Tolerance 101, the South Park way
Perv - The sexual deviant in all of usJesse Bering
Random House, 2014
@: buy it online
When the South Park movie came out I was dragged by my friends to see it, as I thought that series’ humor was ok but not that fun. As the movie began I grew more and more restless, until I began seriously considering leaving the theatre altogether. The onscreen kids sneaked into a projection of an awful Terrance and Phillip feature movie, and after the third fart joke I turned to the friend sitting next to me and I expressed my disappointment. «Come on,» I said, «this is just gross, stupid and it is just the same crappy quality of the television episodes…» then I froze.
One of the characters was saying exactly the same, and was about to leave the T&P movie himself. I suddenly got it: the joke was on me – so I sat down again, watched the show to the end and enjoyed it immensely. To this day, I can’t see a pineapple without cracking up. Perv – The sexual deviant in all of us had a very similar effect on me.
The aim of this very scientific yet very entertaining book is to explore the phenomenon of sexual deviance as seen from different perspectives. The moral and religious one is mercifully brief, as serious people don’t really have time for superstitions. The biological, neurological and psychiatric sides are more well-rounded, replete with the sort of odd facts you can also read in my Unusual sexology column and interesting even for a non-specialized public. The sociological part, however, is the real treat.
Before getting there let me point out something important. Doctor Bering, the author, is openly gay and he frequently remarks this throughout the book as his own experience with a non-normative sexuality serves as an example and as a great narrative device. He plays it in a very endearing, often self-ironic way you cannot but love. And here comes the first South Park-ish trick.
You see, my job and personal erotic tastes taught me to be very accepting of diversity. I have no problems at all relating to homosexual people, yet reading the first half of Perv I repeatedly caught myself thinking that Bering did have a very subtle gay agenda. It was a gut feeling coming from reading a few phrases here and there, but I amusedly shrugged it off thinking that it was just my innate straight male prejudice talking. In fact having to acknowledge that made me relate even more closely to the topic of the book.
So there I was, conscientiously reading on, when the last third of Perv happened. That part focuses on the social implications of paraphilias, and the topic inevitably turned to the ugliest of them all: pedophilia. The repulsion you felt reading the word? Yup, I got it too. And this is precisely the Cartman-like beauty of this book.
You see, the whole point of Perv is to explain how sexual preferences cannot be chosen. Everyone is born with a specific and random “combination of the sex slot machine”, as Bering says, and there is nothing much you can do to change your inclinations. I cannot become a un-sadist no more than the author can turn straight, or a pedophile change into someone aroused by adults. The best a “pervert” can do is not to act on his fantasies, even though it means to impose an agonizing psychological suffering on himself. Also, repressed sexualities have the nasty tendency to eventually explode into uncontrolled acts which are dangerous for the subject and those around him. This is the very rationale behind building a culture of tolerance.
But… child abuse? Perv spends many pages explaining the difference between pedophilia and ebephilia, between damaging experiences and harmless ones, between reality and myth, and so on – yet I couldn’t help but feeling disgusted by the topic itself. Bering details the science and the law of nonhomogamous chronophilias (that is, abnormal attraction to partners in a very different age bracket), the counseling programs, the actual incidence of these deviances… and while my rational part agrees wholeheartedly, something inside would go for the pitchfork.
Which, after all, is exactly the reaction some people have when they learn of my sexual inclinations – or Bering’s – and their ignorance prevents them from processing the information rationally. This is why I liked Perv and recommend reading it. No matter what our culture and preferences are, there will always be a Terrance and Phillip moment waiting for our rationality to falter. We don’t have to embrace every difference, but to be unequipped to deal with it exposes us to the risk of making the wrong decision. You won’t regret having one more tool to avoid this.