A Round-Heeled Woman

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections sent me a terse note after my last entry, advising me to write something less self-indulgent and more cheerful or else. So here is a cheery book review about a memoir entitled A Round-Heeled Women, by Jane Juska. The name “Jane Juska” may not be familiar to you, but you might remember the (in)famous personals ad she posted to The New York Review of Books in 1999:

Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.

Apparently this set off an avalanche of lascivious personal ads in the New York Review of Books. When I first heard this story the vision of dozens (hundreds?) of book nerds writing dirty notes to each other and engaging in orgiastic literary copulation both amused and comforted me, but this was years before Grindr. What I didn’t realize is that the writer in question had a story, and that she wrote this story down. So I sashayed to the local university library and signed the book out.

I think I was expecting John Rechy’s Numbers written by a straight woman. That’s not what I got. Jane Juska does document a number of sexual conquests, but through the course of her adventure she has fewer partners than certain unnamed bloggers on busy weekends. And in rereading her personals ad, it becomes clear that Juska is not in search of a lot of sexual partners. She wants a lot of sex, but she wants sex with a man she likes. That is a big difference.

Readers in search of salacious bedroom scenes won’t be entirely disappointed, but much of the book consists of memoir — how did Juska end up spending 30 years of her life celibate? How did she find the gumption to post the ad? — and the logistics of finding and meeting different men, most of whom were (duh) in New York. Given that Juska lived in California, this made for a lot of plane trips back and forth. She also includes some details about her life at the time, including an intriguing chapter on volunteering inside San Quentin Prison.

Juska’s adventures in dating will sound familiar to many who have ventured into the shark-infested waters of modern love. She triages responses into yes, maybe, and no, and even among the yeses she finds flakes and freaks. Some dates lie about their ages. Several behave in hilariously inappropriate ways. She falls for a few only to discover they do not reciprocate their feelings (after they have slept with her). Not many want to discuss Trollope, but one who does leads her on an adventure to view an original Trollope manuscript.

Juska is not shy about her apprehensions around this process. She had children from a previous marriage; what would they think? She had a job as a schoolteacher; could she book time off? Would her social standing (and possibly her employment standing) be harmed by her love life? And of course, she worries about her looks and her age. Does she look too old? Are her boobs too big? These are questions we all have to face when looking for men we like and want to have a lot of sex with.

The book is well written and quick to read. In reading it I learned many interesting things. For example, did you know that some women have sex drives independent of the desire to have babies or snag a man? Apparently this is true. Furthermore, I learned that some women are attracted to men visually:

Sometimes, as I lie on my futon reading, say, the Times or The American Scholar, I will feel the familiar tickle between my legs. But mostly, I am aroused by men, parts of men. I love men’s asses, even the ones that aren’t perfect. I am aroused by the sight of John’s neck, of Bill’s forearm, of Sidney’s voice, Robert’s hands, Graham’s legs. Men have fabulous legs, no fat, long muscles. Walking down the street in the summertime, all those men in shorts, is a thrill for me. And I adore penises. They are different from one another, straight and crooked, long and short, thick and thin, endlessly fascinating at rest or attention. They do wonderful things for me and I do wonderful things for them.

Now isn’t that the kind of book you would like to spend an afternoon with?

P.S. to Sixpence: I saw your blog post about my entry. You are very kind. That guy is hot and I look nothing like him. Also Blogger and I do not get along, and there are few Blogger blogs on which I can comment.

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Sandy

A few weeks ago Nurse Heartthrob blogged about a neighbour rechristening Heartthrob’s bantam cockerels Julian and Sandy. “Julian” and “Sandy” refer to sketch comedy characters from an old BBC radio programme called Round the Horne. That sent me off to Wikipedia and Youtube.

The premise of the skits were that Julian and Sandy are campy gay men, but since homosexuality was illegal at the time, the comedy consisted of slang called “polari” and double-entendre.

