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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 6.2 (2000) 195-248
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Child Abuse, Homophobia, and The Boys of St. Vincent
Kevin Ohi *
It is nearly impossible today to open a magazine or newspaper without reading an account of a shocking child abuse scandal. Such scandals provide "commentators" with endless opportunities for numbing reiterations of their banal outrage and with a culturally sanctioned outlet for their prurient imaginings of ritualized retributive violence. 1 Much of this violence is, whether explicitly or not, homophobic, and the discourse around child abuse has given stalwart homophobes (that is, almost everyone) a seemingly unassailable venue for homophobic ecstasy in the guise of inflamed righteousness. That, for example, gay child abusers are statistically negligible, especially compared to the abusers sheltered in healthy heterosexual homes, does not prevent gay pedophiles from attracting the lion's share of public scrutiny. 2 The antihomophobic "solution," however, is not to insist that homosexuality has nothing to do with child abuse. The link between child molestation and homosexuality may well be, in other words, a homophobic illusion, but the effort to challenge the political ideology underlying this link--an ideology of sexual oppression in general--is better served by a thorough examination of structures uniting homophobia and abuse paranoias than by a simple debunking of this homophobic illusion as counterfactual. I would further resist the collapsing together of child abuse and pedophilia, as well as the distancing of homosexuality from both; while it should go without saying that pedophilia, whether "acted out" or merely fantasized, is not the same thing as child abuse, the fact that pedophilia and pedophilic relationships are legible only under the rubric of abuse attests to the power of the bleakly monochromatic discourse around child abuse, pedophilia, and childhood sexuality.
Such a collapsing together of pedophilia and child abuse often lurks in popular attempts to clean up homosexual desire for public consumption, the often abject apologias that chastise gay pedophiles, among others, for frustrating one's heartfelt gropings toward normality, for giving queers a bad name. But queers [End Page 195] already have a bad name (precisely, that is, the name queer), and the queer and the child molester--who is treated as synonymous not only with the pedophile but with anyone who dares utter the possibility that children have desires--are demonized in similar ways and, I will argue, for similar reasons. It should then become clear that an antihomophobic project should not try to distance itself from pedophilia and child abuse. 3 The energies mobilized by and against the figures of the child, the child molester, and the queer point to structures underwriting both child abuse panics and homophobia: in homophobic ideology, the molester and the queer register as analogous faults in a system of representation whose phantasmic coherence is upheld, in part, by the fetishization of childhood innocence. The molester and the queer, through the ruptures they introduce, perform the violation of coherence necessary to sustain the wholeness of this system and to locate the blame for breaching a fetishized innocence elsewhere than in heterosexuality's fixated gaze at the purity through which it would discover an image of its own lost ideality. Through readings of the press coverage of a child abuse scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Saint John's, Newfoundland; the press reviews of The Boys of St. Vincent (a Canadian film based on the events at Mount Cashel; dir. John N. Smith, 1992); and the film itself, I will examine some of the interrelations among homophobic ideologies and those most frequently articulated around child abuse. The Boys of St. Vincent, I will argue, enacts and critiques a homophobic ideology of endangered childhood innocence by interrogating the system of representation that supports it. The film does so by manipulating the erotic allure of a blank innocence whose violation the child molester allows us so gratifyingly to imagine.
The material explored in this essay comes from the different national contexts of the United States and Canada. 4 While national specificities...