Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Gladstone, Revisited?`

Some little-known facts about one of England's greatest Prime Ministers, William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98). From Gladstone (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 90-95, by HCG Matthew, and quoted in A Web of English History :
In May 1849 under stress from Oak Farm affairs and the Clergy Relief Bill, he began meeting prostitutes on the streets late at night (there had been some rescue work done earlier, but not systematically). In the Session, he was often in the Commons till midnight. In July 1850, following the Pacifico debate and the death of Peel, when his wife was away at Hagley, and perhaps prompted by an article in the Westminster Review, he began regular meetings with prostitutes in the vicinity of the notorious Argyll Rooms, and the names of individual prostitutes start to be regularly noted in the diary.

The rescue work was at one level exactly that - the attempt to rescue prostitutes from the streets and rehabilitate them in suitable employment, or by marriage, or by emigration, after a time of training.
But it is also clear that for Gladstone rescue work became not merely a duty but a craving; it was an exposure to sexual stimulation which Gladstone felt he must both undergo and overcome. As he admitted to himself, he deliberately 'courted evil'.

The redemption of prostitutes was an activity which, in principle, had an obvious Christian justification. But for Gladstone it also involved temptation. Was the danger to his spiritual well-being balanced by the good he was doing? In his talks with prostitute he 'trod the path of danger' as regards himself, while at the same time having little success in proselytising. By January 1854 he had spoken, 'indoors or out', to between eighty and ninety prostitutes but 'among these there is but one of whom I know that the miserable life has been abandoned and that I can fairly join that fact with influence of mine'.
His predilection for pornography has been noted above. In 1849 Gladstone began to scourge himself to counter stimulation from it. By 1851 he was also scourging himself after conversations with prostitutes during which he felt he had allowed himself to be excessively excited. Sometimes he went to their homes or lodging houses for talks long into the night, sometimes for tea. On occasion he was moved to almost lyrical praise of their beauty, noted in Italian. So far as we know, and there is no evidence to the contrary, he managed to remain, in the end, self-controlled and self-critical.

Beginning in October 1845 during his visit to his sister Helen in Germany, Gladstone analysed his feelings about both pornography and prostitutes in a series of remarkable passages, some in the diary, some on separate sheets of paper which were folded and enclosed with the diary. He kept records of his temptations and of his measures to overcome them. These were listed as 'Channels', 'Incentives'. 'Chief actual dangers', and 'Remedies', each broken down into several sub-headings and categories.
A Footnote from the dustbin of history. But while history may not exactly repeat itself, it often rhymes.

Case in point, one of my least favourite people, who I've blogged about before. One George Rekers.

From the Miami New Times:
The pictures on the profile show a shirtless young man with delicate features, guileless eyes, and sun-kissed, hairless skin. The profile touts his (redacted).

On April 13, the "rent boy" (whom we'll call Lucien) arrived at Miami International Airport on Iberian Airlines Flight 6123, after a ten-day, fully subsidized trip to Europe. He was soon followed out of customs by an old man with an atavistic mustache and a desperate blond comb-over, pushing an overburdened baggage cart.

That man was George Alan Rekers, of North Miami — the callboy's client and, as it happens, one of America's most prominent anti-gay activists. Rekers, a Baptist minister who is a leading scholar for the Christian right, left the terminal with his gay escort, looking a bit discomfited when a picture of the two was snapped with a hot-pink digital camera.

Reached by New Times before a trip to Bermuda, Rekers said he learned Lucien was a prostitute only midway through their vacation.
And he was shocked, shocked I tell you.
Yet Rekers wouldn't deny he met his slender, blond escort at — which features homepage images of men in bondage and grainy videos of crotch-rubbing twinks — and Lucien confirmed it.
Because doesn't everyone go to an explicit escort service when looking for a travelling companion, someone to carry your luggage? Let's see, his "services" included
"Tastes / Specialties / Fetishes: Vanilla, Leather, Anal, Oral, Shaving, Spanking, Role Playing, Kissing, Toys, Feet, Talents: Modeling, Go-Go Dancing, Stripping, Massage, Travel Companion, Tour Guide, Interpreter. "
Aha! Travel Companion! Just the man - actually, he looks more like a boy - for the job. (No link -- the evidence is being hurriedly scrubbed even now)
For decades, George Alan Rekers has been a general in the culture wars, though his work has often been behind the scenes. In 1983, he and James Dobson, America's best-known homophobe, formed the Family Research Council, a D.C.-based, rabidly Christian, and vehemently anti-gay lobbying group that has become a standard-bearer of the nation's extreme right wing.
Rekers is a board member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization that systematically attempts to turn gay people straight. And the Huffington Post recently singled out Rekers as a member of the American College of Pediatricians — an official-sounding outfit in Gainesville that purveys lurid, youth-directed literature accusing gays of en masse coprophilia.
Rekers lectures worldwide, from Europe to the Middle East, on teen sexuality. Yet during his ten-day sojourn with Lucien to London and Madrid, he had no lectures scheduled. Both men deny having sex on the trip, and emails exchanged between the two before their jaunt are cautiously worded.

