RINGS, SUBCULTURES AND THE UNDERGROUND BY PARKER ROSSMAN
“Rings, Subcultures and the Underground” is the second chapter of Dr. Parker Rossman’s Sexual Experience Between Men and Boys (originally published by Association Press, New York, 1976), one of the only three book-length general studies of Greek love in English.
The character and even existence of pederastic rings, subcultures and undergrounds is something that has varied considerably according to the legal and social circumstances with which boy-lovers were faced. Rossman says in the introduction to his book that 69% of the pederasts he studied were from the U.S.A. or Canada, 25% European, 5% Latin American and 1% from Asia, Africa or Australia, but everything in this chapter presupposes a society in which pederasty is seriously outlawed, which was far from universally the case in 1976, less still earlier, besides which no mention is made in it of anything outside of the USA and a few western European countries, or of anything that was not then recent. The reader should be aware of these severe limitations to the chapter and book’s purportedly general character.
Rings, Subcultures and the Underground
We frequently read in the press about the police breaking up a ring of pornographers or sexual deviants of one sort or another. Since sex play between men and boys is against the law nearly everywhere in the United States, pederasty only exists underground in sexual subcultures. In turn, these sexual subcultures are defined as “collective solutions to certain contradictions within society,” for persons who feel “left out” to make a place for themselves where they can explore “who they are” and why their condition exists. On the other hand, an underground is a step below a subculture, and consists of the secret life of persons who are in rebellion against some aspects of society and its formal institutions. Undergrounds may be simple or complex and also may vary greatly in their structure – it sometimes consisting of networks, hangouts, cells, ideas or ideologies, publications, and sometimes consisting of a formal organization. Having explored many types of undergrounds, we find it incorrect to define them as movements, or even in terms of common structure, behavior or attitudes. Secrecy sometimes nurtures a sort of irrational mystique, seen in the solidarity of fellow-sufferers. In the face of violent repression of sexual minorities such as pederasts, secrecy tends to fester into illegal activities.
For some persons, undergrounds are survival systems; for others they are protest movements seeking to change society, founded by individuals who feel they free an unjust, absurd, or cruel condition. Nearly everyone is anti-institutional, for example, when facing injustice that seems arbitrary or moral restrictions that seek to repress what one feels to be essential and unchangeable in his nature. Sexual repression incites secret rebellion which creates the environment which encourages undergrounds. As long as a pederast is isolated in society and made to think that his sexual desires are peculiar and unique, he may brood in isolation. However, when he begins to discover that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of other persons have sexual inclinations similar to his, he begins to seek them out in order to discover something about himself, his nature, his desires, and to ask why and how he happens to be deviant. When several pederasts meet for such a reason, the police may consider it as a “ring,” or a meeting to conspire to aid each other to break the law. Such an underground group tends in time either to surface as a counterculture seeking to influence or change dominant cultural institutions, or else it tends to become a criminal underworld, despairing of a place within the legal structures of society. An apt illustration of this is furnished by the difference between the French resistance underground and the Mafia. The French underground was universally respected during and after World War II. Historically the Mafia had its origins in a similar underground resistance movement. Historically speaking, the French underground might well have become similar to the Mafia had the Germans continued to occupy France for several centuries. Fathers would have raised their sons to oppose German law, police and institutions, as fathers in Sicily did during hundreds of years of foreign occupation.
Undergrounds exist not only to do what society forbids, but often also to do what society fails to do; for example, to help unmarried people cope with their sexual needs in a culture in which sexual intercourse is permitted only with marriage. If such a subculture is purely criminal and exploitive, it is called an “underworld,” if it has some revolutionary aspects and values, it is an “underground.” It may be as difficult for middle-class outsiders to understand a sexual underground as it is for many middle-class whites to understand lower-class black culture. Scholars tend to search for explanations which make sense in terms of their own presuppositions and values, and therefore are poorly prepared to discover that a sexual underground may be quite different from what their presumptions have led them to expect. The word exploring is therefore used here to suggest that we must expect to enter a strange world so different from conventional values and behavior as to be difficult to understand. If the surfacing gay underground frequently seems complex and mystifying, as for example when a Catholic nun resigns from her order only to surface later as priest of a gay church, or pornographers surface as respectable businessmen demanding their rights in the courts of the land, the existence of pederast groups which demand “sexual rights of adolescents” seems doubly offensive to law and morality. Most pederasts have few illusions about the value of surfacing in a society which has no intention of officially tolerating them. Only an infinitesimal minority, therefore, ever get involved in “rings” or other such groups. Many, if not most, of them resent a book like this or even any publicity at all.
