Acknowledging Pain

These virusey times have been difficult for many, but it feels that over the past few days this corner of the blogosphere has been hit pretty hard.

Dr Spo’s mom died, of course, and although he feels okay now I worry that the grief is going to hit hard at some point.

Deedles went missing a few days ago, and although there is probably no direct connection between that and the tinderbox that exploded in Minnesota, I worry about the effect this BLM/ACAB turmoil is having on her and her family. I wish somebody could check in to make sure she is okay.

COVID-19 appears to have been especially difficult on the Stevens. From what I can tell both Mistress Maddie and Poor Steven have been furloughed from their jobs, which has to hurt. Maddie has started drinking gin, and his posts have been getting darker. He is picking fights on Instagram and may be turning into a Batman villain. Meanwhile Poor Steven had been stuck on his farm, afraid to get groceries because he doesn’t have his residence papers and thus might get deported. Things sounded as if they were starting to look up (groceries and possibly a conjugal visit?) and suddenly he posts a vagueblog about a broken heart.

Michael54 often has long stretches between posts, but he has been absent for a long while now. His dog Murphy had a health scare, and then the blogposts stopped.

John Gray had a birthday, and has been keeping his chin up and tits out, but reading between the lines it appears that he (or at least his bantam cock) is feeling lonely.

Even kind and supportive Debra is grumpy enough these days to dropkick children. That is not to mention the many others (Fearsome, Travel Penguin, Blobby, and many more) who have somehow lost trust in their president, and are now seething with anger. Where does that anger go? How does it not burn them up?

I do not know whether this level of pain is indicative of most people, or whether this is special punishment meted out by Santa for my association with their blogs. (Sometime you should ask Job’s first wife how Santa is always just and only the deserving get punished for their naughtiness.) I do get the sense that there are waves of pain rippling through the blogosphere right now. As a solipsist, you would think there would be something I could do to alleviate this pain, but I do not know what it is and knowing me I wouldn’t act even if I knew what to do. But at the very least I can acknowledge this pain, and hope that people get through it the best they can.

Masc 4 Masc

Well, it’s been a good run (no it hasn’t) but it is finally time for me to be cancelled and evicted from the blogosphere. Today I shall defend the Masc 4 Masc guys, and in the process address Sixpence’s feigned befuddlement at the fixation many gay men have with having sex with straight men. (He is still a dear, though.)

The core of the argument is simple: when we signed up to be male homosexuals, not all of us were on the same page. Some of us correctly thought that to be homosexual was to be attracted to other homosexuals; others of us mistakenly believed that to be homosexual was to be attracted to men. We committed the sin of fetishizing secondary sex characteristics typically associated with masculinity: deep voices, body hair, British accents, big muscles, Walking Dead T-shirts, questionable skincare regimes, and the stoicism borne of being out of touch with one’s feelings. We had a conception in our brains of what “masculine” meant, and that is what drew us like moths to a flame.

But then God played a cruel trick on us. He didn’t make us macho and butch. He gave us lilting voices, affinities for showtunes and dance, emotional sensitivity. We talked with our hands and cried in public. With enough effort we could look butch: we could work out at the gym and spend hours each day pushing body hair out of reluctant follicles. We could put on Toyota caps and “forget” to shave our scruff. But it would never be good enough. As the old insult goes, “he looked so butch until he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.”

But you know who can be butch and macho, seemingly without effort? That’s right. Straight guys. I agree with Sixpence: straight guys are probably no good in bed. But that’s almost beside the point. Sooner or later, we all learn that — like potato chips and chocolate bars — straight guys are bad for us. That does little to stop the craving, even though we would be better off with a plate of steamed broccoli instead.

Since straight guys are off-limits, what are we left with? Our fellow homosexuals. So we seek out the butchest, most masculine specimens available in the dating pool, because — for better or for worse — that is what we find attractive. Enter Masc 4 Masc.

There are some gays for whom stereotypical masculinity comes easily. Some of them are genuinely into sportsball and motorcycles. Some of them naturally assume body language and vocal mannerisms that fly under other people’s gaydar. They are the lucky ones — at least to those of us attracted to them. For the rest of us, it takes effort. Some element of Masc 4 Masc is a contract: “I am attracted to masculine men, and I have to work hard at appearing masculine myself, so I am looking for a partner who will make the same commitment.” If this sounds like the demands many people make of their partners to stay fit and attractive, that’s not a coincidence. There is a reason the catchphrase is “no fats, no femmes”.

Is being Masc 4 Masc okay? That’s where things get complicated.

Just a Phase

We often mock the Masc 4 Masc crowd on the same grounds that we mock bisexuals: they are just phases reflecting internalized homophobia and reluctance to accept one’s gay identity. Believe it or not, some of us don’t come out as gay right away. Instead, we test the waters by timidly announcing that we bisexual, and then we mysteriously sleep exclusively with men. So many gays go through this process, in fact, that when some guy announces he is bisexual we assume that he is just gay and in denial. Therefore, bisexuality does not exist, and men who cling to bisexual identities are fair game for mockery.

The same story holds for the Masc 4 Masc crowd. Because some of us claim that we like “normal guys, not like those ones that make the rest of us look bad”, we assume that anybody who claims to be attracted to masculine men is internally homophobic and in denial. Once they grow to accept themselves and their sexualities, we reason, they will let that go and be attracted to any man it is politically correct to find attractive. In the meantime, the Masc 4 Masc crowd deserves our derision and mockery. It’s just a phase, right?

