Appx 5,500 words
The Gerald Hannon Affair, 1995-1996
The final chronology (so far)
Rick Bébout, May 1997
As the chronology to January 26, 1996 in Jeff Lindstrom's website shows, after Gerald Hannon returned to his Ryerson classroom on Monday, January 8 (and once clever year-end compendiums of the best and worst of 1995 no longer offered an excuse), media attention to the "Kid-sex hooker prof scandal" began to fade.
The case was not over. Union grievances against Hannon's November 26 suspension and December 20 reprimand (see Ryerson Press Release for the first, Ryerson Decision for the second) were still grinding on, but with nothing new to report. There would be no "hook" for hard news until late May, when Ryerson would decide whether or not to re-hire Hannon for the next academic year.
What we would see in the meantime, beginning with Patrick Dare's "Gerald Hannon 101" in the Ottawa Citizen on January 13, were pieces looking back on the story, analyzing not only media coverage but, often, Gerald himself.
(Note well: I make no claim for the comprehensiveness of this chronology, or for the earlier ones I did in Gerry Oxford's and Jeff Lindstrom's websites. There was no concerted effort to track broadcast media, for instance, and I'm sure there are print pieces I never saw. Nor, obviously, do I claim that this is an "objective" account -- there being no such thing. I do, however, think it is an honest one, my own role and perspectives clearly on view. You're free to judge accordingly.)
Freedland refers to extracts of Gerald's writing on the issue as "nauseating," but also notes that "maybe paedophilia has to be considered more than a marginal, freak activity and regarded as a real, if repugnant, part of human sexuality. Hannon pleads for us to think about it calmly, to examine why we loathe it. ... It all sounds plausible enough, the way Hannon's lucid voice tells it."
He quotes Judy Steed (whom he says "unmasked Hannon") saying that Hannon "doesn't tell the other side of the story. ... He is able to transform everything into an intellectual argument. But he forgets the truth of children's lives." "Steed has been backed by other critics," Freedland writes, "including some who wonder what might be motivating this odd crusade -- whether Hannon is playing out some twisted psychodrama of his own."
Freedland ends his piece:
"But the most eloquent criticism is inside Hannon's bordello-apartment, recorded on his answering machine. It is the voice of a caller who has taunted him every day for three months, sometimes up to 40 times within a few hours. It is the voice of a grown man pretending to be a child: 'Daddy, you hurt my bum-bum. I'm going to tell mummy. Oh Daddy, poo-poo with blood came out. I love you Daddy...'
"It goes on like that until the caller apparently breaks down, falling into a quiet sob. It is unbearable. Hannon thinks it's a crank tormentor, but it sounds like a victim, an abused child who has grown into an abused adult. Police traced the calls to a leading Toronto law firm.
"'Who knows how to explain sexuality?' Hannon finally says. 'One thing I've learned through all this is that most of it is inexplicable.' But his words are fading away ... [sic] and it's the voice on the tape that lingers, demanding an answer."
(Despite further investigation, the identity of "the voice on the tape" was never determined. Gerald told me in May 1997 that the calls still come, a year and a half after they began, though down to a rate of four or five a week.)
The article tracks Heather Bird's six columns -- as well as noting the 16 other pieces that appeared on Hannon in The Toronto Sun from November 14 to December 21 -- and criticizes her for downplaying support for him among his students. "Bird says she tried to talk to 10 students and got through to five, three of whom were pro-Hannon and two were negative. Yet in her column, she chose to use only a negative quote [anonymously] and to leave the impression that many students were offended by Hannon's views."
The article includes a sidebar on an earlier media blitz by the Sun: five pieces over six days in December 1977, two by then-columnist Claire Hoy, leading to charges based on the article "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" (see the chronology in the Gerry Oxford website). Hoy says: "The media is so candy-assed now. ... I think Heather should be commended for what she did. There are too many journalists who don't have the balls to do it."
Toronto Sun senior associate editor Lorrie Goldstein is reported to find "no fault with Bird's Hannon coverage. He says the pressures of putting out a daily paper make it impossible to spend much time verifying information."
