A review of It’s Okay to Say Yes. Close Encounters in the Third World: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Well-Traveled Boy-Lover by J. Darling (Acolyte Press, 1992)
Though not its intention, it is hard to imagine a book better calculated than this to outrage upholders of today’s values. The author is the ultimate modern sexual heretic, a man who has devoted his life to sexual dalliances with boys, mostly pubescent, but some even younger. Moreover, he has done so in the Third World, relentlessly using his comparative affluence and the wisdom of his years in pursuit of his affairs. The obvious willingness of the boys and his own affection for them will cut ice with even fewer now than when he wrote. What I suspect though will be most likely to infuriate is that far from being ashamed of what he has done or how, he is passionately certain both are not just right, but noble-minded. For this reason, since his viewpoint is cogently argued, his book should at least be satisfying reading for anyone who enjoys having his assumptions challenged.
Starting in 1983 (until when the already-33-year-old had unaccountably abstained from pursuing his erotic longings), Darling travelled extensively in Latin America, Morocco, Sri Lanka and South-east Asia, the lands most receptive to pederasty in that era when the Anglophone countries were reaching out their tentacles to snuff out its last refuges. He supported himself from teaching English and inherited money, but these were only the means to an end, and the end was always boys.
Undoubtedly many will call Darling a sex tourist, but this, with its implication of a culturally ignorant foreigner on holiday using his mobility to obtain casual pleasure without responsibility, would be unfair. Well versed in the culture and sometimes the language of the lands he stayed in, and returning to his British homeland only rarely and briefly, he was a sexual exile or refugee rather a tourist. Moreover, proudly patronising in the practical sense, taking responsibility for the welfare of his boys went to the heart of his self-assurance that his affairs with them were beneficent.
If Darling’s life has been the one of unscrupulous self-gratification modern dogma ascribes to the active pederast, it most certainly has not been consciously so. The “interests and desires” of boys were always held to be paramount and his pursuit of eros with them “a natural expression of virtue” accompanied by a passionate and quasi-religious belief in its goodness: “our lovemaking was in itself a sacrament of liberty.” He “suffered for his faith” when necessary, having by it “been given the strength to bear persecution.”
Written to address the prevalent lack of understanding of what boy-love is about, the book is divided into six thematic chapters, each illustrated by lively anecdotes of the author’s experiences. Unfortunately, this approach works out poorly, as it prevents the author from doing full justice to either boy-love as a subject of intelligent enquiry or to his own life. His observations on the former are interesting and perceptive, especially on its appeal to boys, but as he says himself, in so short a book can add little to the encyclopaedic study of the subject by Brongersma and others. His explanation of why his form of love has come to be so reviled is good on the double standards and inhumanity involved, but pitifully inadequate, largely ignoring the profound social changes that have given rise to it.
Evidently erudite and a good story-teller, Darling’s autobiographical anecdotes are entertaining, well-written and recounted at greater length than required for the themes they illustrate, happily so since the book’s greatest value is as a kind of social history few have dared to write. The longer they are the better, the best being the last and longest chapter, ‘In the Maw of the Beast”, entirely given over to his troubles with the law in Brazil. Mostly grim, it is also superbly surreal, as in his description of the weekly day off he was given from prison to be escorted by the police to a hotel for sex with the very boy on whose account he had struck disaster.
However, chronologically messed-up and limited by theme as they are, his anecdotes are a poor substitute for real autobiography. We are told nothing of his family or childhood and, his attraction to boys aside, almost nothing of his feelings. He certainly does himself no favour by this. An instructive comparison can be made with the best-known autobiography of an exclusive pederast, Michael Davidson’s The World, the Flesh and Myself. Darling’s fundamental decency and kindness has to be inferred from the odd line here and there, where Davidson’s shines out from self-critical page after page. I very much wish Darling would radically rewrite his book as a similar, long and straight narrative of his whole life, including too the more trying misadventures he has suffered since publication. Then it might be a precious contribution to the autobiographical genre, rather than a merely interesting meander.
Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 22 Dec. 2016.