Warning — this post contains crude words and crude humor. It is for grownups, and by grownups I mean “people who are okay with jokes about people’s private parts, and some serious discussion about what those parts do sometimes.”

There, that ought to make sure everybody reads it.

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



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 know.

I just want to be held. That longing burns, like fire, from the waist to the collarbone.

My friend, I know.

1 I’m not interested in normalizing pedophilia, since pedophilia is not normal; just like I’m not interested in normalizing homosexuality, since homosexuality is not normal. The two aren’t equivalent, though I wouldn’t presume to say which of the two is the greater perversion. They do, however, have these things in common: that they involve sexuality, and that they are manifestly disordered.
2 To be clear, the texts in question were cris de coeur, not booty calls, and in any case he is hundreds of miles away. Also, I naturally asked his permission before including them here. I don’t usually mine my conversations this hard, but a good phrase is a good phrase, no? Thanks, hermano mio.

31 Comments on “Dowsing”

  1. Gabriel says:

    Dibs on “dowsing rod” as a euphemism for penis from this point forward.

  2. Eliot says:

    I really hate it when people use the term “monster” to describe another human being, especially when applied to a situation involving violence or sexuality, or both, since the two are unfortunately not mutually exclusive. Calling someone a “monster” is just a way to divorce yourself from your part of the responsibility in creating the conditions that allowed such a terrible thing (like rape or violence) to happen, and we ALL play a part, even if only a small one.

    Everyone is human, and I am very grateful for people like you who are willing to look past faults or differences and give others’ humanity a chance.

    I am not saying that I think pedophilia is okay, but I feel very sorry for that man, and it makes me happy that he has found some measure of acceptance.

  3. debora gorton says:


  4. Max says:

    [Part of this comment was deleted by the admin because it was judged to be needlessly inflammatory. Whee! — The Admin]

    The hostile reaction to pedophiles heightens as one has children, who are pre-sexual. Even overtly genital shenanigans don’t have the same meaning before puberty that they do after puberty. The advances of one on the far side of that line towards another on the shy side of it are a violation of something sacred and truly beautiful: innocence. Nobody wants their child scarred, especially at an age from which they will never recover.

    1. Rivka says:

      Nowhere did Steve say this guy acts on his attraction to young boys, just that he feels it. It seemed pretty clear from the context that this was a man who worked pretty hard to avoid sexual actions with boys, even though he struggled with the attraction.
      Nobody on this post endorsed molesting children. There was simply some sympathy expressed for someone who has felt the un-asked-for TEMPTATION to do so. A desire to do something is different than actually doing that thing.

      1. Whoa, before we spiral out of control here —

        (1) Max is totally right. Pederasty is a true horror.
        (2) Eliot and Rivka are totally right. Inclinations are not the same thing as actions.

        It’s pretty clear to me that pederasts (i.e. those who have molested children) should be jailed because they are guilty of a horrific crime. It’s also pretty clear to me that pedophiles (i.e. those who are attracted to children) should not be vilified, because they didn’t choose to be pedophiles.

        I don’t think anybody’s disagreed with any of those things, yet.

  5. Eliot says:

    I’m pretty sure I didn’t say, “I will offer my child to this pedophile out of sympathy for his sociological plight.” I would never endorse any type of child abuse, sexual or otherwise. What I like about this post is that it humanizes a man who has probably been vilified for his entire life for circumstances beyond his control. I think adults deserve just as much nurturing and healing as children do, if not more…the “sacred innocence of children” that you always hear about is long gone, and their wounds often run deeper and take a lot more time and effort to heal, and that is what the author of this post is trying to do. Instead of shouting and pointing, “He’s a monster, his actions are inhuman,” he is doing a much more difficult and complicated thing: trying to figure out how he can help.

  6. Rivka says:

    “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…”
    Yeah, we don’t have those. In fact research suggests that women are lousy at knowing when they are sexually aroused, or to what extent, possible because of not having a body part that provides such a clear physical indication.

