Mayor Pete

I probably should not write this entry, but I realized that (a) repressing it is not working, and (b) if I am going to alienate my entire readership* then I might as well do it in one blow. So here goes.

In this corner of the blogosphere, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, otherwise known as “Mayor Pete”. Many people have been posting inspirational video interviews and praising him as a hopeful candidate. People went nuts when he formally announced his presidency.

But along with the Mayor Pete wave comes the Mayor Pete backlash, and not every corner of the Internet is as enthusiastic about Buttigieg as this corner is. Another place I lurk heavily supports Elizabeth Warren, and somewhere in there I ran across a critique of Mayor Pete — in particular a critique of his character and his campaign, based upon the pre-presidential-run book he wrote. (Apparently one of the qualifications for running for President in the United States of America is authoring (or “authoring”) an inspirational autobiography.) In order to protect your innocent enthusiasm I won’t link the piece here. Instead I’ll put a link at the end of this screed, long after you have stopped reading.

I wish I could say that I stayed strong after reading this attack piece, but you know me better than that. I was swayed. The piece throws a lot of criticisms at the wall — many from a far left perspective — but some of them stick, and I have been swayed. I have suspicions now. In particular, I am wary that once again we are being manipulated, and that once again we are going to be disappointed.

I want to believe, y’know? I am tired of being cynical and hopeless about politics. I admire the faith that the system isn’t rigged, that we can somehow elect leaders who will govern with wisdom and won’t be in the pockets of our lobbyists. I read all of you celebrating and wish I could join the party. But I wish I could be Christian, too, and that isn’t happening either.

I am also upset that any time I see something hopeful, along comes a wave of criticism to sow the seeds of doubt. This is a deliberate strategy used by political opponents to foster indecision and inaction — and it totally works on me. But once you see the patterns they cannot be unseen. So here are a few words of caution about Mayor Pete. Some of these ideas are taken from the attack piece, and some of them have come to mind since.

As most of you know, I have exactly no business writing about any of this. I don’t get to choose the Democratic nominee for president any more than you do — less, even, given that I am Lurkistani, not American. However, we do not have a president in Lurkistan, so we adopt yours, and follow American politics closely. Also many of the blogs I read come from the Greatest Country on Earth ™, so I get a big dose of American politics there too. I may not have qualifications, but I have opinions.

Blowing the Filter Bubble

Why am I seeing so much about Mayor Pete? Should I believe that this is a grassroots movement that sprung up from nowhere? I am getting my Mayor Pete fix from your blogs. What are your sources? Are you searching them out yourself? Or are they being curated for you?

In this world of “personalized recommendations” I do not trust that there really is a grassroots. Somebody seeds these videos that go viral. It is in somebody’s interest to get these videos to our eyeballs. Who is engineering this? What do they have to gain from it? Are their interests in alignment with our own?

Although it does not pertain to this situation directly, there is a good (if slimy) book that illustrates how easily we are manipulated, called Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday. (And how did I come across this book, hrm?) The premise of the book is that news organizations are desperate for stories, so big media companies republish stories from smaller ones. But the smaller ones are also hungry, so the farther down you go the easier it is to feed the story you want to a small news source. If the story is juicy enough, it gets fed up the media chain until your friends of friends see it, who post it on their blog or Twitstream or wall, and then it hits our eyeballs.

Nobody tries to get to our eyeballs more than political campaigns. Mayor Pete seemed to come out of nowhere. According to his mythology, one day he was minding his business as the mayor of South Bend and the next he was getting booked on late night talk shows. I don’t think that is an accident. Given that he has both run for DNC chair and written the mandatory presidential autobiography, I also am disinclined to believe the mythology.

So why are we hearing about Mayor Pete? Why are we talking about him and not, say, Wayne Messam, who is also a mayor, also young, also inspirational? Why are we not talking about Juli├ín Castro, who was also a mayor, is also young, and served with Barack Obama? Is this a meritocracy — the superiority of Mayor Pete bubbling to the top of our consciousnesses? Or is something else going on here?

As a somewhat-relevant sidenote, why do we feel that Kamala Harris is scary and shrill? Why do we feel that Bernie Sanders is too old now? He certainly is not cool the way he was in 2016. Why did we feel as if we needed to hold our noses and vote for Hillary instead of supporting her enthusiastically? There are a lot of narratives floating around, and it is surprising how quickly they come to mind. Where do these impressions come from? Are we doing the research ourselves and drawing our own conclusions? Or are they being fed to us?

