Things (Cis- Het-) Men Are Afraid To Talk About
Over at her blog, Clarisse Thorn writes about her sex-positive documentary series. They just had a masculinity night, and she said the hardest thing was to find work that even addressed male sexuality and the construction of masculinity. She has a lot to say. I have more to say than I can fit in this post, but what I’m getting around to is a specific question that is one of many, but one that cis het men don’t talk much about; and which I’m throwing out there not because it’s particularly the one important question, but because it’s an example of conversations that don’t happen.
I think cissexual het men have largely ceded the field of talking about male sexuality. I think there’s a huge unstated assumption that to even address the question, for men, is to mark one’s self as “other.” Trans men and queer men have always had to deal with their masculinity being contested territory, and cis het men are brought up to fear that their masculinity could ever be called into question. By even opening up a dialog, I think some folks fear that they are conceding that their sexuality is not uncontroversial. (Though I have not read it, one book on teen male sexuality is titled “Dude, You’re A Fag.” Further to my point about cis het men ceding the field, the author, C.J. Pascoe, is a woman.)
To refuse to talk about it, though, is to be a prisoner of the privilege. The common understanding of male sexuality is a stereotype, an ultra-narrow group of desires and activities oriented around PIV, anal intercourse and blowjobs; oriented around cissexual women partners having certain very narrow groups of physical characteristics.
There’s a very limited space for cis het men to talk about desiring female partners that don’t fit exceedingly narrow beauty norms. But it’s a very narrow space. For example, men who express anything other than disdain for fat partners are often labelled fetishists. There’s no room to be merely agnostic with regard to body shape, that is. It’s either “no fat chicks” or “chubby chaser.”
(I bristle at the “fetish” terminology, which originally meant sexual excitement around an inanimate object. I don’t like the way it has been expanded to include body parts, because I think that object-style attraction to a body part is very specific and potentially very problematic, and because I reject vociferously the notion that attraction to a particular physical characteristic is the same thing as fetishizing one’s partners or one’s partners’ bodies. The latter is reductive; it treats the person as an adjunct to the fetishized characteristic, which is the part that I think is problematic.)
There is even less room for cis- het men to talk about activities than partners’ appearances. Cis het men just don’t talk about playing with their nipples or their asses; though gay men do, all the time. (Bi men are invisible. I know they exist, and yet I keep hearing that they don’t exist.) And when was the last time that the media portrayed a male BDSMer as a bottom, and didn’t make him the butt of a joke? It’s not like we don’t exist, we’re just invisible. That’s part of the reason I won’t shut up about being a cis het male bottom. If none of us talk about it, how will anyone outside the BDSM community know we exist?
So here’s the question I’m throwing out, one of many that I could throw out there: what are the implications for a man to be the enveloping partner in penetrative sex?
(And I’m not limiting that by the partners’ gender identity, or by either party’s genital anatomy or orientation. For example, I’m not only asking what it means for a cis het man to be fucked by a woman, and I’m not insisting that that discussion is different from, for example, what it means for a trans man to be fucked by a woman — or even asserting that I know, because of course I am in many ways a prisoner of the limitations of my own experience.)
Dworkin famously wrote in Intercourse:
A woman has a body that is penetrated in intercourse: permeable, its corporeal solidness a lie. The discourse of male truth–literature, science, philosophy, pornography–calls that penetration violation. This it does with some consistency and some confidence. Violation is a synonym for intercourse. At the same time, the penetration is taken to be a use, not an abuse; a normal use; it is appropriate to enter her, to push into (“violate”) the boundaries of her body. She is human, of course, but by a standard that does not include physical privacy. She is, in fact, human by a standard that precludes physical privacy, since to keep a man out altogether and for a lifetime is deviant in the extreme, a psychopathology, a repudiation of the way in which she is expected to manifest her humanity.
(I’d page cite, but I don’t have a copy handy so I found it on the web). Of course, Dworkin was careful to note that men had anuses that could be penetrated, and that she was talking not about the act of penetration but about the social structures that defined women by an organ, defined the organ by one thing it can do, and define that thing as penetration rather than envelopment, etc. (Agree or disagree with her, it’s some dense stuff, with a lot of ideas packed into a relatively short text).
So what does it mean for a man to be, as it were, semi-permeable; for his body to be penetrable not as an experiment, but as a regular part of his sexuality with partners?