Here is a short skit called the “Bona Gift Boutique”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muAPba7s0A8

And if you like that there is a vinyl rip of their comedy album, “The Bona Album of Julian and Sandy”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9koGCymZNPk

After listening to some skits I was somewhat surprised. The comedy is rather camp and somewhat British. Although not side-splittingly hilarious, the skits are not bad, and contain lots of catch-phrases that (like the Three Stooges) get funnier when you re-enact them on the playground than they are on screen. The surprising thing was that although Julian and Sandy are portrayed as very very camp, and they embody several gay stereotypes, they don’t come across as objects of derision. In some ways they remind of of Scott Thompson’s Buddy Cole skits from Kids in the Hall. That is not a ringing endorsement (despite my affection for the Kids in the Hall the Buddy Cole sketches never worked for me), but it makes for a good segue, because both Hugh Paddick (who played Julian) and Kenneth Williams (who played Sandy) were themselves gay.

None of this is really worth blogging about; if you saw Nurse Heartthrob’s blog post you probably looked up Julian and Sandy as well. What struck me was less Youtube and more Wikipedia — in particular, what happened to the actors. Hugh Paddick who played Julian seemed to turn out okay. He found a boyfriend and they stayed together for 30 years.

Kenneth Williams who played his friend Sandy had a different path. On the one hand, he was successful in showbiz, appearing in the Carry On films, and when he died he had hundreds of thousands of pounds to his name. On the other, he was lonely and celibate, felt he never lived up to his potential, and (intentionally or not) overdosed on barbituates at age 62. I guess it is not surprising that this sad life story struck a chord with me, but maybe it should be. I am not in showbiz, I am not funny, I do not have hundreds of thousands of pounds to my name, and barbituates are a lot more trouble to get a hold of than they used to be. Nonetheless, Williams’s life story resonated deeply. Many days I feel that loneliness and sense of failure acutely. What’s the bloody point?

Sick and Tired

Over the weekend I got sick, for the second time this year. Given how whiny and irritable I am these days, I am guessing it is the manflu, but I don’t know for sure. Regardless of what it is, the infection has migrated to my chest, where no doubt it will reside until June or so.

Although I am feeling sorry for myself, the fact that I am sick is of little consequence overall. I am unemployed again, so it is not as if I am missing work. I am single and unlovable, so it is of little consequence if I choke to death on my own phlegm. Unfortunately I live in shared housing (you think I can afford an apartment of my own?), and I think I made my housemates sick too, but that is the worst of it (as if that was not bad enough).

Nonetheless, I am feeling sorry for myself, and then I start regretting not having a life partner who would drop everything and tend to my every need, bringing me soups and making sure I have enough blankets and taking my temperature and in general coddling me. After all, isn’t that how being sick works when you are in a relationship? Then I come to my senses and realize that I am not daydreaming about a life partner — I am daydreaming about a nursemaid, or more likely a mommy who would tend to me the way mommies tend to sick preschoolers. Then I just feel worse, given that I have very deliberately cut off ties with my parents.

I think I am also dreaming of having a teddy bear, because when I am sick and vulnerable I want to be held and cuddled. But that is not the way my life turned out, so I get to fend for myself. That works for now, but it won’t work so well as my illnesses get worse. One day I will be rendered immobile via illness or injury, and then what?

Young Love/Old Love

These are hackneyed ideas, but they are worth repeating.

Young people fall in love too easily. When you are young hormones rush through your body. You feel the most intense emotions of your life, and since intense emotions strengthen memories, first loves stick in the brain. Young people meet someone on Grindr, have a couple of “dates”, and convince themselves that they have met Mr. Forever. They start fantasizing about joint bank accounts and extravagant nupitals. Lost in limerence, they ignore the red flags their partners are waving, and are deluded into thinking they have met The One. Then things don’t work out and their hearts break.

Older people do not fall in love easily enough. They may meet somebody on Grindr and feel a spark, but when that spark does not blaze into flame the way earlier relationships did they wonder what went wrong. But these later relationships are not fuelled by hormones or the novelty of first love, so why should we expect them to be as intense? More importantly, older people are wary. Older people grow set in their ways. They establish routines and patterns and become reluctant to uproot them. So they shy away from relationships that might capsize the boat. They have been hurt already, and who wants to repeat that? So older people protect themselves from vulnerability, which makes it more difficult to open up to potential partners, and curtails their chances of falling in love.

I wish young people had the perspective to understand that their first loves are probably not their final loves.

I wish older people had the courage to put themselves out in the world wholeheartedly, because even though older love might not be perfect, it still might be worthwhile.

Anal Sex

Two entries ago, Mistress Maddie (the dear!) left a comment about “barely enjoying anal sex”, which got me thinking.

