We’re Here, We’re Queer, Our Forefathers Wrote Some Pretty Fucked Up Porn

(I discuss sexual violence in this post, so please steer clear if you’re not in the right mindset for that. Look after yourselves, friends.)

fruitpunch

“glittering sex trinket”

I volunteer at an LGBTQ library which is an annex of my alma mater’s primary library. It’s basically a room where they put all the especially gay books. And it’s a great example of what university bureaucracy and volunteer-run programs get you: maddening messes. Half the stacks are cluttered with unorganized boxes and uncatalogued books, there has been a projector abandoned in the corner probably since the 1990s, and the volunteers, who receive very little training, can’t do much to fix up the old joint. The first thing you see when you enter the room is a “kink section” where some ignorant soul has placed a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I’m having trouble thinking of things less queer than that book.

Despite all this, I’m fond of the place — though that might have something to do with the extremely comfy couch just behind the front desk. I do love a good lie down.

But here’s the most important thing about the queer library: at the back of the room, there is a long line of locked cabinets which are a veritable cornucopia of mid-century gay erotica. This is my special purview, this collection of queer pulp fiction. My primary responsibility at the library is indexing porn. At the beginning of my shift, I drop my bag at the front desk, grab the keys for the cabinets, and go pick out a book with a classy title like Sir Gay, Eager Hot Butt, or Sex Maniac. For the next few hours I take notes on one of these literary masterpieces while sitting at the front desk and greeting any visitors. I’ll read about a young man getting a sawed-off shotgun shoved up his ass, and then I’ll glance up and smile at a timid student shuffling through the door.

Those who follow me on Twitter will already be familiar with the content of these books, as I like to livetweet some of my reads. They’ll know that the shotgun-up-the-ass scene was in the first ten pages of Fruit Punch, which was the first book I picked up. It was a brutal but appropriate introduction to this project. In case you were unaware, your queer forefathers were into some fucked up shit.

For starters, that shotgun up the ass was definitely non-consensual. If you want your partner to shove a shotgun up your ass, and your partner wants to shove a shotgun up your ass, well, you two have fun. I will just be over here quietly kinkshaming you. This poor boy in the story, however, definitely did not want a shotgun in his ass. I don’t want to make light of sexual violence, but at the same time, if I didn’t read these books with a vague, disturbed sense of amusement, I think I’d go mad. Of course, having never been a victim of sexual violence or abuse, I have the privilege of distancing myself from these things. So when I read about incest, or non-consensual sounding with a match stick, or a man getting shot in the face just as he’s climaxing inside another man, I can casually go “what the fuck,” open the library catalogue, and start inputting appropriate tags.

queerpulp3

The queer erotica I see being written now (and here I am largely referring to fanfiction) is so big on consent and communication that these pornographic relics seem particularly alien to the modern sensibility. Granted, you can take a trip over to AO3 and find a number of fanfics with non-con elements, but they are usually plastered with warnings and hand-wringing apologies from the authors. There is something categorically different about the queer pulp fiction I’ve been reading. Graphic rape seems to be fairly standard. Even the less explicit books (at least not all of them involve things that should not be placed in human orifices getting placed in human orifices) have an undercurrent of violence. Men hit their partners, boys are coerced into sex, sex workers are treated as subhuman. It’s systemic to the genre. Were the gays of yore actually getting off to this? Why?

I wonder if being stuck in a closet for so long made them weird. Societal repression can do funny things to a human being — just take a look at Victorian porn. (Listen, I’ve studied a lot of erotica, okay.) But I think most of the violence stems from deeply ingrained misogyny. Sexuality and gender are frequently conflated in these works so that male homosexuality is interpreted as feminizing. Particularly swishy gays are assigned female pronouns as an act of disparagement. Violence becomes a way to counteract this, a demonstration of the ‘power’ typically associated with masculinity. In Fruit Punch, the protagonist is impotent, and the angrier he becomes about this the more he orders around and sexually abuses other men. Similarly, the protagonist in Male Bride (as if the title didn’t clue you in to the supposedly scandalous genderbending associated with homosexuality) fears being an “out and out queer” and keeps trying, and failing, to have sex with women because to do so would make him a proper “man.” In these works, violence is an externalization of internalized homophobia which itself almost always stems from a fear and hatred of the feminine.