CULTURE AND COUNTER-CULTURE
The existence of sexual undergrounds presumes a dominant sexual culture, a sexual establishment in Western society, based on Judeo-Christian morality, in which theory has authorized sexual intercourse only within, or in preparation for, heterosexual marriage - and, until very recently, only for purposes of procreation. All other sexual experience and involvements have been taboo, but have of necessity been tolerated underground so long as they stayed out of sight. Both inside and outside marriage, human beings have long valued erotic experiences that were not purely procreative: some in art, some mystical, some playful or tension-releasing, some lustful or simply relieving sexual pressures - especially among the unmarried. Most people seem to assume that this established Western pattern of limiting sex contact to the confines of monogamous marriage is innate in mankind and dominant over all the civilized globe. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however, even though support of such institutions as courtship and marriage is written into the law of most modern countries. Ancient counter-cultures such as polygamy, child marriage, and pederasty were thought to be disappearing.
Some of the so-called sexual revolution in this century is merely an awakening to and an acknowledgment of what had previously been kept out of sight. Pederasty is increasingly prominent today, not only in news stories of arrests of pederasts but also in fiction, biographies and autobiographies, films, TV and radio discussions and nonfiction books, legal cases, and in the experience of most adolescents who at one time or another encounter a pederast who offers sexual adventures and pleasure.
Social scientists and law-enforcement authorities point to five pederastic subcultures which are identifiable:
In the last two decades there has been a slow, cautious, deliberate effort on the part of many pederasts to seek one another out in a quest for self-understanding. In some cases, where groups have been formed, the intent has been to provide support or to help the others avoid illegal acts. There have been Alcoholics Anonymous-type experiments calculated to enlist pederasts in helping one another stay out of trouble. Mostly, however, pederasts have gathered for purposes of conversation, seeking an environment in which they can talk openly and honestly about their needs and desires. Partly because of the peril of becoming known, such groups usually gather ostensibly for sports purposes - as a hunting club, a group to raise funds for adolescent sports groups, or even as a stamp club. How do they find one another? Sometimes by advertising in the personal columns of magazines and newspapers, especially in gay publications. But more often simply by noticing other men with similar habits, especially those who hang around near soda bars, bus stations, all-night restaurants, and other pederast gathering places. Some pederasts say they can recognize another pederast on sight, or by watching him for a few minutes at a youth organization. Frequently, like a “Pied Piper,” he will have boys trailing him. Once in a while a pederast may catch another in a compromising situation and come to his aid. There are cases, however, in which two men meet at a boy’s club and are friends for years before each discovers that the other is a pederast.
Many a pederast reports that when he was young, or when it first struck him that he was erotically attracted to young boys, he thought he must be different from all other men in the world. Surely, he thought, no other men who are happily involved heterosexually with women would also have homosexual desires for boys. It is common for such an isolated pederast to keep secret scrapbooks, with pictures of favorite boys cut from magazines. A historic event for many such pederasts was the appearance on the newsstands in the late 1950’s of an issue of Trim Magazine with a naked 13-year-old boy on the cover. Many pederasts reported as did this one: “When I first saw that picture on the magazine cover I was excited, not merely because it was erotic to me but also because I realized at once that there must be other persons like me.” Some pederasts got acquainted through correspondence with the Trim photographer, who made a small fortune from selling copies of the photograph. The publisher, who had previously specialized in photography and in publications for gay-homosexuals, found that there was a large market for pederastic materials. Several mail-order houses emerged to sell pederastic novels, art books, calendars, joke books, with thousands of men even filling out questionnaires to help these businessmen create the necessary materials to satisfy their tastes and preferences. A study of the mailing lists, however, reveals that they consist for the most part of persons who seek books and photographs to feed the fantasies which they substitute for actual sex acts. Probably such persons are willing to have their names on the mailing lists because, not being guilty of any sexual offense, they have nothing to fear from the police.
