Following the furore over Netflix’s Cuties movie in the fall, Quillette editor-in-chief Claire Lehmann tweeted that the creepy conservative obsession with paedophilia is as bizarre as the feminist obsession with rape. I took umbrage, and noted my annoyance—though I knew what she meant. Sexual violence, particularly toward children, is becoming more of a marginal topic. Rape, while a serious problem in every society, has been in historic decline in the west.
I am not naturally conservative, and I do not exhibit the required antagonism toward men to qualify me as a decent feminist. But in the area of sex, rape, and paedophilia, I am unable to separate my politics from what is fashionably called my “lived experience.” As a young girl, I was raped, as were other members of my family (not all of them female). It was only in my reaction to this tweet that I started to think of how those experiences, and the circumstances that surrounded them, shaped my politics.
My experience is not uncommon among those who share my socioeconomic background. I will spare readers most of the unpalatable details. But suffice to say I had a childhood marked by constant fear—of sleepless nights spent keeping watch.
The abuse started when I was about six. When I was about 10 (by my recollection), the abuser moved away, and no longer had access to my home. I then had a few years of peace. I might have used that interregnum to ask my parents for help, had they been more approachable.
I loved my parents with all my heart, and forgive them unreservedly. They were once an aspiring post-war, working class Australian couple. We lived in a Brisbane public housing estate with a state-assisted mortgage. My father was a London Cockney, born just a few years before the stock market collapse of 1929. He left what remained of his home city after the war, on assisted passage to Australia. For her part, my mum was descended almost entirely from 19th-century convicts. She was bright, but poor, and cursed genetically with Huntington’s disease (HD). By the time I came along in the early 1970s, the youngest of four, my parents were tired, my mother was mentally ill, and they were both alcoholics.
In the absence of parental care, as well as discipline, my siblings, cousins, and I ran wild. The fellowship we found within this dysfunctional group was the only joy of my miserable childhood. I was particularly close with my cousin Nicky, who was being abused by an older stepbrother. She lived in another town, but all our school holidays were spent together. We both knew what was happening to each other, but never really discussed it. We played and bathed and slept together, clinging to each other as a form of respite.
In primary school, I was easily distracted. I was angry almost all the time, cried easily, and, from the age of about 12, sought refuge in drugs and alcohol. The worst enduring symptom of trauma, for me, was fear. Not just trepidation, but real terror, from morning till night, and into my dreams.
When I was 11, my mother asked my former abuser to take care of our house while we were away. When we returned, he was back in my life. In a nightmare game of cat and mouse, I managed to stay safe until an incident when I was 13. This time, I told my mother, and he was out of my life again.
As with millions of girls, puberty was a time of fearfully watching my body turn into something that I knew was sexually attractive to men. Nicky went the other way and became promiscuous. Girls like Nicky search for power where they can find it. When you see a young woman wielding her sexual power, it’s not always a cause for either celebration or scorn. My brother and I spent many party nights pulling her away from the clutches of predators.
In the new sexually charged landscape that children encounter in school, activists lay out myriad sexual and gender identities to minors, on the possibility the child may see one as a mirror. They sift through children like sand, claiming other people’s sons and daughters as a member of this or that “community.” Both Nicky and her brother Kevin later identified as gay (which of course, they might well have been). They were both troubled, and Kevin committed suicide. Maybe it was an identity crisis, or maybe it was that they were being fucked when they were children.
I have no tolerance for activists obsessed with aggressive cultural interventions in a child’s sexuality or gender issues. Heterosexual girls are the people who are the most vulnerable to sexual and domestic violence, and who are most likely to be murdered by a sexual partner. In response, modern feminism wants to teach little boys like Kevin that they are toxic, and little girls like Nicky that promiscuity is liberation. Neither is helpful.
I dropped out of school at 16, for what could be called “social reasons,” and started a full-time job at a supermarket. My parents were spending all their money on alcohol, and there was nothing left for books, uniforms, or the things I needed to feel good about going to school. I was trying hard to be invisible. But it’s hard to be invisible in the wrong socks.
A year or so later, I enrolled in night-school classes to pursue my dream of going to university. I seemed to be getting myself together, even though my mother’s mental illness and alcoholism had become a chronic destabilizing factor in our lives. When I was 17, a few months after Kevin’s devastating suicide, my mother invited the abuser to move into our family home, again, even though she knew what he was. I became homeless.
