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While writing a review paper on non-offending pedophiles, some of the research I reviewed discussed a difficult aspect of having a sexual interest in children: the choice of whether to disclose a sexual interest in children to others or remain hidden. During interviews with researchers, pedophilic men described that making this choice was a struggle for them, that the decision to disclose or not was fraught with anxiety about the potential interpersonal and other consequences. Part of the struggle for these men was the fear that in disclosing their interests, others would end the relationship or at the very least, it would impact the relationship in a negative way. Indeed, if we were to imagine that a friend of ours, or a partner, or a family member disclosed to us they experienced a sexual and emotional attraction to children, I think the majority of us would struggle with this disclosure, even if the struggle was simply knowing how to support the person while maintaining our relationship with them.
There is a growing number of academics, researchers, clinicians, and minor-attracted persons discussing primary prevention and ways of supporting individuals to not act on their sexual interests in children (see here for a recent example of a conference on prevention or here for an upcoming TED talk on prevention). The act of disclosure seems, to me, to be of central importance as we try to understand and develop ways to better support non-offending pedophiles. Having pedophilia is something that is inevitably difficult to disclose to others; on the other side, hearing that someone you know or love is attracted to children is likely difficult to hear. Yet, being supported by others and supporting non-offending pedophiles starts with the act of disclosure: it’s an act that has the potential to lessen the distance and isolation that separates a pedophilic individual from others and separates us from them as well.
Ultimately, I think that hearing stories by pedophilic individuals about their experiences with disclosure will help us better understand and support them. This knowledge and these stories can apply to our personal lives, and if we happen to be a mental health professional, to our work with minor-attracted clients.
This post presents an interview with Ender Wiggin, a non-offending pedophile, who kindly answered my questions about his experience with disclosing his sexual interest in children to people in his life.
Ian McPhail (IVM): You have disclosed your attraction to minors to a few people in your life. Who did you decide to disclose to? Why did you choose those individuals? How did the disclosure conversations go?
Ender Wiggin (EW): Before I found the VirPed community I had never told anyone about my issue and I thought this would be something I would take with me to the grave. I just never thought it was even an option. When I discovered VirPed and started talking to other people like me, I discovered that many had been able to confide in loved ones, either relatives or close friends, and they had been accepted and supported. Many others had very negative experiences coming out to people. But it made me realize that it was possible to share this secret with someone who loves you and that most often they are able to understand that this doesn’t define the kind of person you are and they can accept you and support you in your struggle.
After some time I made the hardest decision in my life and I came out to my wife with a letter. It was a very hard moment and while it was definitely a shock for her (we had been married for over 10 years) she has been incredibly understanding and supportive. She knows I would never do anything to harm a child and she’s mostly sorry that I’ve had to go through all of this alone during most of my life. She also encouraged me to seek professional support because at the time I was going through a big depression and as a result I confided in a priest (I’m a Catholic) and a therapist, and both have been incredibly supportive and have helped me tremendously with my depression and my issues in general, which are mostly related to feeling like you can never let anyone know your true self, feeling guilty for having hidden such a part of myself from my wife for all these years, and just the general feeling that you have to go through your life faking that you’re OK all the time and never being able to tell anyone that you’re struggling and why. Being a pedophile can be very isolating.
The main reason I came out to my wife is because I felt guilty of keeping this secret from her. It just didn’t feel right anymore. I felt that she deserved to know. This whole process since I discovered the VirPed community and the struggle of making the decision to come out was very emotionally exhausting and I fell into a depression. After coming out, my wife encouraged me to find other sources of support “in real life”, and that’s why I decided to confide in a priest (as a religious) and a therapist, from a practical point of view of dealing with the depression.
IVM: How has your relationship with these people changed? How have you navigated these changes? Is your minor-attraction part of ongoing conversations with these people?
EW: This has been relatively recent. I came out to my wife about a year and a half ago. Since then things have been complicated but I believe it has brought us closer. This has allowed me to communicate with her at a deeper level and to share things that were related to my minor attraction that I was afraid to talk about before. So all in all I think it has been a very positive development in our relationship. While talking about my minor attraction is not a pleasant thing, we do talk about it occasionally. She is aware of my involvement in the VirPed community, as well as my activities on Twitter and with my blog, and occasionally I share things that have happened related to some of these things. Stories of people that join the community, concerns for the well-being of members that have been missing for a while, documentaries about the topic of pedophilia, etc. Navigating these changes hasn’t been easy, but my priest and my therapist have helped me tremendously in the process.
Although I knew my priest prior to coming out to him, I have developed a much closer personal relationship with him. It meant a lot to me that he was so supportive and understanding, and given that he’s only one of the THREE people that know this about me in real life, I consider him a close friend.
IVM: What have been the positives of disclosing your minor attraction to others? Do you feel more connected to others and society through disclosing your interests?