Masculinity, Femininity, Misogyny

Consider the word “masculine”. What comes to mind? I’m willing to be something comes to mind, even for you gold-star woke gays.

Now consider the word “feminine”. What comes to mind now? Are there any differences? If there are, you are not woke enough.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, and it is tricky to disentangle. Because I am a homocon dinosaur, there are specific traits I associate with masculinity, and specific traits I associate with femininity. But there is a real paradox here. I cannot defend any of these traits out loud, because there will be exceptions to any trait you name. (Go for it. Name something you would define as masculine but not feminine, or vice versa.)

At the same time, we cling to these unspeakable notions of masculinity and femininity pretty tightly. We have collectively decided (or had decided for us) that it is okay for trans people to undergo some severe body-modifications so that their bodies are in greater concordance with their gender identities. At the same time, we have made it socially unacceptable for gay men to be attracted to people who are more masculine and be not-attracted those who are more feminine. We call this “internalized homophobia”. But for some reason it is also unacceptable to propose that gay men can take one step further and be attracted to women instead. We call that “the ex-gay movement”, and to respectable gays those advocating such positions are pariahs.

There are good reasons for these social sanctions. We don’t want trans people to suffer from dysmorphia. We don’t want femmes to face systemic and hurtful rejection from other gays. We want to outlaw the ex-gay movement because generations of homosexuals (often teenagers) have been traumatized by the movement. These good reasons do not change the fact that holding all of these positions simultaneously is incoherent.

Why are we in the broader culture so hung up on masculinity and femininity anyways? We all know the answer to this: patriarchy. Unlike what the mixed-sex marriage advocates tell you, masculinity and femininity are not complementary categories enjoying valuable and equitable territory in God’s Heart. Rather, masculinity and femininity are complementary categories, and masculinity is superior to femininity.

Why should we (as gay men) worry so much about being butch, anyways? Why should we fret about being femmy in the first place? Because gays are as steeped in our culture as everyone else, and we see femininity as weakness, and treat it with derision. Hello misogyny.

The misogyny in gay male culture runs deep. It might be worse than the misogyny straight men feel for women, because gay men (unlike our straight counterparts) do not require the company of women for sexual satisfaction. Hence, “he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.”

It isn’t just the straights who think of us as sissy-boys. We do this to ourselves. You are all too young to remember this, but back in the old days we would intentionally feminise our names and misgender each other in public conversation. “Did you hear about Dr Spoetta? She broke her sewing machine, and now might not have a new frock ready for Palm Springs! Can you imagine?” The surface explanation was that this misgendering helped us hide in public society, but I am willing to bet that some of this was our own shame disguised as catty cruelty. What could be more shameful — more of an insult? — than a man being treated like a woman?

“But what about drag?” you proclaim. What about it? Are you trying to tell me that misogyny is absent from drag culture? Why exactly do we refer to drag queens who look a little too much like women as “fishy”?

This gets even weirder and more upsetting when it comes to situations where we celebrate feminine gays. Think of our founding myth: the riots at the Stonewall Inn. We talk about how it was those who didn’t fit in — the drag queens, the transwomen — who finally put their collective foot down against the police raids. And what do we celebrate about their actions? They threw rocks. They got angry. They were tough and aggressive in standing up for themselves. They acted like men. Even those who identified as women acted like men. “There’s nothing tougher than a drag queen, honey,” we say. But what if those drag queens and transwomen had embraced their feminine sides instead, being demure and caring instead of angry and aggressive? Would we be celebrating them then?

We are in a curious bind. On the one hand we want to overcome the humilation of being treated like sissy-boys and girly-men by reclaiming it. We want to embrace our mannerisms and voices and love of musical theater as elements of our whole selves. At the same time, many of us don’t want that at all. We are Pinocchios, and some part of us would give it all up to be real boys.

It is true that different gays are into different types of men. Some like the young twinks, and some are drawn to feminine men, but lots of us (even those of us who imagine ourselves enlightened) continue to find those butch masculine traits attractive. Just look at the illustration Sixpence chose to illustrate his entry. Does that look like a guy who moisturizes to you? (For that matter, consider the gay fascination with Tom of Finland.)

The difference between the respectable woke gays and the Masc 4 Masc crowd is that the Masc 4 Masc crowd are expressing their preferences openly and bluntly, and the rest of us won’t.

How to Develop a Fetish

Maybe patriarchy is awful and incorrect, and valuing masculinity above femininity is also awful and incorrect. So what? We are drenched in this culture, and some of us imprinted on it. As I argued in one of the entries linked above, the heart wants what the heart wants. Our sexual preferences are not a function of the neocortex, but of our reptile brains, and once our preferences are imprinted (so the theory goes) we are stuck with them. Maybe some of us made the mistake of being attracted to toxic masculinity. What do we do now? Pretend that this is not the case? If we can’t expect pedophiles (or poop fetishists, not to equate the two) to change their preferences, why do we expect those who fetishize masculinity to do so?

Yes, some of the Masc 4 Masc crowd is expressing internal homophobia. Yes, if given the opportunity some of that crowd will find itself falling in lust with men who are less butch. That does not mean that none of that attraction is genuine.

