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Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir

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Tiger,Tiger:A Memoir is a 2011 novel by Margaux Fragoso about a long-term sexual relationship she had with a much older male girllover named Peter Curran. Fragoso, who appears to have taken an anti-pedophile position not long after Peter's death, provoked outrage from a wide variety of sources from professional reviewers, to CSA advocates, and former survivors by refusing to demonize Curran in her memoir and refusing to adequately represent herself as a victim of traumatic predation. Fragoso died in 2017 from pancreatic cancer, her perspective on the MAP Movement, if she was aware of it, is not known at present, but she did advocate therapy for pedophiles in the afterword of her memoir (Fragoso 367). She also appears to have held a medically questionable view that pedophilia was linked to depression: “Antidepressants were effective for Peter in his later years, and the subject of Hammel-Zabin’s book was helped immensely by testosterone-inhibiting drugs” (367). This perspective was repeated in an interview she gave around the time of the release of Tiger, Tiger. That Peter was an ailing 66-year old man taking Zoloft, a second generation anti-depressant and SSRI medication that has been known to sap the sex drive of much younger and healthier men, does not prove that there was any correlation between his reduced outward interest in little girls and the treatment of his depression. Given that Curran committed suicide not long after he began his treatment regimen it does not follow that his Depression had been successfully treated in the first place. What follows is a literary review of Fragoso's memoir:

Review: Tiger, Tiger, Margaux Fragoso's Brilliantly-Failed Masterpiece

by Anonymous Lover

Can a 7 year old girl and a 51 year old man be in love? If by love we mean Romantic entanglement and not paternalistic care then society's answer to the question would be "No." Or, if we were to press the question more, then the answer might be that maybe the pedophile adult could be in love or what they think is "love" but there's no way... it could actually be love, right? Tiger, Tiger deals in extremes, the relationship is an extreme-age gap relationship (Peter was slightly more than seven times older than Margaux when they met!) and it is far lower than an age like 14-17 that the daring but still faithful adherents of mainstream anti-MAP thought would consider to be possibly, maybe, okay for a general age of consent; truth be told, an age like seven maybe beyond or just on the edge of what many MAPs consider to be acceptable. Yet, this relationship endured for FIFTEEN years, in spite of judgmental, hostile, and suspicious parents, peers, neighbors, social workers, and step-children. In fact, a quick google search reveals that by the time of Peter Curran's suicide that Margaux had carried on an active relationship with him that was almost twice as long as the average length of the modern American marriage (8.2 years) -- if we count Margaux's ramshackle secret marriage in an empty church to be the real start of their "marriage" then we find her marriage to Peter lasted almost exactly as long the average American marriage.

This memoir defies easy categorization but it is pretty clear from the introduction that the author has takes an anti-position, as revealed by her statement to a prison guard she is interviewing as a journalist about 4 months after Peter's death: "Something in her calmness compelled me to talk. 'I was reading that pedophiles rationalize what they do by thinking of it as consensual even if they use coercion.' That particular fact, something I’d seen in my abnormal-psychology textbook, shocked me by how perfectly it fit Peter’s thinking'"(Fragoso 13). Yet, aside from a few blasé orthodox statements in the prologue we get rather little that is straightforwardly anti. In fact, that was the cause of the uproar concerning the book, the book tells its story from personal recollection rather than from the position of easy answers and demonology. Many felt that Margaux's book wasn't irresponsible and careened dangerously close to pedophile advocacy as Margaux herself acknowledged in a literary journal cited by the New York Times: "Ms. Fragoso acknowledged that some readers were offended because she had not depicted Mr. Curran as a monster. 'I’m an artist, not a prosecutor,' she told the literary journal The Tottenville Review in 2011. 'I’m not writing a manifesto; memoir is subjective. My feeling is that writers should give readers the freedom to think for themselves and form their own opinions.'" A rare take indeed in an era where most seem to believe that all art should fall somewhere between a black hat, white hat (aka simplistic good vs evil) 1950s cowboy story and a political manifesto. While it is easy to say, I actually do think this memoir couldn't have been published today, and certainly it would not have gotten the acclaim that it had, critical or otherwise, with reviewers calling the author "a real life Lolita" and the book "Lolita from Lolita's point of view."