  7. Das says:

    This post reminded me of some discussions I read on the Church’s position regarding laws declaring homosexual acts illegal, namely the incident in 2008 when the Church refused to blanket-wise approve of decriminalizing “sexual orientations,” claiming that some acts (e.g. pedophilia and incest) are certainly wrong, should remain illegal, but could be excused by this line of reasoning.

    Often times pedophilia is brought up in discussions on homosexuality in order to make people see how their justification of gay relationships can be turned around and used to excuse pedophilia (something “we all agree” is wrong). While I feel these comparisons raise interesting points, their validity isn’t my point. The arguments are fundamentally flawed, even if the comparison is fair. By making it perfectly clear that a person’s line of reasoning can lead them in a direction they don’t want to go, you can just as easily convince them to go in the wrong direction. Instead of condemning homosexuality, they can lead someone to condoning pedophilia. When I started considering the possibility that being gay was, for all significant purposes, the same as being a pedophile that’s sort of what happened to me.

    But not in a bad way! It’s not like I go around advocating that pedophilia is just as valid a love as that between a husband and wife. It’s just that, as a gay guy, it’s a lot harder to see pedophiles as “monsters,” when I know how it feels to want someone so bad it hurts, yet be unable to express those feelings well. In a way, I think that’s something really good the Stonewall movement gave us. Even if it’s gone too far, the ability to freely express the fact that we are attracted to guys (or girls) is an important part of chastity. When you can look your demons in the eye and learn who they are, they are much easier to refuse. When you spend all of your time trying to remove a part of yourself, you never learn how to fix it.

    I would not be surprised (though I’m no sociologist) if the problem with pedophilia were not at least a little bit our own fault. Because we are so paranoid about pedophiles, we force them into isolation and secrecy. Again, not a psychologist, but that can’t be healthy, and mental stability is a key part of mental discipline. When we vilify pedophilia so much that we drive pedophiles crazy, it does no good that cannot be done a better way.

    1. Erik says:

      The idea that gay men should somehow be extra-sympathetic for pedophiles because both yearn for what they can’t have, doesn’t hold water for me. (I can assure you that straight people regularly yearn for what they can’t have as well.) And uncritically accepting the church’s teaching that homosexuality is morally equivalent to pedophilia, also seems to be about as credible as accepting past teaching that every churchman’s duty is to detect, and kill, all witches and other heretics.

      Granted I’m just a straight non-Catholic, but it staggers me to see this whole thread full of smart articulate gay people (including someone whose brains and thoughtfulness I have always respected) taking seriously the idea that they’re just God’s unfortunates, in the same moral category as pedophiles and dog-f$%*ers, and that they can hope for grace only by never having sex ever.

      Was it the holy duty of Catholic women, black people, etc., over the centuries never to challenge Church teaching about their proper place in the world (not to mention its teaching and prescriptions for treating non-members, starting with Jews)? If not, then on what basis must gay Catholics meekly accept current church teaching that presumes to forgive and tolerate them for being who they are, so long as they never act on it?

      I really am rooting for you guys, but sorry, I don’t see “praying the gay away” as the answer. Again, as an outsider here, I might not be entitled to trumpet these opinions, but this blog post was eating at me for the last couple of days, so here. Best wishes to all…

      1. Rivka says:

        Someone doesn’t have to say that the two things are on the same level in order to say that one should refrain from action in both cases. Lying is not the same thing as murdering someone. I still should refrain from lying.
        Please explain to me what the Church ever said about “the proper place” of black people, and in what documents such statements are to be found. Yes, in the United States there used to be racist Catholics, but that’s just because American culture at large was racist. The Church herself never was.

