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When Andrea Dworkin Told Pedophile Beat Poet Allen Ginsberg She Wanted Him Dead
Pedophilia and the “+” in “LGBTQ+”
The following introduction and transcript, with the accompanying image, appeared on the Andrea Dworkin Archival Project. It originally appeared on May 9, 2023. Nikki Craft and Donovan Cleckley thank The Distance for reprinting the piece to help share the archival work we have been doing.
By Donovan Cleckley
No, Allen, you still don’t get it. The right wants to put you in jail. I want you dead.
- Andrea Dworkin
Though we did not plan it, after continuing edits and work on the audio and its transcript, this reveal has landed on its anniversary. In this conversation, recorded exactly thirty-three years ago today on May 9, 1990, Andrea Dworkin and Nikki Craft discuss the sexual abuse of children. Their discussion names the abuse carried out by Allen Ginsberg, always Whitmanesque—and pictured as “the great poet.” A supporter and member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), Ginsberg objected to a constitutional law criminalizing the possession of child sexual abuse materials. He claimed that the law infringed on his rights and his freedoms pertaining to a “love” for boys, ones as young as thirteen. “I’m a member of NAMBLA,” Ginsberg said, adding, “because I love boys too—everybody does, who has a little humanity.” But whose humanity, really?
When he encountered her right before their godson’s bar mitzvah, Ginsberg cronfronted Dworkin about how persecuted he felt over the criminalization of child sexual abuse materials. He refused to take her “No” for an answer and pursued her, in vain, likely presuming that he could persuade her to comply with his desires, if not explicitly affirm them. “I made clear to him, from the first time that he brought it up,” Dworkin said, “that I was on the other side of this and that I regarded this as child molestation and nothing else.” In Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant, Dworkin’s 2002 autobiography, she recollects this encounter with Ginsberg. The Supreme Court had just ruled child sexual abuse materials illegal. She writes:
I was thrilled. I knew that Allen would not be. I did think he was a civil libertarian. But in fact, he was a pedophile. He did not belong to the North American Man/Boy Love Association out of some mad, abstract conviction that its voice had to be heard. He meant it. I take this from what Allen said directly to me, not from some inference I made. He was exceptionally aggressive about his right to fuck children and his constant pursuit of underage boys. (p. 38)
During her conversation with Craft, Dworkin discusses what she terms “pedophile logic.” The argument used eighteen years, minus one month, and so on, to posit a kind of age fluidity. Age seemed nothing but a number to him, a boundary to be stretched and, if possible, broken. “He changed the subject, without saying he was changing the subject,” she said, “to having sex, not taking photographs.” Ginsberg alternated from eighteen, seventeen, and sixteen to using the boys at the bar mitzvah as examples. “He pointed to the friends of my godson and said they were old enough to fuck,” Dworkin writes, “They were twelve and thirteen. He said that all sex was good, including forced sex” (p. 39). Reasonably, then, she wanted this conversation to end, but he insisted on his rights and his freedoms. Their exchange culminated with him believing Dworkin wanted him jailed by the right, persecuted for his so-called “love” of boys.
To which she clarified: “No, Allen, you still don’t get it. The right wants to put you in jail. I want you dead” (p. 39).
By no means had Dworkin always despised Ginsberg—in fact, quite the opposite, earlier in her life, especially during her teenage years and young adulthood. An early reference to this admiration appears in Woman Hating: A Radical Look at Sexuality, published in 1974, where Dworkin thanks him in the introduction (p. 27). After the list of women, including Kate Millett, Robin Morgan, Shulamith Firestone, Judith Malina, and Jill Johnston, the list of male influences includes, in this order, Ginsberg, James Baldwin, Daniel Berrigan, Jean Genet, Huey P. Newton, Julian Beck, and Timothy Leary. Elsewhere, in Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women, her 1997 collection of essays for Nikki Craft and in memory of Mark, Dworkin’s brother, she includes an autobiographical piece that discusses her youthful admiration of Ginsberg. Written in 1995, this piece includes a passage describing this time, where Dworkin felt drawn to Ginsberg’s poetry. She writes:
I loved Allen Ginsberg especially. More than anyone he expressed the sense of pain I felt, the anger and rebellion, but also the undifferentiated infatuation I felt for the world of possibility around me. I had no sense of evil and I didn’t believe that harm could defeat me—I’d make poems out of it. (p. 24)
For her, Ginsberg’s writing spoke a language of liberation that she thought included her. Betrayal would be an understatement for Dworkin’s realization that Ginsberg, this revolutionary heir to Whitman’s poetic vision, was a reactionary, yet another exploiter complaining of exploitation. “What you’re saying to me is that you’re an exceptional man, and you’re not,” she said, “you’re just a man, like all of the others, who has no respect for the rights of other people.” Elsewhere, in Mercy, Dworkin’s novel published in 1990, Andrea, its protagonist, admires Ginsberg and experiences disillusionment with the Ginsbergian ideal—what he made of “Whitman’s view of America and sexual freedom.” “I embraced all the generations without distinctions and it failed because of this awfulness that there is no name for, this great meanness at the heart of what they mean when they stick it in,” Andrea says, “I just don’t know a remedy, because it is a sick and hostile thing” (p. 228).