Even more threatening is the way that our culture wants to extirpate conventional straight men as thoroughly as it has extirpated stone butch lesbians. It is not okay for straight guys to be out of touch with their feelings. It is not okay for them to be gruff and depend on brute strength to solve their problems. It is not okay for them to offload the emotional labor of their relationships onto their wives and girlfriends. There is some element of our culture that wants straight masculinity to either become metrosexual or be ostracised from society.

So now we are blaming the Masc 4 Masc crowd for preferences they did not choose, and we publicly disparage those who possess the traits they prefer. I am not surprised they are defensive.

Rejection

The real problem isn’t that Mascs 4 Mascs exists. Lots of weird fetishes exist, and we do not fret so much about them even if we think they are weird. Part of the problem is that there are so many Mascs 4 Mascs, so we run into all the time. But there are two other problems in addition to this.

Firstly, we prioritize masculinity over femininity, so those of us who are not very butch get rejected over and over again. We feel our potential dating pool is smaller, especially when we are femmy guys who like masculine ones. We get bitter and resentful, and we start making demands. “Those bitches are self-hating homophobes if they can’t see what a catch I am,” we tell ourselves. (Yes, of course we call them “bitches.” Misogyny, remember?) But what else are we going to do? We’re not desirable like real men. We’re girly-men, and deep down inside we feel we are not worthy because of mannerisms and traits we did not even choose to have.

Secondly, we have not figured out how to exclude others with kindness.

Whether justified or not, most of us have preferences, and ideally we would like to ride the relationship escalator who matches our preferences. But we have no way of expressing those preferences without making some people feel left out and excluded and hurt. So instead we get hard. We add all kinds of conditions and disclaimers to our profiles: “no fats, no femmes”, “no endless texts”, “drug and disease free, UB2”. And those of us who don’t fit those categories get hurt. In turn, we hurt others. (And that, kids, is why everybody on dating sites comes across as cold and heartless.)

So what are we supposed to do? When we don’t feel that spark, how do we let others know we are not interested without hurting them? If we are good respectable woke gays and pretend that we are attracted to everybody, how kind are we being when we lead others on? Worst of all, what happens when others are attracted to us and we don’t reciprocate? We have no good ways of dealing with this, so we ghost and we say cruel things, and then we all get hard. (So much for gays being in touch with their feelings.)

Are the Mascs 4 Mascs to blame for this? They certainly have their parts to play. But so do the rest of us — even those of us who think we are woke. Mascs 4 Mascs have their problems, but I continue to believe that the problem is bigger than they are, and I have a lot of difficulty laying all the blame at their feet.

And for those people who have self-examined and become comfortable with their sexuality and purged their internal homophobia and are STILL guilty of being attracted to masculine men? Sucks to be them, I guess. They should have chosen better preferences.

Predictions

I guess the primaries are going to rev up any day now, so it is time to make a bunch of predictions about this awful election. If things go terribly you can blame me; if things go well you can point and laugh at my poor predicting skills. I will offer confidences in the following predictions, but I am no rationalist superpredictor.

I predict:

  • Biden will win the nomination, because he is the establishment candidate. (60%)
  • There will be the usual grievous infighting in the Democratic party from the Bernie Bros and Warren Sisters because of this. A bunch of democrats will refuse to campaign/stay home as a result. (80%)
  • The Republicans will push the “Creepy Uncle Joe” narrative hard. (70%, conditional on him getting the nomination)
  • The Republicans will take the many negative traits we tend to apply to Trump and apply them to the Democratic nominee instead. They will work as hard as they can to suppress the Democractic vote and get it to stay home, especially in swing states. (80%)
  • Biden will win the popular vote by a margin larger than Hillary got, but thanks to our friend Gerry Mander* (and its institution the Electoral College) it won’t make any difference. Trump will be re-elected. (40%)
  • There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (90%)
  • Mitch McConnell will lose his seat, because the spotlight is finally on him (60%)
  • The Democrats will keep the House (65%)
  • The Democrats will take the Senate (60%)
  • We will all be sick and tired of this election campaign by November (80%)

What would I like to have happen? That’s a very different kettle of fish.

Thus ends my delusional prognosticating. Hopefully I will shut up about the election now.

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if THIS was the post that finally alienates everybody and gets me cancelled from the blogosphere?

* I should probably amend this to say that I am an idiot; in most states (but not all) gerrymandering for the presidency is not much of an issue, because votes are tallied state-wide. Maybe this means I should rate the Democrats winning the House/Senate lower?

Sacksrifice

I recently listened to a podcast about Oliver Sacks. It was an interview with Lawrence Weschler, who is promoting his book And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks. Like everybody else, I knew of Oliver Sacks and his famous books, but I have not read those books and did not know much about the man himself.