It seems that lots of different demographics are obsessed about anal sex. The stories about teen girls using God’s Loophole as a way to preserve their virginity while having sex with their boyfriends is probably apocryphal, there is anecdotal evidence that at least some straight people consider anal sex as “not counting” in terms of preserving one’s virginity.

On the other hand, straight men appear to be strongly interested in having anal sex with their wives and girlfriends, as if their wives and girlfriends do not have sufficient orifices in which they can insert their penises already. I get the sense that straight guys see (penetrative) anal sex as a form of conquest. Maybe this is aprocryphal too? Porn sites would seem to disagree.

And then there are the gays. Anal sex seems to be such a priority in this culture that we identify as “tops”, “bottoms”, and “versatiles” according to our preferences in anal sex. Not all practicing homosexuals engage in anal sex, but many consider oral to be much more casual, to the extent that getting a blowjob does not count as “cheating”. [citation needed] My impression (which may be inaccurate) is that we consider anal sex “real sex” in the same way that straights consider penis-vagina sex “real sex”.

I am much less confident in these conclusions than I was when I started putting together this entry, but it struck me how differently these three demographics treat anal sex. In the first case it is a way to preserve one’s virginity. In the second it is a sex act that goes above and beyond “normal sex”. And in the third it seems to be what defines “normal sex” for gay men.

It is also strange that so many straight guys think homosexuality is gross because gay men are perceived as having lots of icky anal sex, when many of those same straight guys think of anal sex with their wives and girlfriends to be great achievements.

Reconsidering PrEP

After my mini-meltdown last entry, I did some additional looking into PrEP in general and weekend PrEP in particular. I also reread the thread that freaked me out.

It turns out that Weekend PrEP is a thing. In the literature it is refered to as “intermittent PrEP”. You take two pills before hitting Grindr, then a single pill 24- and 48-hours after. According to two studies (which go by the acronyms PROUD and IPERGAY) this reduces transmission rates significantly (by 85% or so). Furthermore most of the gays in the study were able to adhere to the regimen. So I guess the world is safe for barebacking, if you can afford the drug costs. These are only two studies, and the Centre for Disease Control does not advocate Weekend PrEP, but there is evidence that it works.

Those advocating bareback sex with PrEP (or, as I like to call them, the PrEPers) bring up a number of other points that have merit:

  • Assume PrEP works. Then it does not matter whether other people are lying or not. You can’t say the same for condoms (you may not want to click that link at work. Or ever). Taking PrEP prevents you from getting HIV and prevents you from transmitting it regardless of who your partners are.

  • Old trolls like us might worry about another epidemic, but there is no actual reason to expect that one will occur. If you think that, then you probably also believe that we deserved AIDS because we were promiscuous.

  • It is true that PrEP does not prevent any infection other than HIV, but we prehistoric Marys have no reason to be smug, because nearly all of the other STIs that matter (syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV) are transmissible via oral sex, and exactly nobody uses condoms for oral sex.

  • In order to get a Truvada prescription you supposedly need to be tested for STIs every three months. That keeps the population safer than a bunch of gays who live in denial about their statuses.

  • Taking PrEP intermittently helps people tolerate the side effects better.

  • If we ancient queens are so worried about drug resistance for Weekend PrEP why aren’t we similarly worried about regular PrEP? Regular PrEP is a pre-emptive drug, the same way that antibiotic dish soaps are. And we all know what the overuse of antibiotics has led to.

  • PrEP is expensive. Intermittant PrEP is presumably safer, so more people might adhere to it, so maybe the community as a whole will be safer. (Fun fact: without insurance, a daily Truvada prescription would cost me more than my average monthly income in 2018.)

It should surprise nobody that I still feel anxious about this:

  • We are putting a lot of trust that Truvada will continue to work. One of the big problems with HIV is that it mutates so quickly. A condom will stop a new strain of HIV that mutates. Can we say the same for Truvada? (Fun fact: on paper, the reason gays are not permitted to donate blood is because in 1996 there was a strain of HIV (HIV-1 Type O) which was not detectable by testing at the time.)

  • No, there probably won’t be another plague. But if there is, then sex (particularly unprotected sex) with multiple concurrent partners is the best way for that infection to spread. This is why AIDS hit gay men so hard in the 1980s, and why it hit certain countries in Africa so hard later on.

