Sex brings out the best, and worst, in people. Or I should say, sex brings out people, because there sure have been a lot of jaws flapping about it on social media these days. Sexual harassment, no, I mean sexual assault, no, sexual impropriety, no, I mean sexually deviant. One guy's post I read said, "It's just weird behavior." He was referring to Louis C.K., of course. And he was talking about the actual behavior CK was involved in, not the complex side effects of such behavior.
I hope you know me well enough by now to understand that I get that the women he confronted sexually have every right in the world to respond the way they have. After all, in a reasonable world, a woman should not have to look across the room and witness a sick man plying his illness in front of them the way CK did. And what man asks anyway, "Do you mind if I take my penis out?" Was he that quickly bored with the conversation? No. Louis CK, like Kevin Spacey in my last post, has a sexual disorder that compels him to repeat the same inexplicable by normal standards sexual overture. Why, you ask, would a man who has fathered children and been in a marriage and who has great wealth need to approach women in this way? Why can't he just hire a sex worker or find a friend who might like to participate in some consensual role play? Because that's not what his behavior is about. It's about being eroticized, turned on, by masturbating in front of astonished females, a behavior most likely nourished by a lifetime of finely-tuned fantasy. In spite of what you read as these revelations roll out, one after another so that it seems like the whole male world is erect all the time, this is not normal behavior. It is normal if there is consent involved, and isn't that what we're talking about anyway, whether or not there was consent given? In CK's case, it doesn't look like it was.
But, my oh my, how we do get worked up about sex in this culture. It almost seems like inappropriate sexual behavior is worse than murder or serious assaults. At least, we tend to get more energized about it on social media. It reminds me of the way we used to be about addicts, especially alcoholics. Why don't they just stop drinking? Why don't they just take a look around themselves and see how they're ruining the lives of their loved ones? They can stop; they just don't want to. We've come a ways since then on our views about addiction and compulsive behavior. Alcoholism is an illness, isn't it? Addiction is an illness, isn't it? Compulsive sexual behavior is an illness, isn't it?
I once sat in an Abnormal Psychology class and listened to the instructor talking about mental illness as simply being an exotic extension of normal mentally healthy behavior. The difference, he posited, was a loss of control over his brain function. Is it possible that deviant sexual behavior is an extension of "normal" sexual behavior, with the intervening variable being a loss of self-control over sexual expression? I'm not sure a man like Louis CK would risk his career and future success over masturbating inappropriately, if he felt he actually had control over what he was doing or felt compelled to do. I am fully committed to the idea that there are some men who should be put away and never see the light of day again. There are evil men out there who humiliate and debase, beat and murder in a sexual manner. But like normal sexual behavior, there are also gradients of deviance, some of which can be changed. Shouldn't we treat these individuals as if they have an illness and be encouraging when they take steps toward rehabilitation?
We all fall on a continuum where sex is concerned. If we haven't gotten into any trouble because of our sexual behavior, we can applaud ourselves for our self-control. Just remember, there are still states who can legally prosecute you for deviant behavior if you have consensual oral sex with your partner.
I hope we can continue having conversations about sexuality here. I hope to make it more normal to do so. I mean, if you even say the word over and over enough, it becomes just another word. SEX, SEX, SEX...There, don't you feel better?
Recently, an actor named Anthony Rapp disclosed that the actor, Kevin Spacey, sexually assaulted him when Mr. Rapp was 14 and Mr. Spacey was 26. Since then, other men have disclosed similar behavior on Mr. Spacey's part, although these men ranged in age (at the time) between 17 and "in my twenties." The disclosures have set off a hailstorm of angry tweets, blog posts and conversations about Mr. Spacey's audacity in coming out as gay at the same time he apologized for what sounds like the sexual assault of a minor. The gay community, after years of educating the public that homosexuality and pedophilia are not related, is understandably angry with Mr. Spacey for seeming to blame his behavior on the fact that he is a gay man. Mr. Spacey says, in his apology, that he doesn't remember the incident (I suspect he does), but proceeds to apologize in one of those post-modern quasi-apologies that seem to benefit the perpetrator more than the victim. I am a fan of Mr. Spacey's acting, but I am not a fan of his seemingly predatory behavior.