What about that child, the boy harmed by the man? Ginsberg redefines the abused child as a necessary cost of his desire. Harm becomes the acceptable consequence of conquest. If one fears “doing harm,” Ginsberg reasons, then one would not “get out of bed in the morning.” Fundamentally, Ginsberg affirms his sexuality by negating the child’s humanity. For his desire, the man sacrifices the boy, making him, in that moment, a scapegoat to be used and discarded—as he could do to any woman, any girl. Early on, in Pornography: Men Possessing Women, published in 1981, Dworkin critiqued Ginsberg as being among the men who crossed over from victim to victimizer. According to her:
Men molested as children resolve their confusion through action: in crossing over to the adult side, they remove themselves from the pool of victims. Since as adults they can experience the commission of forcible sex with others as freedom, they can say, as poet Allen Ginsberg did on a Boston television show, that they were molested as children and liked it. This is the public stance of the boy who has become the man, no matter what his private or secret ambivalences might be. (p. 58)
About a decade before their confrontation at the bar miztvah, Dworkin correctly assessed Ginsberg for including rape and molestation in his concept of “sexual freedom.” Ginsberg may have been content to risk destroying the lives of the boys he abused, but he risked virtually nothing regarding his own literary reputation. Today, he continues to be praised as one of the greatest American poets, both in literary circles and popular culture.
His pedophilia goes unmentioned, while, by contrast, Dworkin has been hated for her writing in defense of women and girls against prostitution and pornography.
This exchange reminds us how men can inflict hateful, unbelievably selfish acts of violence on women and children—and still go on to be celebrated. Like William S. Burroughs, Ginsberg’s friend who killed Joan Vollmer, Burroughs’s second wife, by shooting her in the head, claiming to have failed a “William Tell” stunt, Ginsberg disregards others’ humanity. A writer herself, she was a casualty of a “game” Burroughs played, where the woman’s life was nothing compared to the man’s even momentary pleasure. Ginsberg followed this paradigm in seeing a lifetime of harm as the acceptable product of his pleasure. Such a sexuality comes at the expense of the humanity of each person victimized, every life drained.
Craft notes this recording happened at Dworkin’s request, published here by Craft and I with the transcribed passages, literary and historical context, and further reading. This recording occurred by a landline, over a nighttime phone call, without sufficient recording technology. Done by tape recorded at the time, in 1990, the technology differed significantly from more recent technological advancements in recording.
For those already familiar with this audio, it has previously been published online, without either permission from or acknowledgment to Craft. The individual who shared it to YouTube let a large feminist archive go due to her refusal to pay the registration fee. Unethically, of course, this individual released the video without receiving consent from Craft first.
We note this information to clarify the circumstances under which the recording has unofficially appeared—without proper context. The way it had been done ultimately casted doubt on Dworkin’s credibility in her account of Ginsberg. Sharing it to the Andrea Dworkin Archival Project (ADAP), with its necessary context, serves as our attempt to both properly archive this document and resolve this issue.
Link to the Audio via Odysee:
We at the ADAP, together with Women Who Are Women (WWAW), especially thank J.B. and Brandon Spivey, whose work has been essential to make this audio file listenable. We also express our gratitude to Jed Riffe.
We have provided a transcript below, as prepared by Cleckley, to accompany the recorded conversation.
DWORKIN: I am assuming that, at some point, you’re going to have some good use for this. Also, I think it’s very possible that you could call him up and ask him about this stuff, and he will tell you.
I don’t think he’s being deceptive about it; I think he is slowly approaching a point where he wants to come out and make it a political issue, eventually defying people to put him, the great poet, in jail. That they should be prepared to put him in jail, but I’m not sure about all of that.
All I can tell you is what happened, and I don’t know whether you want me to tell you about it with any of the emotion that I feel or whether you just want me to give you the facts.
CRAFT: I think, for the tape, just the facts. Don’t you think?
DWORKIN: Yeah, I think that would be better. These conversations began on the day that the Supreme Court decision on the possession of child pornography was announced in the newspapers, which was Saturday April 21, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The event—the reason that both Allen Ginsberg and I were there—was the bar mitzvah of our godson—he’s the godfather and I’m the godmother—Isaac. And that’s why we were there.
