To the editor:
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I'd like to respond to Andrew Siliar Brooks' letter [WCJ #44] regarding my article, "Some Thoughts on Cock-rubbing and the Cultural Tyranny of Butt-fucking." [WCJ #43]
I appreciate his forthright account of his own sexual practice and feelings. Such discussions are terribly important, and that's one of the reasons I wrote the "Cock-rubbing" piece. Without them, it's impossible to know what people do sexually, and why.
However, it appears that Andrew has read my article as a polemic against anal sex. It was not written as such, although I knew there was a risk that some would see it that way, and I apologize to those who may have felt attacked. Nonetheless, that reading is incorrect. Although as a memoir the piece is multi-layered, it is primarily a cautionary tale describing how a community which had come together to resist one form of sexual oppression ended up imposing a new form of sexual orthodoxy on its members (a reversal that is common to revolutionary movements). In context it is clear that when I talk about anal intercourse as an essentially patriarchal practice which mimics straight sex, I am describing my thinking as a very young and still sexually inexperienced gay man who had grown up in severe sexual isolation, and that such thinking was only one of a number of elements--including my ardent childhood fantasies of cock-rubbing, my unwholesome experience with psychoanalytic psychiatry, and my physical discomfort with anal sex--that made me determined to resist that majority of gay men who told me my sexual practice was immature and incomplete. Towards the end of the piece I make a point of saying that as I matured sexually I was able to see that anal sex was not "necessarily an echt heterosexual act, . . . I could understand it as the expression of a male-male ethos, . . . and could acknowledge . . . how important butt-fucking was to other gay men." I am not a crusader against anal sex.
However, I am opposed to what I call the cultural tyranny of butt-fucking, and I have no question that it exists. It's understandable that someone who enjoys anal sex would not be aware of that tyranny. But others are. The most common response I've had to the piece has been from those who were made to feel, as I was, that there was something wrong with them because of their disinterest in anal sex. As one reader of about my own age wrote: "It was a relief to hear that I am not the only 'weird' one in the gay world that does not like butt-fucking. [My lover] is not into it either so it works out fine. But I must admit, deep down I always feel like I am not 'normal' in this lack of desire."
The wide-spread assumption that true gay sex is penetrative is a burden for the young as well. For example, in Issue 22 of XY Magazine (October-November 1999), a glossy aimed at gay teenagers, Peter Ian Cummings, its editor, complains that "the definition of sex as 'anal insertion' is another one of the [homo-phobic] lies ... that hurt ... gays and especially young gays."
The editor of a prominent gay and lesbian journal has suggested to me that people talk a great deal about anal sex but don't "do" much about it. And that may be. But that alleged lack of action does not make the space anal sex occupies in the gay male psyche any less significant. Anyone who visits cybersex chat rooms knows that anal sex predominates, as it does in gay male pornography, where almost every scene in the big budget videos culminates in anal sex.
Andrew points out that anal sex can be enjoyed safely with a condom, and of course that is true. But bare-backers, despite the more than apparent dangers, reject condoms, in part because they say the sex feels better without them, but in part also because of an almost metaphysical yearning, which I well understand, for flesh against flesh. In my view there is a logic to their position consistent with the cultural dominance of anal sex, which I suggest goes like this: if anal sex is the best or truest form of gay male sex, then unprotected anal sex must be its highest expression. (This sort of thinking, somewhat romanticized, was apparent in the Gendin-McDowell controversy that erupted in the pages of POZ in November '99.)
So while it's easy to agree with Andrew's statement that "we should all do what we enjoy doing," although with the usual caveats about consent and force and disease, the question is why we enjoy or are drawn to particular sexual acts; and it is hardly radical to assert, as I do, that culture shapes our assumptions about sex and therefore the sexual choices we make. Or that cultural pressures can force people into sexual paths that they might not otherwise have followed or may not even enjoy (consider, for example, the many gay men of previous generations who married not out of sexual desire but to satisfy society).
Why did I bring this issue to a journal of gay male spirituality? Because for me, as I would imagine for many readers of White Crane Journal, sexuality and spirituality cannot be separated. As I described in the article, cock-rubbing [meaning rubbing cock to cock against one another with another man] to me was not simply a sexual act, it was an expression of a mythos which had guided my life since childhood. Sex without it might be pleasurable, but for me it was empty. And cock-rubbing with my lover was an exalting experience, the fulfillment of a lifelong quest.
The relationship between sex, myth, and spirit remains vital for me. Recently I was fortunate enough to have sex with someone who had read the cock-rubbing piece and wanted to put some of its ideas to the test (one of the few advantages of being a writer!). I felt for a time as though we'd become avatars of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, beings united by the gods that we might, in a moment that combined combativeness and tenderness, be brought closer to each other and to them. Most Americans would have considered what we did obscene, and I think many gay men would have thought it odd or incomplete, but for me and my partner it was holy.
So although I have no argument with anal intercourse per se, I have a profound argument with that now dominant part of gay culture which suggests that it, and it alone, is the best and most mature form of sex. For whenever a community attempts to limit sexual expression to a single normative path, that community risks coming between its members and the sacred. To do so is to perpetrate a cultural and religious tyranny, and that is wrong.
Bill Weintraub has recently moved from San Francisco to the country in Northern California.
His website is http://www.heroichomosex.com/crw/speak.html
email to Andrew Brooks:
RE: Your reply to Bill's article in White Crane. I thought his article was impassioned and poetic. Your response was more left brain and well argued. I learned something from each of you.
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Last update Sept 21 2000