The following item originally appeared on the old BoB blog shortly before it was closed. I’ve been encouraged to repost it, so here it is again in a slightly revised version. Matteo has suggested that it now be placed in the Essays section. Apologies for the length, but it’s not the sort of topic that lends itself to brevity.
In a conversation that I recently had with a friend of mine, the subject arose regarding society’s attitude to boylovers, and whether it would ever change, or even whether an attempt should even be made to change it. Quite understandably, many will regard the possibility of attempting to change such attitudes as a pointless exercise, but despite that, are you content with the comfort zone and enjoyment that sites like BoB offer, and feel that we should simply be thankful for that, or do you ever wish that we were better understood by society? Do you also wish that we could express our affections and emotions more openly without ridicule?
Those are my basic questions, and some may wish to go ahead and answer them directly without reading any further, while others may feel that the questions are not even worth bothering with, especially considering the recent fate of the Beauty of Boys blog; although maybe that’s all the more reason to pose them. There will also be those who would appreciate a more detailed discussion, so for members who want to read on, I have included some more thoughts and facts below.
During the conversation mentioned above, the question also arose as to why, – considering that certain societies, such as the ancient Greeks, were by and large open, accepting and encouraging of man/boy relationships, particularly with regard to the act of mentoring, – have such relationships now come to be viewed with so much disdain? The question is particularly important when one considers that many of the values of present day western civilization, such as democracy, freedom of speech, etc., are based on Greek ideals. Even so, attempting to reconcile the mindsets, ethics and attitudes of two societies separated by over two thousand years is fraught with difficulties, and we can only ever partially reconstruct the ancient mentality and corresponding behaviour. The problems involved are exacerbated further by 21st century moral standards.
Whilst it would be largely true to say that boylove has an honourable history, in today’s society, men who love boys are stigmatised and viewed as paedophiles. Unfortunately, not only has the word paedophile become a derogatory expression, it has also been totally stripped of its original meaning, so it’s worth examining it in detail to try to reconstruct it. As many will know, paedophile derives from the ancient Greek word paidophílēs, which is comprised of the Greek stems paîs (boy, girl, child), and philia (love, affection and friendship). The question of gender was largely determined by the context in which the word appeared, but paîs could be used, and often was used, to refer specifically to a boy. So despite the unpleasant and negative associations that the word paedophile has now assumed, it is, in its purest sense, quite an apt term for a boylover. Paedophile literally means “someone who loves children”, although within the context of boylove, “someone who loves boys” would be equally valid. Likewise, when looking for a literal definition of, for instance, audiophile, we might expect to see something like “a person who loves and is interested in high-fidelity sound reproduction”, and that is indeed what we find. There are many similar examples, but when searching for a definition of paedophile, although a literal interpretation is sometimes provided, more often than not is it accompanied by a cautionary clause declaring that a paedophile is someone who suffers from a severe psychiatric and paedophilic disorder. The word “love” is often nowhere to be found, being replaced instead by notions of sexual perversity and various other psychological pathologies.
At this juncture, it’s worth noting that, rather than paedophilia, the term pederastia (a relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male) would be more familiar and comprehensible to an ancient Greek. Pederastia (or pederasty) comes from the Greek word paiderastês, and is a compound of paîs and erastês (an adult man). In Liddell and Scott’s “Greek-English Lexicon” it is specifically defined as being “the love of boys”. Generally speaking, only adolescents from 12 to 17 years of age were considered eligible to be loved, and the younger (passive) partner in the relationship was referred to as erômenos. He was required to be courted with seriousness and commitment, and he had to be shown the sincerity of love and commitment. He was regarded as a future citizen; not as an inferior object of sexual gratification. In fact, the erastês-erômenos relationship played an important role in the Greek social and educational system.
However, since modern society seems determined to doggedly persist with the designation “paedophile” along with its misconception of it, what was it that caused the terminology to become so corrupted? Although it is certain that paedophilia has existed throughout history, it seems that it was not formally named, defined or studied until the late 19th century when the term “Paedophilia Erotica” was coined in an article written in 1896 by the Viennese psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, whose work tended to focus largely on sexual psychopathy. It is interesting to note that, aside from paedophilia, Krafft-Ebing also wrote extensively on other sexual matters. Despite his psychiatric credentials, it has to be said that many of his theories were extremely defective and fatally flawed. For instance, he considered any form of recreational sex to be a perversion of the sex drive, and that every expression of sex that does not correspond with the purpose of nature, i.e., propagation, must be regarded as perverse. He also proposed that homosexuality arose in the embryonic stages of gestation and evolved into a sexual inversion of the brain. Krafft-Ebing is now largely forgotten, but he is still recognized as being the author of the first examples of psychiatric studies into paedophilia. Unfortunately, because his work in this field was connected to the forensic psychiatry of child sexual offenders, the term “paedophile” took on a psychiatric medical definition that was inexorably connected with child abuse. As such it was imbued with overtones of sexual disorder rather than any Greek- inspired concepts of platonic relationships. The original meaning of paedophile soon became totally forgotten and obscured, and the meaning with which it subsequently became endowed quickly entered into society’s psyche, complete with all its gruesome connotations.
