There’s no bigotry in trying to protect children Janice Turner in The Times 12.09.20

The original article is here.

In the film Cuties, a bunch of misfit girls in a Paris banlieue form a dance troupe and enter a contest where, in sexy costumes, they perform a twerking, crotch-fingering routine. The problem is these characters, and the actresses who play them, are 11 years old.

The French-Senegalese director Maïmouna Doucouré says she was exploring how pornified popular culture grooms children. Yet whatever her moral intent, the film was undeniably created by getting real little girls to spread their legs, hump the stage and caress their vulvas before cast and crew. The routine is prolonged and disturbing, and undoubtedly some of Netflix’s 193 million subscribers will bookmark it for personal “use”.

So is it legitimate to have qualms about Cuties? Netflix didn’t think so, choosing paedophilic images (since pulled) for its promotional campaign. The Daily Telegraph’s critic praised its provocation “in an age so terrified of child sexuality” and tweeted gleefully that it “pissed off all the right people”.

He presumably meant the US Christian right who have set about trying to “cancel” Netflix. Because only bigots and Mary Whitehouse prudes bang on about safeguarding or, when men talk blithely about “child sexuality”, hear clanging alarm bells.

This week Exist Loudly, founded by a youth worker, Tanya Compas, with £100,000 crowd-funded in the wake of Black Lives Matter, asked for “queer black youth” aged 12 to 23 to contact it via private Twitter message. They will be paid for filling in a questionnaire giving intimate data — age, sexuality, location and vulnerability of housing (eg if they are sofa-surfing). Compas also said she’d pass on their contact details to interested others. When many pointed out that this breaches every child safety protocol, Compas accused them of bigotry in expletive-strewn tweets.

Perhaps this was a rookie error. Perhaps Stonewall, the biggest LGBT charity, might quietly advise Exist Loudly about setting up safeguarding but instead this publicly funded giant rounded on those who worried about 12-year-olds sharing secrets with adult strangers online. Didn’t they know most gay people’s sexuality is apparent by 12? Did they want a return to Section 28 which forbade the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools?

Yet many of Exist Loudly’s critics, including the black lesbian lawyer Allison Bailey, are gay themselves, but horrified by a growing trend in the LGBT community to claim exemption from rules. The trans activist Munroe Bergdorf was dropped as an NSPCC ambassador after inviting children to contact her privately via Twitter, against the charity’s express online guidance, and refused ever to concede she was wrong.

The oldest, most grotesque homophobic slur, which underpinned Section 28, was that gay men are paedophiles, not to be trusted as teachers or even parents. This myth has been rightly demolished. Yet our collective guilt has tipped the scales the other way: now anyone demanding LGBT groups adhere to normal safeguarding must be a bigot.

It is true also that gay teenagers, ostracised by families, have sought support and guidance from gay adults and historically these relationships were informal, unpoliced. Yet some were also undeniably predatory and sexual. The LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell in a 1997 letter to The Guardian praised the Gay Men’s Press book Dares to Speak, to which he contributed an essay, as “courageous” for celebrating “intergenerational sex”.

“The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to non-western cultures,” he wrote. “Several of my friends, gay and straight, male and female, had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. All say it … gave them great joy. Whilst it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.” Tatchell, who now campaigns for sex education in schools, emphasising the importance of sexual pleasure, has since distanced himself from those views.

Child sexual abuse is overwhelmingly committed, both online and in real life, by heterosexual men. Thanks to feminist campaigners, sex with an under-age girl, once shrugged off as a giggle, is seen unequivocally as criminal, while the Jimmy Savile scandals underlined the imperative of safeguarding.

Yet on the outermost margins of the LGBT movement are voices which try to posit child-sex as the next liberation struggle. In the 1970s the Paedophile Information Exchange tried to latch on to the mainstream gay movement; in 1997 Dares to Speak condemned anti-child-sex views as “hysteria”. Now on Twitter are hundreds of accounts by MAPs — Minority Attracted Persons — who reveal their AOA (Age of Attraction) as, say, 3-14 years and campaign for “MAP pride”: ie to be incorporated into the LGBT rainbow.

This notion disgusts most LGBT people and organisations. Even so, those who point out that doors are being left ajar for abusers which are shut in straight society are met with fury. Why is it OK for scantily clad 11-year-old “drag kids” to perform for dollar bills in gay bars but not for a little girl to lap-dance in a sports bar? Why are adult drag acts, including one called “Flow Job”, invited to tell toddlers fairy stories in public libraries? Why are children encouraged to mix with fetishists dressed as leather-clad “pups” at Pride marches? The answer “because gay culture is empowering” isn’t good enough.

Hyper-sexualisation of children should be challenged wherever it occurs. A film featuring 11-year-old girls dressed as hookers doesn’t reveal a society “terrified of child sexuality” but one without shame. And no child should be denied proper protection from adults just because he is gay.