A second subculture consisted of networks formed in order to pass along information: news of publications, of arrests and dangers, gossip about well-known pederasts such as film personalities, and so on. Such networks consist largely of a hundred or so pederast newsletters most of which have been published since World War II. The Scholarly International Journal of Greek Love survived only two issues because the printer was arrested for counterfeiting. Other pederast publications were sometimes typed and passed from hand to hand like underground publications in Russia. Others were photo-offset newsletters such as Better Life, Hermes, and Puberty Rites, which featured book and film reviews, legal information, medical advice, and exchanges of opinion. There have been many more such publications in Europe, such as Billy, which contains scholarly articles alongside erotic photographs and want ads submitted by men or boys who wish to meet other kindred souls. Between 1970 and 1974, the Committee on Pedophilia of the Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform sponsored four international study conferences in Holland. Better Life’s staff followed them up with a series of mini-conferences in American cities, largely to discuss mutual defense and law revision. The 1973 international conference concluded that it is incorrect to view pederasty as “an insignificant minority within a homosexual minority,” and urged more serious research into the nature of pederasty, its extent, and its significance in relation to gay-homosexuality.
The Rene Guyon Society, a split from the Sexual Freedom League, prepares legal briefs to help pederasts in court and testifies before legislative committees. A number of gay-homosexual publications, especially in Europe, also attempt to serve pederasts, among them is The Examiner in London, which in March of 1975 published a long interview with author Michael Davidson about his “paederastic inclinations.” These publications include news of such groups as the “Paedophile Action for Liberation,” which in 1974 helped circulate a letter in Great Britain to selected educators, clergymen, social workers, physicians, and parents of teen-age boys, inviting them to join with pederasts in drafting a document and in founding an organization (which presumably would be half pederast but no one would know which half!) to work for “greater realism in legal practice” and education with regard to adult-adolescent sexual involvements. The proposal called for the creation of a core group of persons who would prepare a booklet, take resolutions to various organizations, and consult with groups of lawyers, especially asking for a review of the “age of consent” provisions presently in British law. Eighty per cent of the persons who were written to replied favorably. Ironically, pederasts were the most negative, worrying about “rocking the boat,” whereas non-pederasts generally approved of liberalizing the laws regulating adolescent sex practices, although some had reservations about the maturity of pederasts. As a result of conferences with certain Members of Parliament in June of 1975, this core group anticipated that the age of consent in Great Britain might soon be lowered three to five years.
While the number of books and organizations adopting a more sympathetic view of pederasty seems to be increasing, the networks which disseminate such information include non-pederasts as well as pederasts among their members.
Photographers and Pornographers
A third subculture of pederasts clusters around photography, including those who collect artistic pictures, those who keep souvenir photos, and those who collect pornography. Photography and pornography are substitutes for actual sexual contact with boys for some pederasts — 74 per cent of whom collect photos. One of the surprising things about pederast pornography is that very little is artificially posed, in contrast to other types of pornography. Another surprising factor is that whether consisting of movies, slides, or magazine photographs, very few young boys are paid for appearing in such pictures. This fact is of significance in understanding the nature of pederasty. Whether the pornographic pictures consist merely of rough play and clowning around or of more explicit sexual acts, the subjects are generally simply given freedom before the camera to do whatever they enjoy, with their payment being solely the pleasure they receive from the sex act and sex play itself. One would expect young boys to be shy in front of a camera, and to demand large sums before being willing to have pictures taken of them doing deviant acts. The fact is, however, that many boys are excited and aroused by the presence of the camera, and on their own initiative perform in ways they had been unwilling or uninterested in doing before. This excitement at being photographed during sex play somewhat resembles the way in which many boys are released from inhibitions by being tied up or handcuffed. When turned loose on a bed in front of a camera, many schoolboys will experiment with practices one would assume they had never heard of.
Police have difficulty in tracing down and arresting pornographers because a high percentage of the pornography sold commercially, as in magazines, is pirated from private collections which may be many years old, and which frequently came from foreign countries; also because boys involved become co-conspirators. The circulation of such materials constitutes a sort of subculture of interest to many pederasts, but it is not the underground we are seeking, for many of the pornography merchants are not pederastic at all, but simply are in the business for the money. Also, there are many men who would claim that they are not pederastic at all, but who enjoy buying and viewing films of boys engaged in sex play, presumably finding them amusing. On the other hand, the pederast “rings” which gather around a common interest in photography are more likely to take pictures of boys at swim meets, fishing, hiking, or playing basketball or tennis.
