June 1999

    Outreach, Family, and Faith
    A Jewish Boylover Reflects on His Heritage
    By Heather Elizabeth Peterson

    Is PopaBear the only Jewish boylover? He doesn't know, nor does he concern himself with the question. "It shouldn't matter whether I'm Jewish," he says. "Being a boylover isn't a faith issue."

    All the same, he will sometimes post messages online in celebration of the Jewish high holy days, and he reflects that it would be nice if he could get together with other Jewish boylovers on those days. Certainly he feels that his perspective on sexuality has been shaped by his heritage as a Conservative Jew.

    Boylovers, according to the Christian Boylove Forum, are "men who are sexually and emotionally attracted to boys." PopaBear agrees with this definition but adds that he believes that a boylover is someone who "makes an effort to make boys' lives better." As a Canadian, PopaBear is aware that adults who are attracted to minors have a very different reputation, for he hears often about the sexual scandals facing the Christian church.

    "The church has a harder time addressing boylove, because of all of those brothers and priests who have abused and hurt kids who are under their care," he says. "The church has all these cases of child abuse to deal with. People forget that priests are human beings. If you tell priests they can't marry and then have them spend all their time with kids, the church is going to end up with these problems. Rabbis get married and have families; you don't have Jewish schools where male teachers go after boys, because these men go home to their wives."

    On other sexual issues, PopaBear says, Judaism has also had an easier time than Christianity. "I don't think there is as big an outcry against homosexuality on the whole, as big as deal as in the Christianity. You don't have the Jewish equivalent of Pat Robertson standing up and condemning homosexuality."

    All the same, he adds, "There is an acceptance of homosexuality [in Judaism], though the ultra-Orthodox wouldn't accept it, but there is no acceptance of boylove."

    PopaBear believes that when Judaism finally addresses the issue of boylove, it will look at the matter from the perspective of its strong tradition of being family-oriented. "The chief concern is that you build a family, whether you're gay or straight," he says.

    PopaBear benefitted from the strength of his own family seven years ago, when he was arrested for child sexual abuse. "My parents show an incredible amount of unconditional love. They were angry at what I did, but they didn't say, 'You aren't my son.' My father still says, 'When are you doing to find someone and settle down?' but that comes out of a real love. My parents were angry at what I did; they weren't angry at me."

    PopaBear was released from prison after four months; he took part in therapy both before his arrest and after his release, but he felt an emptiness in his life. After leaving prison he discovered the online boylove community forums, which, he says, changed his life. He says he believes that it's unlikely that the incident which led to his conviction would have taken place if he'd had peer support at that time from other boylovers.

    These days, PopaBear sees a strong resemblance between the family values he received from his Jewish heritage and the values of boylove. "Boylove is pro-family insofar as boylovers try to do something for the greater good. Whenever a boylovers helps a boy who is in trouble and manages to turn him around, you end up with one less boy getting involved with the law or with drugs. . . .

    "There is a connection between my reaching out to kids and my religion," he adds. "Sometimes my life is better from being a boylover; sometimes it's more difficult. Having been in jail makes it more difficult. I can't be a Big Brother, so I try to help kids online who are in trouble. It's not an age thing I will help adults as well. If someone says, 'I'm forty years old and I need help,' I won't turn away. When I meet kids on IRC [Internet chat channels], I try to listen and offer advice. I try to be accepting of what they are and what they think they are. When they need to complain, I listen. I pass on the Boys Town hotline number regularly." (Boys Town is an American organization for troubled children that was founded in 1917 by a Catholic priest.)

    Indeed, PopaBear has become a source of information on places that kids can go when they're in trouble; other boylovers turn to him for advice. His most recent online contact has been with a Mormon boy who is concerned that he will go to hell because he is gay. PopaBear plans to send him to the Web site of a gay Mormon organization.

    He bristles at the idea that some people would believe he helps boys out of ulterior motives.

    "On the street, if I see a boy who has a shoe untied, I will tell him about it, because I don't want boys to trip on their shoelaces," he says. "I becomes a mentor to students; they need an adult besides their parents to talk with. If I'm doing this as grooming, then why am I working in a college where the students are eighteen, nineteen years old? Why am I telling boys to tie their shoes strangers who I will never see again?"

    With irony, he adds, "My motives are definitely selfish I feel good because I've made a difference in [the Mormon boy's] life. If I were grooming kids for sex, I would be talking with eight-, nine-, ten-year-olds here in my hometown, and I'm not doing that I'm helping teenagers I'll never meet. I'm 'grooming' them so that they will be better people, so that they will be more understanding of other people. They're why am I doing this, because nobody else is. It was a job that I fell into. This wasn't something I decided I was going to do online. Ninety-nine percent of these people I'm 'grooming' I will never see. I'm 'grooming' them to be happy."

    His nickname was given to him by some of the boys he met online, who named him after the PopaBear in the nursery tale of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

    As for reconciling his faith with his attraction to boys, he says, "To me it comes down to making this world a better place. Anyone who meets me will see that I stand for what everyone does."

    He wishes, though, that he could provide more assistance to boys. "Society makes no differentiation between feelings and behavior. If you say that you're a pedophile, immediately people regard you as an evil person, without even knowing what your behavior is. My actions and my sexuality are related but I also know because of what society thinks I am, my actions are limited. I could make a difference to so many people."

    PopaBear does not believe that Judaism is likely to change its views on boylove before society does, but he believes that "Judaism will take the lead in redefining values about homosexuality and boylove and girl-love before Christianity does" because Jews are not as divided as Christians in their beliefs, and they work together in community.

    "There's a Jewish group in Israel that looks at modern science and religion," he says. "One of the situations they've examined is what can be done in hospitals on the Sabbath. How can you make an emergency phone call if you can't use the phone? Likewise, it would be interesting if a group like this tackled boylove. Is it biblically possible to reconcile boylove with Judaism's beliefs? They'd look at the set of laws we use and the tradition and see whether boylove could be reconciled.

    "I think that will happen. As with languages, religions do change over time. Judaism has changed. The specifics have changed, but the spirit of what we do hasn't changed."

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    © 1999 Heather Elizabeth Peterson
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