        1. Erik says:

          I agree with your first paragraph–of course all wrongs are not equal. I was objecting to comments throughout these posts that do seem to equate unequal things. For example, Joey’s footnote #2 that he “wouldn’t presume” to say whether pedophilia is worse than homosexuality. And Das’s suggestion that being gay is, “for all significant purposes, the same as being a pedophile.” I guess I just object to the seemingly unchallenged (in this blog and several of its its comments) assumption that gayness is inherently deviant and bad and must be suppressed, and that the only thing left for gay people is to figure out how to deal with their unfortunate affliction, since (so I gather) clearly they, _like pedophiles,__ must never act on their deviant impulses. How come again? On what evidence that isn’t at least as solidly based in scripture as adjurations to kill witches and disrespectful children?

          As for Church teachings on slavery, I here rely on Wiki without trying to chase down all the primary sources–but it seems clear and uncontested that a number of medieval Popes accepted and even mandated (race-neutral, as you note; I learned something today!) slavery. (You’re also right that the “hewers of wood and drawers of water” argument for enslavement of black people seems to be a pre-Civil War religious artifact mainly confined to the American South.)

          Since the Church was clearly wrong (as I hope we’d agree) on endorsing slavery in past centuries, why is it clearly right now in classifying gay people as deviants? And should we consider a hypothetical, 13th-century Catholic anti-slavery agitator as a forward-looking person of enlightened conscience– or as just another heretic, until and unless the Church decided on its own schedule that slavery was never to be countenanced?

          Ultimately, of course, everyone has to arrive at the place their conscience and consideration leads them. Clearly some such folks have decided that, as gay Catholics, it’s not their place to pick and choose from church doctrine, and if that means abandoning all hope of romance, marriage, and a family of one’s own (whatever the composition), so be it. It just seems to me such a pity.

          1. Das says:

            I would like to clarify that I did not mean to imply “being gay is, ‘for all significant purposes, the same as being a pedophile.’” I meant to say that considering such a concept gave me a perspective which caused me to question many things about other sexual deviants which I had taken for granted. It’s not that I lower myself to the level of a pedophile, it’s that I raised up my view of a pedophile.

            I would (at the risk of reducing my rhetorical effect) state that pedophilia is more obviously wrong than homosexuality. The reason being we are supposed to protect children and their innocence until they mature. This means protecting them from sexual relationships. Adults are supposed to make their own choices and learn from their own mistakes, so, even if homosexuality is wrong, there is room to argue that it isn’t our place to stop it. In my estimation, that significant difference justifies a policy regarding pedophiles which does not apply to gay people.

            Still, I would not say that pedophilia is worse than homosexuality. Not because I think those two acts are at the same spot on the gradient of morality, but because I do not believe in a moral gradient. An act is right xor wrong. One act cannot be “more wrong” than another. It can only be more obviously wrong. And, the more apparently wrong an act is, the more culpable a person is for that act. As well, there are some wrong acts we have a responsibility to stop. So, in a sense, “not all wrongs are equal,” by human consideration, but they are all equal in wrongness.

          2. Das says:

            You really don’t need to feel sorry for me. For any person, there isn’t one unique path to personal gratification. The conclusion that I am not meant to have a spouse and family is, in the end, as necessarily depressing as the idea that I am not meant to be a rock star billionaire astronaut superhero. It’s only sad if I spend all my time moping and not making the best of the life I am given. I can either spend all my time telling myself, “Man, my life sucks because I don’t get to be a rock star billionaire astronaut superhero,” or I can tell myself, “Man, my life is awesome because I get to work in this pet store and every month get to see the smile on a child’s face when he or she gets a puppy!” While I may have been happy being a rock star billionaire astronaut superhero, I can be just as happy working at a pet shop.

            I treat being gay the same way. The only difference is that I’m the one who determines whether I can have a spouse and a family. But I do that about a lot of things I want which I shouldn’t have. I’ve paid for things I could have stolen. I’ve sat through classes I could have skipped. I’ve been polite (or tried to be) when I could have been rude. In all those situations, I would have gotten more satisfaction by doing the wrong thing, yet I do the right thing anyway because I believed it to be right. If it were merely the Catholic Church telling me that gay sex is wrong, I would not be stopped. But I agree with them, and that’s enough to stop me.