Even when these books are not upsetting in their content, they are hilariously bad in their style. For example, 80% of The Red, White, & Lavender looks like this:

I think the author was just hammering the typewriter one-handed at this point.

Lavender also contains one of my very favourite lines, where one man casually asks his partner if he’d like a “man-sized prick creamed up your butt.” While reading that book I spent a lot of time holding my breath, trying not to guffaw hysterically in the middle of the library. Still, nothing beats the end of Male Bride, where our hero finally and melodramatically comes to terms with his homosexuality:

“I am gay,” he whispered to the ocean. “As gay as they come.”

All this just makes me think “thank God for the internet.” With a few clicks I can settle in to read a novel-length fanfic with an interesting story in addition to a fair amount of decently-written dicking — and no one gets a shotgun shoved up their ass. Never forget that we’ve got things so much better than those queers who queered before us.

Happy Wilde Day

Like all good Precocious Young Gays, I read Wilde during my formative years. As I have matured, like a fine wine (and full of fine wine), I have grown less enamoured of Wilde and now I find him to be a bit of an insufferable git. But he is still my insufferable git, and I will always have a place for him on my bookshelf. So in honour of this day, the day of Oscar Wilde’s birth, here are some of my favourite Wilde facts.

1. Wilde made out with Walt Whitman.

This is a fairly well-known fact, I think, especially as The Toast published an article on it a couple years back. But just in case you were unaware: Oscar Wilde put his mouth on Walt Whitman’s mouth. It is possible he also put his mouth on other parts of Walt Whitman, but we will never know for sure. I would at least bet on there having been some heavy petting involved.

On a related note, I’m truly shocked that there are only two Wilde/Whitman fics on AO3 and neither of them are traumatically explicit. I was really expecting more depravity from the internet.

2. Wilde cosplayed as a cello.

There’s not much more to be said here. Oscar Wilde literally wore a coat shaped like a cello to an art opening; he went about as an anthropomorphic musical instrument for a whole evening.

3. Wilde gave silver cigarette cases to his rent boys.

I think it’s sweet that Wilde gave his boytoys presents, even though handing out silver cigarette cases, often engraved with loving little messages, was basically the equivalent of carving I’M A SODOMITE into a block of marble and dropping it on a magistrate’s lap. When Wilde was arrested and searched, his pockets were found to be full of unpaid bills for silver cigarette cases. He just, like, compulsively bought cigarette cases for everyone he shagged.

This is why I have been meaning to get “from O.W.” engraved on my own silver cigarette case, so that I can complete my “one of Oscar Wilde’s renters” aesthetic.

4. Wilde wrote a book from beyond the grave.

20+ years after Wilde gave up the ghost, said ghost apparently dictated a book to a medium known as Hester Travers Smith. If you are so inclined, you may peruse the volume here. I haven’t read it; I am just happy with the knowledge that even after death Wilde still did not know how to shut the fuck up.

5. Wilde offended Arthur Conan Doyle’s sensibilities.

Wilde started bragging about how great his own play was to Conan Doyle and Conan Doyle thought he was a self-aggrandizing dick. Conan Doyle was right.

6. Wilde had an erotic daydream about Saint Sebastian while lying prostrate on John Keats’s grave.

This is it, this is my very favourite Wilde fact. Every time I think of it I am overcome with emotion. It has everything I love: Catholicism, self-theatricality, John Keats, and inappropriate levels of sexiness in graveyards. I will let Wilde speak for himself:

“As I stood beside the grave of this divine boy, I thought of him as a Priest of Beauty slain before his time; and the vision of Guido’s St. Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with crisp clustering hair and red lips, bound by his evil enemies to a tree, and though pierced by arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening heaven.”

Only Wilde could turn getting a boner in a graveyard into something erudite and clever.

Sources and further reading:
  • Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde.
  • Gomel, Elana. “Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the (Un)Death of the Author.”
  • McKenna, Neil. The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde.
  • Najarian, James. Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire.