  • It is probably true that if you are the one on PrEP then you are safer than if you are not. But you must be very very careful about trusting that somebody else is on PrEP to keep you safe. If that person is actually on PrEP, then hooray. If not, you are at greater risk than you would be using condoms.

Maybe none of these are my real concern. My real concern is TRUST. There is something that feels deeply untrustworthy about hookup culture, and I have to presume that anybody who would be willing to sleep with me is also sleeping with other people. Can I trust that person? How does that trust level change when the norm in gay culture shifts from using condoms to routine barebacking?

Personally I am too much of a hypochondriac nellie to trust anybody. (Honestly, I suspect that there are so many of us in the gay-o-sphere that I wonder how anybody has sex at all.) But hookup culture makes me super-anxious, and the way we have collectively decided that barebacking is okay now increases that anxiety even more. A lifetime of unhappy celibacy it is, then.

The Last Straw

That’s it. I’m done. It’s time to tear up my gay card, return the toaster oven, cancel the monthly subscription of Homosexual Lifestyle magazine, purge my appointments from the Gay Agenda. My status as a homosexual (never mind a practicing homosexual) has always been tenuous, and it is time to throw in the towel. I don’t want to be in this club any more.

You see, I was innocently researching the Internet for information about Three’s Company when I ran across this bulletin board thread (which is pretty NSFW if you click any of the outgoing links):

https://www.datalounge.com/thread/22296869-millennial-guys-barebacking

To spare you the trauma of reading the thread, let me summarize: a bunch of gays are asserting that barebacking is now the norm in hookup culture, because we have PrEP now and who cares about the other diseases? Apparently, guys who refuse to bareback get a lot fewer hookups. Welcome to our post-AIDS world.

Stop the train. I’m getting off (and I never asked to be on this ride anyways). I mean: what the hell? Is this what poor Steven has to deal with in finding Grindr hookups? I had presumed John Gray was just being prudish when he expressed reservations about PrEP, but nope: the Stupidest Timeline has come to pass. Or maybe I am just a bitter old queen, spouting my bigoted sex-negative views like your racist aunt during Thanksgiving dinner. It’s difficult to tell sometimes.

Some of the commenters in that thread must also be bitter old queens, because at least a few of them echoed the horror of the 1980s, and a few smart gays pointed out that not that many people actually are on PReP, so some of the guys who claim they are must be lying. That makes me feel worse, not better.

I have complained about being defined by HIV a bunch on this blog, and I guess this is more evidence of that. I came of age at the wrong time, when having sex with anyone even once was inviting a death sentence. Had I come of age twenty years earlier or twenty years later probably I would be barebacking too. But I didn’t, and I am not, so goodbye homosexuality and good riddance. I’ll take those anti-gay pills. I’ll do seances to get therapy from the ghost of Joseph Nicolosi. I’ll learn to appreciate sportsball and learn to speak in monosyllabic grunts. I have no desire to be straight, but at least the straights don’t have to deal with this nonsense, and the asexuals don’t want me in their club. Alternatively, maybe it is time to enroll in a Catholic seminary. They don’t need to worry about this nonsense either.

Edit: “Weekend PrEP”?! Aaaaah! AAAAAAH! AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!! Are you people not familiar with evolutionary pressures!? I recognise that HIV is a virus, but have you never heard of antibiotic resistance??? Aaaaaaah!!!

Gay Voice Followup

In the comments of the last post, Kato (the dear!) brought up a good point: the “gay acccent” in her city was not that different from the inner city accent. I have noticed this too: often young men (not all metrosexual) seem to adopt vocal mannerisms from the gay accent, to the point where it is difficult to distinguish the gays from the straights. Maybe the accent really is culturally developed, and not intrinsic. But then where did I pick it up? Reruns of Three’s Company?

Certainly mainstream accents have drifted over the years. Listen to newscasts from the 1970s or 1950s and you can clearly tell that our vocal inflections have drifted.

Deedles (the dear!) also brought up a good point: the perception that there is a “black accent.” Ever the maladroit, I countered that I did believe there was a mainstream black accent, and that furthermore I was adept at distinguishing it. Then I listend to this podcast and realized that I am just racist.

Do I Sound Gay?