Notably, I did not know that Oliver Sacks was gay. In our enlightened post-gay world, that would ordinarily be irrelevant to anything (“What does it matter that he was gay? He’s just a human. Why do you people obsess over sexual identity so much??”) but in Oliver Sacks’s case it seems to have been relevant. The story from the podcast went something like this:

  • Sacks had been a doctor, and had known he was gay. Other than a brief period in California, he had suppressed this, and was celibate for decades.
  • Sacks had his clinical practice, and had written Awakenings, but at the time the book was a flop. He was not taken seriously by his fellow doctors, partially because his research was qualitative, not quantitative.
  • He fell into a writer’s block characterized by logorrhea. He would write and write and write and be unhappy with all of it.
  • Weschler was a writer for The New Yorker and wanted to profile Sacks in the early 1980s — after Awakenings had been published, but before it became a bestseller. Over the course of four years, Weschler interviewed the man and spent time as he did his rounds. When Weschler was ready to write the profile, Sacks asked him not to do so if there was no way to conceal his homosexuality. Weschler thought that Sacks’s homosexuality was a part of the story, and so the profile got shelved.
  • Much later in life, Sacks accepted his sexuality enough to come out in his autobiography (published in 2015). Seven years before his death from cancer, he fell in love with a man and had a relationship.
  • As Sacks was dying of cancer, he finally gave Weschler permission to write the profile.

Why did Weschler feel that Sacks’s sexuality was relevant to his profile? He offered a couple of reasons. First: Sacks was tormented by his homosexual feelings. (He probably would have benefited from https://chastity.org, but that has not yet been created.) He felt that he was an outcast. This gave him a lot of sympathy for his clinical subjects, who were people suffering from conditions too mysterious and too resistant to treatment for other doctors to care about. Weschler used the phrase “community of the refused.” Sacks felt that he himself was refused, and he tended to the medical needs of others who were refused, and identified with them when other well-adjusted doctors would not have bothered.

Secondly, Sacks knew drugs. Again according to Weschler, Sacks was sufficiently tormented (and insufficiently devoted to the blood of Jesus Christ) that for a few years he turned to drugs and became a speed freak. This helped him identify cases where drugs might have been helpful.

To these reasons I would add a third. You all came out early enough in life that I do not expect you to relate to this, but a common coping strategy for self-loathing, closeted, genetic dead-ends is throw ourselves into their careers. They hope that working hard enough and building up career accomplishments serves both as an excuse for not going on dates (“work is sooooo busy”) and as a justification for their existences. You don’t have to take my word for this; I plagiarized this concept from The Velvet Rage, a book by Alan Downs, a book well worth reading if you woke youngsters have trouble understanding how your gay elders got so messed up.

Let’s take Weschler at his word, and accept that there was some relationship between Sacks’s own despair surrounding his sexuality and his ability to relate to others. This raises some interesting hypotheticals relating to the justification of one’s existence. This is debatable (and if any of you read this far I am sure you will debate it), but for the sake of these hypotheticals let’s say that if Sacks had been able to direct more of his energy into sex and interpersonal relationships, he would have been less driven to administer to the “community of the refused”, and would not have accomplished as much in his career. What was Sacks’s personal torment worth?

Say that Sacks’s personal torment led to him being an innovative, influential doctor who then enlightened thousands of readers by writing bestselling books. Would that have been worth the torment?

Put aside the bestselling author bit. Say that Sacks’s torment had led to him being an innovative, influential doctor who helped humanize patients via “narrative therapy”. Would that have been worth the torment?

Put aside the innovative, influential doctor bit. Say that Sacks’s torment had pushed him to sympathizing with his patients and humanizing them on a personal level, helping to heal some people who were otherwise thought to be incurable? Would that have been worth the torment?

Put aside the curing bit. Say that Sacks’s torment had led him to be a more caring doctor who had real empathy for outcasts because he felt like an outcast himself, even if he was not able to cure significantly more people than indifferent doctors. Would that have been worth the torment?

Before you offer kneejerk reactions, consider the cost of self-acceptance. Even at the most modest level, patients who would have otherwise been ignored and treated like pieces of meat felt as if they were treated like human beings. Has a doctor’s demeanor ever had an effect on you? How much torment is a more sympathetic doctor worth to you or the ones you love?

You can argue that this is a false dichotomy all you like. I am sure you are completely correct, and that this idea that closeted self-loathing people overcompensate in their careers is just another delusion from my diseased little brain. There are no tradeoffs in this world. We can all have our cakes and eat them too.

Dear Santa

No, I have not forgotten. You made it abundantly clear that I have not been eligible for your services for decades, and certainly my conduct this year has only dug the hole in my Niceness credit rating deeper. And from one fat, judgemental bastard to another, I get it: rules are rules. But a lot of the people in my corner of the blogosphere are decidedly Nice, and you have gifted several of them some pretty terrible things this year. Sure, I read their blogs and comments, but that isn’t their fault, and it is no reason to punish them for my naughtiness.

So consider this a petition, fat guy: how about gifting my fellow bloggers some good things for 2020? Save the lumps of coal for the one who deserves it.

As always, it is dangerous to list specifics, knowing that I will omit people. But my niceness credit rating is ruined anyways, so here goes:

  • Please gift John Gray some better health so that he is not run down from his job all the time. Please help Dotty fit into her new household (no more weeing in the house!) and please keep Winnie and the other animals healthy and happy. Please gift John some handsome, muscular, well-hung bedfellows who will treat him kindly and give him hot sex.

  • Please ease off the stressors Dr Spo has been facing this year. Dealing with whatever medical complaint he faced really wore him down, and now his mother’s poor health is making things worse. Please gift him some serenity, and gift his mother some healing energy so that she can at least go home for Christmas. Please gift him some administrative staff he likes and who will stay in the office for a while. Finally, please gift him lots of hot sex with Someone.

