All you have to do is talk to people on both sides

American author and literary critic Samuel R. Delany reports a brief sexual experience with a janitor at the age of 6. He explains the conclusions he draws from that encounter.

Source: Correspondence ‘it’s all one thing: a conversation with Samuel R. Delany about NAMBLA, sexuality, and consent’; Posted by Will Shetterly;; 9 July 2014

[Samuel R. Delany (author) responding to Will Shetterly:] NAMBLA had a number of women members, including my good friend Camilla Decarnin, who died a few years ago. She put me on the mailing list for the NAMBLA newsletter, sometime in the early 90s. At that time, it was a smart, well-written, and well thought-out gay rights newsletter. Eighty percent of it was sensible analysis of the lack of children’s rights, especially when they were apprehended by the police in sexual situations. The way children were treated in these situations, immediately removed from their homes, placed in public institutions, given no counseling when they were most vulnerable and most in need of emotional support, was not a pretty picture.

My all too frequently quoted comment in support of NAMBLA was made c. ‘95, I believe. I have no idea what NAMBLA has been doing for the last twenty years. At the time I made my comment, c. 1995, NAMBLA was soliciting comments from people familiar with what their organization stood for - which included sane treatment of older male offenders, and pleading for courts to take into consideration what harm or coercion had been done - if any. (I had my first sexual experience with an adult when I was six, with a local Harlem building superintendent. And nothing hurtful happened at all. It would have been cruel and unusual punishment to incarcerate him for it.)

I commend to you the comments the late gay activist and gay porn actor, Scott O’Hara, made at about the same time I made mine:

  • When I was 12 and 13 years old I would have joined NAMBLA in a minute, because I knew I was gay and I wanted to go out and get laid, not just read The Gay Mystique all my life; I needed personal contact.
  • We have a million gay children out there right now who are in the same boat, who know their sexuality, and aren’t getting any support. Most of our supposed gay leaders are afraid to do anything with them. … That means we’re leaving the sex education of our youth to angry heterosexuals who don’t understand.
  • That’s one reason NAMBLA is so important. They are willing to take the risks that no one is willing to take… . They’re the only ones willing to acknowledge that adolescents actually do have sex lives.
  • There is also a more basic reason why I support NAMBLA. They are the voice of dissent in the gay movement today. They’re the whipping boy, the fashionable group to condemn. … I say, watch out, tomorrow that whipping boy could be you… . In the efforts of the gay establishment to suppress NAMBLA I see the seeds of tyranny.

Where or what NAMBLA is today, I haven’t the foggiest notion, Will. I said and still maintain that 20 years ago it was an intelligent and highly thoughtful institution. […]

Since I spent eighteen years of my life as a child, and nine years of that life as a pretty sexually active gay child, my complaint against the current attitudes is that they work mightily to silence the voices of children first and secondarily ignore what adults have to say who have been through these situations. One size fits all is never the way to handle any situation with a human dimension. Many, many children - and I was one of them - are desperate to establish some sort of sexual relation with an older and even adult figure. Today, all such relationships are so completely demonized as to destroy souls and psyches on both sides of the purely arbitrary 18-year-old divide. All you have to do is talk to people on both sides to see it. […] The current attitude toward pedophilia is a tragic attempt to drive nature out with a pitchfork, and at this point it is a self-reinforcing tragedy, encouraging the worst and punishing the best by making no distinctions at all, as such enterprises tend to become. […] I mean, listen to the late comedian George Carlin: “Which would you prefer? To be punched in the jaw? Or have your dick sucked until you came?” I don’t think they’re the same crime. That’s turning it off with a joke, but like so many jokes it holds its truth. […]

You write, Will, “I don’t believe there can be meaningful consent between an adult and a child,” and that, of course, is the crux of the situation. I am perfectly ready to start by saying that consent between a child an adult can’t mean the same thing as two adults consenting. But to say that any such consent is without meaning, especially legal, is to outline a situation where children will be regularly abused by the courts and by adults who believe that - or who feel justified in acting as though children’s words and feelings and ideas are without meaning. […]

In my personal case, I don’t think my own six-year-old experience had any bad results: In his cellar, a twenty-five to thirty year old super was masturbating. Me and another friend snuck in to watch. He realized we were there, called to us to ask if we wanted to come out and see what he was doing. (Did we ever!) We all sat together on his army-style cot. And at his invitation, we touched him - both me and Johnny at six were definitely gay. (Johnny used to beg his mother to let him wear lipstick in the street {there was no father} and to keep the peace she consented.) In the cellar with the super, both of us had erections. (That came as a surprise to me! I knew I had one, but I saw once pants were opened, Johnny had one too.) We took out our genitals and showed them to him. He touched us, and told us we would probably grow up to be big men. (More or less, I did.) Finally, without any orgasm from either him or us (we couldn’t have, at that age), he laughed and told us we better go, and not to tell, because we’d all get in trouble. I went looking for him once more, but he had moved from his cellar “apartment.” I was disappointed, but also somewhat relieved. Will, I have heard fifty or sixty such tales from gay men of this nature. It had none of the effects of abuse. If anything, it had more the feel of an impromptu educational session. We weren’t embraced or held against our will or made to do anything we didn’t want to. I’m glad it happened. I learned stuff. And I don’t believe I was at all harmed.

And I don’t believe I was at all harmed. (If the man got off on it, it was after we left and he finished up - if, indeed, he did.) Johnny and I were the “aggressors,” not him. I believe his attitude was as “healthy” about the whole thing as it could possibly have been in 1948. (Later, when I was seventeen or so, I met some people whose attitudes were not! What I’d been through as a younger child with the super was a big help.) Had we been seen or caught at this, I believe it would have been gross injustice to prosecute him - or remove us from our families, which is likely to have happened. I don’t even think he was particularly interested in children. It just happened to fall out that way. The whole incident lasted maybe six or seven minutes - certainly no more than ten. If you want to say I was very lucky, I won’t argue. But I will say that I believe there are many more people like him in the world than there are Jeffrey Dahmers or John Wayne Gacys [sexual serial killers].