Frank, the group leader this week, interrupts Gordon’s monologue: “I just want to explain that Gordon is attracted to young boys. That’s something he deals with. Is everybody okay with that?”
Are we okay with that? I guess we are. Most of us are just learning how good it is to bring things out into the light. Who are we to ask Gordon to keep his own pain in the dark?
This is the twice-a-month meeting for people in my area who have been through the Journey Into Manhood weekend. For me, it will turn out to be only an aid for the reentry process: soon I’ll start to go only once a month, and soon after that there will be no reason to go at all. But reentry takes longer for those who have been further out into orbit, and I wonder whether some of these men will ever get back to terra firma at all.
Gordon is at the end of his middle years, with a respectable beer belly and more gray than brown in his generous beard. He is talking about loneliness, and we murmur our assent, he talks about a boy he knows, ten years old, about whom he has been having difficult thoughts. “A beautiful boy,” he says. He closes his eyes when he says beautiful.
This is the first time I have ever met anybody whom I know to be afflicted with pedophilia. I do not hear lechery in his voice or see it on his face — I mean, he’s not discussing this boy the way a frat boy would drool over a cheerleader. He longs for this boy the way I have longed for the men I’ve longed for, which is to say, not primarily sexually, but sexually only as a side effect.1
For some reason, this is a surprise to me. Pedophiles are supposed to belong to the same category as serial killers: people so far outside the circle of ordinary humanity that they see human beings as collections of body parts. They are not supposed to be filled with very human, very recognizable tenderness. The look on a pedophile’s face is not supposed to have anything in common with the look on the face of a doting father.
They are supposed to be pedophiles because they are monsters, not because they are human.
But we are human beings, and we are all full of knots. Nothing is where it is supposed to be.
I wonder whether sexual longing is ever anything but a side effect. When I say “sexual longing”, I don’t mean the whole complicated edifice of eros, I just mean the sex part: the wanting to Put Your Thing In Their Place.
A straight friend told me once that, if an woman at a party motions him off to the side, makes it clear that she wants to talk to him one-on-one, he’ll get an erection. That’s not because he wants to have sex with her then and there. This is how I parse the situation:
The Soul Speaks
She wants to talk to me.
SHE wants to talk to ME.
There is a she and a me
and she is not interested in just Being Here With Us
but in Being Here With Me.
She has noticed me, she is aware of me.
I have registered in the eyes of another; I exist.
I exist and I am good,
because I am good in the eyes of the one
who is good in my eyes.
The Dick Speaks
WHAT? IS IT SEXYTIMES?
I don’t know how it is for women, but for men, or, all right, for me and a lot of the men I know, our dicks are dowsing rods, or geiger counters: they register the presence of intimacy in the immediate vicinity, and react indiscriminately. Whether sexytimes are imminent or not, consciously desired or not, possible or not, permissible or not, the physical reaction is the same.
More to the point, sometimes it happens whether the intimacy in question is sexual or not.
The penis is, in other words, an exceedingly crude instrument. Which is why — in the case of homosexuality, pedophilia, or any other deviation from the sexual norm — it’s not surprising that the instrument should sometimes be badly miscalibrated. It’s badly miscalibrated even in the case of “ordinary” men, which is to say, men whose sexuality is fractured only in the more common ways.
I’ll leave you with the exchange that started this train of thought. It was a series of late-night texts from a gay Catholic friend,2 who somehow found himself marooned in a gay bar at midnight on the eve of all Saints’:
I just want someone to touch me and want me to be there with them.
I just want to be held. That longing burns, like fire, from the waist to the collarbone.
My friend, I know.