What seems bizarre is that critics have questioned the veracity of the memoir's sex scenes, which seems a bizarre objection, as highlighted by renowned MAP activist Tom O'Carroll: "It is clearly not written as pornography, because the sexual descriptions are utterly unsexy." Margaux's disgust at Peter's body (this is especially so as he gets older), his toothless mouth, her frustration at his seeming lack of interest in penetrative sex, extreme trepidation at the performance of cunnilingus, disinterest/disgust in his sexual fantasies etc, do not contradict many aspects of the anti narrative. When consent for sex is given between a child and a pedophile it must be bad sex, right? And, when the pedophile does not use outright rape or verbal threats, it must be done with nagging and persistent verbal coercion? Yet, what makes this narrative different is that Margaux actually wants sex from her much and is more than a passive asexual instrument "sexualized" by her partner's premature advances. To the accusation that Margaux had made up the sexual sequences described in the novel her publisher announced that it was in possession of diaries she had kept since she was 12 years old. And, in fact, that 8 year old Margaux "acts out" sexually by attempting to seduce her father, not long after kissed, fondled, asked to perform oral sex and even given an orgasm on a vibrating motorcycle, is hardly out of line with an anti narrative:

As I spoke them I used that popular girl’s voice.
"Poppa, is that [her father's penis] a toy? Can I touch it, pretty please? Is that your toy there for me to play with?” I wasn’t sure where I’d learned those words, but it felt like I knew them by heart.
Poppa turned away, his skinny legs bent. “No,” he muttered, nearly inaudibly. “No.”
I reached over anyway to make him feel good. He shouldn’t say no when that special part of him was mine, too. He was my father. Swatting my hand away, he squeezed the faucets shut. Poppa got out, dried off, dressed, all in silence. He put a towel on the floor next to the tub for me and then hurried out the door'" (Fragoso 120).

Returning to the critical reception of the memoir, O'Carroll wrote that "It is not the enemy’s scorn I fear – the more resilient of us can live with that – but, far worse, that of my friends" and said of the novel" implying that the memoir was a piece of anti-literature that had the potential to make him reconsider his views before ultimately concluding: "it is simply an apparently honest account that does far more justice to the complexity of the issues than most of the 'child sexual abuse' literature." Indeed, I can see that if one is concerned with swimming up stream, of reading only positive accounts and disregarding the cartoonishly negative, a realistically negative work of bad sex, an ailing lover whose nagging, and, at times, violent behavior could make one reconsider. To my eyes, it only underscores the need for sex positivity, sex education, to destigmatize, to reduce abusive behavior, and the ability to open adult-minor relationships before public eyes rather than to keep them in the dark, in secret.

But, lets return to the question, can a 51 year old man be in love with a seven year old girl? Well, putting aside Peter Curran, we will turn to the testimony of one pedophilic Girl Lover:

How can it ever be possible to convey to people that we can suffer the same pangs of jealousy, emotional distress, at being parted from a loved one, and suicidal tendencies (when it appears the child who is the object of affection seems to have vanished for ever) as "normal lovers" do. How can they understand the terrible loneliness of a crowded room because she is not there. Helpless, lonely, living in a world of hopeless frustration because the one you love is constantly absent and yet ever constant in dreams, awake or sleeping. How could we tell them of the tears that can be shed because a little seven year old girl is no longer there.[1]

If we turn to Margaux herself we find her depiction of a girl profoundly in love with a late middle-aged/elderly man far beyond what normal people think is possible. Margaux reports that for the year or so they were apart she didn't eat regularly, a well-known pang known to adult lovers and people in their teens, but can society ever comprehend the idea that a preteen girl might feel so deeply about her "abuser*"? How can a preteen girl love so deeply that she would secretly keep a burning flame in her heart for more than her year, that she would manipulate her mother and carry on correspondence with her adult lover against her father's wishes? Would it be to say she is just young and naive? Yet, we see the same consistent and some might say extreme and toxic expressions of love repeat when Margaux is 14:

The ax was our secret. Occasionally when we fought I lost control and threatened to go to the police and tell them everything. It would have been a self-destructive act because I knew that if Peter ever got arrested, I’d feel so guilty that I’d have to kill myself. I could never betray the one person in the world who truly cared about me (Fragoso 274).

After being interned at a mental hospital at 16 in the aftermath of a suicide attempt that followed her failure to get pregnant with Peter's child, Margaux feels a profound disconnect between herself and the victimological discourses between her and fellow patients:

Kim said, 'I hate Greg [Male Sexpest Hospital worker]. I hate every goddamn pervert in this world. If I were making the laws, they would all be tortured and then executed with the electric chair hooked up only to their dicks.' 'Yeah, definitely,' I said, feeling more alone than ever. It occurred to me again that Peter was a child molester and that everybody would hate him here. I loved him still and had protected him from jail. So what did that make me? (Fragoso 324).

Even when Margaux goes to college and takes on an age-appropriate side lover she still feels a profound love for Peter at the age of 21, as epitomizes by how she breaks down and calls him after one of their (common) fights and what looks like the end of the their relationship:

I went to Anthony’s every night that week, telling him Gretchen had fired me. Anthony couldn’t understand why I was so devastated over losing a babysitting job, but I told him it wasn’t just that: Gretchen and I had been best friends since we were kids. I didn’t return Peter’s calls for four or five days, but then I finally called him from a tele-phone booth at the university. I sat on the floor hunched in the corner of the booth, hugging my legs. For about a minute, there was just breathing on the phone. I felt like I was nine years old again, calling him to talk about the Story. At twenty-one, I felt nine. I felt eight. I felt seven. I felt like a little girl. The next day, he was picking me up again, at the usual time, and we were heading out for our afternoon ride (Fragoso 340).

