Book Feature: The Age Taboo, Edited by Daniel Tsang
Today’s book feature is a 1981 collection of essays titled The Age Taboo, edited by Daniel Tsang and published by Alyson Publications (in the US) and Gay Men’s Press (in the UK).
The collection features essays on several related topics, including “coming out” stories from both adult men who pursue relationships with underage youth and also young people who pursue relationships with adult men; various issues surrounding the “age taboo” (including childhood sexuality, the sexual revolution, and legal issues); and the sexual politics surrounding man/boy love.
The collection does not concern itself with any other type of adult/youth relationship, except gay “man/boy love.”
The essays in this book are fascinating and present widely variant viewpoints. Despite its age–it was published in 1981, and the essays were written over several years prior to publication–the issues still seem largely relevant. We often see news stories of adults being convicted of having sex with minors; and some of us have occasionally felt frustration at what seem to be unfair laws–and unfair application of those laws. For example, the 20-year-old college student who has a relationship with a 17-year-old freshman and is later prosecuted by the younger man’s parents for statutory rape; or the young high school teacher who has a strictly consensual relationship with a senior student. (Which begs the question: can a younger person/minor have a strictly consensual relationship with an adult? Do the power dynamics inherent in that relationship affect the younger person’s ability to consent without reservation? But I digress.)
Despite our personal views or beliefs on these issues, most of us agree that there is not a magical, universal age when a young person becomes an independent sexual being, capable of a consensual sexual relationship. However, the government has determined that the age of consent is 18–in most states, anyway. Similarly, the age for voting, military draft, and purchasing cigarettes is also 18. Some essays in this book explore the idea of a specific number/age and the history of the “age of consent” in America. In colonial times, girls were considered old enough to consent to marriage and sexual relations as young as 10!
This book also explores, in depth, the politics of sexuality, specifically the enforcement of the age of consent. Varying viewpoints are given, and I found the arguments against the age of consent to be very engaging. One essay, titled “The Case for Abolishing Age of Consent Laws,” submitted by the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), had a decidedly anarchic tone. The essay criticized those who still view the state as a rational, beneficent force for good. I definitely don’t agree with much of what NAMBLA stands for, but the essay was very well written and thought-provoking.
If you have not read about these issues before, this book is a great introduction. Yes, it’s over 30 years old; but, honestly, the discourse hasn’t changed much since then. In truth, the issue of man/boy love was much more in the news in the late-1970’s than today, so the arguments and ideas presented are sometimes more fully-formed than anything written today.
To purchase a copy of this book, visit the Somewhere Books online store.
Feedback? Ideas? Comments? I would love to hear them!