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The Age Taboo: Gay Male Sexuality, Power and Consent

The Age Taboo: Gay Male Sexuality, Power and Consent

Age Taboo
by Daniel Tsang
  • Nonfiction
  • Publisher: Alyson Books
  • Publication Date: 1981
  • 178 pages
reviewRod Powell:

Daniel Tsang, the Editor of this collection of articles and short essays, strove to provide material from which the reader can make up his/her mind on the issues that make up intergenerational sex. This collection focuses on intergenerational sex between gay males, not straight intergenerational sex. However, the articles that have been included touch on a broader range of issues. The core issues that The Age Taboo examined include: the extent to which intergenerational gay sex occurs, universal rejection of the practice of sex with infants or coerced sex regardless of the age of the other, the need to educate and empower of young boys and provide them with a voice and choices in the matter, the social structures that have created and maintain an unbalanced power relationship between youth and adults, overly harsh penalties for adult males who have been convicted of engaging in intergenerational sexual activity, and the conflict within lesbian and gay organizations over the discussion and practice of intergenerational sexual activity.

The Age Taboo does not present a distanced, clinical or empirical examination on the subject of intergenerational sex. Rather, it contains a mixture of logical and cogent articles, and a number of articles that are perhaps overly passionate. For example, the article, “Loving Boys,” contends that sex between men and boys “is widely practiced to the joys and benefits of those involved.” The article offers an anecdotal observation that said relationships are reciprocal, voluntary, and that the seduction of men by boys occurs as frequently as does seduction of boys by men.

The above article is followed by an overview by Daniel Tsang of a conference that he attended (“Men and Boys: The Boston Conference”). This article reports on the outpouring of passion, and even rage, inherent in but one element of intergenerational sex: the unbalanced power structure between youth and adults. Later articles expand on this topic. The contributors to this collection agreed that under no circumstances were infants capable of making their own decisions. But concerning sex with youth beyond the age of eleven, opinions varied widely. Issues that were deemed central to age and consent included psychological and emotional maturity, and extended and perhaps even artificially long puberty.

The Age Taboo makes a cogent argument that infants are sexually active almost from the outset of their lives. As a result, children have traditionally been forbade any and all sexual exploration, and denied comprehensive sex education that might better equip them for sexual experiences occurring later in life. This point is more of a universalism, rather than something that is strictly limited to gay intergenerational sex.

Two articles in this collection stand out from the others because of their well-reasoned positions. The first, “Happy Families? Pedophilia Examined” by Gay Left Collective, contends that most adults may not be willing to recognize, or even admit that some children are capable of thoughts and actions arising from unusually high levels of emotional maturity. But the Gay Left Collective wisely adds that:

[W]e have to take account of the real social situation in which we live, of the vulnerability of children and the relatively effortless way in which adults can manipulate in pursuing their desires to the point of ignoring the interests, wishes and feelings of children. Children may not be equipped, either experientially or physically, for adult-defined sexuality. Children are very sensual and enjoy physical contact, but they may not have the same conceptual categories as adults about sex. With children’s autonomy and awareness at such a low level, their ability to say no should not necessarily be taken as agreement. For this reason it would seem that pedophile relationships are likely to be unequal, though in this they only parallel other adult / child relationships in our society. (P.62)

The second outstanding article that I will explore, “Man/Boy Love and The Lesbian/Gay Movement” by Pat Calafia, brings to the discussion an example of brilliant critical thinking skills and a gift for articulating the broader implications that accompany intergenerational sex. Among the many excellent points made in this article are two that I feel make a solid contribution to the overall topic at hand. The first is that nearly every feminist argument against intergenerational sex assumes that only men engage in said activities. Pat Calafia offers that, It is possible that more sexual activity occurs between mothers and other women and children than between men and children. Women have more access to kids, and there are fewer taboos on women handling young people’s bodies. Granted, given feminine conditioning, the women who have erotic contact with young people probably don’t think of it as sex, but this is hypocrisy, not liberation (P.139).

Pat Calafia then extends her discussion of intergenerational sex as follows:

Why is there no discussion of the frustrating and tragic situation of young girls who know they are lesbians in grade school, junior high or high school?…Why are lesbians willing to cooperate with the patriarchal conspiracy to silence the truth about the intensity and diversity of female sexuality? This attempt to define pedophilia as a male issue simply alienates and enrages women whose lesbian experiences include cross-generational contact…research clearly demonstrates that it is consent, not gender, that makes the difference in young people’s reactions to sex with adults. (P.139—40)

Although The Age Taboo stated that its discussion would center solely on gay male intergenerational sexual activity, its inclusion of Pat Calafia’s comments serves to widen the scope of the topic. Patriarchal structures strive to maintain control over other groups by invoking and enforcing special protected statuses. Withholding from children information about sex and their own bodies is a head-in-the-sand practice. Much anguish and heartache could be avoided if we were to implement a reasoned program of sex education for young people.

On the other hand, handing adults a de jure or de facto carte blanche to participate in intergenerational sex is as unwise as a policy of mandatory ignorance of sex. The argument has been made that the use of antiquated and perhaps arbitrary age of consent statutes ignores the needs, maturity, and growth of a given individual. Perhaps this is so. The current social structures in industrial nations measure the condition of their children as but one benchmark of its evolution as a civilization. This social fact means that men who engage in intergenerational sex with youth face long prison terms.

The Age Taboo is neither a one-sided, impassioned regaling of men who have sex with boys, nor is it a distanced, dry discussion. Further, it is not a report on empirical research. The Age Taboo is not a book suited for some readers. If you can get past the title and subject matter, readers can glean a number of pertinent and cogent arguments centering on intergenerational sexual activity. In the process of reading the book you will undoubtedly think about the topic. However, I do not think that readers are likely to change their position on the subject after completing The Age Taboo.


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