After listening to a tape of the interview with Goldstein, Review publisher Don Obe complies. His letter states that Goldstein had never said that "... the pressures of putting out a daily newspaper [sic] make it impossible to spend much time verifying information."
Also in this issue of The Ryersonian: "Hannon's future uncertain." Stacey Langbein reports that "Part-time journalism instructor Gerald Hannon's contract expires on May 8. And it's unclear whether he'll be returning next year." Journalism chair John Miller says no decision has been made, noting that the Departmental Appointments Committee makes recommendations to the dean of Applied Arts, the Vice- President's office, and the Board of Governors. "If a recommendation regarding Hannon is overturned," the story says, "Miller expects to be given a good explanation. 'They'd have to give me grounds, or there would be hell to pay,' Miller says."
She also takes on Allan Britnell, editor of The Ryerson Review's Summer 1996 issue (published shortly after the Spring issue), for his piece "Media Circus 101: Lessons from the Gerald Hannon Controversy -- good story, sloppy journalism." Britnell had written: "Admittedly, 'Ryerson prof: I'm a hooker' is an eye-catching headline and no doubt helped sell a few papers, but what does Hannon's side job have to do with his ability to teach? Why should the public care?" "Really?" Rosie responds. "Glad to see you think so. Glad to see your news judgment is so sophisticated, so noble. So college-campus cute."
On the same day in his column in The Toronto Sun, "PM steamrolls caucus foes of gay rights," Michael Coren writes about pending amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act. He says that "sexual orientation" is a "cowardly euphemism" that could be "exploited by people who favor a change in the laws regarding, principally, incest and pedophilia. If we doubt the reality and strength of the pedophilia campaign, we need only recall the Gerald Hannon affair."
(Heather Bird's February 27 Toronto Sun column, "Chickening out on gay rights," had supported passage of the "sexual orientation" amendment -- and mentioned Gerald Hannon not at all. The amendment was passed into law by the House of Commons in a free vote on May 9, 1996; the Senate approved it on June 5, and it received royal assent a few weeks later.)
Hurst reports that John Miller "refused to explain why he and two faculty members chose to hire three outside candidates to fill the two positions for which Hannon had applied. He also refused to confirm the department had evaluated Hannon's teaching as 'excellent' this spring or that he had cast the deciding vote when his colleagues were split." Angela Ross, who had sat in on the confidential hiring meeting as union rep, says that one of the three faculty members opposed the renewal of Hannon's contract because of "discomfort with his views on pedophilia. That brings in the issue of academic freedom." She calls the decision a "public relations exercise."
The Toronto Sun, p 22: "Hannon fights to retain post: Union files grievance for hooker prof." The story quotes two students, Douglas Cudmore and Jocelyn Longworth, both saying that want Hannon to return to teaching.
Brown goes on: "He must know that what he really believes is incredibly abhorrent to the society he's living in. And that scares the hell out of me, because minds are shaped in classrooms." His closing paragraph: "Gerald Hannon was an effective teacher. He did change my thinking. And I hope he never teaches again."
(Both Gerald and I wrote letters to The Globe in response to this piece. Neither was published.)
Martin discusses Gerald's writing on youth sexuality in The Body Politic (four pieces from 1972 through 1977, the last of them "Men Loving Boys Loving Men") and, like Freedland, gives Judy Steed ample space to critique his views -- which she does, "her voice trailing off in repugnance. When she gets going like this," Martin writes, "there is a rabid intensity in her unblinking stare and grim pencil-thin mouth. I can imagine her in an earlier age preaching temperance from a soapbox."
Martin herself, if less censorious, finds Hannon's views "patently absurd" -- and unclear:
"I've talked to dozens of people and I haven't found anybody who agrees with Gerald's ideas on pedophilia -- and that includes Gerald.
"'Are you saying we should pick up five-year-olds?' I ask him.
"'No, I'm not. Absolutely, I'm not, although I'm sure some people think that's what I'm saying.'
"'Do you do it with five-year-olds?'
"'No, of course not,' he replies. 'I never have. I'm not interested.'
"And that ultimately seems to be the divide that separates Gerald from most people -- at least, the people I know. Gerald refrains from sex with children not because he thinks it is morally or ethically taboo, but because it doesn't turn him on."