"I'd like to propose another trip to Rome, Italy, for a week or more," Rekers wrote in an email dated March 21 obtained by New Times. "This is so exciting to have a nice Travel Assistant and traveling companion! Wow! I'm so glad I met you."
More details, from further correspondence with Dr Rekers, over at Pam's House Blend:
Both the sex worker and Rekers deny having sex on the trip, and emails exchanged between the two prior to their escapade are carefully worded. Reached by New Times reporters Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp, who broke the story, before a trip to Bermuda, Rekers said he learned that the man in question was a prostitute only midway through their vacation. "I had surgery," Rekers said, "and I can't lift luggage. That's why I hired him." (Though medical problems didn't stop him from pushing the large baggage cart through Miami International Airport, according to the New Times.)
As Dr Rekers said himself:
If you talk with my travel assistant that the story called "Lucien," you will find I spent a great deal of time sharing scientific information on the desirability of abandoning homosexual intercourse, and I shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with him in great detail.
All quite innoc... no, sorry, the word "innocent" doesn't apply. The relationship was not Platonic. It may have been Chaste, it may have been Celibate, but certainly not "innocent". Not when you choose your "travelling companion" from listings in

I'm willing to give Dr Rekers the benefit of the doubt. Really. I think he's the victim of a hitherto undescribed paraphilia : "Gladstone Syndrome". A sexual desire to hire prostitutes, and titillatingly test one's own virtue by quoting scripture at them while the clock is running. Revelling in one's own naughtiness, and quite possibly scourging oneself afterwards too. Meh, It hurts no-one, and I've never understood male sexuality in all its various, not to say kinky, forms. OK, this one's using the whole chicken, but still...

The story he told about "only finding out halfway through the holiday" when he'd chosen him from the meatmarket at - that was an act of desperate panic, he must have known that that flew in the face of objective fact.

It may have been a way of coping with another, darker longing too, in a way that would hurt no-one should he actually succumb to temptation. Because the "travelling companion" he chose was one with a very boyish figure, he looks to be in his late teens at best. And Dr Rekers has just adopted a 16 year old boy.... If so - if this is his way of dealing with drives he wants to quash, in private, in a far-off country, without hurting anyone, harmlessly defusing these harmful desires - he may be flawed, but he's a better man than I thought he was. Not that that's saying much. A responsible ephebephile, someone of genuinely high moral character. Of course it could be a complete coincidence, and I'm giving him far more credit than he's due.

I like to think the best of people, you see. Even ones that have tortured children in the past, and driven them to attempt suicide. All other interpretations of Dr Rekers' actions place him in an even less flattering light. Think about that.


Imogen said...

At the risk of Godwinning myself: Hitler loved animals and popularized the beloved VW Beetle, but those aren't the things he's remembered for.

It's not Rekers' kinky sexual urges that people object to. It's his tireless efforts to hurt people coupled with his newly-discovered intense hypocrisy.

It's the abuse of the respect his position normally commands, and his participation in intellectually dishonest fake science that brings his profession into disrepute.

If that constitutes morality, it's not one that I share with him in any way.

Semi said...

"OK, this one's using the whole chicken, but still..."

I love that turn of phrase, do you know anything of its origins or is it a Zoe special?

Zoe Brain said...

My own variation on the theme. It refers of course to the classic joke : "Kinky is using the feather, perverted is using The Whole Chicken!"

See also The Urban Dictionary on the subject.