And, even ten years after Peter's death, Fragoso writes: "'I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time'" (Belfast Telegram).

Peter would commit suicide not long after her twenty-second birthday, likely because of what could have been a false accusation from one of his stepsons. While it is possible that Peter did molest his stepson it does seem open to doubt given that he confessed to molesting his own biological daughters and a niece to Margaux. And, while he did not tell Margaux everything (e.g. the reason he could not keep any more foster children was because of accusations against him) it does appear that he was exclusively attracted to little girls despite his short stint as a male prostitute and a violent sexual experience at a young age. It's likely that Peter found Man-boy sodomy abhorrent:

"Oh, I thought maybe . . .” I thought back to his story about the man sodomizing him as a boy. He’d always referred to the incident as a rape even though he’d “consented” in order to buy the B.B. gun. He’d seemed so outraged that a grown man could do a thing like that to a little boy. It wasn’t that he was homophobic. (Fragoso 343).

This definitely reinforces an anti-message, Peter is a pedophile because he was abused by another pedophile, a common argument though not one not backed up by the academic literature on pedophiles. However, Peter's story might highlight something perhaps uncomfortable for both pro-c MAPs/supporters and Antis: verbal consent, in itself, is not a good measure of whether harm has occurred. Of course, there is no evidence that consensual adult-minor contact causes harm but that is not proof that there are no cases where there isn't lasting harm. Peter himself gives a convincing argument on this point:

As though he’d read my mind, Peter said, 'I told you that when I was ten a man hurt me. I didn’t enjoy what he did because I’m not gay. If I was gay, it would have been fine. Besides, what he did to me wasn’t loving. He didn’t care that he was hurting me. He picked me off the street . . . he was a predator. You and I were in love. Believe me, before you came along, there was no one. I tried to be normal' (Fragoso 343).

The proof of this seems to be that despite the toxic nature of their relationship, Margaux is amazingly ambiguous both in the memoir and in her interviews, something Peter never was ambiguous about concerning his own childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a man and a pair teenage girls. As Margaux (31 here, ten years after his death) admits in an interview about the book:

But the creative process was difficult. "The writer is saying I have to write on two levels, and be aware enough that I'm not that child any more so I can see him for what he is. That's hard to accept because the inner child in me wants to believe something else but the adult part says, "No, I'm sorry. He's not a good person. He's actually quite monstrous.""
"I am still reading a lot of psychology," continues the married mother of a daughter, who recently completed a PhD in English and creative writing at Binghamton University in upstate New York and is still in therapy to deal with the trauma.

Although Fragoso compares Peter to a cult leader (which while untrue, his manipulative tendencies can't be completely excused) one might say that at this point in her life she was still attempting to take on the brainwashing of a new cult –– the CSA establishment. A cult, which, can never accept the work she has produced because it shows herself not as a hapless victim and him as a mere monster.

Fragoso is unsparing in her own analysis of her own toxic behaviors, she had a tendency to hit strangers on the street before she even met Peter and her violent tendencies continued in her relationship with him, as she would be physically abusive as well and would cruelly chastise him and instigate fights, and to her own suicidal ideation. After Peter got violent with her (an infrequent but inexcusable behavior on Peter's part) she confides in him:

"It won’t happen, Peter,” I said, holding him. 'We’ll die first. You’ll kill me by choking me or pushing a pillow over my face, and then you’ll kill yourself. Like Romeo and Juliet. Then it’s like you said, it’ll be like it was, like a snow globe when you shake it and everything repeats on and on, it’ll be so beautiful.”
“I love you so much,” Peter said, as I stroked his face and hair (Fragoso 274).

Toxicity aside, Peter and Margaux have many beautiful moments in their relationship, from their secret wedding, to his motorcycle rides (later car rides when he became unable to ride) to the volumes of photo albums and scrapbooks he kept of her, to his encouragement (and occasional annoyance) with her artistic storytelling sensibilities which led to the creation of a never-ending story that started as a pre-teen and continues until she is 21. Peter even listens to Nirvana with her, learns the songs and lyrics, and puts up a Kurt Cobain poster in his room for her to show his appreciation of her new found musical obsession. Peter even stops sleeping with his live-in-girlfriend (who helps support him by letting him live in her large house while he exists as a pensioner) in an act of fidelity to Margaux. And, while Margaux suspects, perhaps correctly, that she has exited Peter's age of attraction, his love for her does not diminish and continues into her young adulthood.