Overall, my gaydar is pretty terrible, but over the years I have developed an ear for “the gay accent.” If I was better-versed in linguistics I could describe it to you, but you know what I am talking about.

We tend to emphasize the gay accent when doing drag or speaking in camp, but many of us possess (or suffer) from the accent even in our everyday speaking voices.

Many of us internally-homophobic wannabe-straight guys don’t like the gay accent. There are many disparaging, often misogynistic phrases for it: “He looked so butch, but then he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.” I confess that I did not like the accent either, but as I have gotten more involved in the LGBTQ+ community locally I would like to think that I have gotten over it. Nonetheless, I detect the accent in my voice, and I hate it. Why can’t I sound butch, like the straight guys I idolize so much? What did I do to develop this? Was it conscious? Subconscious? Is it something in my biology? Where does this accent come from, and why is it so prevalent in gay men?

A few years ago a filmmaker named David Thorpe made a movie about the gay accent called Do I Sound Gay?. Like me, Thorpe struggled with the accent in his voice, and like any good documentarian he went on an adventure to learn what it is, where it comes from, and whether he could get rid of it. He visited speech therapists and interviewed famous gay people like Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, and George Takei. I read press for the movie when it first came out, but did not get around to watching it until recently.

The documentary is.. okay. I learned a few things about what makes the accent the accent. I learned that there are LA speech therapists who promise to train you out of the accent. Also, David Sedaris is kind of dreamy, in a David-Lettermanesque way.

The movie definitely has its flaws. Thorpe offers some explanations about how gays develop the accent, but they are uniformly disappointing, hearkening back to 1950s psychological theories of possessive mothers. The ending is very sad. The movie also contains gratuitous shirtlessness, which might be upsetting to some of my readers with more delicate constitutions. On the other hand, the movie is well-made and heartfelt. I don’t feel that I wasted my time in watching it, which is rare for me. (I keep trying to watch Hollywood movies, and I keep being disappointed.) If you are looking for a way to fight off existential dread for an hour and seventeen minutes, watching this movie is not a bad way to do so.

HIV vs Diabetes

Content warning: I discuss both HIV and diabetes (duh), and will probably write upsetting, thoughtless things about them even though I know full well some readers deal with HIV and some deal with diabetes.

I have been thinking of both afflictions lately, and it occurs to me that they are similar in some strange ways. Both were once death sentences, and are now considered managable chronic conditions. Both have had epidemics. We usually think of the epidemic of HIV subsiding, but the epidemic of type-II diabetes is in full swing. Naturally, I have elevated risk factors for both, given that I read Fearsome’s blog and eat potatoes.

Of the two, I am almost certain to contract diabetes — probably within a few years. Just as I have been defined by HIV, I have been defined by diabetes. The disease runs in my family, and I have been staring it in the face for years.

At first I thought that HIV suffered much more stigma than diabetes, but now I am not so sure. It is easy to blame those who deal with either condition for their plight. Certainly I am obese and am sedentary. When my pancreas fail it will be my own damn fault. Similarly, I think lots of people judge type-II diabetics harshly. The difference between diabetes and HIV is that people perceive diabetes as being less transmissible than HIV, although indirectly this may not be the case. That said, I think the stigma against HIV remains strong, although perhaps there is less open discrimination against HIV+ people than there was in the 1980s.

Thanks to Big Pharma, there are effective treatments for both conditions. But I strongly suspect there will never be a cure for either. Why would there be? What is the incentive for Big Pharma to sell a one-time cure when they could continue to milk patients for the rest of their lives? I am even skeptical of PrEP. Now people at risk of HIV infection have the privilege of paying for HIV drugs for their entire lives without the bother of actually being infected. (I am glad no drug researchers read this blog, or I bet they would push back hard against this. Nonetheless, my cynicism runs deep.)

I have lived in fear of both HIV and diabetes for most of my life. I understand that other people deal with their conditions and lead happy, fulfilled lives. I doubt I would be one of those people. When I contract one or both of these conditions, I think my life will be over. My life is not with living now; how will it be any more valuable when I have an expensive condition that requires great responsibility to manage properly? If I was responsible enough to manage a chronic condition then presumably I would be able to control my overeating and/or urges to engage in unprotected anal sex with strangers in parks. But I don’t, so I’m not.