male heterosexuality

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Fragments of Evolving Manhood: Thinking About Pornography 1

Translation work has taken me away from this series, and I have been missing it. A conversation I had today with a friend reminded me, though, of the conclusion to an essay about pornography called “Inside The Men Inside ‘Inside Christy Canyon,’” that I published in 1994 in the now-defunct literary journal called “The American Voice.” This is a slightly edited version of that conclusion.

Male dominance instructs men that our bodies are tools. By turning male orgasm into the "cum shot," heterosexual pornography reflects and perpetuates this image of the male body. Yet it does not have to be that way. Erection, for example, the gradual hardening of a man's penis--in the hand or mouth or inside or against or at the sight, sound or smell of the body of his lover, or in his own hand--is the physical corollary of, a concrete metaphor for, that man's capacity for trust, something Sharon Olds explores in her poem "The Connoisseuse of Slugs:"

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Fragments of Evolving Manhood: Do You Like Your Body 3 (Preliminary Notes On the Expendability of the Foreskin)

In 1834, Sylvester Graham—inventor of the cracker that continues to bear his name—published a book called A Lecture to Young Men, in which he warned that masturbation would transform a boy who practiced it regularly into:

a wretched transgressor [who] sinks into a miserable fatuity, and finally becomes a confirmed and degraded idiot, whose deeply sunken and vacant, glossy eye, and livid shrivelled [sic] countenance, and ulcerous, toothless gums, and fetid breath, and feeble broken voice, and emaciated and dwarfish and crooked body, and almost hairless head—covered perhaps with suppurating blisters and running sores—denote a premature old age, a blighted body—and a ruined soul! (Quoted in Kimmel)

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Fragments of Evolving Manhood: Do You Like Your Body 2

At eleven, I am the youngest of eight boys lined up along one row of lockers in the otherwise empty men’s room at the swimming pool to which the day camp we are attending takes us every other day. Normally, I’d be changing with boys my own age, but a mix-up back at the camp grounds landed me on the bus with these guys, who are all twelve and thirteen. I turn my back to them to hide the erection that has taken hold of my body and which I am having difficulty fitting into my bathing suit. Despite my best efforts to remain inconspicuous, however, my movements attract their attention and one of them sneaks up behind me and looks over my shoulder. “Hey,” his voice rings out metallically, “look at the size of Newman’s boner!”

Like a pack of dogs that has been thrown a single piece of meat, the group surrounds me in a tight circle, while I stand there not moving, body pointing me into the air above the middle of the room, wishing I could vanish, that it would vanish, but no matter how much I will it, the damned thing will not go down.

“What are you, a homo!?”

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Fragments of Evolving Manhood: The Violence in Me 1

Serious domestic/intimate partner violence trigger in the first few paragraphs.

Sitting on my bed with her back against the wall, my lover—who’s come to visit during my first year of graduate school—tells me that she’s at last made her decision: she’s going to study fine art. I should be happy for her, but I’m suddenly listening from a place so deep inside myself that the sounds leaving her mouth no longer coalesce into meaningful units. There is a moment of blankness, and then, as if someone else has taken control of my brain, I am forced to watch a vision of myself getting up from the chair where I’ve been sitting, putting one hand around my lover’s throat, holding her against the wall, and slapping her face back and forth with my other hand until she is senseless and bloody. I see myself screaming in her ear, letting her drop to the floor, and kicking her in the stomach as hard as I can. In the vision, my mouth moves but no words come out.

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