Youth, sexuality and the left

March 2, 2010

SocialistWorker.org contributor Sherry Wolf is the author of the popular new book Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation. Last week, the left wing Web site MRZine published a harshly critical review of Sexuality and Socialism by David Thorstad. Wolf wrote the following response--MRZine has so far refused to publish it.

I DON'T usually respond to screeds, but David Thorstad's railings about my book, Sexuality and Socialism, were posted on MRZine, which I often find a useful source for socialists and the left generally.

I won't bother to waste time here challenging his position that the left should abandon the dynamic social movements for equal marriage and other LGBT civil rights because to him these movements are not radical enough. I've written widely about this elsewhere, and Thorstad needs to get past Luxemburg's title page of Reform or Revolution to absorb that her argument is against reformism, not the fight for reforms.

There are other lavender herrings he tosses out about my supposed closet allegiance to the Democrats, based on the fuzzy micro-image of a Hillary sticker worn by a woman in a protest photo on the cover of the book, which I frankly had never noticed before--if only David's insight were the match of his eyesight.


THE ESSENCE of Thorstad's piece is a defense of man-boy love, or pederasty, and a call for socialists to defend the right of adult men to have sex with young boys. As a founding member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), which he curiously omits from his bioline for the "review," Thorstad is perhaps the most vocal long-time defender of pederasty on the left.

He takes issue with the position I pose in the book and argues, "Wolf recycles bourgeois prejudice when it comes to intergenerational love...she repeats the foolish notion that a boy under the magical age of consent (whatever it happens to be) is by definition incapable of consenting to sex with a man."

My position in the book is: "Whatever the wrongs of age-of-consent legislation that carry over into the modern era, it should stand as a basic socialist principle that sex between two people must be consensual. It is incompatible for genuine consent devoid of the inequality of power to be given by a child to a man of 30."

I stand by this argument and believe others on the left are right to do so as well. Children are sexual beings, and Sexuality and Socialism comes out fiercely against the puritanical abstinence-only, anti-sex education they receive in public schools. However, adults and children do not approach each other as emotional, physical, social or economic equals in our society. Children and young teens do not have the maturity, experience or power to make truly free decisions about their relationships with adults. Without those, there can be no genuine consent.

More than 200,000 people raised their voices for LGBT equality
More than 200,000 people raised their voices for LGBT equality (Kit Lyons)

For the record, I do not believe a 19-year-old should be prosecuted for having consensual sex with a minor of 15. However, Thorstad conflates his man-boy love advocacy with opposition to the state's often oppressive and ineffective age-of-consent laws, which sometimes target youth, predominantly minorities, who are just over the age line for having consensual sex with minors just a few years younger than themselves.

But while opposing the state's use of these laws and acknowledging that teens mature at different ages, the left should not deny the very real assaults and rapes by older men and women against young boys and girls that have mangled the lives and psyches of millions.

This is precisely what Thorstad does regarding the scandals swirling around the Catholic Church, which he reduces to guilt-ridden, money-grubbing adult men looking to bilk the Church after they willingly partook in sex with priests as kids. He writes in "Pederasty and Homosexuality":

Of course, money plays a role in this, too. This is very clear, for example, in the many scandals in the United States over sex between priests and youths, in which the Catholic Church has paid out millions of dollars in an effort to resolve them.

If, as has happened frequently in these scandals, (1) the boy came back regularly over a period of years in order to have sex with the priest, and (2) the "victim" waited twenty to thirty years before denouncing the priest, one is entitled to wonder whether his motive was not financial above all; and if there is a sense of guilt, it results mainly from the medieval and hypocritical attitude of the church, and not automatically, nor necessarily, from the sexual relationship itself.

Does the left really want to argue that children, who trust adults to care for and protect them, as they must in order to survive, should be treated as sexual objects by those in positions of authority, such as priests? This amounts to crass indifference toward children and teens, hardly a liberatory position. In arguing that "Pederasty is inseparable from the high points of Western culture--ancient Greece and the Renaissance," Thorstad would have socialists model our sexual outlook on that of slave societies.

Socialists can oppose state-sponsored sex panics and capitalism's schizophrenic desexualization alongside hypersexualization of youth without advocating grown men's "right" to fuck children.

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