I’ve got lots to say on the subject of Jeffrey Epstein, and I’ve shied away from saying much of it, because, well, because the ways in which I identify with him make me uncomfortable.
Over my life, I’ve identified with a number of unsavory characters. Jeffrey Dahmer was the first to rise to the level of “problematic” for me. Not in that my identification with him was problematic – I’m not a sociopath, I’m not a murderer. But socially. I felt empathy for him in a way that simply wasn’t socially acceptable.
When I was a teen (and well into my 30s), I struggled with a variety of compulsions. The most problematic of these (other than my compulsive relationship to sex, which I’ve documented thoroughly here) was trichotillomania. That’s a fancy word for “pulling out my hair.” Trichotillomania mostly afflicts girls, not boys. And in my case, the hair I pulled was my facial hair, not the hair on my head, or elsewhere. But boy, did I pull it. I would spend vast periods in front of a mirror, needle in hand, excavating hairs that hadn’t yet reached the surface. I would pick and pull until my face bled. It was disfiguring, embarrasssing, humiliating. And I couldn’t stop. Even though I wanted nothing more than to stop. I just couldn’t.
So when I read about this man confronting an irresistible impulse, I thought to myself, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Seriously. I felt, acutely, that the difference between Dahmer and me was the luck of the draw, that I had been fortunate to have been dealt an impulse that harmed no one other than me, that left no trail of bodies in its wake. I didn’t imagine that this represented anything other than luck.
I still feel that way. We all are dealt our unique constellations of challenges, and how we handle them – informed both by our constitutional endowments (nature) and the circumstances of our lives (nurture) – adds up to who we are.
When I read about Jeffrey Epstein, I’m overwhelmed by two contradictory reactions. The first, of course, is horror: he victimized children, and deployed people and money, soullessly, without empathy, to rack up a devastating body count of those he exploited.
The second, though, is identification. Not empathy, exactly, but more like recognition. I see in the fantasy he was conjuring a sort of cousin of my core fantasy. Like him, I love the idea of a sea of women (well, in his case, girls) arrayed before me, simply to gratify me sexually, while demanding nothing of me. And, like him, that fantasy is enhanced by the enlistment of certain of those women in procuring others for me. So when I read of the systems he established to feed his voracious appetites, there is a flash of recognition of myself in there. He was just like me, only a) his tastes ran younger than mine – I prefer adults; b) he didn’t seem to need volition in his fantasy – for me, compliance, freely given, is absolutely essential; and c) he had a mixture of money and sociopathy that allowed him simply to enact his fantasies.
I had some of this, of course. In the days before I began this blog, I spent lots of money arranging my fantasies, and money has this funny way of producing volition (of a sort). But, for me, the deployment of money in the generation of volition always was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it produced the willingness I craved in my partners. On the other, it stripped that willingness of its essential value. I was left with a sort of empty shame, a sense of worthlessness. Even if a woman desired me, if I was paying her, I called into question the reality of that desire. Sex work, of course, is work. Some sex workers enjoy their work. Inevitably, some enjoy their work with certain of their clients more than their work with others. I prided myself on my fantasy (and perhaps, to a certain extent, the reality) that I was a “favored” client. But at the end of the day, I was a client. I knew that. And it killed my soul.
Ultimately, my liberation, such as it was, came in the discovery that while money had certain virtues in the conjuring of fantasies (I could have what I wanted when I wanted it with minimal effort), its costs exceeded those virtues. And – and this was important – it turned out that I could conjure my fantasies without deploying money (or rather, without employing sex workers – dating is expensive, regardless). There existed women who wanted to give me what I wanted from them, and, with a bit of effort, I could connect with them.
Back to Jeffrey Epstein. His fantasy is uncomfortably close to my own. I love the idea of a solitary retreat, far from the real world, populated exclusively (or largely) by women who have come solely to gratify me sexually. That sounds just insanely hot to me.
But that’s as far as the similarity goes. In my fantasy, if there are 100 women there, 10 of them are in their 20s, and the rest are in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and maybe even 60s. Since it’s my fantasy, there might be 5 or 6 of them who would have done the recruiting for the rest. And, since it’s my fantasy, a prerequisite would be the women’s willingness – and ability – to pay their own way. The more their overt desire is on evidence, the better.
Jeffrey Epstein was, like all of us, a monster. Not because he was attracted to children. Because he didn’t protect the world from his impulses. We all owe it to one another to do that. We all are monstrous in our ways. I am, God knows, in my narcissism, my secrecy, my devotion to my bodily pleasure at the expense of all sorts of other goods.
I’m sorry that Epstein is dead. No one deserves to die. I didn’t wish it on him, and I don’t celebrate it. I truly hope that the truth of all his co-conspirators comes out. (Ghislaine Maxwell, in particular, seems like someone about whose personal weaknesses we all will learn more in the coming days.)
And, with not a little guilt, I find myself using the stories I read as jumping-off points for modified fantasies of my own.