NYMag published Alexa Tsoulis-Reay’s interview with a woman who has been in a relationship with her father for many years – and, indeed, plans to get “married” and have kids with him. The important part is that she hadn’t seen her father for more than a decade, before she met him again as an adult. It is apparently a common enough occurrence that there’s an acronym.
In the late ’80s, the founder of a support group for adopted children who had recently reconnected with their biological relatives coined the term “Genetic Sexual Attraction” (GSA) to describe the intense romantic and sexual feelings that she observed occurring in many of these reunions. According to an article in The Guardian, experts estimate that these taboo feelings occur in about 50 percent of cases where estranged relatives are reunited as adults (GSA’s discoverer had herself become attracted to the son she’d adopted out when she met him 26 years later, but her feelings were not reciprocated).
Thus, this is not a case of an parent grooming his child into being his lover when she becomes an adult. There are other elements to be concerned about.
I’ve written about adult consensual incest before, pointing out that there are too many similarities in how homophobes react (“Ew! It’s wrong because it’s gross!”) that should make us concerned, if we push for calling such relationships always wrong. That doesn’t mean these relationships can’t be wrong – but they can be wrong for reasons other than the clickbaity “sharing more than Dad’s genes” part.
And this one has numerous problems. Please remember: I’m not convinced by blanket arguments against incest. But that doesn’t mean I support every case of adult incestuous relationships. And this is one of them.
First, the interview makes clear that this is a young lady inexperienced in relationships and indeed sexual encounters. She paints a rather troubled biography. Indeed, she had not had a male sexual partner before her father – only non-sexual boyfriend before.
Did you tell [your father] you were a virgin?
Yes. I told him I wanted him to be the first person I made love to. We talked about how it could be awkward if it didn’t end up working out. He also said that if I didn’t feel comfortable at any point I should tell him.
What was it like?
There’s a reason I lost my virginity to him — because I’d never felt comfortable with any other man. It was insanely sensual. It lasted for about an hour and there was a lot of foreplay. We both had orgasms. We are so similar so it’s so easy to sexually please each other. For example, we both hate neck-biting. I’ve never been in a more passionate, loving, fulfilling situation.
Notice the key part: “I’d never felt comfortable with any other man.” Well. Yes. You were young. Are young.
Indeed, even her views about sex and relationship are rather naive (and/or conservative, ironically).
I told him I was saving myself for someone who I’d be committed to for the rest of my life. It was important for me to make it clear that if I made love to him he was in a relationship with me.
I’ve always hated talk of “virginity” being lost or taken and “saving yourself”, where sex is put on a pedestal. It’s troubling because we come to wrap life-changing moments and views around it: No sex before marriage, the creation of kids, sex with only one person. The more we wrap sex up in sanctity, the more distant from reality it becomes. It’s no wonder that people go from “sex” to “the only person I’ll ever be attracted to or ever want forever” (a concept I find unbelievable, judging by, for example, divorce stats) .
And that this is her father? Yeah. That’s actually soooooooort of secondary to the fact that, as a much more experienced person, the power dynamic can’t help but exist – knowing what “sex” means to this young woman, I can’t see his acquiescing as being anything but manipulative regardless of his intention. She admitted her complete vulnerability to him and his response was to go along with it. This part isn’t actually a matter of consent, so much as it is responsibility on the part of the older, more experienced man thinking maybe she needs to grow up. That maybe her decision isn’t as informed as she thinks.
Again: this doesn’t mean consenting adults can’t engage in successful relationships despite being related; but we can pin down our concern over her age, her inexperience, her troubled history, her juvenile views of sex and relationships and how a more experienced, older man responded. That he’s her father only adds to the power dynamic – and therefore responsibility – and it seems like he made the wrong choice.
Indeed, she was around 16 when it first started – that is, her second decade of life (“Here, an 18-year-old woman from the Great Lakes region describes her romantic relationship of almost two years with the biological father she met after 12 years of estrangement.”)
We can’t ignore how none of us knew anything at this age – let alone whether getting involved with an older person, who is a parent, is a good idea despite consent.
I can’t help see her relationship views as being entirely created from Disney films: she, in so many words, goes with “the one” narrative, and it happens to be the first person she has sex with. And also her father. Notice, again, that it’s her father can be put last in terms of reasons to be concerned.
The interview continues:
How quickly did he end things with his girlfriend?
We made sure to move out of the girlfriend’s immediately because we knew we couldn’t be together there. Before her, he was with a woman for eight years and she’s now our roommate. Talk about awkward for the first three months!
So this seems to imply her father cheated on his then girlfriend. Again: nothing to do with incest and there we can see that it’s wrong.
I’m planning on a full-on wedding but it won’t be legally registered. And personally, I don’t believe you need a piece of paper to prove that you want to be with the person you love.
Remember what I said about Disney films?
And now we come to my main concern: Kids.
So would you have kids together, or would you adopt?
We’ll have kids together
Will you tell your kids that their father is your dad, and their grandfather?
We’ve decided that most likely we won’t. I don’t want to give them any problems.
Would you feel comfortable keeping such a big secret?
That’s something I’ll have to figure out. His mom and dad will want to spend time with the grandkids, so we will have to decide how everyone will be known.
Do you worry about the potential genetic problems associated with having kids with your biological father?
Nope. I wouldn’t risk having a kid if I thought it would be harmful. I’ve done my research. Everybody thinks that kids born in incestuous relationships will definitely have genetic problems, but that’s not true. That happens when there’s years of inbreeding, like with the royal family. Incest has been around as long as humans have. Everybody just needs to deal with it as long as nobody is getting hurt or getting pressured or forced.
There are so many people having kids who will be passing on health problems, people with diabetes or mental health issues, or AIDS. My mom was allowed to have kids and both her and her mom were bipolar. My research tells me that the only real genetic risk is high blood pressure, which is controllable. I think people only worry about it because they look to the genetic problems that occurred when incest was happening generation upon generation. They say, Well, look at King Henry VIII — but he was only a genetic mutant because they had kept it in the family for so long.
1. Why procreate and not adopt?
1. Why not adopt if you want to be parents?
1. Adoption is an option and there exist kids who need homes.
1. Why are you procreating and not adopting?
Ok those are the same, but that’s a key question (which anyone and everyone should be asking themselves, not just incestuous couples).
2. She says:
“We’ve decided that most likely we won’t [tell the kids their father is their grandfather]. I don’t want to give them any problems.”
Then don’t have them. The only way you won’t give your kids problems is if they remain non-existent. Considering how many people from your life already know, how exactly would your enforce this code of silence? The kids will more than likely discover this, given that they’ll be growing up in the internet age. How devastating will it be to them to be involved in a relationship they might not consent to?
You might say that’s society’s problem – and to some degree, yes. It is. But these kids still have to live in a society where it’s regarded as bad; there’s a reason she herself is hesitant about telling them! Maybe the fact that you don’t want to tell your kids about your relationship is exactly why you shouldn’t have kids – not why you should have secrets. It seems like an unnecessary harm that will shadow them for the rest of their lives, no matter how much you or I think incest isn’t as bad society makes it out to be.**
3. She raises a somewhat good response to the “what about kids from incest!” view. Again, if she wants to maximise the least harm, she should just not have them. And she can still be a parent, by adopting.
Anyway, this is a troubling case. But I hoped to try outline some reasons not premised on mere disgust that we can and should be concerned about it.
** This is a shit argument and I can’t believe I made it. As Michael Brew points out in Comment #4: “This part sounds a bit too much like a similar argument against gay adoption or gay people with children having gay relationships.”