I had just read about the Supreme Court decision saying that states could criminalize the possession of child pornography, in the local Boston newspaper, and I was very happy about it. I went down to the hotel lobby to wait to be picked up to go with other people to the cinema, and Ginsberg came down. There were maybe ten other people there, fifteen other people. He was extremely hyper and upset about this decision. I hadn’t seen him in about probably close to twenty-five years. I had only seen him once, in all that time, and we hadn’t spoken. He began talking to me about it; I didn’t bring it up with him. He told me that he was increasingly committed to fighting censorship and that this was a decision of censorship, that he takes such pictures, and that he could be put in jail under the law that the Supreme Court just upheld. That he likes to take them and he likes to share them, and he was very dismissive. Apparently, one part of the law said that you have to have, in order to be prosecuted under this law, more than three prints. In other words, if you only have one print, that’s not actionable, and he was very derisive about that—only three prints. In other words, to him, having three prints would be worthless. He kept saying that they would put him in jail, and I said to him that I would shoot him. He got very, very upset and said, “Why would you say such a thing to me? How could you say such a thing to me? How is it possible?” I said, “What you’re saying is that you molest children.” And he started to say that they weren’t children, basically that teenage boys were not children and that he should have a right to do any sex act he wanted with them and that they wanted with him.
CRAFT: Can you try to say pretty much his exact words?
DWORKIN: I can’t really say his exact words. These are very close to his exact words. He talked very fast, very intellectually deft. Meanwhile, we were moving into the bar mitzvah, into the synagogue, into the service, into the reception. The fact of the matter is that I tried to end the conversation, repeatedly, and that he followed me everywhere I went and insisted on talking about it. I made clear to him, from the first time that he brought it up, that I was on the other side of this and that I regarded this as child molestation and nothing else. I wasn’t interested in his justifications for it, and I thought the Supreme Court was right, and I was very happy about the decision. All of the stuff that I have told you so far pretty much is in his language. This dialogue did take place—that he said they’d put him in jail, and I said I’d shoot him. Everything I have said so far is some paraphrase of his language.
He started what I call pedophile logic. The way that it started was “What about if somebody is eighteen years minus one month? What about if they’re eighteen years minus two months?” I said, “Stop it. You know, this is ridiculous. How old are they, really? What age are you really talking about?” He changed it when he started saying “eighteen years old minus one month, eighteen years old minus two months.” He changed the subject, without saying he was changing the subject, to having sex, not taking photographs.
CRAFT: I know. I’ve heard it done a lot.
DWORKIN: Yeah, and that is the way that it’s done.
CRAFT: That’s a very good observation.
DWORKIN: Nevertheless, of course, I did notice, and I know what they have to do with each other, so I cut through the logic. I just stopped him and said, “How old?” He basically said to me “Sixteen” and then he said “Fifteen or sixteen.” At some later point, he began, still arguing with me, using Isaac and Isaac’s friends as examples. He said they were men—they are thirteen, which is the age of bar mitzvah, and he said that the Bible said that a boy became a man at the age of thirteen, which is also in his Nation article that I sent you. That’s how it ends. And I said, “What do I care about patriarchal law? It doesn’t mean a damn thing to me. I don’t care what the Bible says.” I think he reacted as if he knew he had made a political mistake, that there is something wrong with patriarchal law, so this wasn’t the argument to use. But he insisted that they, at thirteen, were men and that they were a population of people with whom he thought that it was perfectly alright to have sex.
Now, I’m going to let you tape this, and you don’t use this part without my permission.
CRAFT: Okay, don’t put it in yet, then. Just go ahead and do the whole thing.
CRAFT: Because we want anything tacked on to the end.
CRAFT: Don’t you think that’s best?
DWORKIN: I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it’s there.
CRAFT: Well, don’t put it there. Just save this until later.
He kept talking about his rights and his freedoms; he talked about them as if every effort to protect children, in any way at all, was not an effort to protect children but a direct infringement on his personal freedom to have sex with these people–
CRAFT: To have access.
DWORKIN: [these people] whom he sees as men.
CRAFT: Did he say that?
DWORKIN: He kept saying they were men. He kept saying that these were all infringements on his freedoms and his rights.
DWORKIN: Yeah, that’s the language that he used, exactly.
I don’t remember what the transition was, but I brought up the point that I thought that the law that was upheld actually didn’t approach the problem fully, because, if there’s parental consent—oh, he brought up Mapplethorpe. He brought up the censorship of Mapplethorpe’s pictures of children. Four of the seven pictures that had been indicted were of children. I haven’t seen them, so I don’t know what they are. But I said, “Well, this Supreme Court decision had nothing to do with Mapplethorpe, because the Ohio law that they upheld allowed parents to take these kinds of pictures and also anybody to take them with parental consent.” He said, “Who would give parental consent to Mapplethorpe?” I said, “The parents of these children, because he had parental consent.” He said he had never met an intelligent person with my point of view. I later told him, in a different conversation, that that was one of the most bizarre things I had ever heard in my life, since I knew a great many intelligent people who had precisely my point of view.