I Will Smack That Pumpkin-Flavoured Nonsense Right Out Of Your Hands: Alternative Autumnal Fare

Listen, I like pumpkin, I really do. After Halloween my dad hacks apart the jack-o’-lanterns, bakes them, purées the innards, and sticks the resulting goop in the freezer so that we can make pumpkin bread and pumpkin soup well into the winter. However, the truly superfluous amount of pumpkin-flavoured things I see every fall fills me with despair. I used to be rather indifferent to it, until the year I saw pumpkin-flavoured whiskey at the LCBO. I had to put my foot down then. I am opposed to these flavoured liquors which often rely heavily on colouring (if you need to add colouring to make your whiskey look like whiskey, you fucked up) and other additives. If you handed me a bottle of cake-flavoured vodka I would break the bottle against the wall and then come at you with the glistening shards for daring to bring such nonsense into my presence. Worst of all, these flavoured liquors have a lower alcohol content than a spirit should have. 35% ABV for a whiskey? Unbelievable. Whiskey should be at least 40%, and most good whiskeys have a higher alcohol content than that, hovering between 43-47%.

“But, Rowan,” you may be wondering, “if I am to resist the urge to drink pumpkin-flavoured whiskey, and eat pumpkin-flavoured baked goods, and shove an entire pumpkin up my ass — what should I be consuming instead?”

THE DRINK: CALVADOS

calvadosI feel like I’ve been trying to make Calvados ‘happen’ for years now, yet no one is joining the apple brandy bandwagon. But if you were looking for the perfect fall drink, this is it. It is the liquefied ghost of a harvest, a musty memory of bounty. It gets you goodly drunk. Sometimes I have it straight, sometimes I have it on the rocks. If you adulterate the taste by mixing it with anything, you are an unforgivable heathen.

THE SAVOURY: CURRIED SWEET POTATO SOUP

This recipe is adapted from a recipe in Collins Beekeeper’s Bible. I fiddled with the spices and also added wine, because of course I’m gonna add wine.

  • 1kg sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 canola oil
  • 1 rounded tsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350F. In a bowl, mix the potatoes, onion, shallot, honey, oil, curry, ginger, and cayenne pepper, making sure to fully coat the vegetables. Pour the sticky mixture onto a baking pan and bake for roughly 20 minutes, with a stir and a shake somewhere in the middle. The sweet potatoes should be quite soft. After the mixture has cooled, dump it into a food processor and purée it while gradually adding in the stock, coconut milk, and white wine. I used my dad’s homemade pear wine, which was a great choice. Once everything’s good and creamy, put it in a stockpot and reheat it slowly. Since the wine is uncooked and the onions need to mellow a bit more, you should let it simmer on low for a couple hours, giving it a stir every now and then. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt.

soup1

THE SWEET: APPLE-CARAMEL COOKIES

This is adapted from a recipe for apple cider caramel cookies, a recipe that calls for powdered apple cider mix. I said “hell no” to that, and decided to use actual apples.

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped apple (a good baking apple, like McIntosh or Granny Smith)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 24 caramels (roughly)

Heat oven to 350F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients except apples and caramels. Fold the apple bits into the dough. Take a good pinch of dough, enough to completely envelop a caramel. Smooth the dough into a ball shape with the caramel at the centre. The dough should be sticky, but not impossible to work with. You might have caramels left over, or you might need to unwrap a few more. Depends how big you make the cookies.

Bake until set; the cookies should slide off the parchment paper easily (unless some caramel leaked out). I’d give exact baking times, but I have never in my life followed a recipe’s baking time exactly. Ovens are temperamental things, each one a uniquely assholeish creature. For this recipe, I find that ‘5 minutes, rotate pan, another 5 minutes’ usually works out. So, do something similar to that, I guess.

As you can see, I favour the apple quite a lot. That is the true taste of fall, not some dumb orange gourd.

One Whose Name Was Writ in Water: John Keats and the Page of Cups

keats cups

I like to assign tarot cards to fictional characters and historical individuals. It’s an enjoyable exercise, and useful in that it helps me get better acquainted with the cards. Three months of tarot-ing with the Rider-Waite deck and I’m still not entirely sure what I’m doing. More often than not the cards are just making fun of me, but I’m always making fun of myself, so that’s not a big surprise. For example, the 10 of Swords was sort of my primary card for this past week. I tend to favour Beth Maiden’s interpretation of this card, because the 10 of Swords really is so melodramatic, so over-the-top.