  • Please help Fearsome and Shawn sell some houses so he can get his new futuristic truck. More importantly, please continue to heal his arms so that he is not in physical pain, and gift him as much hot sex as he would like with Better Half.

  • Please help RTG heal from his surgery, and deal with whatever new cardiological issue has come up now. Please keep Anne Marie’s stomach healthy. Please gift them both with hot sex or at the very least gratifying porn.

  • Please help Sixpence adjust to his new digs and his new longer commute. It sounds as if his move was positive overall, but it was surely stressful. Also please gift him lots of hot sex with HuntleyBiGuy and his other paramours.

  • Please gift RJ with a boyfriend. He is dealing fine without one, I guess, but it is time, and it is not good that he feels like a third wheel at social gatherings. Also gift him lots of hot sex with aforementioned boyfriend.

  • Please gift Michael54 with some serenity at work. “The Kid” has really done a number on Michael’s well-being. Even though the kid sounds Naughty please find somebody who can get through to him and start healing the hurt that is making him hurt others so wantonly. Also please gift Michael some clarity in dealing with Other Michael in a way that benefits his well being. Also hot sex with whomever Michael54 feels is appropriate.

  • Please gift mrpeenee better health this year. He has been through a lot with dental troubles and other health scares. Please gift him with as much hot sex as he would like (not necessarily from you).

  • Please grant Poor Steven some calmness around his mother’s condition. It is good he found a better nursing home for his mom than the awful one she went to earlier, but it still caused Poor Steven a lot of stress, so please gift him with a better 2020. Thank you for helping Steven find in-person social gatherings to attend. Please gift him some (safe!) hot sex as he goes through his exploratory phase, possibly with a new boyfriend.

  • Although she does not have a blog, Deedles is Nice and we all love her and her comments, so please gift her with good blood sugar this year, and please give her good mental health in addition to hot sex with Balder Half.

Lots of other bad things happened to people this year. There have been suicides. Blobby got injured a few times. Cb’s dad died, and he had a stressful time dealing with the estate. Other people seemed to have good years, but that is no excuse to give them coal in 2020 (and not everybody blogs about their struggles). Please Santa give them good years as well, and lots of hot sex.

P.S. Naturally, I forgot someone I had intended to include: Sassybear, who had a nasty series of health emergencies all in a row, and who also dealt with the suicide of his blogger buddy David. Not cool, Santa. Please give Sassybear good health this year, lots of companionship from his dogs, lots of Green Lantern paraphernalia, and hot sex with his boyfriend and spouse.

(And yes, I have forgotten others, too. My apologies.)

Pornstalgia

Recently, Dr Spo (the dear?) directed me to get in touch with The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections. He said that TBDHSR wanted to make me an honorary board member (?!) and that furthermore that they did not know how to contact me (??). Of course, it was a ruse. Instead of an honorary board seat I received a stern talking-to. How embarrassing was it that I post less frequently than Harry Hamid (may he rest in peace) and didn’t I understand the terms of the contract I signed and when I finally decide to post I go around making baseless accusations of my readership how very dare do I have I no shame and also I have few enough readers as it is so I had better start posting some quality content if I am interested in maintaining ownership of all my fingers and toes. You know the spiel. We have all been there.

Admittedly, the Board wasn’t wrong. I haven’t felt much like blogging lately. Truth be told, I have not felt like doing much of anything. I don’t want to get out of bed, which has done wonders for my employability. I don’t want to cook or clean or attend to other grownup chores, which has done wonders for my living conditions. Even checking poor Steven’s blog forty times a day so I can leave snarky comments is draining. Blogging seems beyond the realm of possibility, and blogging something engaging seems farther still.

Perhaps I should be concerned, but I can’t be bothered. Lacking the budget for healthier coping strategies (therapy, opioids) I have turned to my usual bad habits: cheap carbohydrates, spider solitaire, and wasting hours on the Internet. I have been spending more time than is healthy looking at educational films on the Internet, which makes no sense given that I have lots of educational films downloaded on my computer already. Maybe this is Grindr for ugly unloveable people? Instead of experiencing the thrill of hunting down eligible bachelors in the real world, I keep looking on the Internet for educational materials that will give my brain the dopamine rush it craves. Maybe the next video is the one? Or the next? Or the next? That perfect educational experience must be out there somewhere, right? Well, probably not, because I am a perverted freak who is unskilled at Internet searches, so the signal to noise ratio is pretty bad. But once in a while the slot machine pays off (so to speak), so I keep pulling the lever (so to speak). Such is the nature of intermittent reward.

And boy howdy, was I jolted by a couple of finds recently. The jolts were ones of recognition — not of having viewed the films before (which is common) and not because I recognised real-life people in the films (which has happened once) but because the films in question answered questions I have been harboring for decades.

You see, it has not always been this easy to download full-length, on-demand educational videos on the Internet. You are all too young to remember this, but once upon a time watching educational films was a real ordeal. You would have to go to some dingy video store, where the videocassettes (videocassetes!) were not even rewound sometimes, or worse, you had to go to a MOVIE THEATRE in some dingier part of town, and watch your educational material in a dark room full of heavy-breathing strangers. Such movie theatres had their risks so in those antediluvian days many of us consumed educational materials in the form of still images. Often the best you could find were thumbnails, but if you got lucky (again with the hunting instinct) you might find some lowish-resolution images. Hard drive space was precious in those days, but I still managed to accumulate a collection of these educational images — first on floppy disks (so to speak), and later on the hard drive of the second computer I owned for myself.