            As for any guilt or self-loathing. While I agree that the Church’s message, at least in the past, could easily have been communicated so as to totally screw a gay kid up inside, what the Church actually says about the treatment of homosexuals is, to paraphrase a bit, “Don’t be an jerk” (CCC 2358). On a personal level, I feel more angst and loathing about how angry I get when my roommates keep me up at night than about my attraction to guys.

      2. Eliot says:

        Erik, I too am a straight, non-Catholic man. I am an acquaintance of Joe’s in real life. To be perfectly frank, I disagree with Joe’s views regarding the relationship between his sexuality and his religion, but I care about him as a person, and I recognize that what he is trying to accomplish is an incredibly difficult thing. I know I will not change his mind, and I do not intend to try; I am here to offer my support, my occasional perspective, and to have my thoughts-provoked, because Joe is a sensitive, intelligent, and insightful observer of himself and the world around him. We learn much more from people who challenge our perspectives than those who support our opinions, so I am here to learn.

        1. Erik says:

          Eliot, Das and company,

          This has been a really interesting and illuminating dialogue for me. While I still may disagree with some of the seemingly self-denying choices made by (I assume) most of the gay folks posting here, your responses make clear, kindly, that it’s not really important that I “get” it– only that you’re living the life that seems right to you. It’s a good reminder to get off my Stepladder of Judgment about other people’s lives…

          1. Sally says:

            Thank you all for the decency and humility with which you have discussed these topics. A wonderful lesson for me!

  8. Yanmega says:

    ……..Wow. This kind of puts some of my problems with my sexuality into perspective….

  9. Gabriel says:

    I’d be hesitant to endorse having adults who are attracted sexually to children “come out,” in general — less out of disapproval or disgust than out of worry about what other people might do to them. I’ve heard one or two stories about men who, with full acknowledgment of the wrongness of pederasty, admit that they are thus afflicted, and am astonished at their bravery.

    But I do think that a more humane attitude toward those who suffer this way might help. After all, if the only message someone ever hears is “You’re a monster for feeling this way” — well, if you start to believe you’re a monster, you’re that much likelier to start behaving like one. And if our culture — especially the Church — can offer no reassurance that, yes, your desires in this aspect are a grave tragedy, but *you,* the *person,* can face them with heroism — well, that isn’t exactly a sunshiny message, but it’s the sort of thing a person might be able to work with. And it isn’t really a sunshiny situation, anyway.

    As far as fulminating against the act goes, well, yes, it’s absolutely horrible. I would go further than Mr. Prever here and say that it is worse than homosexuality, because it involves a violation of consent in and of itself — a child is incapable of giving that kind of consent — and damages a growing person, rather than affecting one who is matured and can take responsibility for himself or herself. But to the extent that we are Christians, to that same extent, we are required (required, not advised) to forgive and to have mercy upon every sin and every sinner.

    1. Eliot says:

      Gabriel, I strongly agree with what you said about people believing things about themselves after they’ve heard them so many times. I had a friend who used to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart.” It’s a little saccharine, but I think it goes to show that HOW people choose to react to someone’s actions can have a strong influence on that person’s future choices. That’s what I was saying about divorcing yourself from the responsibility by naming someone “monster”…we ALL play a part, somehow, no matter how small.

  10. Ryan Gooseling says:

    Joey, it looks like you have sparked some controversy, or something. I think it is important to remember in the discussion of how the wang behaves to remember how the gut behaves. When confronted with pedophilia, the horror at the strangeness is only partially a reaction of the intellect. The gut feeling of horror makes it extremely difficult to talk about the issue rationally, or with any compassion.
    That being said, everyone whose comments I’ve seen have been rational and compassionate, but look out if reddit gets a hold of it.
    Keep up the good work bro!

