Case Narrative

A Consenting Juveniles narrative is a first-hand account reporting the words of the research subject on his or her experience.

Ivo van Hove

It would have been terrible if he’d been convicted.

Source:   ’Ik heb nooit iets tegen mijn zin gedaan’
(Dutch: “I never did anything against my will”)
by Ivo van Hove
De Standaard (Belgium), December 4, 2010
www.standaard.be/cnt/p733828u

Ivo van Hove is the award-winning artistic director of the Netherlands’ largest repertory company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, and has also directed theater productions in New York, as well as television and movies. Academy Award winning actress Cate Blanchett described his work as1 “everything you want theater to be – and he doesn’t shy away from the ugly or the profane. In a word, stunning, with a capital ’S’.” In the essay below, van Hove speaks of the formative influence of a relationship with a teacher in his boarding school.

The essay below appeared in the Beligian newspaper, De Standaard, side-by-side with another by award-winning filmmaker Joachim Lafosse, whose experience was very different. The Lafosse essay is also included on this website as a counterpoint to show a very different perspective from which a teenage sexual relationship can be viewed.

I think I absolutely cannot make any general statements about pedophilia, so I will only talk about my personal experience. I’m fully aware of the fact that a lot of people have bad experiences, that in many situations it’s a matter of abuse of power and such abuse should always be punished. But in this quagmire of terrible cases I only want to make clear that there are other experiences too. We always wonder what the artist’s position towards society should be. Now the papers are filled with this particular social problem, so I can’t keep quiet any longer. My mother, however, finds it horrible when I talk about it – I don’t know whether she knows I had a relationship with a teacher when I was 14 years old – but I said to her, “I very well understand you don’t agree with this, but I think it’s important to share my story.”

I deliberately speak of “a relationship” because that’s what it was to me. I never felt like a victim. I also explicitly want to emphasize that I didn’t become homosexual because of that relationship. From an early age I knew I was gay – well, I didn’t even know the word – but I quickly knew what kind of feelings I had. Since the age of twelve I was certain about my homosexuality, which doesn’t mean I never kissed girls. Of course I did. But I quickly felt, “This is not it.” My homosexuality has never been a problem. Not that I talked about it – it was still Flanders of the seventies – but I never suffered from it, I never struggled with it.

Feeling like an outsider

My story is a classic case as well, I think. When I was eleven, I went to boarding school in Hoogstraten, not because I was a rudderless teenager, but because my parents wanted me to go to a good school. There I started a relationship with a teacher when I was fourteen. It happened very gradually, very naturally. Of course, there was sex involved, but there was much more to it than that. Thanks to that relationship, I got to see plays for the first time in my life, read all kinds of books, listened to records I would never had discovered otherwise. Isn’t that how it goes in relationships? I’ve now been in relationship with my partner for over thirty years and he’s constantly telling me what strikes him as beautiful or good. Life amounts to continuous learning, and that’s how it was back then as well. Moreover, I believe that even at a young age, you need to learn about life.

For example, I remember well when we were taught about the atomic bomb. They didn’t show us images of Hiroshima, but we learned how the bomb was made and what it could cause. After that, I couldn’t sleep for three days and afterwards, this question immediately arises: Should you do that to a twelve-year-old child? But I find it positive that I learned at a young age how people interact with each other. Life experience is also an important part of your education. You also have to learn love and sexuality, though I’m not advocating that pedophilia should be the way to do this. And coincidently, I learned from a relationship with a teacher, but also from relationships with peers. Or maybe I have to rephrase it, because “learning” sounds so instructive. These relationships have enriched me – that’s the right word.

There never was any penetration. Everything went the way I wanted it to. I never did anything against my will. There was nothing harsh or excessive involved, only tenderness. There were also days when we didn’t have sex. But of course, everything happened secretly. Actually, there wasn’t any place where we could have a physical relationship, but we searched for it. When you’re young, you’re creative. Because of that it was even more exiting, but back then, being homosexual was exiting anyway. My plays and operas are often about relationships outsiders don’t understand, but which are unique to me. I feel attracted to the feeling of being an outsider and having something special all the same. Especially in love, it can be special.

I never thought, “This isn’t normal.” Later on, I never had the feeling that this man robbed me of my childhood either. That relationship wasn’t my first experience of love. I previously had some encounters – minor encounters. With girls, like I already said, but also with classmates. Also, I didn’t have that years-long relationship with an older man and then have it be nothing after that. The relationship took on new forms with the passing of time. Even when I or he didn’t feel sexual needs anymore, we still kept in touch because there was so much more between us.

Injustice

I’m 52 now and if that relationship ever had any consequences – negative consequences – I would have noticed by now. Maybe you repress or refuse to look at certain experiences as a 13- or 14-year-old, but I’m a grown man. I know what I’m doing and we’re talking about something that happened 40 years ago. I don’t spout dogma. I was never told, “This is a learning process for you,” simply because I never protested. I never ran off crying to my parents. I never questioned that relationship.

Back then, I was questioned by the Bijzondere Opsporingsbrigade [federal police] and I didn’t lie, but I didn’t tell the truth either. Because I didn’t want to. And I hardly knew anything about the case. I didn’t know other boys were involved; we never talked about that. But it would have been terrible for me if that teacher had been convicted because of our relationship. That would have been traumatic. In my view, that would have been a great injustice.

Of course, the school had to protect their student, but for me the one thing never excluded the other. I never had the feeling that I was dependent on him or that I was in an unequal power relationship. What’s going on in the Church, that’s an abuse of power, and it upsets me terribly. Precisely because the Church claims to be the paragon of purity. But as to whether there should be changes in the laws, for example in the age of consent, I dare not speak out on that. I leave that to the specialists. I just want to make clear that reality is more nuanced than is often thought. Pedophilia can’t always be seen in limited terms of abuse of power and a horrible form of sexuality. My personal experience is different from that.


Translation posted pending permission. 

Footnotes

1. Toneelgroep Amsterdam
in Distinctively Dutch Festival, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, 2012
http://dutchfestival.pgharts.org/artists/toneelgroep-amsterdam/