RESPONSE TO ADOLESCENCE: AN EDUCATOR’S STORY BY PARKER ROSSMAN
The following is the sixth chapter of Dr. Parker Rossman’s Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys, originally published in New York in 1976. As is only revealed at its very end, it is a reconstruction of the life story, told in the first person and based on his own writings, of the American intellectual and social critic Paul Goodman (9 September 1911-2 August 1972), who was born in New York City and spent most of his life there.
Response to Adolescence: An Educator’s Story
One way to understand the underground is to listen to a pederast describe his experiences with enough completeness that we can understand him as a human being. The story of a distinguished man, now dead, is reconstructed in this chapter, using only the material he himself made available in his published journals and other books. Everything is in the first person, told anonymously. The life of this first guide to the underground illustrates the impact of adolescence, as well as serving as an introduction to questions of identity. The reader may detect the heartbeat beneath the words, the mechanisms which trigger behavior as well as motivational factors, as the story is told as it might have been told by the protagonist himself.
I was a poor Jewish boy without a father, smart, healthy, who liked to play ball and who was interested in girls. If pressed to say why I grew up to be a man who enjoys sex play with boys, I must honestly say that it is because sex play with girls was forbidden to me. Once I was put back four grades in school for writing a love note to a girl. Later, when I was a teacher and caught myself staring at young boys, I realized it was because in the formative years of my adolescence I had conditioned myself not to look at girls that way, for girls as future wives and mothers were to be kept pure. My masculine pride was hurt at an early age. It is taken for granted that boys, if they are permitted to grow up naturally, will develop a normal heterosexual adjustment, but my psychological training tells me that this is not so. A good marriage requires a great deal of support from society, friends, and relatives. A boy’s unfolding heterosexuality requires special encouragement in the same way. Older friends and big brothers often provide this support, as when I saw a boy of sixteen pointing out to a boy of twelve some of the physical charms of a girl at the beach. Some fathers demonstrate that it is good to make love to a woman, but on the whole our society is pervaded with an anti-sexuality which is devastating to boys. We tease them and repress them in ways that wound their heterosexual pride. We deny them healthy sexual intercourse with girls their own age, and as a result more boys play sexually with other males than most parents realize.
My sexual pride was also wounded by the fact that the girls I liked, the really sexy ones, were interested only in older boys. I also had guilt feelings over the bit of sex play with girls I did manage. My sex habits in adolescence somehow attached themselves to some infant desires that are buried deep in my subconscious. I don’t know what my infant need was, but I developed some emotional hungers which somehow became related to my sex play with boys. I am now deeply moved when I sense similar anguish, confusion, need, sexual hunger and frustration in a boy, and I love him deeply. On the surface I think it is his beauty that captivates me, but what I really want is to be to him the loving father I never had. The one I needed so badly when I was being severely punished for normal sexual desires. It is my view that most people will and should have only heterosexual intercourse most of the time, but at the same time I believe homosexual play to be perfectly natural and healthy. This is helpful to the personality and for the enrichment of friendship. It is pathological not to be able to make love to someone of the opposite sex, but it is equally pathologically sick not to be able to experience homosexual pleasure. For a youngster to have a bit of homosexual fun with an adult is of little significance if his normal sexual relations with the opposite sex are not impaired. I speak out of personal experience and also from psychological observation of others when I say that homosexual play under good conditions can be enjoyable and of positive value. For example, when sailing ships used to leave port for months at a time, an older and a younger sailor who had a good time sexually together on ship did not find that it affected their sex with women in port. The neurotic man is the one who cannot enjoy sex play in such a situation.
Saint Thomas said that the chief use of sex, in addition to making babies, is as a way to get to know other persons intimately, and my deepest friendships and personal loyalties began with sex play - which is a way for two males as well as a man and a woman to develop a deep relationship. Sex play does not last long between males as a rule, but the friendship remains. Obviously I’m not very sympathetic to the idea of gay marriages, but I don’t object to them for people who find it meaningful; for joy and delight are so precious, and loving relationships are so needed in this world, that we should encourage such precious things whenever and wherever we find them. Lives and personalities are shallow because the sexual dimension is so often blocked off. We would have better community if we all had better sex.
