The innocent are so few that two of them seldom meet – when they do meet, their victims lie strewn all round. – Elizabeth Bowen
The witch friend who writes the descriptions of pagan holidays for me pointed out a few months ago that Western Society has descended into a new Victorianism. As in the Victorian Era we have become shockingly hypocritical about sex and grant our governments tremendous power to suppress it while simultaneously spending tremendous amounts of time and money on it (Victorian London had the largest number of prostitutes per capita of any place and time in history). We have revived Victorian ideas of government-enforced temperance and “social progress”, and the Victorian “Cult of the Child” has returned with a vengeance. The persistent adult myth that children live in some sort of state of Divine Grace which must be protected at all costs and extended as far into adulthood as possible has experienced cyclic popularity at least since the time of the Ancient Greeks, but rarely has it been interpreted in the extreme manner which began in the 1980s. The dogma of this modern cult preaches that children are as emotionally fragile as soap bubbles and the merest hint of sexual imagery before puberty can cause irreversible trauma; its adherents also believe that teenagers (whom they equate with “children”) should be lied to, spied on or even criminally prosecuted to prevent them from engaging in any kind of sexual behavior, and some even believe that adults should not be allowed any form of entertainment or reading material which is inappropriate for even the youngest child, on the grounds that a child “might see it” and thereby be petrified as if he had looked into the eyes of the Gorgon. Child cultists can be recognized by their stated belief that any degree of tyranny is acceptable “if it saves even one child,” and by their fondness for promoting unconstitutionally broad legislation lugubriously named after dead little girls.
One of the earliest victims of this cult was comedian Paul Reubens, better known by the name of his famous character “Pee-Wee Herman”; in 1991 he was arrested in a raid of a Sarasota, Florida adult movie theater by “detectives” who perjured themselves by claiming that they had observed him masturbating yet gave erroneous details of his anatomy including the claim that he was left-handed. As regular readers know, vice cops habitually make up lurid stories in order to persecute people for consensual acts, but once the media got ahold of the story Reubens’ career was essentially over. His award-winning children’s show was pulled from television, his line of toys vanished from stores and self-proclaimed “child experts” appeared on television advising parents to tell their children that “Pee-Wee” had done a bad thing and must be punished for it (I never heard even one suggest telling kids about “innocent until proven guilty”)…all because an adult character actor out of costume had the bad luck to choose to take in an adult movie on the night some vice cops decided to get their jollies by arresting people there. Then just as he was beginning to emerge from a long period of seclusion, in 2002 Los Angeles police raided his home and charged him with “child pornography” after finding a 1960s era art photography book which included some teenage nudes. After two years of harassment all charges were dropped, but Reubens’ career is only now beginning to recover thanks largely to old fans who never deserted him and young adult fans who watched his show as children.
Reubens’ case is representative because he was never accused of any inappropriate behavior toward children; those who persecuted him seemed to feel that the mere fact that an adult man had been discovered in a harmless sexual pursuit (watching a legal adult movie in a legal public theater) made him somehow tainted, and that if children merely watched his shows or played with his toys their “innocence” might somehow be magically damaged. A similar mindset appears to be at work in the case of Melissa Petro, a 30-year-old art teacher in the Bronx who has been “reassigned” pending an “investigation” which will no doubt result in her suspension. The reason for this? She wrote an article for The Huffington Post in which she admitted to a brief flirtation with whoring.
The following article is adapted from an article in The New York Post and edited to correct for the Post’s lax journalistic standards by removing such judgmental tabloid terminology as “tattooed former hooker and stripper”, “sexcapades”, “shenanigans” and “money honey”.
The Post has learned that former sex worker Melissa Petro has been teaching art in a Bronx elementary school for three years, and though well-liked by students has perhaps unwisely posted online accounts of past sexual experiences. But earlier this month, she admitted in an essay to a short-lived job as a prostitute.
“From October 2006 to January 2007, I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the ‘erotic services’ section of Craigslist.org,” wrote Petro on The Huffington Post, using her real name and picture. The attached biography identifies Petro, who has an MFA in creative nonfiction from The New School, as a “former sex worker, researcher, writer, educator, and feminist.”
Her revelation seems to have caused ignorant parents to believe that she is somehow different from the woman she was a few weeks ago. “I don’t want nobody that used to do that to be around my kid,” said Grace Ventura, whose son is in third grade. “People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children.” Yocelyn Quezada said perhaps Petro had “managed to turn her life around,” but she still fumed that a former prostitute was teaching two of her three kids. “She’s not a good role model. I do not want my daughters to find out about this,” Quezada said, “and I do not want my daughters to be around that kind of person.”
Despite predicting in one online posting that “that this would be a conversation I’d someday be compelled to have,” Petro declined twice to speak with The Post. Principal Kerry Castellano referred questions to the Department of Education’s press office, which said Petro had been reassigned to administrative duties pending an investigation. Petro’s posts also indicate that she was warned by at least two school staffers — including one administrator — that her refusal to be more cautious about her history could land her in hot water. “In an off the record conversation, a sympathetic administrator kindly asked if I couldn’t publish under a pseudonym. I wish, for her sake, I could,” Petro recently wrote in The Rumpus, an online magazine.
Petro, who earns $61,000 a year as a teacher, also wrote that a co-worker had warned her that some of her colleagues were beginning to Google her. “There have been lots of rumors going around about her for a while now,” one school worker told The Post. “I wouldn’t want my kid to be in a school where she is.”
Now, unlike many of my colleagues I can’t really say I feel sorry for Miss Petro; unlike Reubens, she went into her trouble by her own choice and with open eyes. Though she was only a whore for four months she certainly learned of the need for discretion in our profession, and by choosing to reveal her real name and picture she knew very well what would happen. I smell a lucrative book deal and perhaps even some sort of test case, and that makes it very difficult for me to think of her as a victim. What makes this case interesting is not the predictable results of her voluntary actions, but the reactions of the 21st century Child Cultists the reporter obviously hand-picked for the story. Clearly, nobody thinks that third graders are reading the Huffington Post, and since nobody questioned her ability as a teacher they obviously believe that her sexual history somehow renders her magically taboo; “People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children,” huffs one parent in the story, as though sexuality were a radiation which might contaminate the tissue-paper bodies of children. Like the Victorians, this woman clearly conceives of whores as monsters incapable of feminine sensibilities.
And then there’s this story, paraphrased from an AP article:
Sesame Street announced that it won’t air a taped segment featuring pop star Katy Perry appearing with the popular Muppet Elmo. The clip was previewed on Youtube and apparently sparked considerable negative feedback from people who felt that her clothing was “inappropriate” for a kid’s show. Though the clip will not air and has been removed from the official Sesame Street YouTube channel, it is still available elsewhere on YouTube and on Perry’s website.
Watch the video and tell me that you see anything intrinsically unwholesome about it. Apparently some dirty-minded people think that the slight jiggle of Perry’s tits above the top of her dress will “traumatize” young children; if that’s the case I cause irreparable damage to dozens of kids every time I walk into Wal-Mart. The problem here isn’t the fact that (like every child’s own mother) Perry has mammary glands, but rather her provocative stage persona, which even though it isn’t displayed here still magically radiates from her image and can destroy the “innocence” of children through the television set.