There is a criminal pederast underworld, actually quite small, which is inhabited by pederasts running away from the police, by pimps, by gangsters who blackmail pederasts and shake down pornographers. There was, for example, a blackmailer in New York City at the time of the 1964 World’s Fair who offered young boys to tourists with the suggestion that they might like to try a “new type of sex kick.” Because the blackmailer was well-dressed and well-educated and his boys were clever and charming, quite a few tourists who had never even heard of pederasty were curious enough to try a new experience, - not realizing that their driver’s license or credit cards would be taken while they were in bed with the boy. However, there have been very few efforts to organize prostitution rings or blackmail rings in the pederast milieu. This may be, if rumors can be believed, because the “lavender mafia” has framed on drug charges those who endangered its operations by trying to blackmail customers. There were many pederast brothels in the United States before World War I, but as with other sorts of brothels they have been replaced in most of the world by call-boy rings or amateur unorganized prostitution. There are gangsters who operate bars and clubs for pederasts. Some are disguised as juice bars or pool halls; others are night clubs that reopen in the middle of the night as soft-drink clubs where pederasts can meet boy prostitutes. Since 1972 the “meat racks” (street corners where boys stand waiting for men to pick them up) have increasingly been replaced by boys waiting at pay telephones in their own neighbourhoods or at drugstores and beaches, with their amateur pimps changing such locations and phone numbers from week to week.
These operations are difficult for the police to track down, for this criminal subculture always seems to evaporate like soap bubbles when it is pursued. Such pimps generally operate as loners, and after arrest or after a payoff to police simply move to new locations. Ironically, arrests among pederasts most frequently take place among paiderastia-types who slip into sex offenses out of affection, rather than among the pimps, blackmailers, or promiscuous adventurers who patronize pimps. Indeed, the blackmailer who was tricking the curious patrons of the New York World’s Fair was never arrested - even when adequate evidence was submitted to the New York Vice Squad. The police themselves perhaps tipped him off each time a complaint was made to them, reputedly because they found him useful as an informant on other crimes.
In this milieu, runaway boys have been drugged, abused, even murdered. They have been passed from pimp to pimp across the United States, and have at times even been sent to pimps overseas. This criminal underworld, however, is not the pederast underground we seek to explore here. Rather it consists of parasites who hang like leeches on the pederast underground.
ARE THERE PEDERAST RINGS?
A 1966 book entitled The Boys of Boise reported journalistically on the aftermath of a pederast scandal which involved prominent persons in Idaho. Since then there have been newspaper accounts of many such rings, while others have been less publicized. A group of Midwestern bankers every other year selected a junior-high-school boy for a full-expense college scholarship, with the understanding that he would take turns sleeping with them for two years. Another group of businessmen ran a boxing club for young boys and these same young boys got high prizes if they also shared their sexual favors. A group of fathers in Los Angeles reputedly slept with one another’s sons on camping trips. Runaway boys told of being sent on a circuit which passed them from one man to another for six months, few of whom kept the boy for more than a few days. However, very few of the thousand pederasts interviewed for this study had personal experience with any such ring. Several pederasts who had been arrested for participation in such a ring reported that while at least some of the arrested ring members were indeed guilty of sex play with boys, the ring itself was largely a fabrication of the press, or of a district attorney who wanted more sensational headlines to advance his career. Pederasts of various types have gotten acquainted and have developed friendships on the basis of their common interests and problems. They do, as do other friends, sometimes take fishing trips together and if they take their young friends along, then in that sense there is a ring. Whatever their individual behavior may have been, however, the sole group activity of one such ring, declared by the police to be a “vice ring,” had been men taking boys to a Catholic Eucharist together.
For the most part, when we descend into the pederast underground we find nothing there like a Mafia or a secret political group. Instead we find pederasts clustered in small groups, each heading in a different direction, as if struggling to find their way out of the darkness. Some, their lives already wrecked by arrest or prison, may be anti-societies existing as survival systems. Others will be seeking to find ways to avoid illegal acts or to get out of the underground. Still others exist as rebels, seeking to do simple human acts of kindness to persons who have been crushed or who are puzzled about a doom which seems to hang over them as a result of forces and desires over which they have little control.
SOME CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS
- The pederast underground does not consist of criminal or political organizations, but of small groups of men who “hang around where boys are.” Even the pimps and blackmailers of the underworld, when seeking to find each other, say: “If I hear he is in San Francisco, I know where he’ll show up sooner or later.” This insight provides a basic clue for finding the pederast underground.
- The police find it difficult to apprehend pederast offenders because the underground is complex, changing from place to place and hour to hour. It may take an investigator weeks or even months to gain the information and make the contacts he needs, and by then everything may have completely changed and he will have to start over again. Also, the police lack adequate terminology and insight into the nature of pederasty, which is so interwoven with innocent sex play and legal behavior (which often may appear more suspicious than do actual sex offenses) that it is almost impossible for an outsider to get a clear picture of what is really happening, and to decide what can be done about it. In one Eastern city of 140,000 people, for example, the pederasts seem always to know immediately of any new police plans for surveillance or investigation, whereupon everything immediately changes. Boys disappear from the restaurant, the drugstore, and the corner of the park where they customarily hang out, and reappear at a suburban shopping center or at a beach in the next county.
