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Dallas author Rod Downey treads shaky ground with new novel about older man and young boy

BOOKS - The dangerous topic of pederast

By Arnold Wayne Jones, Features Writer, 2002

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As I read about the ideas espoused by Rod Downey in preparation for our interview, I felt an increasing sense of discomfort about the areas we would certainly be discussing. Downey has written an independently published book, The Moralist, that tracks the “loving and nurturing” relationship (his words) between Red, a 50-year-old pederast, and Jonathan, a 12-year-old grammar school student. This is not easy stuff to talk about.

Although he backs away from the label pedophile — “That word is completely corrupted and has almost no meaning whatsoever. It is usually used in the context of name-calling” he says — Downey defends what he believes to be the moral rightness of a sexual relationship between older men and younger boys, though, he says, “I don’t feel the need to label it.”

It seems that society has done that for him, and the judgment has been a harsh one. Downey acknowledges the unpopularity of his beliefs, but whatever epithets you could throw his way wouldn’t surprise or discourage him. Even outraged characters in his own book ask the protagonist whether he considers himself a child molester and worry whether he may be arrested. But Downey, like his alter ego, says they are just on a witch-hunt.

“[There’s a] hysteria that’s taking place about relationships between older gay men and younger gay youth,” Downey says. “It’s become a taboo, and there’s a lot of misinformation going on. [Right wing conservatives trample our] civil liberties and freedom of expression as protected by the First Amendment, as well as due process and right of privacy — what is done in one’s home.”

As much as a work of fiction, he admits, The Moralist is also his personal manifesto. As such, it necessarily follows a certain pattern of propaganda. Like-minded proponents of any belief, cause or activity tend to toe the company line, and the arguments and defenses become familiar if not outright stale.

The “blurbists” quoted on Downey’s book jacket, and on his Web site, are a who’s who of international pedophiles, dressed up with words like “educator” and “doctor.” On talk shows and in monographs, they beat the same drum:

“Many adolescent boys are already having sex — why not with me?”

“Any sexual relationship can be destructive, so why single us out?”

“This is our heritage, dating back to the ancient Greeks.”

Downey endorses many of these as by rote.
“The cultural cross-referencing could be Greek, but it could also be medieval Japan, it could be Persia. Referencing those makes the point that [what in our society] is presented as an absolute is not an absolute. It has been seen as valuable in other cultures in the present and in the past,” he says.

From Downey’s point of view, Red is not an abuser but a mentor. He notes that the relationship between the two primary characters remains non-sexual for the first year-and-a-half and only progresses once, as he puts it, the boy makes the conscious decision to go further. But how well informed can the decision by a 13-year-old be?

“I think the idea of drawing a line is approaching it wrong, because it is more a question of individual cases. What kind of relationship are you talking about?” Downey asks. “Is it really okay, for example, [for an adult man] to have a relationship with someone who’s 10 years older?”

He refers to a Dutch perspective that has allowed the child’s family to decide whether the relationship was in the best interests of the boy and not marking all such intimacies as a crime.

 (When pressed, he agrees that such a relationship between heterosexual couples — say, a 45-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl, would be appropriate as well.)

He also propounds the idea that there is a perverse kind of morality to be discovered in pedophilia.

“The operative word is moral obligation,” Downey says. “What the book is really looking at as is aesthetics in terms of impulse rather than a moral principle. Behind moral principle is the idea of authority. [If you consider the morality of] impulse, what you are really looking at are things like love and beauty.

“Red thinks [he] has an obligation to show his love for this young man — that to reject him would be hurtful. [His] decision does not follow a fixed principle, but a sense of love and beauty.”

Up to and including sex with young boys.

One obvious danger involved with defending such relationships is the stigma gay men continue to fight whereby the general public equates homosexuality with pedophilia. Does Downey feel his vocal stance can do more harm than good?

“No, just the opposite. Portraying this kind of relationship is healing a serious wound in the gay community inflicted by the conservative right, [which presented] us with a choice,” he says. “You can have your place at the table, as long as you don’t allow anyone to belong to your group that is not under a certain arbitrary age. That has turned a lot of gay people into isolators or perpetrators. It has isolated gay youth, and hurt the gay movement because we have bought into the lies of our enemies.”

Downey is not a member of NAMBLA, the controversial North American Man-Boy Love Association.

“I don’t know much about their philosophy, but they seem like well-meaning people who got caught in this witch-hunt hysteria, [and] that has evacuated their credibility, which is too bad,” he says.

And Downey jokes about his political affiliations.

“I’m not a member of any organized party, I’m a Democrat,” he laughs, quoting Will Rogers.

Society, it seems, simply has no convenient place for people like Downey, which is fine with him.

“I guess you could say my perspective is uniquely my own.”

Rod Downey reads from The Moralist at Crossroads Market Bookstore & Café, 3930 Cedar Springs Rd. on Nov. 7, 7 p.m.

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