One set of images concerned a strange party held in a basement or a rec room. At this party a number of scantily-clad people appeared to be enjoying each other’s company. Picture one of poor Steven’s nudist gatherings, except populated by straight, horny senior citizens who do not understand that nudity is about liberation and not sex. In one image eight people are standing around exploring each other’s anatomy with their hands and mouths. One woman is sitting back on a stool as one person — male? female? nonbinary? — explores her nether regions with some fingers, while another golden brown balding man kisses her on the lips. Another woman is standing with her eyes closed, each of her hands grasping appendages, as her neighbours kindly engage in a breast examination. It is not clear that everybody is having fun, but they certainly seem engaged in their task.

Another image features the golden brown man staring into the distance as a woman cuddles him from behind, reaching around to offer certain (presumably shaved?) body parts some tactile attention. This image always stuck with me, as did the entire situation. What was this party? Was it real, or staged? Did senior citizens really enjoy each other’s company like this?

A different set of images was clearly staged for video production. I knew this because some of the pictures were labelled “Videograb 1” and “Videograb 2”. Also one of the images was the cover of the video cassette, labelled “Oldies Spritz Parade”. In this series of images, two older gentlemen (one clean shaven, one with a bushy gray beard) dressed in pyjamas paid tribute to a nubile young woman standing between them. In other images, the nubile young woman handled various appendages of her elderly friends.

I think you know how this story ends. As I wallowed in my own self-indulgent self pity, clicking around on unsatisfying video after unsatisfying video, what do I stumble across other than educational films documenting the events from those still images so many years ago? I knew that some video of the nubile young woman and her two friends must exist somewhere, but I did not anticipate seeing it. I was even more surprised to find video evidence of the rec room party.

The two films were both unsurprising and deeply surprising. The production values were typical of these kinds of educational films, with terrible music and the participants uttering the requisite grunts and moans. But I found other aspects of both films astonishing.

The first surprise was that film of the rec room party existed. That should have resolved the issue of whether the event was staged. Much of the film’s cinematography was typical of the genre, with the usual close-up shots and participants positioned so that certain anatomical features were prominently on display. However, by the end of the video I still had my doubts, because some of the people (in particular one couple) were not senior citizens at all — they were much younger. Was this terrible casting for an educational film targeted at aficionados of senior citizens, or was this a genuine party where a wide variety of people had been filmed?

A second surprise was an erotic shock concerning the golden brown man. Apparently he suffers from imperfect eyesight, because in some of the educational film’s scenes (but not in the still images) he is wearing glasses. As it is objectively true that glasses make people sexier (especially when those people peer over their glasses at you) this added a depth to the plotline I had not expected.

Reading glasses aside, a third surprise is although the rec room party participants seemed to be enjoying themselves, the video was not as educational for me as I was expecting. This was true of both films, actually. Would have I reacted differently if I had been exposed to these videos at a similar age when I found the still images? The image of golden brown man staring into the distance has long been highly charged for me. I cannot tell whether exposure to the video would have made that better or worse, and I cannot tell whether my standards have changed as educational materials have become more accessible on the Internet.

The other video also held its own surprises. For one thing, the fellow with the bushy gray beard seemed genuinely befuddled about how to behave in the presence of a nubile young woman. Several times the aforementioned woman positioned bushy gray beard’s hands to get him involved in the festivities. There is no question that these kinds of nonverbal communication practices are important when interacting with other people, but it is rare to see this in educational films.

Another surprise was how much attention the two gentlemen paid to the pleasure of their nubile young friend. Most of the video consisted of the men caressing and nuzzling and sucking on various anatomical features of their ladyfriend. That seems highly unusual to me. In most educational films of this genre (older men, younger women), the woman desperately focuses on the man’s satisfaction, at the expense of her own enjoyment. Other than fondling, little time was spent on the appendages of the gentlemen. There was one brief scene of oral attention to an appendage, but it did not last long. I do not know why I should have been surprised at this, but usually I expect a usual tiresome trajectory of perfunctory attention to the ladyfriend followed by slobbering oral attention to the men, quickly followed by penetration in unnatural body orientations. The pattern in this film was significantly different, and I am not sure why.

Since encountering these two films, I have been somewhat hesitant to explore the Internet further. Who knows what else I will find? Neither of these discoveries was awful, but why should I expect my luck to hold?

No, of course I am not going to link to either the images or the videos here. I have my good Henley Street name to consider, and these images and videos will not affect you in the same ways they did me. For one thing you are not perverted freaks, but more importantly you don’t have the decades of history I have had with these images, and thus they won’t have the same emotional resonance. Finally, there are innocents who occasionally visit this blog (Willym, Maddie), and it would be unethical to warp their minds by exposing them to such material. You will have to be content with these verbal descriptions, and I will have to go hide my head in shame forevermore for even writing about this. What the hell was I thinking?

Crucified

Okay, fess up. The following video ended up on my hard drive, and I want to know which one of you put it there.

I know it was one of you because music videos don’t end up on my hard drive unless one of you posts a video to your blog. My computer is too old and slow to play Youtube, so at that point I have no option but to download your video to watch later. Well, now it’s later and now I want an explanation and possibly an apology.