He talked a lot about himself, that anybody, any society, that would do this to him—he put it in the framework of Walt Whitman and being a great poet. In other words, he did not say, “I, Allen Ginsberg, am a great poet; therefore, you cannot put me in jail.” He talked about Whitman’s view of America and sexual freedom—and, then, would we put him in jail. I said to him, “What you’re saying to me is that you’re an exceptional man, and you’re not; you’re just a man, like all of the others, who has no respect for the rights of other people.” He said, “No, he wasn’t saying that; he thought everybody should be able to do this, not just him.
Then, later that night, at dinner, I basically did not want to talk to him, but he sat with me, and he told John that he took photos of sixteen-year-old boys, and then he sucked their cocks. At some point, the discussion stopped. John got upset. He got upset. They started screaming at each other and whatever. I intervened.
CRAFT: Did anyone else hear him say that besides John?
DWORKIN: I don’t know. I don’t think so. However, other people—one other person, at least—did hear a good part of the rest of it, and that person—poor woman who will never sit next to me anywhere ever again—was Barbara Haber, the head of the Schlesinger Library for women at Radcliffe. She sat next to me, and then the part that I wanted to tell you that involves me—
CRAFT: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Is this the part that you’re not sure you would want divulged?
DWORKIN: This is the part that has more to do with me.
DWORKIN: [On Haber] She heard most of this. She did not hear what he said to John, but she heard virtually all of the rest of this, except the beginning of it, at the hotel, when he started talking about the Supreme Court decision.
CRAFT: I see. So she is a witness to this conversation.
DWORKIN: Yeah. And he may have repeated himself enough that she heard him say the things that I said at the beginning.
CRAFT: Okay, now, have you said everything that you want to say, with the exception of the thing that you wanted to add in?
CRAFT: Okay, what we can do is you can add that in. There’s nothing else you can think of, besides that?
DWORKIN: There was a tremendous amount of repetition. He left me the packet that I sent to you.
CRAFT: He left that with you? He didn’t mail it to you? God, I couldn’t—
DWORKIN: No, he left it at the hotel—between the discussion in the morning and the dinner at night.
CRAFT: So he had it with him? I wonder if he intended to give it to you.
DWORKIN: I would doubt it. I think he probably had lots of copies, but he did several other things. He also came to the dinner that night with a three-or-four-page list—I’m not sure, because I didn’t see it all—of questions that he wanted me to answer, a tiny little script. And he started to read it to me. The first one was something like “The boy is eighteen months, minus one month,” and I stopped him. I said, “I’m not interested in this; I don’t want to hear this.”
DWORKIN: He’s very hyper anyway, very Gemini, very high-energy, very intellectually quick. He didn’t drink at all. I did.
CRAFT: Yeah, I’ll bet.
DWORKIN: I almost never do, but I did.
CRAFT: Okay, now, so what we’ll do is you can add in this additional part, and we’ll listen to it.
DWORKIN: Before that, there’s just one more thing. When he started to read me these three pages or four pages, whichever they were, when I stopped him—
CRAFT: He read you all of them?
DWORKIN: No, he started to read them, and I said, “I don’t want to hear it, and I’m not going to answer it.” I said, “You can send them to me,” and he said, “I will.” I said, “If you turn it into a poem, I’ll answer it with a book.”
CRAFT: That’s great.
DWORKIN: And he said, “I can’t read a whole book.” So, I still haven’t gotten it in the mail. I don’t know if he will send it to me.
CRAFT: I hope he does.
DWORKIN: I hope so, too.
CRAFT: But he wouldn’t give it to you at that time?
CRAFT: Okay, okay, now, if we decide that we do not want to leave this on the tape, we can erase it. Well, it’s erased now and we’re erasing over it, at this time, and continuing the conversation, if we decide to edit it out.
DWORKIN: In the evening, he told John that—John asked him, as part of this conversation: How did he know that he wasn’t doing harm to a boy? And he said that you couldn’t know, that it was just a chance that you had to take, but that, if you were afraid of doing harm, you wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
DWORKIN: So, that was bad. That’s it.
Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (Plume, 1981/1989), 58.
Andrea Dworkin, Mercy (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1990/1992), 32, 201, 228.
Andrea Dworkin, “My Life as a Writer” (1995), in Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women (The Free Press, 1997), 24.
Andrea Dworkin, Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel, and Women’s Liberation (The Free Press, 2000), 195.
Andrea Dworkin, Heartbreak: The Political Memoir of a Feminist Militant (Continuum, 2002/2006), 36-39.
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