Grossing Out the Boys

Today’s self-indulgent blog entry comes to you courtesy of Lindy West, from an essay entitled “You’re So Brave for Wearing Clothes and Not Hating Yourself!”, published in a book titled Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman:

I was the girl kids would point to on the playground and say, “She’s your girlfriend,” to gross out the boys. No one had ever sent me flowers, or asked me on a date, or written me a love letter (Beth literally had “a box” where she “kept them”), or professed their shallow, impetuous love for me, or flirted with me, or held my hand, or bought me a drink, or kissed me (except for that dude at the party freshman year who was basically an indiscriminate roving tongue), or invited me to participate in any of the myriad romantic rites of passage that I’d always been told were part of normal teenaged development. No one had ever picked me. Literally no one. The cumulative result was worse than loneliness. I felt unnatural. Broken. It wasn’t fair.

This was also my teenagerhood, except in my case it was entirely fair, and I did not go to any parties in my freshman year. Outside of a brief interlude in my early twenties (when I pursued a woman and was pretty terrible to her) it has remained the same since. Either my gaydar (or more precisely, romantic-dar) is so broken that I don’t pick up on these signals, or — more likely — I have never been the target of them.

The book is worth reading, by the way.

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Dr. Laura Turned Me Gay

Do you remember Dr. Laura? I guess she is still around. She used to be a popular advice columnist on the radio, and her show was syndicated widely. She was on the socially-conservative side of the spectrum, although I don’t think she achieved Rush Limbaugh levels of wingnuttery. (Apparently Limbaugh is still around too?) It is fortunate that Dr. Laura doesn’t hate the gays because I regret to inform you that Dr. Laura turned me gay.

(Have I told this story before? I feel as if I have told these stories before. As if my blog was not tedious enough, now you are getting reruns.)

After grade 10 or so, my teenaged years were not particularly happy. School was my refuge, but after school I spent a lot of time in my room hoping there would not be a household fight. I did my homework and I read books, and at one point or another I discovered the radio. It did not take too long before I started listening to sportsball broadcasts.

I have a lot of unkind things to say about the professional sportsball industry — the way it chews up young people and spits them out, the way we cheer on uniforms and not players, and especially the consumerism of it all. Sportsball broadcasts would not exist at all if it weren’t for the named stadiums and the beer advertisements and the sponsored scores. Nonetheless, I got pretty interested in sportsball for a few years. I listened to the radio and started reading pages of statistics published in the local newspaper (newspaper?!) each week.

I probably didn’t appreciate sportsball itself that much, but I craved the camaraderie of the announcers. In between announcing plays they would share anecdotes about the players and the league. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company. As somebody who did not have (m)any friends, it was nice to listen to enjoyable chit-chat instead of worrying when the yelling was going to start downstairs.

I am surprised that I got so emotionally involved. I cheered for the players that were making an impact, and felt sad when players I liked retired. When the local team won I felt happy; a bad loss could really bring down my mood. I liked the enthusiasm of the announcer, especially when somebody was close to scoring. I liked that the broadcasts were dependable refuges for me.

A few months (or maybe years?) into listening to sportsball broadcasts I left the radio running after the evening’s game had finished. A phone-in show started playing. It was called Radio Heartbeat, and was voiced by a gentle man named Alan Mayer. Each week, Mayer would take calls from his audience. Sometimes those calls focused on a theme (“the moon”, “rainfall”, “an experience that brought you joy”). Sometimes his callers would commiserate their own life experiences. And sometimes they would ask Mayer for advice. Mayer’s usual response was along the lines of “You have the answer inside yourself. What is it saying?” Then Mayer and the caller would try to work things out. Sometimes callers discovered answers and sometimes they didn’t.

In retrospect, it wasn’t that different from therapy, but I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I was blown away. At school the teachers and textbooks had the answers, and my job was to give them the answers they wanted. At home there were no answers. Here was this gentle man with his gentle radio show taking gentle calls, without any agenda of stirring up conflict to boost ratings, or even to fix people.

I loved Radio Heartbeat. Some nights I couldn’t wait for the sportsball broadcast to end so that Mayer could take to the air. I still liked sportsball broadcasts, and I still enjoyed the camaraderie of the announcers, but this was something special.

Then one evening everything changed. The sportsball broadcast drew to a close (I don’t remember whether “we” won or lost) and I waited for Radio Heartbeat to begin. But instead of Radio Heartbeat, Dr. Laura’s show started playing. Dr. Laura took calls too. But she was there to dish out advice and fix people. She didn’t care about reflections on the moon or rainfall or joyful experiences. People had Problems, and she had Advice, and she was there to Fix People. It was awful. I listened for a few minutes and turned the radio off.

I think I tried once or twice more. Radio Heartbeat did not return, and Dr. Laura was as insufferable as ever. So I got mad, and I left. I decided to boycott the radio station in question, which meant I stopped listening to sportsball broadcasts. My interest in the sport waned shortly thereafter.

Who knows what might have happened if Radio Heartbeat had stayed on the air? Maybe I would have continued to listen to sportsball. Maybe I would have learned more about the sport, and learned to appreciate the sport as a sport instead of just as a set of stats and broadcasts. Who knows? Maybe I would have started playing sportsball recreationally. Then I might have been butch. Instead I became a homosexual. Thanks for nothing, Dr. Laura.

