21 October 2012

Pedophiles I Have Known, or, A Novel Inspiration

Years ago I had the good fortune to meet a lovely woman who was a Sinophile and middle school principle. She loved travel and mainland China so much, she had arranged an annual trip for grade school teachers to join. The general idea was that teachers went over together, split up into small groups and were sent to different locations throughout Jiangsu province to run programs for Chinese teachers of English. It was an opportunity to share pedagogy with those teachers, and also to give them the opportunity of working directly with native English speakers. While I didn't and don't have teacher training, I was about to start my Master's degree at that time. The group leader knew me personaly and was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to go along.

The trip was incredible. I got the chance to talk politics and literature and daily life and philosophy with a whole bunch of people I would never have otherwise met. The city I was in, Suzhou, was lovely, a silk and pearl centre with a network of canals running through it. I thought it was beautiful.

Via Wikipedia, from - China Travel Guide

We were a small group of four: the group leader, whom I'll call Diane; Mitchell, a young teacher; me; and then Doug, a guy who'd joined the group under somewhat weird circumstances. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent; I have no interest in protecting Doug.) Doug was a teacher with a background in teaching abroad. The connection between Doug and Diane was ephemeral: Doug's mother lived near Diane's school, and had persuaded Diane to take Doug with her.

From the word go, Doug struck me as off kilter. He had a certain combination of personality traits guaranteed to rub me the wrong way. He was deliberately messy in the way he put himself together, often wearing jeans and a jean shirt with a red necktie: hoser casual. He acted at times like a humble misfit, and at others with a grandiosity that shocked and dismayed the people he chose as his audience. The day he lectured to our whole class - something we each had a turn at - he behaved like a condescending assclown while schooling the group on Canadian history. I remember him saying, "I'm talking about Confederation. CONFEDERATION," as if it was the single most important word in the world.

There were other threads in his behaviour, too. He spoke of the women we taught with a touch of crassness. We spotted a western businessman out with a Chinese escort. Doug lingered on one detail of this clearly arranged date: "She's so small, so small." Even the fauna weren't immune to his sexual commentary. Upon finding an exhausted beetle on the sidewalk, he remarked, "It's probably been out having sex all night."

I didn't like Doug at all, but when there's only four of your in your little group, you tend to end up chatting often. We talked personal histories, experiences, things that led us to the world of education. I was the odd woman out, being the only person who hadn't had teacher training, but Doug distinguished himself by returning again and again to the same topic: the time he spent teaching at Upper Canada College, one of the creepiest and most revered private schools for boys in Canada, and his reasons for leaving that post. Many times over the course of the month I spent in his proximity, he brought up the ideological differences that he claimed were responsible for his resignation. It all came down to Louis Riel, he said. He wanted to teach the history of the 1885 North-West Rebellion in his own way, opposed to the views of his esteemed colleagues.

It sounded dramatic enough. He claimed he was working on a Riel book that was going to blow Canadian history wide open. He was the hero of his own piece, a pseudo Dead Poets Society style Robin Williams figure leading his young charges into the fray of independent thinking. He was, if you believed his version of things, positively quixotic.

The story stank.

The first thing that smelled fishy was Doug himself. He wasn't self-sacrificing and heroic. He was self-aggrandizing and annoying. He snuck off late at night from our hotel. He remarked on the prostitutes waiting for tourists on the street corner.

Then there was the way he kept circling back to his story of wrongful treatment. It didn't seem like the sort of thing you would need to tell a group of strangers over and over. Something in him was picking at that memory like a scab. I didn't need to know why in order to recognize the pattern.

To say I didn't get along with him would be an understatement. It was too easy to antagonize him by asking him polite questions about his cover story: "I don't understand. What was the nature of your differences?" "I don't understand. Why would they ask you to leave?" He would splutter and turn red and spout venom. It was ugly.

After the course was over, the larger group of teachers reconvened in Beijing for a week of touring. Doug was part of the tour group but he soon slinked away, and, from what I understand, secured another teaching job that would keep him in China for a number of months, imposing himself on unsuspecting people who needed the cheapest of his assets, his native tongue.

It wasn't until sometime later that the scandal hit the newspapers here in Canada: one by one, eighteen former UCC students came forward to accuse Doug Brown of sexual abuse. He was found guilty of nine charges of indecent assault in 2004.

The experience of being close to greasy evil caused me to think about the nature of institutions like UCC.  While such places are often singled out as massively influential through their ability to produce political and business leaders, they also have histories of harbouring predators and seem structured to inure their charges to the effects of abuse. I've been reading James FitzGerald's excellent book Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College, which collects the memories of former UCC students in interviews without external commentary from FitzGerald, to chilling effect.

I'm really interested in tracing the effects of power such as that exercised by schools like UCC. As I'm planning the next book, which I intend to write in November, I'm thinking through the connections between institutionalized vampirism and the people who run our government and financial organizations.

When I had that experience in China, I guess I wasn't really processing it. I felt that something was off with Doug, but I couldn't think it through. Since then, I've made a more systematic study of evil, particularly the human being as parasite and predator. I think I'm ready to translate this experience into fiction. Being as I am a speculative writer, I'm thinking something inspired by the Scholomance, evil schools for wizards, magic as necromancy, and a world that's only a shade off of ours.