Having worked for nearly forty years in the field of sexual deviancy, I have encountered many men of Mr. Spacey's ilk, men both confused and acutely aware of their sexual behavior, but unwilling to step forward and stop it before trouble comes knocking. But I am not here to offer conjecture on Mr. Spacey's sexuality. What I am most concerned with is how some have responded with his assault of Mr. Rapp by calling Mr. Spacey a pedophile. I have so far seen no evidence of that being true.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual - V (DSM-V) describes a pedophilic disorder as intense and persistent sexual fantasies or behavior involving prepubescent children occurring over at least a six-month period (I'm paraphrasing here). I have always described to men in treatment with me that my definition of pedophilia is a person whose primary erotic interest is in prepubescent children. A true pedophile represents an absolute danger to young children and indeed is most eroticized by them.
While it's easy to crowd men who sexually assault minors all under one umbrella, it serves no gallant purpose to do so. There are other descriptors which work better and, in Mr. Spacey's case, may actually describe his behavior better. For example, ephebophilia, while not described as a disorder, is a sexual attraction to mid to late adolescents (those 15-19 years of age). In other words, not prepubescents, but those decidedly past puberty. Hebephilia, while also not described as a disorder, is a sexual interest in pubescent minors, or those who are going through or who have recently gone through puberty (those under 15). Anthony Rapp may very well fit into this category. Neither of these classifications describes pedophilia.
It is important that we make this distinction as we discuss the issues emerging in the news on a daily basis. Let's not call sexual assault sexual harassment. It diminishes sexual assault to do that. Let's not call ephebophilia pedophilia. It diminishes pedophilia to do that. And let's not take a "boys will be boys" attitude with any brand of inappropriate sexual behavior as it diminishes our newly emerging societal integrity to do so. What Anthony Rapp talks about is sexual assault, pure and simple. It is an adult male taking indecent liberties with a minor male. This does not, by definition, make Mr. Spacey a pedophile. Instead, it makes him a jerk with a very real sexual problem.
Given the title, I suppose I could be talking about men and their fantasies of women and that would be plenty normal and everyone would understand. But I would prefer to talk about women who choose to be therapist to men who have assaulted women and/or children. I don't pretend to be an expert about what goes on in these women's heads, but I have met and worked with a few and have learned a thing or two about their spirit and motivation.
I am currently writing a series of novels featuring a female protagonist who is a forensic psychologist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of sex offenders. It's a difficult sell; I'm the first to admit that. Who wants to read about that population of pervs? But it makes it doubly hard to sell the idea that a woman might have a real interest in treating these individuals with the hopes that they will get better. And everyone knows they'll never get better so it's a lost cause on top of everything else. Right? Wrong.
Over the course of the 40 years or so that I've been in this field, I've worked with a number of women. Some of these women have been probation officers, some have been prosecuting attorneys and judges, but the ones I know best have been the therapists, the women charged with establishing a working relationship with the men (and women) who have crossed deeply entrenched boundaries to commit crimes that hardly anyone ever wants to talk about. I imagine these women as angels of a sort. There can be all types of angels, of course (Satan, for example, was once an angel), and some do more effective work than others. I recall one incident many years ago when I was conducting groups with two female co-therapists, the newest one of which showed up at the first meeting wearing an extremely tight T-shirt sporting a picture of a cartoon man and woman, tongues hanging out, lusting after a rather large banana, with the logo, "Peel me one!" scrawled across the front, begging anyone close to take extra seconds to read it. It was my opinion this might not have been the best introduction to the group for this young professional woman to make. The men, on the other hand, seemed to treat her as their new favorite. I've worked with others on the opposite end of the scale; those who come through the door carrying a list of topics to be covered, of behaviors to be commented upon, of chips to be knocked off sturdy shoulders. The "tell me about your week, but you'd better have been good" type of therapist.
There are those women, however who approach this job with a modicum of respect for their clients, a strong need to right wrongs, and mostly with an understanding that these men would not be sitting in a group room with them if they didn't have something wrong in their adaptation to life and that they most likely would die for a chance to change that adaptation so they could feel "normal". Whether the men realize this or not, it's these women who turn out to be their saviors. They are willing to briefly ignore the sexist slights or misogynistic tone for the time being and restrain their anger or disappointment for a time when their response can be more therapeutic and the men can actually hear it and try to make changes.
