Reading a collection of essays by the American poet Allen Ginsberg I was surprised to find a previously unpublished text in which he explains why he became a member of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA).
Now, NAMBLA has had very bad press and is generally perceived as a child abuse club but the truth is a little more complex. NAMBLA was formed in the aftermath of the Boston sex scandal of 1977 in which police investigations into allegations of abuse of minors turned into a full scale witch hunt that destroyed the lives and reputations of many innocent people including alleged victims who were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques to force them to cough up names of men who allegedly had abused them. NAMBLA was formed as a mainstream gay rights movement but one that sought to include debates surrounding the relationships that can and do occur between men and teenagers. Having previously worked as a teacher in juvenile detention centres and having managed youth programs for homeless and at risk youth I can say that these intergenerational relationships occur by far more often than the public realise and are not always abusive.
Here’s what Ginsberg had to say,
Thoughts on NAMBLA.
I became a member of NAMBLA a decade ago as a matter of civil liberties. In the early 1980s, the FBI had conducted a campaign of entrapment and “dirty tricks” against NAMBLA members just as they had against black and anti-war leaders in previous decades. In the January 17, 1983, issue Time magazine, following the FBI disinformation campaign, attacked NAMBLA as a group involved in the “systematic exploitation of the weak and immature by the powerful and disturbed.” That struck me as a fitting description of Time magazine itself. NAMBLA’s a forum for reform of those laws on youthful sexuality which members deem oppressive, a discussion society not a sex club. I joined NAMBLA in defence of free speech.
Historically, societies have taken different views of this issue and the political heat that surrounds the subject is unnatural. Demagogic reaction to NAMBLA demeans the subject as a political football. At present European nations do not share current US public sexual hysteria. Various cultures and states offer widely varying definitions of age of consent – age 15 in Czechoslovakia and some US states, 14 in Hawaii. There’s no universal consensus on “consent”. It’s a fit subject for discussion, NAMBLA provides a forum.
Most people like myself do not make carnal love to hairless boys and girls. Yet such erotic inclinations or fantasies are average and are commonly sublimated into courtly sociability. An afternoon’s walk through the Vatican Museum will attest centuries of honorific appreciation of nude youths, an acceptable pleasure in the quasi erotic contemplation of the “naked human form divine”. From Rome’s Vatican to Florence’s Uffizi galleries to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, we see statues of prepubescent Eros, pubescent Bacchus, male ephebes (naked bodies 12 to 18), the adolescent goddess Kore, nymphs, naiads, young fauns and satyrs in abundance, Laocoon and his boys with pubes exposed, wrinkled old Neptune’s loins, old hags with undraped withers and dugs, Olympian Zeus and kid Ganymede. Western civilisation prides itself on its foundation on classical Greek culture, wherein intergenerational love was a social practice praised by philosophers.
A dash of humour, common sense humanity and historical perspective would help discussion of NAMBLA’s role. Further, libertarians or anarchists may remember Blake’s warning, “One law for the Lion and the Ox is oppression.”
These considerations shouldn’t be distorted to apologise for rape and mental or physical violation of children. I respect those who want to fix a general law to prevent abuse of minors. This is a real problem though less politically demagogic than advertised by some aggressive therapists, politically correct thought police, and the obsessive senator Jesse Helms. It is NAMBLA’s mission to raise the subject, explore it, and provide a platform for debate.
Child abuse laws have been abused, especially since the Reagan-Meese commission’s predictably incompetent linkage of pornography and violence. Subsequent formation of a Justice Department child porn bureaucracy sent federal squads roaming the states teaching local police to practice prurient snooping, invasion of privacy and lawless entrapment. Often police intrusion into consensual intergenerational affections and affairs results in abuse of both parties. Police authority also has made use of mind rape of the younger person, forcing unwilling youths to fink on close friends with threats of jail or beatings. One important function of NAMBLA is to keep track of bureaucratic manipulations of adolescents by police, FBI, media, and other agencies who handle such delicate issues with a meat ax. A Witch Hunt Foiled: The FBI vs. NAMBLA provides an impressive volume of information on these outrageous police practices.
Ginsberg, Allen (1994) Published in ‘Deliberate Prose’ Selected Essays 1952 -1995 pp 170.
What I feel is missing in Ginsberg argument is the role the ‘beautiful boy’ principal played in the development of western art and culture and not just that it was the most ubiquitous representation of the human form in western art. It was the aesthetic yard stick of most of the west’s greatest achievements and in all areas. What its removal could imply for future development we can only surmise but there are already indications of what lies ahead in the dumbing down and low quality of much of today’s cultural output. That ‘human form divine’ is now all but absent.