Comparing Candidates

I have read some people supporting Mayor Pete with statements like “all the other candidates made me feel uneasy, but Mayor Pete really speaks to me.” I am glad the rest of you have been getting comprehensive information about the Democratic nominees. I haven’t. In fact, I did not know who most of the other nominees were before researching this blog post, and I probably can’t name half of them now.

This is a real problem. In fact, it is multiple real problems. Let’s for the moment assume that there are not frontrunner candidates and also-rans, and let’s also assume it was somehow our job to identify the best candidate to support in a nomination. You don’t go about that by being fed a steady stream of media about one candidate in particular. You do that by comparing candidates, which pretty much no politician wants you to do.

How does one actually compare candidates? Debates can work, although debates are highly orchestrated. In municipal politics questionnaires can sometimes be useful. I spent a little bit of time looking for some presidential candidate comparisons, and ran into a New York Times questionnaire about climate change. If you have any articles left (or know how to get around the NYT article limits) then it might be worth a look. The last question of the questionnaire is about nuclear power — a contentious issue on the left. The responses to that question are especially telling, but overall one gets a clearer sense of which candidates have insights into these topics, which are willing to say whatever they think we want to hear, and which are not willing to address certain questions at all. I feel Mayor Pete’s responses to many of these questions are illuminating.

How many side-by-side comparisons of these candidates have you done? If you have not done many, are you still willing to declare fealty to a particular candidate?

Now let’s talk about frontrunners, because here in the real world there really is no point in comparing all of the 17 (or 18? or more? Wikipedia says over 200?) candidates as if they all have an equal chance of the nomination. Some of the candidates are well-entrenched and some are upstarts like Mayor Pete. For a while those candidates will be in the running and we will all support our favorites and we will fight among each other, because there is nothing more a Democrat likes more than infighting. And then somebody (hint: probably somebody with money, and with entrenched support within the Democratic Party) will win. Then what? Are you prepared to hold your nose and vote for that candidate?

Do we think that Mayor Pete could surge in popularity the way Bernie did in 2016? If so, do you think he would be the establishment-supported candidate? It looks as if superdelegates are less of a thing but I am sure that the powers that be in the Democratic Party will find other ways to ensure the party doesn’t get too democratic. I do not have an answer as to whether Mayor Pete could be the establishment candidate, and that in itself is disconcerting.

The Gay Thing

This is a blog about sexual perversion, so let’s talk about the gay thing. In particular, let’s talk about the familiar refrain, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!”

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Mayor Pete is allowed to live his life however he sees fit. He is not obligated to be a sex radical. If he chose to wait until age 33 to come out as gay then who am I to criticize him? Maybe these tearjerking stories about how he was in denial about himself for so many years are actually true. I am not one of those who demands that Mayor Pete be more of a sex radical.

However, that does not let him off the hook and it does not let us off the hook.

When you think to yourself, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!” do you actually mean it? Pretend that Pete Buttigieg was a nice, white, cisgendered man who went to a good university, served in the military and was married to a nice woman named Chastity who had a kickass Twitter account. Look deep in your heart. Would you be as enthusiastic about Mayor Pete if he was another straight white charismatic politician like Tim Ryan? Really? Okay then.

Even though Mayor Pete’s sexuality is not biasing your perception of him in any way, consider how much he is playing it up during this campaign. Watch that video where he declares his nomination again. He gushes about his husband and about marriage equality a lot. Do you think that is an accident? Do you think his heartfelt story about coming out during a mayoral campaign because he didn’t want to be single anymore was an accident? Hint: he is cultivating an image, and he is doing so deliberately. Do you ever notice how he relates his brave story about coming out during a mayoral campaign and receiving a majority of the vote, but does not acknowledge South Bend as a university town? Sure, that university is a Catholic institution, but even Catholic university towns skew liberal — especially in 2011. Instead his narrative is being a poor gay mayor in an Indiana city that was once built on heavy industries that left town, as if he was in the Trumpiest of Trump Country. None of this is an accident.

How is a white, male, cisgendered, highly-educated, relatively wealthy politician supposed to stand out in a world where black people and even women are allowed to run for President? Would it not be convenient for the aforementioned white male to have some other characteristic that would allow him to stand out?

And isn’t it fortunate that Mayor Pete is just gay enough to make liberals feel good about themselves while being so inoffensive that he doesn’t scare away those who are more socially conservative? Again, I am not criticizing Mayor Pete’s sexual choices, but aren’t they convenient? Presumably he was completely celibate before deciding to come out as gay and look for a husband. Mayor Pete never gets edgier about his sexuality than joking about the app he used to find said husband. And is it not darling (and suspiciously heteronormative) that Chasten adopted Buttigieg’s last name? Mayor Pete really is the living embodiment of the notion that gay people are exactly like straight people except for the people they choose to love.