Homosexual Holy Day

People think that Halloween is the holiest holiday in the LGBTQ+ calendar, but this is not correct. Today is the holiest day, and I almost missed it. Today is National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day, which according to Life Site News was founded in 1995 by ex-gay advocate Michael Johnston. (Ordinarily I would point backgrounder links at Wikipedia, but in this case both of these topics are MYSTERIOUSLY ABSENT.)

National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day celebrates former homosexuals. Finding official pages about the holiday is difficult because they are also MYSTERIOUSLY ABSENT from my search results, but according to third party reports Coming Out of Homosexuality Day honors the changed lives of thousands of men and women who formerly identified themselves as gay. Once upon a time people of alternative sexualities had little vocabulary to describe themselves. Even lesbians called themselves “gay”. Now, thanks to decades of LGBTQ+ activism, we have a rainbow of labels to plaster on ourselves, from “twinks” to “demisexuals” to the ever popular “heteroflexible”. We are no longer limited to putting ourselves in the stifling box of “gay”.

But Coming Out of Homosexuality Day has a more serious purpose. Do you know of people who are struggling with their homosexuality? There are many resources on the internet you can point them to. Exodus has rebranded itself as Changed Movement, a “community of friends who once identified as LGBTQ+”. You can take a Journey into Manhood on the Brothers Road (formerly known as “peoplecanchange.org”). Then of course there is Focus on the Family, which has a phenomenal Frequently Asked Questions section, which you should all read even if you are not struggling with same sex attraction (hi Deedles!).

Honestly, the Frequently Asked Questions page makes for fascinating reading. If your mind has been poisoned by the liberal sex radical Dan Savage, this is the perfect antidote. Savage frequently counsels callers who struggle with visiting their religious parents over the (straight people) holidays, but have you ever considered the other side? The advice from the anti-Savage is both what I was expecting, and not what I was expecting at all.

The ex-gay movement gets a bad rap these days. For example, the aforementioned Michael Johnston got into trouble when it was revealed he was having unprotected hookups with men (and possibly infecting men with HIV in the process). Any number of ex-gay leaders subsequently dropped out of the movement and turned homosexual again. But I have more than a little sympathy for it, and not just because I am a self-loathing homosexual. I’m not on board for the Jesus stuff (more’s the pity), but I honestly think that more than a few of the advocates most involved in the movement acted out of love, not hate. I listened to a series of interviews with former Exodus leader Alan Chambers. There is no question that Exodus and its brethren have caused harm to many, many people. There is no question that some people in the movement were (and are) cynical fundraisers preying on people’s ignorance and fears. But from listening to Chambers’s interviews, and from associated with some mild homophobes in my own social circles, I do not feel our demonization of them is accurate. (I also feel that if bisexuals exist they have a lot to answer for, but that is neither here nor there.)

Furthermore I think that the techniques they use to lure self-loathing homosexuals work because they reflect some of the actual struggles gay people face. Furthermore, I think that gays inflict some of these struggles on each other (Grindr, anyone?). None of us want to admit this (victim blaming!) but I see evidence of it all over the blogosphere.

Although National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day is not widely remembered, I think it is important. It is important to understand what people thought and felt in the bad old days when stores did not festoon themselves with Pride flags. It is important to understand the humanity of those who went through the ex-gay movement and those who cling to it still. History repeats itself, and we have new targets now (transpeople, drug addicts, sex workers), and when the liberal media shoves this stuff down the memory hole then we lose something important.

So Happy Coming Out of Homosexuality Day, everyone. I hope you have a joyful celebration, and you don’t let the spectre of National Coming Out Day* tomorrow hang over you too heavily. (But Steven should still come out to his high school friend and his uncle whether he wants to or not.)

* Oh look. National Coming Out Day is on Wikipedia. How mysterious.

HIV Non-Disclosure

If the title was not trigger warning enough, be aware that this is one of those “alienate the rest of my readers” posts.

Recently, I listened to Episode 643 of the Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage’s situational ethics podcast. One call in particular made me more furious than usual, and I am still trying to understand why. In the spirit of free association I am going to type things out and see whether I can find any clarity.

The call in question was from a transwoman sex worker. She had a sugar daddy who was offering to take her on a trip (a boat cruise?). She had not told the sugar daddy (or presumably her other clients) about her HIV+ status, and wanted Dan’s blessing for this. She claimed to have an undetectable viral load, and since undetectable equals untransmissable, she reasoned (or “reasoned”) that this was none of her sugar daddy’s business, and besides if he knew maybe he would not be her sugar daddy any more. Dan gave the sex worker his blessing on ethical grounds, but cautioned that legally there might be laws (oh so regressive laws!) that mandated disclosure from HIV-positive people to their sex partners. Dan said that if the caller did not want her sugar daddy seeing her pills, she should not go on the trip.

The caller was pretty flippant. She rhetorically asked whether she was the future for not disclosing. She was pretty clear that she was happy not to disclose to her partners, and she was pretty clear that she did not want to lose business on account of her status. Hearing that made me very, very angry. To be fair, I was already angry, but this call made me angrier in ways that other calls (including the previous call, which was also about HIV disclosure) did not. Let’s explore why, starting with the most phobic reasons.

