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Interview with Dr. Frits Bernard, a pioneer emancipator

Over a half-century of struggle for boy love

Marthijn Uittenbogaard, in KOINOS # 48, 2005-4

Dr. Frits Bernard has been personally acquainted with many distinguished experts from the world of sexual science and the sexual emancipation movements. Together with the late Edward Brongersma, he laid the foundations of the emancipation movement of boy lovers in the Netherlands – and far beyond. A conversation with a fighter and a pioneer.

Frits Bernard was born in 1920 in Rotterdam. When he was seven years old, the Bernard family moved to Spain. Young Frits attended the German international school in Barcelona, a large institution with many students. Bernard returned to the Netherlands to study psychology at the University of Amsterdam, within the framework of what was then called the ‘United Faculty of Mathematics and Physics and Letters and Philosophy.’

Bernard: ‘At that time, in 1939, psychology was a new branch of study. I studied during a very difficult time. On May 10, 1940, the Second World War began for the Netherlands with the invasion by the Germans. During the occupation of our country, the Nazis were not especially fond of the students. Universities finally had to close their doors, followed by round-ups and deportations. Negative feelings toward Jews were strongly fostered by Nazi propaganda at that time. But homosexuals did not remain out of range either. Several days after the capitulation, I called J.A. Schorer [an attorney and one of the first Dutch gay emancipators, ed.] from a phone booth. He told me that the library of the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, of which he was chairman, had just been destroyed as a precaution. So right away a clearly agitated mood already prevailed, and precautionary measures were being taken wherever possible. During the war years, homosexual contacts were illegal, even if you were older than twenty-one. The occupier introduced this new law that was withdrawn again with some difficulty after the war.’

One of Bernard's fellow students was Jan Hanlo, one of the most important Dutch poets, known for his outspoken love for boys.

Bernard: ‘One day, the class had not yet begun, when an older student came in whom none of us knew. About ten years old than the rest of us, dressed somewhat eccentrically, a striking figure with red hair and a red beard. That was Jan Hanlo. We immediately gave him the name Barbarossa because of his red beard. Contact between us came about quickly. To me he seemed to be a very interesting man, a bit unusual but very friendly. Sometimes he walked with a cane, which had once been a custom among students in the university city of Leiden. Jan Hanlo studied psychology for only a very short time. One day I was visiting him in his room. Somewhat hesitantly, he mumbled, "I have made a couple of poems; shall I read them?" They expressed his fondness for boys. "Can I get away with this?" he asked. "Jan, you have to publish them." That was my spontaneous reaction. A historic moment. His longest and best poem "Wij komen ter wereld" [We Come into the World] was dedicated to me, though I only discovered this later.’

Did you find out through his poems that he was attracted to boys?

‘No, I already knew that. We had already had many conversations, and he was open with me. Affection for young boys was a huge problem for him. This is psychologically interesting, because he was someone who in no way accepted his sexuality. He also went to confession often; that was a kind of compulsion. He said, "I feel very relieved, because I have just confessed to a priest who says that everything above the belt is allowed, but not below." He thought that was a big step forward. However, after a week he said, "I am going to confession with a different priest, because I do not care for the advice I got from the last one." He was told what he actually wanted to hear: nothing is allowed, it is forbidden, it is sinful. The latter was of particularly overriding significance.'

'Hanlo was then very high-spirited; he felt relieved. That did not last for long, however, for he was soon admitted to the Valerius Clinic. Afterwards he went to a Catholic institution in Heiloo. He remained there for a long time, with hallucinations and all sorts of horrible obsessions. Of course in Heiloo, they were very much opposed to anything that took place outside of marriage. Thus you had to be tidily married and you could not be involved in adultery. And of course, you could not be homosexual. According to his biographer Hans Renders, Hanlo was castrated in Heiloo. Until 1969, castrations were carried out in the Netherlands on homosexuals and on exhibitionists, for example. Heiloo was the place where that was done, and this ended only in 1970. Jan Hanlo was there just barely within the period that all of this still happened.’