Fragoso, who died at 38 from ovarian cancer, has left us an unintentionally pro-c work, her ability to convey her girlhood love movingly and largely without judgement opens up space for other discussions -- Peter's flaws are largely his own flaws, not those of all MAPs, therefore the criticisms that can be leveled at him or their relationship do not necessarily follow. I am reminded here of how Nabokov set out to write an anti work but really wrote something more complicated, something way more romantic and beautiful than CSA advocates would ever allow; it was his failure to create a true anti-work that created lolita culture. One may sense that this is why the CSA industry has a vested industry in publishing stories purely about coercive rape because an anti-Adult-minor love story must always be failed from the beginning, it suffers from the same deficiency as the anti-war war movie -- our fascination with war always overwhelms the message of the story. Had Fragoso died tragically from suicide or substance abuse, we can be sure that the blame for that would be put squarely at a dead man's door.

We might comment here on the social aspect of the relationship, which Peter alludes to, despite the fact that it is illegal there appears to be a strange tolerance or unwillingness to question further on the part of most who knew them (as long as Margaux was happy):

"I’ve thought about it. I’ve racked my brain and I think I’ve come up with a theory. For years, everyone has known about you and me, at the very least on a subconscious level. They’ve seen us alone in the room together; they’ve overheard our fights. They know, of course they know.”
I felt a burst of shame so strong it was like sickness. I was aware that they knew but I couldn’t stand to think about it.
“They know, and they don’t understand because nobody does. Inès might understand a little, because she’s in love with a drug addict. For years they’ve seen you slipping in and out of my room, staying for hours. Then there was that social worker . . .”
“Everybody protected us, though” (Fragoso 343).

Margaux herself speculates that her mother knew and helped conspire to bring them together:

I speculated that she might have lied because it was hard for closed-minded people to deal with the fact that Peter and I were in love. I wondered if she trusted me to make my own choices; if she understood that I had an unusually high maturity level even though my physical age was only twelve. Instead of trying to destroy my will, as Poppa had, Mommy was setting me free to live my life as I saw fit. Peter and I had a fated love. Like in Dr. Zhivago. Like in West Side Story. Mommy adored those movies (Fragoso 187).

After the period where Margaux and Peter are separated, Margaux's mom argues they be reunited and comes close to naming and even defending their relationship: “I’m not saying I trust him, because you can’t completely trust a man. It’s not like I trust him with Margaux. But I do believe them, both of them, when they say she caught him by surprise; she kissed him [italics in original]. It was such a big deal over nothing” (Fragoso 170). While her father is the most adamant against their relationship even he seems unwilling to name it until the social gossip gets too much in her teenage years:

"Stop the double-talk!" He started shaking me. "Stop it, do you hear me! You can go to hell and take your bad attitude with you! See where it gets you there. You and that old man: what is the relationship? You and that old, pathetic, weak, wrinkled, toothless old man. Did you allow that man to touch you? You better answer straight because I am willing to stand here all night. You look me in my face, goddamn you! I want the truth! Even if it means you are no longer worthy of my money or the home I provide for you! Believe me, I can cut you out without an ounce of remorse. You can live with the old man then. Become a woman of the streets for all I care and support that sicko. Because if you are not a nice girl, I will forget the day you were born! I will black out your birth date from my calendar!" (Fragoso 343).

Margaux's parents appear to know without knowing, akin to Frank Armitage in the film They live (1988), who gets in a fist fight with John Nada because he refuses to even look through the glasses that Nada says will change how he sees reality; it was not enough to know but one must not be forced to acknowledge or confirm the fact that you know! Margaux's shame concerning her relationship follows her into adulthood when she legally can consent and live out the fantasy she once expressed to her mother "When I told my mother I was going to marry Peter when I turned eighteen, she said, 'You can marry him in heaven'" (Fragoso 75). Indeed, Margaux concedes that had the truth about them come out even when she was 20 she would have killed herself. However, school kids and neighbors were not nearly so tolerant of this odd couple as friends, family, and even partners in Peter's case, the verbal abuse and rumors that Margaux dealt with were a major part of why she decided to drop out of high school. It can probably be said that aside from the accusations from his step-son, the angry threats and accusations regarding Margaux probably played some in his ultimate suicide but poverty and failing health were a massive factor.

While Peter is abusive at times, it is nothing compared to her father who is frequently violent and constantly verbally abusive towards Margaux. Her mentally ill mother is unable to provide the emotional care that Margaux needs or to push back against her fathers tirades -- except to join in them, not to calm the situation.

References

  1. Plummer, K. (1981). "Pedophilia: Constructing a Sociological Baseline," in Mark Cook and Kevin Howells (eds.), Adult Sexual Interest in Children, 221-48. London: Academic, 1981.