Except for sex play I was a good kid who worked hard, made good grades in school, and helped my mother, yet I grew up with wounded feelings and guilt - which perhaps explains why I love delinquent lads. Why should a grown man enjoy playing ball and sex games with such youngsters? I remember one lovely boy who was mixed up, who badly needed the insight and affection I could bring into his life. As usual I agonized over whether to send him away or take him to bed, which is what he really needed. He not only wanted a warm human contact, but he wanted to submit to me, to feel the dominating strength of a father. Our bodies hungered together for something which risked destroying the affection we both needed, because it would leave guilty feelings. Most people will assume the sexual intercourse I had with that boy was damaging, but what is really obscene is the way our society makes us feel shameful and like criminals for doing human things that we really need. The only wrong thing I did with that boy was fail to love him enough. The best way to change our inhuman sex laws, in my judgment, would be for each person to act out what he thinks right, expressing his sexual emotions as his heart and body tell him to do, and join en masse with others to do as I did with that boy.
People often ask me what is wrong with the schools, what kills the spirit of so many youngsters today, robbing them of curiosity and creativity. As an educator who has written much on the subject, I’ve never really said what I think, which is that a good pupil-teacher relationship inevitably has sexual overtones. A healthy recognition of, and a creative use of, such sexual experience is basic to the flowering of a youngster’s personality and genius. Perhaps someday scientific research will confirm that a sexually fulfilled, sexually happy youngster will bloom in school like a rose. It does the adolescent boy no harm to have a sexual affair with a favorite teacher. Such a master-disciple relationship, as when the teacher coaches the boy in sex as well as in other aspects of the mind and spirit, is successful if the boy grows up to be a mature heterosexual who no longer needs his teacher. Facetiously, this does not mean that I would repeal the laws against man-boy sex play! For youngsters, and many men as well, find it much more exciting and rewarding to have secret, illegal affairs. When everything that is fun becomes legal a lot of the spice goes out of young lives, especially for the kid who needs to rebel. Good sex education is given by example and by shared experience. I think the ban on homosexual play damages and depersonalizes education, and I think the ban on heterosexual play is a catastrophe. A student who blooms under loving praise will shrivel under impersonal, cold relationships.
A critic once wrote that I am “queer for kids.” Of course I am, how could I write perceptively about them if I wasn’t deeply concerned. I know a man who takes boys mountain climbing, which develops their self-confidence and helps them to become healthy and manly. Everyone says he really loves boys. Of course he does. Why else would he devote so much of his time and energy to them? I once taught at a prep school where most of the lads had either lost a parent or were unwanted at home, and were in desperate need of love. Because I am a pederast I quickly won their affection, since they needed to love. It was a very anxiety-producing relationship, yet they were eager to conspire with me. They became excited about learning, where other kids were bored. Timid educators usually crush kids to keep them quiet, because real teaching would involve a release of emotions and taboo sexual expression. Better crush a kid than admit he is a sexual being. So kids are emasculated, homosexualized, and are systematically retarded - since they are never allowed to ask the really nagging questions.
