Where the True Stars Shine: Richard Dawkins & Gore Vidal on Sexual Abuse

In his best-selling book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes his experience at three British boarding schools, where “teachers whose affections for small boys overstepped the bounds of propriety.” Dawkins adds that, “if, fifty years later, they had been hounded by vigilantes or lawyers as no better than child murderers, I should have felt obliged to come to their defense, even as a victim of one of them (an embarrassing but otherwise harmless experience).” He warns against “false memories” concocted with the help of unscrupulous therapists and mercenary lawyers. The view that sexually interfering with children is harmless (combined with the seemingly contradictory one that a patient might invent traumatic memories of such an incident) is the central argument for those who would exploit children for their own ends—and/or for imagined “social liberation” purposes. Except that, the social engineering programs underway, at least since Havelock Ellis, appear to be based on an even more radical belief, that sexual interference with children is actually beneficial to them, at least some of the time. What’s implicit in Dawkins’ account is that he himself is the proof that these sorts of experience do no harm, being a successful, award-winning author (and social reformer), and a man of great intellectual prowess.


Dawkins follows up his personal anecdote by stating that the damage done by sexual abuse is “arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.” As evidence, he describes a young girl who was sexually abused in a car by her parish priest; around about the same time, a Protestant friend died and consequently the girl believed her friend had gone to hell. She wrote to Dawkins to say that the sexual fondling was just a “yucky” impression, while the memory of her friend going to hell “left a cold, immeasurable fear” that gave her nightmares. Dawkins uses the example both to bolster his case against religion and to downplay the psychological impact of sexual abuse. Putting the two examples of abuse side by side as an either/or—when it was clearly a case of both/and—serves to further his own ideological ends. It also leaves unaddressed the question of whether sexual interference can harm a child’s psyche in ways not immediately apparent, then or later. Perhaps the “cold immeasurable fear” the girl felt consciously when thinking of her friend’s damnation was part of the unconscious affect of being molested? After all, the person who sexually molested her was also the person whom she had entrusted with the care of her soul. She herself might well feel damned by such molestation, and all the more identified with her doomed and “sinful” friend.

Another example. After his death, it came out that Gore Vidal had been “terrified” that William F. Buckley would release a file accusing Vidal of having sex with underage boys. According to family members, Vidal ran up a million-dollar legal bill trying to prevent this from happening. Vidal’s half-sister told a Vidal biographer that she believed the records alleged that the author committed “Jerry Sandusky acts”—Sandusky being the Penn State University football coach convicted of sexually abusing young boys. Vidal also “had a ‘very weird take’ on the disclosures of sexual abuse of boys by priests in the Roman Catholic Church, dismissing the victims as ‘hustlers who were sending signals.’”

Ian Pace wrote about Vidal’s sexual predilections, referring to his “most notorious novel, Myra Breckinridge (1968), specifically the passage which relates with relish the brutal rape of a teenage boy, Rusty, presented in terms of female/gay empowerment so as to titillate liberal left readers.” Pace reproduces the chapter in its entirety, just under 9000 words of grisly, salacious, and deliberately eroticized descriptions of Myra Breckinridge’s medical rape (ending with the use of a dildo) of a young boy. Early on in the chapter, Myra persuades the boy, Rusty, to stay: “‘I’m sorry. But this is more important than your social life. After all, you want to be a star, don’t you?’ That was always the clincher in dealing with any of the students. They have been conditioned from childhood in the knowledge that to achieve stardom they might be called upon to do anything, and of course they would do anything because stardom is everything and worth any humiliation or anguish. So the saints must have felt in the days of Christendom, as they burned to death with their eyes on heaven where the true stars shine.”

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Jasun Horsley

Jasun Horsley

Existential detective. Liminalist author. Movie autist in chronic confessional mode. You only think you don't know who I am.
Jasun Horsley

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