Case Narrative

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

Joachim Lafosse

He let me believe I was better than others.

Source:   ’Het begint met woorden, niet met seks’
(Dutch: “It begins with words, not sex”)
by Joachim Lafosse
De Standaard (Belgium), December 4, 2010
www.standaard.be/cnt/p7338290

This case does not fit the criteria of the Consenting Juveniles research. It is presented here as a counterpoint to those that do in order to show a very different perspective from which a teenage sexual relationship can be viewed. The essay below appeared in the Beligian newspaper, De Standaard, side-by-side with the one by Ivo van Hove.

Joachim Lafosse has won many awards for his film direction and screenwriting. The New York Times praised his 2006 movie, Private Property, saying that he “twists the knife gently.”1 That skill shone through again in Private Lessons, released in 2008, in which, with great sensitivity and compassion, he showed how a relationship with a teacher, who at least at first appeared to be well-meaning and generous, wreaked enormous havoc in a boy’s life. In the essay below, Lafosse revealed for the first time that this touching story was based on his own troubled youth.

This is the very first time I’m telling my story. I made a movie about it two years ago, Elève libre [“Private Lessons”], but I never admitted it was autobiographical. I thought the story had to speak for itself. But soon, the movie will be shown on television and two years have passed, so I guess it’s okay now. Though it’s very hard for me to talk about it. For twelve years, I had psychotherapy sessions three times a week to cope with it all.

It started when I was almost 16 years old. My home situation was chaotic: my parents were practically never home and I was left to take care of myself. I played tennis, but couldn’t make a career out of it and at school my grades dropped year after year. I got so far behind they eventually kicked me out of school. There was no place for me in the standard system. So there I was, alone, abandoned, without hope of ever getting a diploma. Then suddenly, there he was, an acquaintance of my tennis coach, a private teacher who believed in me, who wanted to help me get a diploma from the board of examiners, who gave me the feeling I could do something, that I was special. Of course I didn’t want to let that opportunity go by.

It started with lessons about books, movies, science, but after a while it was more about life – and therefore also about love and sexuality. I had a girlfriend then and he wanted to know more intimate things: what I thought about that relationship, what the sex was like. He introduced me to a group of very libertarian friends. They told me what they thought about sex. First they only shared their ideas, later on they gave me tips, showed me techniques, tried out some things on me. My private teacher told me you can only know you’re gay by experimenting. Whatever we did, afterwards he told me how brave I was. This made me feel special again, a member of the club.

My teacher knew how to cultivate this feeling like no other. People always think abuse starts with sexual behavior, but it starts with words, with a discourse. My teacher constantly told me how special I was, how much more open and free I was in comparison to my peers. Maybe that is the worst thing about the whole situation: he let me believe I was better than others. Afterwards, it took me years to rebuild a normal social life. I thought my peers were stupid turds because I had experience and they didn’t. That manipulation alienated me from them. It isolated me completely because I only wanted to interact with adults. This way, the place that man occupied in my life only grew bigger.

Performance

I started realizing something was wrong when the relationship with my girlfriend ended. Suddenly, I realized all that experience and all those tips didn’t help me loving her. I was so far gone I completely separated feelings and sex, body and mind. Of course she couldn’t understand. Or maybe she could: she saw that sex and love had become a performance for me. So she left.

I immediately broke contact with my teacher. I was twenty years old then; I had spent four years stuck in this perverse situation. And the recovery took me years. I think I completely recovered when I got power and authority. As a director, for example, because I decide what happens with the actors. Then I realized how power can be abused. And how subtly that often happens.

I don’t think the man who abused me had other victims – I don’t know for sure. But I still suffer from the following question: Do I need to prevent something like this from happening again? I think it’s important that victims of abuse go to the police, but I don’t have the strength to do it myself. I don’t want to relive this period again. I got away from it and I want to concentrate on other things right now: my son, my family. I also believe I’ve done my part: I made a movie about my experience, I testify to it in this newspaper. Furthermore, I don’t think I have to be the only one who needs to be alert. It’s a shared responsibility: of parents, of teachers, of everybody.

Elitist

That’s why I was so shocked by the reactions to Elève libre. I noticed youngsters between 16 and 22 had no problem recognizing the mechanism of manipulation and abuse. For them it was clear: this is a teacher who abused a student. But a lot of adults didn’t find the movie black-and-white enough. They took a stand for the teacher, “because he surely wasn’t a monster.” And “The student did participate in his game”, but can you really expect a teenager to resist, to see through the mechanism?

For the same reason, I find Ivo Van Hove’s discourse so dangerous. I think it’s a good thing it’s possible to talk about pedophilia without using black-and-white words people like so much, so I don’t judge Van Hove. But I do want him to recognize his responsibility. He has to be aware of the consequences of his words. I think his discourse closely resembles that of the man who abused me, “What happened isn’t bad, on the contrary, it’s part of life.” It’s almost an elitist attitude: “I have no trauma from it. I’m even glad I experienced it. – I’ve had a richer experience that others didn’t have.” Maybe this is a defense mechanism and he doesn’t want to face the truth, but it seems to me like a rationalization. I also wonder what the reactions would have been if a bishop had said, “I had a relationship at fourteen with an older man, but it hasn’t troubled me.” Then everyone would probably be screaming blue murder.

Some people might think of me as reactionary, but the law must protect minors. This protection is a universal right and is more important than absolute freedom. A society without boundaries is one without morals. Youngsters need to explore sexuality with each other; adults shouldn’t interfere. That is what I blame my teacher for: that he took from me my childhood. That he left me nothing to be learned on my own, because I already knew everything, or so I thought. Luckily, I later learned that love is so much more than sex. And that I have to learn these things like anyone else. Especially thanks to my wife, who still remains mysterious and fascinating to me.


Translation posted pending permission. 

Footnotes

1. Forbidden Games: My Two Sons, My Ex-Husband, My Lover and Me (Movie review: Private Property)
by Manohla Dargis, New York Times, May 18, 2007
http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/05/18/movies/18priv.html