- While pederasts tend to view gay-homosexual organizations as unfriendly opposition, some gay organizations, especially in Europe, are sympathetic to pederasts, even though it is in their own best public interests to oppose pederasty. For example, Dorr Legg of One, Inc., in the Los Angeles Advocate, Jan. 15, 1975 was quoted as saying: “Among their immense concessions to homophobia, the so-called liberationists have lumped boy-love into the category of child molestation.” He then defended the value of men tutoring boys in sex by saying that such efforts in previous civilizations were “beautiful arrangements” and “could be so again.” Pederast and gay undergrounds, however, are rarely if ever the same.
 M. Brake, “The Skinhead — An English Working Class Subculture,” Youth and Society, Dec. 1974. [Author’s footnote]
 Albert Camus, The Rebel (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), p. 65. [Author’s footnote]
 Pederastic incidents are found in all kinds of novels today. For example, mystery story: Kingsley Amis, The Riverside Villas Murder (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973) [this is a misleading example: the 14-year-old boy hero has sex with a boy his age and a woman, but not a man]; spy story: Freemantle (1975) [not identified in the author’s bibliography]; an autobiographical novel: Del Castillo (1959) [not identified in the author’s bibliography, but presumably a novel by Michel del Castillo is intended]; a regional novel: Michael Rubin, In a Cold Country (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971); historical novel: F. Prokosch, The Missolonghi Manuscript (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1968); a travel novel: Favel (1968) [not identified in the author’s bibliography]. [Author’s footnote]
 For “gossip” see Michael Davidson, The World, the Flesh and Myself (London: Guild Press, 1962), Peyrefitte (1961) [it is far from clear which of Roger Peyrefitte’s novels listed in Rossman’s bibliography is meant by this], T. C. Worsley, Flanneled Fool (London: Alan Ross, 1967), etc. [Author’s footnote]
 In films: The Conformist, Gates of Paradise (Polish film about pederasty in children’s crusade), the Polidoro Satyricon (the Fellini Satyricon tended to turn the pederast novel into a gay-homosexual film), Los Olvidados, Lazarillo, Murmur of the Heart, If, Night Games, The Victors, Germany Year Zero, and a passing incident in Z…, wherein a pederast stares at a boy standing on a balcony in his underwear. A friend asks: “Don’t you ever think of anything else?” The pederast replies: “What else is there?” [Author’s footnote]
 E. Brongersma, Das Verfemte Geschlecht (Munich: Lichtenberg Verlag GmbH., 1970), Arno Karlen, Sexuality and Homosexuality (New York: W. W. Norton, 1971), Robert Ollendorff, The Juvenile Homosexual Experience (New York: Julian Press, 1966), etc. [Author’s footnote]
 Trim, which called itself “Young America’s Favorite Physique Publication” was issued 1957-67. It normally featured near-naked men or occasionally boys on the cover, and was obviously, though not overtly, mostly designed for gays.
 See Arcadie (September 1974) and Medisch Contact (February 21, 1975), pp. 205 ff. [Author’s footnote]
 The split was the result of the feeling of Guyon Society members that the Sex Freedom League neglected instructing and protecting youngsters from venereal disease. [Author’s footnote]
 206 Railton Road, London SE 24. [Author’s footnote]
 The age of consent for male homosexual acts was then twenty-one.
 John Gerassi, The Boys of Boise (New York: Macmillan, 1966) [Author’s footnote].
 For example, see Time Magazine (June 5, 1972) [Author’s footnote].
Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)
Eccepuer, 14 January 2022
Thanks for posting the Bobby Pell cover of TRIM Feb. 1962. That issue was, indeed, my own introduction to gay digest purchases. I was 16 years old, on one of my many truancy days spent in NYC, when I spotted it hanging on the inside wall of a sidewalk newsstand. I think my heart stopped. I badly wanted to buy it, but it took 15-20 minutes of walking fretfully about until I worked up the courage to hand over my money. Many such purchases followed over the years, including other issues featuring Bobby Pell, but none have remained as memorable to this day.
If I saw that Bobby Pell cover on a newsstand today, it's not my heart I'd be concerned about but my sanity.