Tag Archives: sexual abuse

Virgin Mountain

 

Superbored? You know who you are. If you’re ever feeling that way on a Friday or Saturday night, and looking for something to stir your heart and mind, then once a month check out something called the Mountain Shadow Film Society at the Walnut Creek Library. A year or so ago a local businessman named John Bennison had the idea of bringing to the east bay films that might once have been shown at the late, lamented Pleasant Hill Dome theater. Now he brings gems from all over the world: films that get shown at film festivals, that otherwise barely get distributed in this country.

The latest such film he showcased was Virgin Mountain, an Icelandic feature about a quiet, forty-something man whose friendship with a little girl and romance with a woman bring him out of his shell. For a while, anyway.

We meet Fusi, an overweight, seemingly modest man, as he hovers over a large model replica of a World War II battle in Egypt. He is arranging miniature figures—tanks and soldiers—that he has lovingly hand-crafted or painted alongside his best friend, a similarly reclusive, albeit more curmudgeonly man, who shoos away kids that show an interest in the model. “This is not a game,” Fusi’s friend rebukes them. Later, he and Fusi smoke weed together, observe without emotion their lack of female company, and lose consciousness. Fusi lives with his mother and her lover-of-the-moment, a man who encourages Fusi to show interest in the internet—either in porn or online dating, it is implied. Fusi sees his mother having sex with this man and turns away, not so much embarrassed or disgusted as merely stolid, as if sex was not and would never be a part of his world.

His male co-workers (he loads luggage at an airport) intuit his asexuality. They tease and later bully him, exhibiting not just homophobia, but a more basic revulsion towards men who don’t conform to a traditional sex role. We are reminded that for men in particular, or between men, deviant sexual behavior is actually not as shameful as not being sexual at all. A sympathetic boss tries to support him against the bullies, but Fusi conforms to social rules in at least one respect: he won’t narc.

A lonely eight-year old girl knocks on his door on his day off. She is superbored, inquisitive and non-judgmental, the way eight-year old girls are, I guess. Through her interest, we learn that the war model depicts the first battle the allies won in World War II. The full significance of that tidbit remains lost on me, but the purpose of his play is clear: Fusi is frozen as a latency age child, devoid of a father, no less refusing of growth than the surrealist main character of Grass’ The Tin Drum. Unfortunately, the bond with the little girl is short-lived. Thinking as a same-aged child, he takes the girl (at her request) on an ill-advised ride in his truck. When they return to their shared apartment building, a police car is predictably waiting for them, as well as an irate father who insinuates perversion in Fusi, thus he is arrested. Fortunately, a truly depressing path for this story is averted when a psychiatrist observes Fusi’s essential innocence, so he is released from the police station, though he is later ostracized by his neighbors.

Prior to this (or sort of interwoven), at the behest of his mother and her partner, Fusi reluctantly attends a dance class, or rather he sits in his truck, listening to thrash metal on his radio, resolved to tell tall stories about his dance class the next day. A woman emerges from the studio after the class and asks him for a ride. Fusi agrees and at first she rewards his generosity by asking if he’s a pervert. Later, she asks him out to dinner. He accepts and they go to a restaurant, but when she invites him into her home after dinner he declines awkwardly. She says goodnight and skips away, disappointed. Then he changes his mind, rings her doorbell, enters, and—still refusing alcohol or coffee—asks for a glass of milk. His resulting white moustache captures his psychological age, but on that endearing note the romance begins and he begins to grow.

The relationship treads a sweet course for a spell: the couple attends the dance class properly and learn to line dance together. Between this and several other scenes, we learn how remote communities like those in Iceland import pieces of western culture. In other humorous turns, he adds Dolly Parton songs to his musical tastes (girlfriend is a fan), and helps his mom bake crème boule with a blow torch borrowed from work. Sadly, the girlfriend has her own problems—worse problems, in fact. Exhibiting a manic streak, she lies about working in a flower shop (instead she works as a garbage collector), invites and then disinvites Fusi to move in with her; accepts and then rejects his idea for a first ever vacation, in Egypt, to the site of that World War II battle. Then she retreats depressively into a closet, compelling him to take time away from work to help her. A poignant scene amid this drama happens while Fusi is working one of her shifts at the garbage dump. A group of foreign-seeming men observe Fusi sitting alone and chatter about him. Given the prior bullying, we expect the men to begin harassing Fusi, but instead they invite him for a beer. My interpretation of this scene could go different ways: one might think the director is offering hope, saying society, or men, are not all cruel. I’m inclined to think something else: intuiting his growth, Fusi’s becoming a man, the group gives him respect.

But Virgin Mountain seems destined to not end upon a conventionally happy note. Mom’s lover leaves her, as perhaps many men have before him, and upon this event, we learn the likely genesis of Fusi’s arrested development. She now speaks hatefully of Fusi’s girlfriend, not because she is disturbed, but rather because his potential happiness with her equates to the mother’s abandonment—a fear hitherto concealed because she was ensconced in a relationship. As the film draws to a close, we come to understand that while the events of the story may be unique—the dynamic that prevails is a repetition. In the final scene, we see Fusi back at the airport, back on his regular job, loading bags onto a plane, and staring enviously at passengers walking along a tunnel towards it. The film ends and we are left wondering about cycles, repetition, enactments, the problems of separation and growth from a cold place on earth.