After the war, Bernard became active in the gay movement, with the COC [the Dutch Association for Integration of Homosexuality, ed.].

Bernard: ‘The COC was not listed in the phone book then, not even in the lists of social services organizations. That is how it was at that time. In Paris, I saw a small advertisement in the magazine Futur: COC, telephone number, Amsterdam, and that was all. Back in the Netherlands, I got a very enthusiastic chairman Bob Angelo [pseudonym of Niek Engelschman, ed.] on the line, who promptly said, "Why don't you come on over here, then we can talk." That is how that contact began. Right away he asked, "Wouldn't you like to write something for Vriendschap [Friendship, COC's monthly magazine in those days, ed.]?" Not long afterwards, I joined the editorial staff. Under my nom de plume Victor Servatius, I wrote "Ephebophilie en wetenschap I en II" [Ephebophilia and Science I and II], for example, and an extensive research report in ten installments with a large amount of statistical data about a study of homophiles. The biggest study up until that time.’

Edward Brongersma was meanwhile also on the editorial staff.

Bernard: ‘Articles like "Een centrum voor pedofielen" [A Center for Pedophiles] and "Zin der pedofilie" [The Meaning of Pedophilia] were the first attempts to make these issues a subject of discussion within the COC. There was great enthusiasm about my efforts, until the reaction came. That must have been about 1962. The editorial meeting under Bob Angelo's leadership was usually held at the COC offices on the Damrak. The atmosphere during the meetings was always very good and relaxed.'

'One day Edward and I were sitting and waiting for the other members of the editorial staff. But no one came. Had we made a mistake? In the colophon of the next issue of Vriendschap, we were no longer members of the editorial staff, but members of the "editorial board." A promotion? At first sight perhaps, but that was not it at all; we had been sidelined. A countercurrent had developed against us. It was never said aloud, but the subject of pedophilia was problematical. Many homosexuals consider it threatening. In self-defense, one wants to separate oneself from the pedophiles.’

Bernard came to know Edward Brongersma as a very nice person, dependable and friendly. Bernard: ‘We had become friends and did many things together. We exchanged news articles and information and in this way kept abreast of developments. He was very well read. Then one day – that was in the middle 70s, the emancipation was in full swing – I suddenly received a long letter from him. He wanted me to take my book Pedofilie [Pedophilia] out of the shops [see note on ‘Controverse’, ed.]. The reason for this never became clear to me. Unfortunately, the relationship between us was never again the same as it had been before.’

Did his death in 1998 come as a shock for you?

‘Everyone around him saw it coming. He had in fact already taken leave from life after his first suicide attempt in 1991. His eyesight was failing. During his last television appearance [in a news program about the witch-hunt against pedophilia, ed.], he was still intellectually very lucid. A brave old man and a fighter.’

For the rest, a ‘center for pedophiles’ never came about, either within the COC or separate from it.

Bernard: ‘The time was not yet ripe for it. I was moving too fast. At the end of 1969, the beginning of 1970, exactly 35 years ago, a small group of people came together within the Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform [Nederlandse Vereniging voor Seksuele Hervorming (NVSH)] and began discussions about pedophilia. We were looking for practical ways to tackle the problems surrounding this theme. We decided to write a book about the subject. It appeared in 1972 under the title Sex met kinderen [Sex with Children]. Edward Brongersma and I wrote contributions, as did Wijnand Sengers, Peter van Eeten, and Ids Haagsma. The book was very well received. It provided an impulse to the emancipation that had just gotten under way.’

Bernard's other writings include Costa Brava and Vervolgde minderheid [Persecuted Minority].

‘The story of Costa Brava is fantasy. Of course, the plot is also made up. The book stirred up quite a lot of commotion, especially in France: "This author is even worse than the devil, for he allows a young man to say at the end: if only something more had happened earlier." All that commotion was very satisfying. When you write, you want to hit something, so apparently it was directly in the bull's-eye. Under orders from the police, Costa Brava had to be removed from the Salons de l'érotisme, the large annual sex trade show in Paris.’

At the beginning of the 1970s, the first ‘pedophile workgroup’ within the NVSH was set up in Rotterdam.