Many years later, I wrote about these events in a victim impact statement. Girls like me become homeless because their home is more dangerous than the world of strangers into which they are thrown. That is saying something, because the world contains quite a lot of risk for a damaged girl.
I’m not sure how I managed to get myself enrolled in university, I attribute it to a mixture of rebellious rage, denial, and excessive marijuana use—that, and the fact that I did also find some kind souls. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program, majoring in political and cultural theory, probably because it had the lowest academic entry requirements.
You won’t find it surprising to learn that I related easily to Marxist ideology. I liked the idea that my oppression was systemic, that I was marked for suffering before I was born, and that I was a victim of it. If this was all true, then the path to justice was corporate and institutional, rather than the terrifying path of facing my own issues as a powerless individual.
By the time I was 20, my mental health was deteriorating, and what was left of my family was falling apart. Following the suicide of her brother, Nicky showed signs of serious emotional instability. Neither of us knew she was also experiencing early signs of Huntington’s disease. I will always remember the sorrow and frustration in her face when she turned to me one day and said, “no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to get myself together.” We’d always dreamed of escaping our torturous childhoods amid the freedom and possibilities of adulthood. The reality was different.
Under the belief (delusional, as it turned out) that the problem was rooted in my drug and alcohol use, I gave up both. Unfortunately, without that self-medication, I found myself face to face with the underlying pain and paralysing fear. One night, I collapsed on the floor, crying and in such physical pain that I could barely move. I picked up a Bible and read a passage from 2 Corinthians 5—Awaiting the New Body—that left me completely undone.
Not long after, I walked into a suburban Baptist church, full of strange, unfashionably dressed, conservative Christians. I was a Marxist, a feminist, foul-mouthed, a chain-smoker, and desperate. The love I received in that place is the reason that I will defend the rights of fundamentalist Christians to my dying breath. They were the kindest people I’d ever known. They loved me, on principle, and in doing so saved my life.
People who advocate for a world without religion have no idea what it is like to find the relief that I found at that time. My purpose here is not to describe my “Amazing Grace” moment, but to explain why I have no patience for militant atheists. In the face of my evangelical Christianity, progressives (mostly men) have called me every unholy thing imaginable—including, of all things, a paedophile apologist.
I went back to university, now into my second year, as a newly minted Christian. As I was no longer a Marxist, I lived in a world of cognitive dissonance. While pumping out essays about the patriarchy, the evils of capitalism, and the sinister influence of religion, I diligently studied my new faith.
As a means to avoid Marxism, I started to focus on post-structuralism. In the heady days of the early 90s, some may remember, the post-structuralist made fun of the Marxists and all their grand narratives. I learned to take ideas back to their origins, and show how cultures make everything up over long periods of time. According to post-structuralist ideas, our beliefs are all completely malleable.
I did encounter problems in an elective course that focused on the emergence of Protestantism, however. By applying the methodologies of Marcel Mauss, Michel Foucault, and Pierre Bourdieu, we examined the way that Protestant “practices of the self” were employed to govern urban populations. It was all fun and games until I was expected to write that the “born again” experience was basically a materialist transformation through external practices. Objectively, I had seen that by reading the Bible, living cleanly, and changing the company I kept, my life had really improved. It was in relationship with God that I found peace, purpose, and joy. I found I could forgive, I could breathe, I could sleep, and my fear had disappeared.
Looking back, though, I do see why certain practices of evangelical Protestantism were attractive to me. Spaces in churches often are separated by sex. Physical contact between young single men and women is not encouraged. My favourite was the “Billy Graham principle”: Men in the church would not visit me alone as a single woman. The pastor would only meet me in his office with the door slightly ajar, so other staff could see in. I know that churches have been places where many people have not been safe. But the corner of Christianity I’d stumbled upon happened to be genuinely devout (to my knowledge) and serious about holiness. That’s what I liked about it. That’s what I still like about it.
Unlike most of my fellow left-leaning students, I was genuinely working class. As a Cockney, my father wasn’t working class because of what he did; it was simply who he was. My mother regularly reminded us of the struggle of working women for fair wages. She failed me in the most fundamental of ways. But right or wrong, she was my greatest political influence. At the base of her politics was the real-life outworking of collective, pluralist power. Yet neither of my parents were Marxists. Like much of the postwar working class, they were dyed-in-the-wool Labor voters. Their politics was practical.