My career as teacher didn’t last long, however. I came across a group of boys masturbating, and school rules said they should be punished. All boys masturbate, but they are not supposed to be caught! It is against the rules to have sex hungers and needs when you are fourteen. We certainly don’t want boys of that age to be warm, human, and concerned for each other’s problems. Few teachers would even have discovered that the group was trying to help one of the older ones who was sure something was wrong with him and that he couldn’t do it. In their friendship and compassion the group stuck with him until he proved to them and himself that he was O.K. and not queer. It was a great human moment that I chanced upon … and I was supposed to lecture them for being bad boys. Feeling very guilty, the boy who had been the center of it all burst into tears, which is a shameful thing for a boy in his teens. So, without saying anything, I simply put my arms around him and kissed him on the forehead. It was a fatherly deed, yet because I was a teacher I did something considered as horrible as if I had masturbated with them. I was visibly conspiring with them! Our sense of community in the next hour was so thick you could cut it with a knife. To heal the tension, I told them the story of Agamemnon and Orestes and I suspect it was one of the best sex education sessions the school ever had. You have to hand it to the Greek myths. Life could be permanently soured for a young boy who crawls into a teacher’s bed for a bit of warmth and affection, perhaps he needs to cry about something at home. Instead of expelling the pupil and arresting the teacher, the Greeks would have told the story of Zeus and Ganymede, how the greatest god of all took a boy to bed. Why else should such a story be at the center of their mythology, if not to say that it could happen to anyone. Most of the Greek myths are deeply psychological interpretations of human problems, like the Oedipal complex.
To be honest that’s not the way I handled it when a boy came to my bed one night. I sent him away, and ironically he was the one who later told on me and had me fired. Had I taken him to bed for a few minutes of affectionate sex he might have been a better and more compassionate boy. He was jealous because everyone knew I had a favorite. I taught him to dance, how to court a girl, and when he was embarrassed at his fumbling attempts at lovemaking and came to me with his embarrassment, I sent him back with confidence and contraceptives.
There have been few days since I was eleven years old that I haven’t had an orgasm, and I’ve certainly had many more than my wife could need or want. Given this sex drive I have had many sexual adventures, generally with boys whose fathers only kick them out for their sex education, boys who turn to a man like me for tenderness and understanding. Fathers in Italy used to take young sons to prostitutes, but in America a father doesn’t even dare encourage his son to masturbate, although he may leave Playboy lying around for that purpose. In an article in the New York Review of Books I said that we can’t hide sex from children, but instead we must help them to manage it in creative ways. I once wrote a story about a boy who was invited by a strange man to go for a ride in his car. The boy suspected the man’s sexual intentions, so he said: “All right, if you’ll buy me an ice cream cone first.” Although I called the boy by the name of Horatio Alger, he was in fact really me. Actually I didn’t go. If I had, I might have found the sexual experience disgusting, so as to end all my fantasies. Since I didn’t go, I enjoyed in my imagination the sexual experience I thought I might have had. If you wish to understand any pederast, or the sexual experience of any human being, explore his dreams. Only in that rich world of fantasy and concealed experience is the truth about ourselves in any way revealed. There will be no honest sex except where there is truth, as well as honest love.
SOME CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS
- The story above is that of Paul Goodman, who once said that he expected to be arrested sometime for pederastic play, but never was. He was for many people the spokesman and prophet of the underground. His views, which are summarized here, can be found in Five Years (1969), Making Do (1962), Parent’s Day (1952), Growing Up Absurd (1960), and various articles. Also of interest are other novels of his which are listed in the bibliography.
- Goodman puts sexual deviancy in a larger context, placing an emphasis on human nature, suggesting that adolescent delinquency cannot be solved until we provide youngsters with a human society they can be fulfilled in, instead of trying to “adjust” them to a cruel order which dehumanizes them. When youngsters are thwarted and starved for love they naturally invent deviant objects for themselves, since human beings are creative in bypassing the “system” as in everything else. Since sex may lead to trouble, boys substitute violence, drugs, stealing, gambling.
 St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) did indeed say this of “the greatest friendship”, that between a man and a woman (Summa contra Gentiles III 123), but he denounced homosexuality unequivocally and certainly did not suggest sex as a means of bonding between males.
 Agamemnon was the father of Orestes, who famously avenged his murder on the culprits, who were his own mother and her lover. The present editor would be grateful to any reader who can elucidate how their story could have been “one of the best sex education sessions the school ever had”.
 The only others listed in the bibliography are The Break Up of Camp and Other Stories (New York: New Directions, n.d.) and Our Visit to Niagara (New York: Horizon Press, 1960).