“Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us,” by Jesse Bering, Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 266 pages, $26. “All of us?” people will say understandably on looking at the title of Jesse Bering’s fascinating book. “Are you absolutely sure?” And then, after that, people will certainly say “define ‘deviance.’ ” Which is, in essence, what the whole point of Bering’s book is.
Bering introduces all exploration of the infinitude of desire with an apt epigraph from Alfred Kinsey: “Rarely has man been more cruel against man than in the condemnation and punishment of those accused of so-called sexual perversions. The penalties have included imprisonment, torture, the loss of life or limb, banishment, blackmail, social ostracism, the loss of social prestige, renunciation by friends and families, the loss of position in a school or business, severe penalties meted out for conviction of men serving in the armed forces, public condemnation by emotionally insecure and vindictive judges on the bench and the torture endured by those who live in fear that their nonconformist sexual behavior will be exposed to public view.”
Kinsey was the granddaddy of all those who insist on bringing scientific rationality to one of the most combustible of all human subjects. As one of the latest, Bering – a former professor and scientific popularizer – now comes forth in the age when former “perversions” are now sanctioned by state laws alllowing same sex marriage and are matter-of-factly practiced and discussed by afternoon talk show hosts.
Bering’s book, for all its scientific-mindedness, begins with a personal confession of the emotional cauldron so common to gay children – the trauma of coming out to one’s family. Here is one man of science testifying about the most human of predicaments and solutions.
It is his contention that concepts of “normal” and “abnormal” have messed up everything royally and that we need to replace them with “harmful” and “harmless.” To him, as with Kinsey, Sigmund Freud and William Masters, “explaining the outer recesses of desire by using the tools of science is a pinnacle of human achievement.” He’s ready to bring us along for the climb.
– Jeff Simon