  11. JBT says:

    Yup. Where I sympathize with Gordon is the perception of beauty in a misplaced or misshapen form. You can perceive extreme beauty in a thing that really, really shouldn’t call forth THAT particular response from you, but that doesn’t mean the thing isn’t beautiful. It’s that old question of what does one “do” with beauty? Your whole being knows that it requires *some* kind of response, and what other response is as powerful and consuming as the sexual one? You can talk about the beautiful thing, or write a sonnet about it, or have a sparring match with it; if you’re lucky enough to have that kind of a reaction to a religious idea, you can pray to it. But if it’s a person with whom you can have sex, then the sexual response wins by a landslide. And part of the torment comes from knowing that, while the exact nature of your response may be wrong, you’re not wrong in having a response – you just can’t figure out what the right one is.

  12. Becky Duncan says:

    I think that a very important part of the visceral “he is a monster” reaction to those who acknowledge sexual attraction to children is that we live in a society which really does not accept, advise or consent to repressing or restraining sexual desire. For the overwhelming majority of those who acknowledge any sexual attraction, whether to some one of the same sex, or to lots of people of the opposite sex, or some people of both sexes, or children of either sex, they are not admitting to a frustrated desire that they acknowledge as disordered, they are talking about how they live out their lives, in other words, how they act. We have only Steve’s intimation, not a direct and clear affirmative, that this man does not and never intends to act on his desire. I think that precise attraction to the beauty of the child is exactly who many pedophiles, when they are first accused, will say with impressive sincerity “I would never do anything to hurt a child” because they cannot conceive of their own touching awareness of the child’s beauty to be anything that could harm a child.

    And I do think that a real fear of “being a monster” can for some people be a help in not doing those things which we regard as monstrous.

  13. Becky Duncan says:

    “is exactly who many pedophiles” above should be “is exactly why…”

  14. Rivka says:

    I must admit; I was really curious about what the comments for this post would be.

  15. Tony R. says:

    As a happily married straight father, I can attest to the “indiscriminate” “dousing rod.” I’m not sure anything has ever frightened me more than having a wiggly kid sitting on my lap trigger an indiscriminate response. It took me some time and a lot of prayer to understand that a unbidden response and a call to action are two very different things. I’m sure I’m not the only father that this has happened to, but I suspect few of them could ever acknowledge it out loud.

  16. Dolores says:

    Very interesting and illuminating posts. Have often wondered what kind of reception someone who is attracted to children would have if they sought counselling, if any kind of counselling is even available. To where and to whom could they possibly go and receive some kind of understanding and guidance?

  17. Gabriel says:

    That’s a very good question. After a few very uncomfortable internet searches I came up empty-handed, except for some Wikipedia article about the “Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.” I gather that that is directed primarily, if not entirely, towards rehabilitating men who’ve already committed some sort of crime; whether they could offer any resources to someone who has a luckless disposition of this sort, but hasn’t done anything, I have no idea. :/

  18. Molly says:

    CRACKED up at “The dick speaks: IS IT SEXYTIMES?”

  19. Briana says:

    JBT, your comment really, really speaks to me. As an unmarried woman in a relationship, the sexual response to beauty can be overwhelming. What makes it even more difficult is the fact that it’s not just his looks; his entire self is beautiful and elicits such a reaction. I know it’s different, because I am straight and that will probably be a completely appropriate response one day. But still. It’s not a reaction I can indulge at this time, and I’m often left wondering what in the world I can possibly do instead.

  20. PJ says:

    As a straight woman, i get a ‘reaction’ too when in the company of attractive guys though it may not be a physical one like men do. It is more of a emotional reaction with thoughts that are sometimes uncontrollable. Physical chastity is easy but emotional chastity is so hard to control. I don’t even know how to put into words these ‘uncontrollable thoughts and emotional reactions’ at confession. it is like I know I shouldn’t have these reactions inside but I can’t help it. But the best advice I have received from a priest when I made my confession was to think of Mother Mary whenever these thoughts come and ask for her intercession.

    Thank you Joey, for writing so honestly about many things that I struggle to put into words. God bless.

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