He's not just dead, he's super dead

He’s not just dead, he’s super dead

I take it as a reminder to not take myself so seriously — but also to be affected in my misery. I mean, what is the point in experiencing misery if you don’t do so theatrically? Take a shot of whiskey with an air of despair; broodily stare into the night sky at 2am, smoking cigarettes and listening to Sad Music. The more affected your behaviour, the more amusing it is, and that eases a lot of misery.

John Keats probably could have learned something from the 10 of Swords, because he was far too serious in his sadness. Not to say he couldn’t also be very playful and light-hearted: he once pretended to be a trumpet all evening instead of hanging out with Wordsworth, and he liked to get in sword fights using stalks of celery. But, you know, he lived in the 19th century, not in the 21st century with our glorious sense of post-modern irony. He was therefore pretty earnest in his misery.

Keats felt everything really strongly, which is part of why I associate him with the Page of Cups. Keats in general is very much a cups/water person. Extremely emotional and spiritual, often to his own detriment. I know little about psychology, but sometimes I wonder if Keats had BPD: he had such intense relationships, especially with women. When he was kid he held his mother at sword-point to stop her from leaving the house — talk about fear of abandonment. He wasn’t a very grounded individual. He could have used some pentacles in his life, seeing as he was really bad with money and all such humdrum things. But nope, our dear Keats was too divine for that mundane stuff. Born in the fall (the season whose element is water), specifically on October 31st, traditionally the day when the borders between this world and the next are thinnest, Keats comes across as a very ethereal being. I wrote my whole undergraduate thesis around the fact that Keats enthusiastically did not want to ‘exist.’ He figured that poets didn’t really have coherent selves, and Keats wanted to be a Poet first and foremost.

A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity — he is continually infor[ming] and filling some other Body — The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute — the poet has none; no identity — he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures.

 -John Keats, in a letter to Richard Woodhouse (27 October 1818)

“Filling some other Body” — as if the Poet is a liquid that takes the shape of whatever vessel it’s poured into. Keats had wanted his gravestone to declare him “one whose name was writ in water.” Keats never wanted to be tangible, graspable; he wanted to be ethereal and ephemeral. And though at times he could be egotistical and ambitious, he was at his best when his work was without teleology. Jane Campion’s Bright Star really captures this of-the-moment Keats in the following lines — which I honestly keep misremembering as being from Keats’s letters, but it’s just Jane Campion really getting our sweet consumptive nightingale:

A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.

The Page of Cups is that divine moment of luxuriation — though luxuriation is perhaps not the best word: it implies a kind of calmness, and divinity is not always calm. Like the fragmented end of Hyperion where Apollo is shriekingly stretched into something godly, the divine can be wonderfully painful.

Soon wild commotions shook him, and made flush
All the immortal fairness of his limbs;
Most like the struggle at the gate of death;
Or liker still to one who should take leave
Of pale immortal death, and with a pang
As hot as death’s is chill, with fierce convulse
Die into life: so young Apollo anguish’d;
His very hair, his golden tresses famed
Kept undulation round his eager neck.
During the pain Mnemosyne upheld
Her arms as one who prophesied.—At length
Apollo shriek’d;—and lo! from all his limbs
Celestial…

The Page of Cups is Christ-like in the Rider-Waite deck. I look at the fish poking its head out of the cup and I wonder, is the Page going to transform it into multiple fishes? What about the water behind him? Is he going to walk out onto it? But that water is not flat and calm, it’s wind-blown and rolling. Even Jesus might be knocked over and knocked out by a wave if he tried to walk on that.

Maybe self-destruction is the point, though. I mean, we’re all hurtling towards death. It would make sense if cups were, in the end, all about drowning. I figure Keats understood that better than most as he gurgled his last breath, drowning in the puréed remains of his own lungs. Tuberculosis makes for an ugly death, but the Romantics and Victorians elevated it to a divine illness. Spes phthisica is the euphoric burst of creativity supposedly felt by those dying of pulmonary tuberculosis, as if being on the edge of death/nothingness is when you’re closest to the divine. Walking on water right before the wave envelops you.

Ode to a wet nightingale