Am I just being HIV-phobic? Sure. There is an element of that at play. Intellectually I know that undetectable is untransmissible. I also know that it is safer for somebody to be on HIV meds than sleeping with somebody whose status is unknown and who is not on PrEP (aka HIV meds). But even though my intellectual comfort with HIV has improved over the years (particularly since 1996), I don’t think that emotional gutpunch will ever go away. Maybe it would if I was in an intimate relationship with somebody who was poz. Maybe not. I have a lot of debilitating and sometimes irrational phobias, and HIV is one of them.

If some hypothetical universe where somebody was willing to sleep with me, I would be pretty ticked off being in that sugar daddy’s position. That is not limited to HIV. If somebody had syphilis or chlamydia or even herpes, I would want to know, so that I could be the one making the decision of sleeping with that person, as opposed to having that decision made for me. I feel very strongly about this, and it is probably a large source of my anger.

So there is an emotional gut-punch of HIV-phobia, but I do not think that explains everything. Let’s turn to the next accusation. Am I just being transphobic? Am I reacting so poorly to this call because the caller is a transwoman?

My answer to this is maybe. Certainly other people (in particular some trans activists) would label me as transphobic, because I do not adhere to every ideological stance taken by (some? most?) trans activists. I do not, however, think that I am more transphobic than the median LGBTQ+ person. I won’t pull the “some of my best friends are trans!” nonsense on you (it is not as if I have friends) but I do know and occasionally interact with at least a dozen trans people through my activities with local LGBTQ+ groups. I am not trans and do not claim to know what being trans is like, but I broadly support the rights of trans people to exist and live with safety. But I am sure it is possible that I reacted poorly because this caller was a transwoman as opposed to a gay man or cis woman sex worker.

Am I just being anti-sex-worker? Maybe. There is definitely an element of my reaction that is related to the caller being a sex worker, but that has more to do with trust and less to do with her profession. I believe that uncoerced prostitution should be legal, but that people should have good choices available to them so they do not have to become sex workers unless they really want to. But overall I do not see that much difference between being a sex worker and being a regular worker. They are both forms of prostitution, in my view.

I think there is more going on here, though. The first thing has to do with what being ethical means. My personal definition (which I am sure I have unconsciously stolen from some famous philosopher) is that ethics is the tension between individual and group benefit. When I do something for my own benefit at the expense of broader society, then I am (usually? always?) acting unethically. In that light, I see two ways in which this caller is clearly acting unethically, and neither has to do with HIV-transmission directly.

The first way in which this seems unethical is the same way in which staying in the closet is unethical. By being out of the closet straight people see us and become more used to having LGBTQ+ people around, and thus they are less likely to be phobic to us or about us. In some sense, we have gay marriage because Lynn Lynne Mary Cheney came out to her dad, and because George W Bush enjoyed watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Having said that, although remaining closeted does some passive harm to our fellow LGBTQ+ people (by not paving the way) it is difficult for me to argue that it does active harm, provided that we are not acting in homophobic ways ourselves to fit in. I consider not coming out a venial sin, not a mortal one.

In the same way, this caller is missing an opportunity to reduce HIV stigma in the world by not coming out as HIV positive. That part is a venial sin. But there is something about her situation that feels more serious. The caller is staying in the HIV-positive closet not only to avoid stigma, but to financially benefit from this lack of disclosure. That seems more serious to me. The caller wants to have as much business as possible, and is unwilling to disclose any information that might reduce that business, regardless of whether those reasons are rational or not.

Say this sugar daddy (or the caller’s other clients) is comfortable with the idea of hiring an HIV-positive sex worker. Then there is no harm done if the caller comes out. Say the sugar daddy is not comfortable with this, and like me feels a gut emotional reaction to HIV. Then what? Then this caller is definitely doing harm to broader society, because when this guy finds out it will affect not only her business, but the business of other sex workers as well.

That brings up trust, which I think is the biggest ethics violation here. The caller is not disclosing her HIV status because she has a financial incentive to hide it. In doing so, she undermines trust in all sex workers. (To be fair, this is a problem with all of capitalism, which is why the smoothest transactions happen between partners that already know and trust each other, and the most frictionful ones happen between strangers.)

But she also undermines her own trust. She knows that her sugar daddy would prefer to be aware of his sugar baby’s HIV status, but she does not want to lose the business. Otherwise she would not have called at all. So she is deceitful for her own benefit. Why should we believe she is trustworthy in every other way? When she says that she is undetectable and therefore untransmissible, why should we believe that? What other things is this caller willing to lie about to secure her business? The flippant way in which she dismisses this deceit makes me want to not trust her at all.

The analogy that comes to mind is when people have affairs (another activity that Dan Savage almost always blesses, on the basis of increasingly flimsy “what-if” scenarios). The damage when someone has an affair is not usually the sex. Usually it is the loss of trust from that person’s spouse. How do you recalibrate to know the ways in which this person is or is not trustworthy?

Maybe I do not like this caller because she is HIV positive, or because she is trans, or because she is a sex-worker. I definitely do not like this caller because she has demonstrated herself to be untrustworthy, and I would feel very very betrayed if I was her client. Maybe that is just my internalized hatred speaking, and this really is about transness or HIV status or career choice. But based on how I have reacted when straight, non-sexworker men of unknown HIV status have ripped me off, I have my doubts.