor-attracted people.

Although my participants report multiple liabilities associated with disclosure, eight experience positive consequences that they associate with the decision. James told me that he has “never regretted” telling the fifteen people who now know that he is minor-attracted.

Some of the positive consequences of disclosure have been discussed in the earlier section of this chapter which examines motivations for revealing a minorattracted identity. These reasons included wanting to feel accepted, wanting to talk about one's feelings, and the desire to form connections with other minor-attracted people. Many of these hopes become reality after disclosure.
For example, Zachary, Ben, James, Lucas, and Jack have all formed in-person friendships with other minor-attracted people. Revealing their identities allowed them to meet others like them, and gave them the opportunity to participate in supportive, welcoming communities.

Some of my participants found it very helpful to be able to talk about their feelings and sexual desires with other people. As mentioned earlier, Liam is still in touch with the university student who had previously interviewed him for her research project. Liam informed me that she urges him to talk about his feeling for girls, and even encourages him to talk to girls when he encounters them at work. In his work environment, Liam deals with customers who routinely come and go, some of whom are children. He elaborates:

  • I was telling Jessica [*14] that I was too shy [to talk to girls at work], and she was like “oh, you should talk to them, don't be shy!” And I had to laugh at how open-minded she was about it, because not very many people would encourage pedophiles to talk to children, even in that appropriate context [of being in a public place].
  • [*14] The name “Jessica” is a pseudonym.

Receiving encouragement and support from one's friends was a very welcome consequence of disclosure, and one of the ways which my participants were able to feel accepted for who they are.

Lucas talked about how much it meant to him to receive support from a friend who is not minor-attracted. One of his friends was initially unsupportive of his sexuality, but has since changed his perspective to the point that he will send Lucas a text message if he is out a party where boys are present. According to Lucas, the message will read something like: “oh, you would be happy. There are beautiful boys here!”

Even though disclosure can lead to feelings of increased vulnerability, it can also result in a decrease in stress. Nathan, Jacob, and Jack all told me about the feeling of relief they experienced when they talked to other people about their sexual desires.
Nathan explains that disclosure has made life “a lot more bearable.” He is also comforted by the fact that when he tells someone about his sexuality and they remain friends with him, the stress of “wondering if they would hate me if they knew” completely evaporates.

Similar findings have been recorded in the LGB coming out literature – those who identify themselves to others as LGB report less stress, less depression, and less anxiety, with many directly attributing these perceived psychological improvements to disclosing (Vaughan & Waehler, 2010).

Another positive effect of disclosure is being able to receive compassion, sympathy and support from people who otherwise would not have been in a position to provide it (since they would not have known such support was required).

Jacob, Jack, Ben, and Zachary feel comfortable talking with counsellors about their attraction to minors. Jack finds it helpful to be told by a therapist that he is not “crazy,” and to hear from a mental health professional with expertise in the field of human sexuality that

  • “there's a range in sexual attraction, there's a range in how people express themselves”.

In addition to talking with therapists, some of my participants, including Nathan, Lucas, and Jack, report being able to confide in their friends on a more intimate level than was the case prior to disclosure, resulting in closer relationships with them.

This finding also mirrors the evidence documented in LGB research, which suggests that revealing one’s sexual identity is associated with the development of more meaningful interpersonal relationships

  • (Cox et al., 2011; Vaughan & Waehler, 2010).

The final advantage of disclosure I observed in some of my participants was an increase in self-esteem, and a newfound sense of pride.

Nathan reports feeling “more comfortable” with his sexual identity after telling other people about it. He also believes that he is “making a difference” for other minor-attracted people by revealing his desires, because he thinks this act contributes to changing mainstream perceptions of what minor-attracted people are like.

Zachary also exhibits a sense of pride now that he has disclosed his identity to a few people in his life. He argues that adults who are primarily attracted to minors possess the potential to be “pioneers” in sexuality rights activism. He regards himself as “one of the few people in my city that try to push for a more critical perspective” on sexuality issues. Ben, too, has experienced a boost in self-esteem since  telling others about his identity. By re-examining his attitudes about sexuality, he claims to fight against the widely held belief that minor-attracted people must either gain sexual
fulfilment by molesting children, or remain “miserable” in a state of celibacy. Through an exploration of Dao-ism, he explains that he is

  • “starting to get to a satisfying way to be in touch with my sexual energy in a positive way.”


Gathering information about the disclosure experiences of these nine men has allowed me to better understand how they cope in a society that does not view minor-attraction as an acceptable, nor legitimate sexual identity.
As a result of analyzing these interview data, I feel more confident about my ability to assess the options minor-attracted people may have available to them with regard to receiving support, building friendships, participating in their communities, maintaining romantic relationships, and finding ways to be happy in a society that does not readily support them.
In Chapter 5, I will explore the next steps that both minor-attracted people and other members of society can take into order to better tackle the issues surrounding attraction to minors.

[Will be continued - Ipce]