Bernard: ‘Later a whole series of other workgroups came into being. Subsequently five international meetings were organized in Breda that gave me an opportunity to carry out research. These congresses also had a decisive influence on pedophile emancipation outside of the Netherlands. Later, articles appeared in the American newspapers that there were markets in Amsterdam where you could buy children. The press in America was critical of the developments in the Netherlands. From that moment on, it went downhill.’

In 1987 Bernard was a guest on the Donahue Talk Show, which wanted to devote a program to pedophilia. The North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) was to have a central place in this program.

Bernard: ‘Shortly before the program was to be aired, problems arose. NAMBLA's leaders did not want to sit in the first row, but to be spread throughout the audience. When Phil Donahue would not agree to this, the NAMBLA people refused to participate. It now all came down to me. At the exact moment that Donahue picked up his microphone, I walked onto the stage, accompanied by a young man who was to take part as a "victim." Questions and answers followed each other at a rapid pace. The young man was good at telling his story, but of course he also got criticism: "Later you will come to realize the detrimental consequences that your relationship with an adult has led to." I got ample opportunity to explain my vision. I had difficulty in clarifying the distinction between pedophilia and child abuse, which was to be expected. But together we saved the program. In the end, it was a broadcast that NAMBLA was very pleased with. The videotape has been looked at hundreds of times during meetings, right up to the present.’

Do you think that people often forget about discrimination of pedophiles when the subject of discrimination comes up?

'The subject of discrimination and pedophilia is not an issue at present. The opinions have been established: it is a disorder that must be treated. Pedophiles are dangerous people who actually should not exist. People think that they form a serious threat. I have thought many times that the witch-hunt could not get any worse, but then again and again it turns out that it can. However, the population does not see the witch-hunt as persecution, to the contrary. I am afraid that this negative attitude will not soon become history. On the other hand, nothing lasts forever. When one studies history, one finds out that the attitude with respect to pedophiles can also be different.’

What significance can science have in this?

‘The results of scientific investigation are acceptable to society if they fit into the framework of the line of reasoning of the moment. We keep on thinking that this problem can be solved with the help of science. In the end, it is actually not a scientific problem but a problem of ethics and of morals. Just recently we have been able to see this so clearly with the extensive study by Rind, Bauserman, and Tromovitch in America, which shows that in general there are no harmful consequences in cases of consensual pedophile contacts [see also previous articles on this subject in Koinos 17, 30, 21, and 32, ed.].

[See The RBT Files for an overview - Ipce]

' Scientists judged this study as having been carried out correctly. However, for society it is actually not about the question whether something is harmful or not, but whether it is morally acceptable. In his book Die Lust am Kind [Desire for Children], Rüdiger Lautmann came to the same conclusions about harmfulness as his American colleague researchers. However, the plan to extend his study was blocked. In my opinion that is because, in Lautmann's case as well, the results are not in agreement with the prevailing ideas of these times.’

Should the age of consent for sexual acts be zero?

‘No, but twelve years old should be an option. In the 1970s, the idea developed within the NVSH that the morals laws are actually superfluous, since other ordinary laws on the books serve the same purpose. Then you can really look at each case on its own merits. Then you do not have to look at an age limit and whether you are above it or below it. An individual approach like this is the only correct one, in my opinion. Every case is different from the one before, just as every situation is different.’

Has the pedophile emancipation movement made mistakes?

‘I have sometimes asked myself whether we did not push too hard at times in the past. Did we want to achieve everything too quickly? At times, we have perhaps also painted too pretty a picture of things in various publications, and negative reactions arose to that immediately. The Belgian weekly Humo once wrote, "at that time, the pedophiles almost achieved their goal." This just might be true.’

Will the love of boys ever become accepted?

‘It is doubtful that it will ever become completely accepted. Possibly it will be tolerated. But maybe the future will bring new possibilities, and just as during that turning point around 1969/1970, you will have to go for it. The experiences of the olden days can then play a role again. They have all been recorded in books and newspaper articles. So you do not have to start completely from scratch.’

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