Valuing Our Stories:
November 19, 2010, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Growing Up as Minor-Attracted Persons
Eighteen professionals, educators, and graduate students in the social sciences and mental health, and twelve minor-attracted people (MAPs) participated in B4U-ACT’s fifth workshop, devoted to telling the personal stories of both minor-attracted and non-minor-attracted participants. Goals included helping those in the social and behavioral sciences to understand MAPs’ struggles to understand themselves and their place in society, introducing them to new areas of practice and research, and helping participants to recognize the strengths that all groups in attendance bring to the situation. Probably the most important goal, however, was for participants to get to know the human subjects at the heart of complicated and difficult-to-discuss issues, thus breaking down stereotypes held by the groups about each other.
Over the course of the day, six minor-attracted people volunteered to speak openly about negotiating emotional and sexual attractions to children in a society prone to inaccurate generalizations and hasty, fearful reactions. Some speakers described wallowing in self-hatred for years – even decades – and sometimes considering suicide after discovering their attractions; others recounted well-intentioned acts of self-disclosure resulting in their alienation from family members and close friends. Some MAPs present – both those who shared formal testimonials as well as those who contributed shorter personal anecdotes during subsequent discussion – marked this workshop as a milestone in their journeys toward self-acceptance, many of whom labored to understand themselves up to that point in the absence of reassuring social messages about their decency or potential value in society. MAP participants remarked how simultaneously liberating and terrifying it was to speak so frankly about their sexuality in mixed company, considering the lengths they routinely go to understate these aspects of their identities in their everyday lives. All workshop participants received a packet including additional written accounts from MAPs who either couldn’t attend the conference or preferred not to speak.
Mental health clinicians and graduate students also spoke about issues related to minor-attraction which personally and professionally impacted their lives. One professional drew parallels between some of his own experiences and those of minor-attracted people, and credited his attendance at a previous workshop with profoundly changing his therapeutic approach toward people who are attracted to minors. Another participant told of her astonishment to learn of the possibility of a “law-abiding pedophile” – as one participating MAP had so described himself – and resolved to receive minor-attracted clients with compassion. Participants demonstrated astounding level-headedness in the face of potentially crippling fears and emotional biases, a feat B4U-ACT seeks to elicit on an increasingly wider scale via more collaborative dialogues such as these. MAPs who likewise harbor biases toward the mental health community stand to benefit from B4U-ACT’s consciousness-raising efforts as well as they interact in workshop settings with educators and clinicians who, having transcended commonly held prejudices about MAPs, stand ready to provide compassionate support and guidance for issues both directly and indirectly related to minor-attraction.
Despite an emotionally exhausting day, all thirty people in attendance echoed the importance of continuing these unprecedented dialogues. The experience prompted some attendees to inquire with mental health agencies in their local areas about funding sources for B4U-ACT, to look into arranging for minor-attracted persons to speak to their classes, to contact their university about hosting a future B4U-ACT workshop, and to consider focusing their research on minor-attracted people. Conversations trailed on for an hour after the workshop formally adjourned, a hopeful sign that the fire B4U-ACT has ignited in the name of mutual understanding won’t be burning out anytime soon.