I do not know the extent to which Mayor Pete organized his life such that his gayness would be so picture-perfect. But I highly suspect that he has cultivated this image of being gay and inoffensive very, very carefully. And honestly, I am tired of gayness being used as political leverage.

Look. I am glad that gays are cool now. It is much better for politicians to be using their gayness as an asset, as opposed to the bad old days when Anita Bryant said we should not be allowed to teach in schools, or Mike Huckabee wondered why we were not quarantined to prevent spreading AIDS to straight people, or the Mormon and Catholic churches insisted that we were intent on destroying the institution of marriage**. It is nice that gay people are the heroes and not the villains now, but homosexuality is still being used for political ends.

Claiming that Mayor Pete is leveraging his sexual identity for political gain is not the same as claiming he should remain in the closet, or that he should never mention his sexuality, or whatever. It is possible to simultaneously be a gay politician and not make it a central part of your narrative, if you so choose.

I have one more thing to say about homosexuality and politics: it is our responsibility as gay people to avoid giving politicians a free pass because they are gay. Just because a politician is gay does not mean that said politician will be effective. Debra recently elected a leader who is rumoured to be gay, but that does not imply that I agree with anything that leader stands for or does. Although not a politician directly, lawyer Roy Cohn was a gay political figure who was heavily involved in the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was openly gay and openly anti-Muslim. All too often those of us (gay and straight) who think of ourselves as enlightened are willing to give politicians a pass based on their homosexuality, and I do not feel this is justified.

Anti-qualifications

What is up with our fixation on electing people who have special stories? Why are we so opposed to nominees for President of the United States having relevant qualifications for the job?

I am not diminishing the importance of city mayors. For the most part, I feel that running a city (even a relatively small city like South Bend) is a complicated matter, and I think many mayors do an admirable job. However, municipal politics is different than state or federal politics, and for some reason we think it is okay that Mayor Pete has no legislative experience at the federal level.

I mean, President of the United States seems like a pretty difficult job too, but I think it is difficult in different ways than being mayor of a small city. Should we not have some expectations that the presidential nominees have some knowledge of how federal (or at least state) politics work?

Buttigieg is not, of course, alone in this. We all know what happened in 2016, and the qualifications for office that presidential nominee possessed. But (and here’s where I lose the rest of my readership, if I have any left) it is not as if Barack Obama was well-qualified to be president either. His legislative experience consisted of half a term as a Senator, which is something but not a lot. Frankly, I feel that Obama’s lack of experience as a federal politician showed, and that it hurt him.

I am not claiming that one needs to be Vice-President of the United States in order to be qualified for President (sorry, Joe Biden). I am not claiming you need to be in your 60s or 70s. But is it so unreasonable to expect a term or two in the Senate or House of Representatives? Being a state governor also seems like a good qualification. Is serving in Afghanistan and then becoming mayor of a small city for eight years enough? Even if you want to smash/reform the system, surely you should understand how the system works?

Trump

Speaking of Trump, why are we all so certain he is going to lose in 2020? Most of you are too young to remember this, but way back in 2004 we had an unpopular president named George W. Bush, and a decently qualified candidate in John Kerry. There was no way that Kerry could have lost the election against such an unpopular incumbent, right?.

The End

There is no chance you read this far. I didn’t read this far. I furiously unsubscribed from this blog several sections ago.

Look. I hope you’re right. It would be fantastic if Mayor Pete was the real deal, and won the nomination, and somehow beat Trump in 2020, and was the smart, well-spoken president who is going to solve all our problems. Oh wait. Where have we heard that before? One of the reasons we all fell in love with Obama was because he was a blank slate. We all projected our hopes and wishes for the presidency onto him, and — surprise! — he turned out not to meet those expectations. In a similar way, I feel we are projecting our hopes onto Mayor Pete. I worry we are being fooled again. So hate me if you want (yes, I know you already do), and hold on to your enthusiasm and hope, but also do your homework. Please don’t be fooled again?

If after reading these 3000 words you want to read thousands more, here is a link to that attack piece that I mentioned at the top: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/03/all-about-pete.

  • I guess JP is British, so would not be as repulsed by this entry as the rest of you. But if I throw in some grudging respect for the Extinction Rebellion movement then he should be covered too. I’ll alienate Kato by forgetting that Australia exists.

** I’m still working on that last one.

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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.

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?

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.

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.