On the same issue's "This issue" page, editor John Macfarlane writes: "When Gerald Hannon gained notoriety late last fall, I was asked whether Toronto Life would continue to publish his work. ... Do I agree with him? No. Will we continue to publish him? Of course. Gerald Hannon is a beautiful writer. His views on sex, no matter how outrageous, are beside the point."
(The January 8 entry in the updated chronology in Jeff Lindstrom's website indicates that Sandra Martin's article had originally been slated for Toronto Life's April issue. Another feature noted as then in the works, by Kalyani Vitala for This Magazine, never appeared.)
(Details are confidential, though opening position were later made apparent. Gerald wanted to return to teaching at Ryerson. Barring that, he (and I) initially favoured going to arbitration, where Ryerson's hiring process would be subject to more open scrutiny. But it became clear that arbitration would drag on for ages -- the suspension and reprimand issues dealt with first, then the hiring process -- and would offer little political mileage.
(Ryerson clearly did not want Hannon to return, and they were willing to make a cash settlement to ensure he would no longer be in their face. Gerald had resisted what he saw as a pay-off, but in the end he relented. Bargaining shifted to the amount of the settlement and to its conditions -- particularly those that might limit Gerald's freedom to discuss the affair and its related issues.)
By the end of the day an agreement is reached. Final details are worked out in another session two days later. A press conference is set up for Friday, the 13th of September.
In its brief summary of the saga to date, the Globe notes that "Last year, Mr. Hannon was suspended over allegations that he promoted pedophilia in the classroom. He was later exonerated after the school investigated the charges."
The Toronto Star, p A7: "Cash settlement ends Hannon's row with Ryerson." This story reports that "Hannon will be barred from re-applying for teaching positions at the university," but does not mention guest lectures or plans for a fund. It, too, clarifies that Hannon was cleared of accusations of "allegedly using his freelance writing class to air his views on adult-child sex."
The Toronto Sun, p 6: "Hooker-prof slams 'bush-league' Ryerson." "Hurling insults at an administration he calls 'bush league,' controversial instructor [note: not "prof"] and admitted prostitute Gerald Hannon left Ryerson Polytechnic University yesterday with money in his pocket, but no job. He will, though, still be able to teach -- as a guest lecturer. He's already accepted three offers to speak at Ryerson."
The story says that Hannon "advocated man-boy sex in his writing, but said his views didn't interfere with his teaching. ... He said he'll use up to $10,000 from his settlement to establish a fund to fight for academic freedom and freedom of speech. 'The administration has been screwed and that is one of my part-time jobs,' said Hannon...."
In fact, there was no "suit," and Gerald had neither made the argument stated nor been suspended for it. The piece does later note that a university committee had found that Hannon was "within the bounds of academic freedom in discussing sex" -- leaving open what he might actually have said.
The Hannon Affair is summarized one more time. "'The thing that bothers me is that I'm having trouble finding work' [as a journalist]. ... Of course, the prostitution continues in a rather modest way,' says Mr. Hannon with a short laugh. 'I'm reaching the limit of even niche marketing at the age of 52.'"
A polemical postscript, May 1997
Sailing the sea of ink that was the Gerald Hannon Affair (the coverage chronicled here did not simply report the story -- it was the story), we get some insight into how the media work. But it may not be so clear why they work they way they do.
Was this a case of homophobia? An easy charge -- too easy these days. Few will confess to it any more and some genuinely needn't, not guilty of mere anti-gay bias. A violation of journalistic ethics? Rosie DiManno answered that one for us. The most revealing line in this entire affair was not "Ryerson prof: I'm a hooker" but "journalism is inherently unethical." Tough-talkin' media moll and brass-balled realist, Rosie tells us that's just the way it is.
What she didn't say was: That's the way it pays. When Gerald Hannon was asked if he was a prostitute, he didn't throw a coat over his head and scuttle for cover (confounding the usual script). Ask most journalists if they aren't really just hacks whoring for corporate pimps and they climb up on a very high horse named "Objectivity" -- and gallop off to their next trick.