Straight Porn Turned Me Gay

Opponents of pornography often claim that it is harmful and warps minds. I am here to testify that this is completely true. If it had not been for straight porn I might not have turned into a homosexual.

Unlike my peers I did not stumble into a stash of dirty magazines when I was younger. I do remember finding a naughty calendar (Miss April wore some overalls that barely covered her nipples, and Miss June was embracing a pillow with no underwear on!) but that was about it. It wasn’t until I made the worst decision of my life (using the Internet) that I was exposed to pornography.

I confess that I found those initial images titillating. Boobs! Hips! I also confess that I found myself looking at wee-wees and chest hair more often that I should have, but that is not what this entry is about. This entry is about power.

There is an Internet quotation often misattributed to Oscar Wilde that says “Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.” Once I got beyond the novelty of seeing the mechanics of coitus, the power dynamics in pornography quickly became evident, and they were horrifying. The pretty women in the pictures and 10-second video clips did not seem to be enjoying themselves. Their male partners often were domineering and comtemptuous of their female partners. Even those women who claimed to “want it” did not really seem to want much at all. Was this what sex was about?

As most of you know, I am manipulative and abusive. It’s part of my family history and it is a part of me. I felt traumatized by displays of aggressive domination in my family home (aren’t I a special snowflake?) and I despise this aspect of myself (even though I am unwilling to put in the work to change it). As such, displays of coercive power are a real turn-off to me, as are situations where I witness forced consent (sometimes called “choiceless choices”), where a party chooses an option they actively dislike because no other option is better.

I interpreted a lot of that early porn as forced consent. I am not even talking about degradation porn or BDSM stuff — just the run of the mill depictions of baby-making between men with large ding-dongs and young women. These depictions further cemented my beliefs that women don’t have sex drives or enjoy sex, and that straight porn is exploitative. Ordinarily these are post-orgasm realizations, but in my case seeing these things ruined the mood entirely.

This is not to say that gay porn was a lot better. There is an awful lot of “broke straight boys” nonsense out there, and a lot of dynamics involving very young men. Normal gay men find these kinds of young bodies hot, and I guess I should have as well, but again I saw too much exploitation and forced consent for my comfort.

For some reason I felt that older men and women had more choices in life, and it was easier to fool myself into thinking that depictions of sex between older people was voluntary and not just consensual. Furthermore the older people having sex occasionally seemed to be enjoying themselves. But there were other power dynamics at play as well. We like underdogs, so seeing the kind of person who is usually powerful (namely, middle-aged white men) being dominated stings less than seeing an already-exploited young person exploited further.

Moreover, even though gays classify themselves into “tops” and “bottoms” even the bottoms seemed less coerced into their roles; they had penises too, and could become tops if they so chose. To my warping brain, it seemed as if bottoms had more agency and choice than young women. And then there was reciprocity. It was rare to see men performing oral sex on their female partners, and when they did it was perfunctory and short. Meanwhile, extended fellatio sequences were mandatory. Even rarer than cunnilingus was cuddling; male partners did not seem to enjoy the company of their female consorts much. In contrast, even tops would perform oral sex on bottoms, and sometimes they would hug and cuddle.

But my real downfall was categorization. I am sure there is good straight porn in the world, but it is a real chore to find it in the sea of awful exploitative junk. Even finding porn between middle-aged men and middle-aged women seems impossible. In contrast, the gays provided many convenient search terms for less-exploitative sex between older men: “older”, “mature”, “bear”, “daddy”. There was still noise in this taxonomy, but it was easier to find smut that did not horrify me. What are the corresponding terms for straight porn? “milfs”? Good luck with that. The best I have been able to do (and this was years later) is “swinger” porn.

As I have aged my views have shifted somewhat. For one thing I find myself much more bored by porn than I used to be. The hunt for new scenes can be exciting, but the results are almost uniformly disappointing, and searching for them is huge waste of time. Overall I am much less happy with professionally-produced porn than in my younger years. Intellectually, I have also softened my stance on sex work. It is true that many of the people depicted in porn don’t seem to be enjoying themselves, but how many of us look forward to our jobs? It still really upsets me to see exploitation, but working at a fast-food joint is also exploitative, and for some reason I am willing to tolerate that. Furthermore some of these depictions of exploitation are just an act, and even though I still find them awful to watch, it does not necessarily mean the participants are actually being exploited. Finally, I have come to realize that sex is about power, and lots of people find these displays of power hot. (Hello, 50 Shades of Grey.) But for the most part these depictions are not for me, even as I harbor my own illicit power-based fantasies.

But the damage has been done. Pornography warped my impressionable mind. Now I am a homosexual, and not even the respectable kind of homosexual who is attracted to muscular twinks who are strictly above 18 years old. Obviously the best course of action would have been for me to chastely avoid the Internet entirely, but even if I hadn’t how much better might my life had been had I been able to find appropriately-categorized straight porn easily, instead of turning to man-on-man smut? Might I have been spared this lonely, loveless life?