Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Homosexuality and pedophilia: there are differences, you know

Years ago I was planning on writing a fictional story about a kid who got placed in foster care, which led me to research the foster care system in this country. Sadly enough, I learned the whole system is shot through with abuse. This led me to research the subject of child abuse, which led me to ordering a bunch of materials from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), produced by a division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice in collaboration with the FBI. (I’ll bet you never knew how much research goes into writing fiction.)

If you are a parent as I am, it is a good idea to be informed about the nature of pedophilia and the tactics of predators so that you can protect your children. (Sample advice: Avoid the 40 year-old single guy in the neighborhood who has the cool electric train set—i.e. bait—set up in his open garage on the weekends.) But honestly, after a few weeks of looking through the materials, I couldn’t stomach the subject any longer. One morning right in the middle of eating my breakfast cereal, I felt like I was going to be sick. I put away the materials and decided my fictional character will be taking a different course in life.

A couple of years later I started researching homosexuality because of a friendship I was trying to establish with my gay neighbors, which is why I ended up starting my website and now this blog. Looking back, I’m glad that I had done that research with the NCMEC materials earlier, because I was never confused about the difference between homosexuality and pedophilia, even though the propaganda of the religious right has tried to conflate the two.

You have to wonder why the religious right feels the need to do so. Isn’t it because they know that the issue of homosexuality, in itself, is not enough to strike the panic button for a lot of people? After you get over the initial weirdness of, “Gosh, how on earth can someone be attracted to other people of the same sex?” you start getting to know people and see that it’s not much different from the feelings that heteros go through when mutual attraction is discovered and enjoyed. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with it, or agree with it, or think it’s the moral ideal, you are capable of reaching some level of understanding, because there’s something human going on there that you can relate to. And just like in heterosexual society, you will see some people handling their sexual desires in a safe and responsible way, and others in a dysfunctional and irresponsible way. How that pans out depends on the individual, not upon the issue of sexual orientation itself.

During the six years I’ve been “researching” homosexuality (which pretty much amounts to enjoying some great friendships I’ve made over the years), I’ve never even come close to having the same freaked-out experience that I did with the NCMEC materials. I couldn’t even last a month reading about pedophiles, and I commend those FBI people whose job it is to confront that evil every day. It is an evil because to act upon it necessarily involves exploitation of the innocent and defenseless. Homosexuality may not be the norm, and it may not be what my faith regards as God’s ideal, but it isn’t a psychosis, it doesn’t involve exploitation, and it isn’t criminal. The fact that some feel the need to conflate pedophilia with homosexuality to make it sound criminal shows that maybe they understand the difference too.