But (no insult meant here to honest working whores), prostitution was just a sideline this time around, a bit of comic relief. Both Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian and Heather Bird in the Sun were right: the real issue here was sex and kids.
Right-wing commentators were happy to talk about "pedophilia" -- as the bogeyman. Talk of any reality the word might encompass beyond outright evil and abuse was simply evidence that mushy liberals had been taken in by the slick and insidious "pro-pedo lobby" -- and all such talk must stop.
Most liberals were relieved to oblige, scrupulously isolating any defence of free expression from the contagion of ideas actually expressed: Gerald Hannon has the right to say what he wants -- but of course it's nauseating, repugnant, revolting! I don't want to talk about it at all. And why bother? It's just the eccentric ravings of some nutty "professor."
Sandra Martin came closest to engaging Gerald's ideas -- "patently absurd" is not a moral rebuke -- but even she tended to cast him as a one-man lunatic fringe (Judy Steed conveniently playing the opposite loony), his ideas the product of isolated intellectual ramblings if not quite, as Freedland speculated, "some twisted psychodrama of his own."
She casts Gerald's series of articles in The Body Politic as almost a personal crusade. She does say there was debate going on at the time about age of consent laws, but doesn't say (as the articles she read did) that the National Gay Rights Coalition -- not just Gerald -- had called for their complete abolition in 1976. The coalition maintained that stand right through Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign, and well beyond (it disbanded in 1980). Not unanimously, not without contention, but with lively, open, and honest dialogue.
Sandra does not talk about (though she had available, in Flaunting It!), pieces continuing that dialogue beyond "Men Loving Boys Loving Men," which "even Gerald now admits ... was one-sided and naive." She does not look at how tough questions of power, consent, coercion, and control were addressed in "Another Look" in 1979, or at "Teaching Sexuality," where Jane Rule said that same year:
"If we accepted sexual behaviour between children and adults, we would be far more able to protect our children from abuse and exploitation than we are now. ... Children are sexual, and it is up to us to take responsibility for their real education. They have been exploited and betrayed long enough by our silence."
But then, Gerald didn't write those pieces. And Sandra's piece was about Gerald -- alone.
By 1995, Jane Rule's words (among many others) would seem far more radical than they had in 1979. That there had even been such talk -- not intellectual parlour games but genuine engagement in complex issues and real lives -- was nearly forgotten. That's why we resurrected Another Look and Teaching Sexuality, not just Men Loving Boys Loving Men, and made them available online.
But, with few exceptions (most notably pieces by Shawn Syms and Bert Archer in Xtra, December 8, 1995; Bert's essay was not included in the websites), no one dared bring discussion in 1995 to anything like the level of honesty and intelligence we had seen more than 16 years before.
Well, as Judy Steed said in Sandra Martin's piece, people "didn't know much about child abuse" back then. And "abuse" is now the only frame allowed to contain talk about sexuality and young people -- all of them now cast as "children" even well into their teens.
For all the ink spilled in the Gerald Hannon Affair, we have come no further on the real issues than we were nearly two decades ago. Indeed, we have regressed. We can see that regularly in the media -- Gerald's 1994 comparison of juvenile sex and junior hockey suddenly more apt than he might have known. The aborted investigation of him for "participating in a child sex assault" (as Heather Bird put it; see the chronology entry of November 21, 1995) -- one that allegedly took place more than 18 years before -- also fits the current frame: events long past called up from memory and splashed across the screen as modern horrors, complete (in one case) with pictures of boys in bondage from sometime before Kennedy was shot.
The lessons we should take from the Hannon Affair are not about ethics, journalistic or otherwise, but about a much more fundamental kind of morality -- the morality of power: its responsible use, its potential abuse, and its true social sources. It inheres not just in imbalances of age, nor just in the classic trio of race, gender, and class (the last one usually ignored) -- but in all those things and many more, in a complex web of human interaction.
Power needn't grow out of anything as obvious as the barrel of a gun. Sometimes all you need is a press card.
[Gerald Hannon Case] (Gerry Oxford site)
[Jeff Lindstrom's Hotlist: The Gerald Hannon Case]
[Kid-sex hooker prof scandal!] (Intro to the Gerald Hannon Affair)