Of course these women (and men) have their own reasons for getting into the field in the first place, and there will be more about that later, but the ones who stay, who survive the regular onslaught against their woman-ness, are the true angels. I worship them. So should you.
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Two-thirds of the year I live approximately 8500 feet up in the Andes Mountains of South America. I have never lived for any length of time in the mountains and it can be a frightful place. My house is situated at the base of an extinct volcano that serves as the gatekeeper for any weather coming in our direction. It's a muscular thing, officially called Mt. Imbabura, but more fondly called in indigenous folklore, Taitay Imbabura. Across the broad valley from Taitay, stands Mt. Cotacachi, or Mama Cotacachi. Legend has it that they are the father and mother of the region and it was formed due to their various disagreements and subsequent lovemaking over thousands of years. It rains whenever Taitay is angry or urinating, and if Mama wakes up on any given morning wearing a light dusting of pure white snow, well, then you know that the couple made up sometime during the night.
It can be difficult to breathe at such an altitude, especially for newcomers, and if you do visit, you might suffer from a nagging headache for a couple of days before you acclimate. I live about a mile or so from the sacred Peguche waterfall and it is one of my favorite walks should I become motivated to improve my health. For the most part, the hike takes me along a narrow stream (here called a river) that skirts the base of the mountain and then dives into a forest of eucalyptus and cypress and cedar. Here the path narrows and becomes humus-y and the stream runs clearer and starts up a chatter in the generally quiet surroundings. It is certainly peaceful, possibly because I am unable to see Taitay from there and I could very well be walking through the resplendent woods of North Idaho or Western Washington instead of on more sacred ground.
I can hear the waterfall about a hundred yards before I actually reach it and by that time I have woven my way through cows tethered in the long and very green grass near the path, young lovers planted against tall cedars, testing their abilities, and a few professorial gringos perhaps arguing over the necessity of the Oxford comma. All this before arriving at a platform, precariously built close enough to the falls to receive a continuous heavy mist created by raging water eating into volcanic rock. It is loud and breathtaking and I can see why the ancients considered it a sacred place. Most often I shiver not because of the drifting mist.
By the time I head back, my shirt is soaked, so Taitay having a fit won't really affect me, or so I think. In May of this year, a record was set for the amount of rainfall or urine or tears Taitay managed to produce over the course of the month and on my last trip to visit the waterfall, all hell broke loose. I have been in downpours before, having grown up in Southwest Washington State, or running from the subway to my hotel room in New York City, but Taitay was especially angry this last time. Within ten yards, my shirt and pants were pasted to my body and my hair, in spite of the deluge, seemed to be prickling with every strike of the jagged lightning. I took off jogging, a mistake for me at any altitude these days, and by the time I reached my front gate, I was gasping for the oxygen deprived me by my life-threatening decision to live in an exotic location. But I lived, again, and after one of his most thundering roars, I dropped to my knees and bowed to Papa Imbabura, vowing to find the culprit who had flipped his climatic switch.
Drying off later, it occurred to me I'd been here before. Turns out living at 8500 feet is not all that different from living through a normal November in the Pacific Northwest (on an entirely different continent, I might add). Except for that nagging headache.
It is always an honor to be able to publish a new book and up to this time, I have only published through a large house in NYC. SCABLANDS is my first foray into independent publishing and I am proud to be represented by Wellborn Books and its CEO, Maria Morton. It is also my first stab (pun intended) at the thriller/mystery genre. The main character, Carmen Carillo is a forensic psychologist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of sexual offenders. But Carmen was not always the main character. I worked as a shrink for sex offenders for over 35 years and my plan was to create a male protagonist, and due to my vast experience, be able to knock out the first novel in record time. Oh writers, we can be both silly and hopeful at the same time. I found out I was far to close to the subject matter and after much deliberation, decided to try a female lead. Wow. What a lesson. I learned it is possible to be silly and right at the same time. I busted through the first draft in mere weeks. And I'm here to introduce you to the result: SCABLANDS, a work I am very proud of.
Stay tuned for more about this book and the series of books starring Carmen Carillo, as well as plenty of info about different types of offenders and therapists and prosecutors and public defenders and polygraphists and victims and families connected with this difficult subject. It is my honor and great fortune to be here, which reminds me of one other topic you may find on these pages. My patchwork of scars. I hope to answer the question: "How many times can one person be diagnosed with cancer and still survive?" Talk to you soon.