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

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Deviancy Today

The latest issue of Psychology Today features an article entitled “Sympathy for the deviant”, fronted by a teaser, “Do we misunderstand sex offenders?” It’s a leading question, suggesting, as such questions tend to, that misunderstanding constitutes prejudice. The thesis of writer Jennifer Bleyer is that sexual abuse stigma may prevent people from getting help before they commit harm. She follows accounts of men who slide from attraction to early adolescents, to grooming behaviors, skinny dipping, sleeping nude with underage partners, from embracing to sexual intercourse. The passage from intrigue to abuse is insidious, laden with denial, compulsion and horror. Partners share their trauma as they watch their husbands being hauled away to jail. The husbands, like the wives, are shaken, apologizing desperately, seeking forgiveness before anything’s been understood.

How can it be understood? the article asks. Given the legacy of silence and collusion, it won’t be easy, writes Bleyer. She points out that discussion of sexual abuse emerged from the cultural shadows in the 1980s, when a confessional culture lead survivors to speak out. “For the first time, its prevalence and its adverse effects became apparent. The pendulum of public concern swung hard in the direction of indignation, as sexual abuse went from being largely ignored to intensely condemned.” In psychoanalysis this is called reaction formation. In short: guilt. The guilt feelings are appropriate, but as many within our profession argue, guilt also gets in the way, by stirring its derivative, rage. It gets in the way by disregarding some facts: that recidivism rates for sex offenders, for example, are lower than for other major types of crime and much lower than is commonly believed. Take radio show host Bill Carroll, for instance. In July, he and politician Melissa Melendez clucked righteously that sex offenders can’t really be treated. “You can’t change a pedophile’, he said. The next day I went on his show and told him what’s what. In September, a board member for the California association of marriage and family therapists (CAMFT) opined that sex offender treatment was ineffective, offering in a public forum that over half of offenders continue to offend despite treatment. After the forum, I stepped up and with a polite smile told her she was wrong also.

No surprise that this side of the information divide makes it to public ears, coloring opinion. Given the hysteria that such opinions generate, few learn the truth as Jennifer Bleyer reports: that only 40% of convicted sex offenders meet criteria for pedophilia, or that pedophilia refers to an attraction, not necessarily a behavior or set of behaviors. It chills the skin of progressives to consider that pedophilia is likely an orientation, and likely because they don’t wish that sympathetic term co-opted by an unpopular segment of society. They may be assuaged to learn that pedophiles have been shown to be shorter on average and more likely to be left handed, as well as having lower IQs. One study has shown they are more likely to have suffered childhood head injuries. My own clinical experience (not based upon a large sample, I should note) bears out the impression that pedophiles are prone to childlike personas, presenting as sexually diffident, living on the margins.

In Germany, a prevention project begun in 2005 aims to prevent abuse by offering anonymous treatment to people who are sexually attracted to minors. In on TV ad, a masked man recites a script of self-loathing, followed by a pronouncement of what he had learned in therapy. In the ad’s climactic moment, the man removes his mask, exposing his shame, but also expressing his hope. “I don’t want to be an offender,” he says. According the Bleyer, over 5000 people have come forward seeking treatment as a result of the ad campaign, leading to the establishment of 11 clinics across Germany, with a specific sexual abuse prevention at the core of program mission statements. CBT and testosterone-reducing pharmaceuticals are the preferred interventions, not so much psychoanalysis. Oh well, progress not perfection, I say. With this article in hand, I approached my colleague at work, a man exhorting me to renew my credential for treating sex offenders with the state. We should be bypassing the state, I said. Long term, we should be trying a version of what they’re trying in Germany: reaching out, through our website, through social media, through CAMFT board meetings, meetings with the California Coalition on Sex Offending (CCOSO). We should be aiming at those individuals who are out there, seeking help, looking for therapists, programs, who will speak to their particular problem.

So far, no one in this neck of the woods is doing this. No one’s aiming a marketing strategy at sex offenders, or sex addicts who might transform into offenders. No one’s funding a public service announcement on a bus or billboard, outreaching with a message like the one suggested in Bleyer’s article: “If you’re concerned about your attraction to children, call this number.” My colleague claims–rightly, I think–that new reporting laws such as AB 1775 will make preventions efforts such as what’s happening in Germany virtually impossible. Maybe that’s true. Maybe someone with a problem can’t really talk to me. If they tell me they look at underage porn, I’d have to report that to authorities, who may choose to let therapy do its thing, or they may not. They may choose to break down my client’s door, confiscate electronica, make an arrest that will trigger a catastrophe in that person’s life. I guess they’d call that prevention too. But they couldn’t call it understanding.

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