Lest the title of this post be thought inaccurate, I have known more than one pedophile, though as far as I know they weren't as involved in systemic abuses. One was a distant relative; the other was my shrink. That, however, is a story for another time.


Hildred Billings said...

On one hand, I want to be shocked by your story, but on the other, I know I can't be, because it seems too common of a story these days.

I've known my fair share of (Western) creepos and Oh Hell Nos in Japan. Something about Asia seems to just act as a huge beacon for them to cross over to. The oversexualization and fetishization of the culture and, particularly, women are a part of our own culture and it seems that these guys take it and see it as their big chance to go where "people know how it's done." (If I had a nickle for every "American women are so insufferable and won't shut up about their rights!"... Ahem. I think I went on a tangent there.

I do think it's great you got to have such an awesome opportunity! I've never been to China, but would like to visit one day. Was it really hot when you went?

Luanne G. Smith said...

After reading your carefully worded post all I can say is Yuck. I worked in a jail for three years and got my fill of creeps who saw other humans as prey. One of the worst shocks I got, though, was after I quit. About six months after I read that a deputy I had worked with was accused of molesting his daughter. He killed his wife and then himself once everyone found out. Yeah, there was something off about him, but I never would have guessed it was that. Truth is, you just can't ever know for sure what's going on behind someone else's eyes...until the victims speak up.

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Hildred: I know just what you mean. Definitely that was part of the mix for Doug, but I suspect his thing was kids rather than women.

Agreed there's something all too commonplace about pedophiles and other creeps. What's interesting me is how thoroughly such types infiltrate - or are invited into - institutions where they will have access to victims.

On a happier note, yes, it was boiling when I went to China. We went in July. It was crazy hot and humid. On an up note, they have the most stunning array of delicious frozen treats I've ever encountered.

(p.s. it's probably inappropriate to note this here, Hildred, but your book is great. Link's in the sidebar, people!)

@L.G.: wow. I've learned to trust my instincts in this regard and not write off a feeling that there's something hinky about a person. Often it's way worse than you would guess.

Hildred Billings said...

I've often thought the same thing about working in Japan. Not in my exact area, or even in my exact company, but I've met some people who were....really...REALLY "off", and they were just so at home in Japan because it was an endless supply of victims if you're white. And of course, if they were rebuffed, they slandered and libeled said victims in all the worse ways that will get them in trouble in their culture. (Real fast way to ruin someone's reputation in Japan? Call them crazy.)

Ha, I asked about the weather because Japan's is just...UGH. Especially in the summer. It's just a melting pot of awful summer weather. The humidity is truly what kills you. It's so bad there that it's the first thing I think of when I remember living in Japan. When somebody asks me "how was Japan??" I always respond with "It was hot as #%23" first.

(and aw thank you! I admit I was totally distracted when scrolling down your post and seeing my book in your sidebar! XD)

Elizabeth Twist said...

LOL, Hildred, sounds like summer in Japan is pretty similar to summer in mainland China, or at least Jiangsu province. Never have I felt so consistently damp.

Yikes on the endless supply of victims to be had for whites in Japan, and yikes for the same effect globally, right?

The way I see it, the off-kilter white person abroad is an opportunistic kind of beast, more taking advantage of cultural difference and the effects of global white supremacy than anything else. I wouldn't necessarily say that those cultures are set up for the express purpose of giving predators an ideal hunting ground, although I admit I hardly have enough information to think that through thoroughly.

What's even more curious to me is places set up by dominant culture on the home turf of white elites that also seem to be happy hunting grounds for predators. The more I examine such institutions, the more certain I am that it's not just people turning a blind eye to abuse, but rather something more sinister embedded in the culture as a whole. It is creepy, and I find it fascinating.

Libby said...

Wow, just the story about Doug was entertaining. I'm interested to see what you make of it in speculative novel form.

Catherine Stine said...

Wow, what a story! Just goes to show that one's instincts mostly guide them to the right verdict--that you felt something was way off with the guy. It does inspire a good seedy fictional character. And I do relate, as I am crafting a sequel to my spec fiction that was inspired by my disgust over the Jeff's cult. In it, there is a lecherous older villain type. Good luck with your story!
Catherine Stine’s Idea City

Mark K said...

Fantastic article Elizabeth, really. Why is it these types of dysfunctional predatory arseholes are always floating in circles where they can do the most harm and go undetected for such long periods (if at all)?

I suppose their arrogance is the rope by which they so often hang themselves eventually, believing themselves to be either untouchable - as we are realising here in the UK regarding Jimmy Savile - or so entrenched in their perversions that they fail to see it as wrong any longer.

An extremely interesting read. Thank you for sharing :)

Elizabeth Twist said...

@Libby: Thanks! I'm looking forward to it.

@Catherine: I think I was tangentially aware of Jeffs. I'd like to read more about it, maybe in December.

@Mark: I've been following the revelations about Jimmy Savile. That is some creepy stuff, especially about his access to hospitals. Yikes.