The end result of all this is that boylovers, as they prefer to think of themselves, are still seen as possibly harbouring the tendencies of paedophilic sex offenders, and are regarded as anathema by modern society. Even though the boy-loving community has replaced the term paedophile with boylover, the general public is largely unaware and ignorant of the fact. Today’s society, assuming it is even conversant with the original meaning of paedophile, let alone the modern, genuine meaning of boylove, is on the whole unable to accept that there is a marked difference between a sexual predator/ molester and a true lover of boys who intends no harm.
Between the late 1950s and the early 1990s, various support groups advocated for the lowering of the age of consent. This may not be as ridiculous as it seems considering that the age of consent is a lot lower, for instance, in Spain than it is in the UK. The same groups also advocated for acceptance of paedophilia as a sexual orientation rather than a psychological disorder. However, such proposals did not receive any public support. In retrospect, perhaps the reason for the lack of success was that the approach was wrong for modern society. Possibly the emphasis on sex was a factor that led to the dismissals and the subsequent demise of its advocates. It’s interesting to note that the ancient Greeks actually had four words to communicate the range of meanings that our word “love” conveys. Two of them were philia (which we have already encountered, meaning affectionate, philanthropic love) and Eros (erotic, sexual love). Put simply, philia was associated with the heart, whereas Eros was associated with the libido. With this in mind it’s important to remember that much of the problem lies with the fact that boylove, by its very dint, involves minors. So, if attempts were again made to enlighten society’s perceptions, would it not be more conducive to approach the matter from an ancient Greek perspective and advocate for an emotional (philia-based) orientation, akin to the erastês-erômenos ideals, rather than a sexual (Eros-based) orientation? Or would that also be dismissed as dangerously suspect, idealistic, utopian nonsense masquerading under the guise of highbrow intellectualism?
Of course, it is of prime importance to protect children, or indeed anyone who is in a vulnerable position, from sexual predators and molesters. That is patently indisputable. Even in ancient Greek society, the culture surrounding pederasty was not as clear cut and permissible as is often thought. Whilst love and mentoring were accepted, love and mentoring with a sexual component wasn’t universally tolerated by any means. Laws and attitudes varied from state to state and from city to city, and compelling opposition to the more extreme carnal aspects of pederasty certainly existed. There were a few Greek cities that prohibited pederasty altogether, and in Sparta, only the celibate form was permitted. The Hellenic city of Berea actually passed a law that forbade “certain categories” of people from attending the boys’ gymnasium in order to avoid inappropriate or unsavoury love affairs from developing. Very early on, the Greek philosopher Plato was also a strong critic of sexual intercourse in pederastic relationships. So, despite the (perhaps understandable) hysteria surrounding paedophilia in modern society, maybe our intrinsic values are not so far removed from those of ancient Greek society after all. The main difference is that ancient societies were free from the constraints of modern psychiatric medicine and religious dogma that prevail today. It’s also possible that a state of controversy surrounding the issue has always been present. Perhaps it’s something that societies throughout history have wrestled with and have never been able to fully resolve, and perhaps never will. In truth, the sexual predators are as much of a blight for boylovers as they are for society in general.
Before concluding, there is also another important aspect to consider and include in the mix, and it is one which is invariably overlooked. It is a fact that there are boys who like and/or love men. They existed in ancient societies, and they exist in modern societies. In an age when minors are gradually being allowed more of a voice, do they not also have a right to be understood and acknowledged in the equation? When we consider, for example, the progress made by the gay rights movement for gay people of all ages, and also the fact that the needs of adolescent transgenders are now finally being recognized as being important, perhaps the question is not so far fetched as it seems.
Although the ramifications and arguments, both for and against, are complex and manifold, the fact remains that after all this time, in the 21st century, boylove still exists and endures. Its longevity surely affirms that it is not some form of isolated psychiatric disorder. It seems to be something that, no matter what happens, just refuses to go away. Is it time that. despite all the complexities involved, modern society woke up to this fact by acknowledging its existence and dealing with its presence in a more fair and insightful manner instead of blindly and relentlessly persecuting it and driving it underground? The likelihood of that happening seems very remote at this moment in time, but boylovers are not child molesters, and that point cannot be overemphasized. It’s also a fact that boylovers live and work alongside other members of society as law abiding citizens. Should they, at least, be afforded some form of altruism? Can society ever become more tolerant, or at least less demeaning by comprehending the intentions of the true boylover and, albeit cautiously, accepting him? Conceivably, some of the responsibility for acceptance must also lie with boylovers themselves.
So is there, indeed, a place for boylovers within the somewhat claustrophobic moral confines of modern 21st century society? I don’t have the answer, and although it’s a difficult and delicate matter, and maybe even unwise to attempt to bring together the most salient points and integrate the various strands in a single narrative, hopefully this discussion will generate some intelligent debate.