EW: Like I said, the main positive outcome is that I don’t feel like I’m hiding an important part of myself from the person I love the most in this world. I feel like there’s finally someone that knows EVERY aspect of me and loves me for what I am, which includes that I’m attracted to minors. I do feel more connected to my wife now (wouldn’t extend that to society), so this has certainly been a very important milestone in my life.
IVM: Currently, do you have to choose who to disclose to and who to remain hidden from? Are there people in your life that you have considered disclosing to that you decided not to go ahead and make a disclosure to? What were your reasons for choosing not to disclose?
EW: Feeling like you are accepted for who you are, without having to hide such a fundamental aspect of yourself, is very liberating. Since I came out to my wife I have been having the desire to come out to more people. Particularly, I wish I could come out to some close friends. However, there’s never any way to be sure how one person is going to react, even if you think you know them well. I’ve always felt like I could never go deeper in my personal relationships because there was a fundamental barrier that I could not let them cross. I was thus afraid to let people get close to me and as a result I only have superficial friendships. There is a couple of people with whom I wish I could be honest about myself, but ultimately the fear of rejection is too big and at this moment in my life I don’t think I will tell anyone else.
IVM: How are some ways that you remain hidden currently in your daily life? What are some of your ongoing reasons for remaining hidden?
EW: I remain hidden in my daily life almost to the same degree as I used to be before coming out to my wife. Sure, I don’t have to hide that from her anymore, but I have to hide it from pretty much everyone else in my life, including my mother, my siblings and my friends. While it’s obviously not such a big deal today as it was when I was in my teenage years, because I’m obviously not in the “dating scene” where my peers would expect me to flirt and try to hook up with women, I still often have to fake agreement when a friend or colleague points out a “hot chick” that we pass by the street or we see in a movie or something like that. I ultimately have to pretend to be someone else. The reason I do it is obvious. I cannot disclose my attractions in public due to the stigma and misunderstanding about minor attraction that exists in society, and I can only do so under very careful consideration and being very careful about who I decide to tell, and risking unpredictable consequences.
IVM: Looking back, how do you think your life has changed because of your choice to disclose to others? What are some of the main ways you think you are different and your life is different when you compare now to before you disclosed?
EW: My life has changed a lot since I discovered the VirPed community and started being able to talk about these issues with other people, which is something I had never been able to do before. This only happened a little over two years ago and I’m in my early 40s, so that means I had been dealing with all of this on my own for a very long time. Being able to disclose my attractions to my wife has been a part of the process that started with that, and the way I see myself has changed dramatically since that, but I wouldn’t say it’s been disclosing my attractions exclusively which has created that change, but the whole process. Before this time I was certainly not in denial about my attractions but I can’t say that I had fully accepted them, or myself. I had resigned myself to them, if that makes sense. Now I fully “own” it, I can look in the mirror and say “I’m a pedophile” (before this time I had never referred to myself as a pedophile), or I can say it to my therapist and my priest without crying or cringing. For some reason it’s still harder to do it when talking with my wife. But this is something I never in my life would have thought possible before all of this.
IVM: What would you want someone who is considering making a disclosure to know? What would you want someone who is hearing a disclosure from a minor-attracted person to know?
EW: For those considering telling someone, I would encourage them to think about it very carefully, as it’s an irreversible decision that has the potential to impact their lives forever. As the saying says, once the cat’s out of the bag it’s impossible to put it back in. They have to think about how the person they are considering telling could react to the news, and consider even the worst case scenario, and be sure that they are willing to accept the consequences if that ends up happening. When I came out to my wife, I was conscious that the possibility of losing everything was not insignificant, and while I hoped that she would understand and accept me, I had accepted that she may not be able to take it and she would want me out of her life, which would include losing my kids. The possibility of being publicly outed in the whole process was also acknowledged and accepted. I’m really fortunate that it didn’t happen. But the reality is that while you can have an idea of how someone will react you can’t ever know with 100% certainty.
IVM: I realize that doing this interview is a form of disclosure. How do you feel about doing a disclosure in this forum? What do you hope to achieve by doing this interview?
EW: This is not my first interview so I don’t feel as awkward talking about this as I used to. In addition, this type of disclosure is done in anonymity, so I’m not really exposing myself in the same way one exposes oneself when disclosing in person to someone you know in real life. What I hope is to continue to help raise awareness of the fact that pedophilia and child sexual abuse are not the same thing, that very many pedophiles (perhaps most) have no actual desire to engage sexually with children in spite of their feelings for them, because they know it would be wrong and harmful and they don’t want to harm anyone, let alone the people they feel attracted to. That being sexually attracted to children is not a choice and does not determine a person’s character, moral quality, values or beliefs. That society needs to stop vilifying the mere attraction to children (since it’s unchosen and cannot be changed) and they need to allow pedophiles to come forward without fear to admit their attractions to their loved ones so they can receive the support they need to grow up in a healthy state of mind, which is the best way to ensure they will never offend and harm a child.
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