My drift from Marxism was not a drift from the Left. I still saw the Left as the side of compassion, of advocacy for the poor, women, and the oppressed. Poor and disadvantaged children, such as I was, were given real opportunities as a result of leftist policies. True, I did feel a little sorry about leaving the academic Left for French cultural theory, but this part of the Left abandoned me, not vice versa.
Unfortunately, as we’ve all seen, the academic Left eventually prevailed over the grass-roots leftism that my parents had supported. When I first voted Conservative about seven years ago, I went back to my car and cried.
The postmodern re-engineering of left-wing political theory has included the redefinition of “privilege” in a way that is separate from economics, a definition of “sex” that is separate from biology, and a definition of “violence” that does not involve actual violence. It’s a language and a narrative that completely abandons the working class, while erroneously taking for granted our loyalty. Until recently, I have thought my objections with the new Left were the result of its ideological incoherence. But when I deal honestly with my reactions to issues of sexual violence, I can see that my politics has always come from a more personal place.
Australian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, who is Aboriginal, recently walked into parliament wielding the “black power” fist gesture, and carrying a stick with a notch for every aboriginal death in government custody. Ms. Thorpe declared she would be a voice for Australian Indigenous people. In Indigenous communities, sexual assault, domestic violence, and incest are epidemic. Yet thanks to the fashion for prison and police “abolition,” it now isn’t unusual to see left-wing activists effectively shield the men who rape and abuse women and children, instead of urging the protection of these victims.
My “white privilege” didn’t save me from childhood sexual abuse. Sexual violence almost killed me. It ruined my childhood, made me homeless, and left me with enduring scars. I can debate and theorize about politics as much as the next person. But ultimately, the politics of the modern Left is dominated by its fixation on power. And children have no power.
It may seem creepy to some people, but I cannot look past the risk of sexual violence anywhere it exists. And I see it in the criminal-justice power plays of modern race politics. When people call for the defunding of the police, I think of Nicky and me as children. Predators are cowardly creatures who prey on the weak and lonely. The removal of police is exactly what they want.
The call to separate the definition of women from biology also has huge implications for female safety. All the women in my family, except me, carried the defective HD gene. The last 25 years of my life have been spent attending to their care. As Nicky’s HD progressed, she required assistance showering and then toileting, all while she was still quite a young woman. These are intimate tasks. In most cases, a girl or woman receiving such care will prefer that they be served by a woman, not a man. People like Nicky have so few choices in their life. It seems another level of cruelty to force them to be bathed in their homes by biological males who self-identify as women. She lived a life that was almost always unsafe, specifically because of men.
I have carved out a life of forgiveness and healing, and have sought to walk away from victimhood by following the practices of the Christian faith. I have no desire to garner sympathy, to “weaponize” my victimhood, or to make men feel ashamed. But I am also unable to ignore the obvious vulnerabilities that accompany biological womanhood, and the way those vulnerabilities interact with economic and social disadvantage, not to mention sickness, culture, and disability. If this is what “intersectionality” really meant, I would be its greatest adherent.
Nicky died in my arms a few years ago. Minutes before she left me, I felt the presence of our grandmother. I was sending her home to the safety of heaven with our matriarch. It reminds me of the scripture I read on that floor almost 30 years ago:
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. (2 Corinthians 5: 1–3)
Christians don’t look for an Earthly utopia. We don’t believe that natural vulnerabilities of sex and poverty can be completely cured with culture and government. But like the original feminists, we believe in protecting children and women. I don’t want to be the one who goes on about paedophilia. But if we don’t continue to talk about rape—and vulnerabilities to rape—women like me will never gain a place in society. This is because we need spaces and understanding and systems of support, not to gain equality, but rather dignity, stability, and purpose.
Because of my experiences, and the newly fashionable denial of reality being promoted by progressives, I find myself sitting with the politically homeless. For now, we are all retreating to old-fashioned liberalism with unlikely new friends—an exodus to a land none of us can see. This divergent group of progressive dissenters won’t find a land flowing with milk and honey, but we might find a place to speak the truth, to cling to those who belong to us, and protect the vulnerable. I’m not sure there is any higher purpose to politics anyway.
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