Vocabulary lesson, A to Z …

… and nothing in between?

At any rate, first up, autogynephilia. Is it a scary word? Don’t worry, I won’t laugh if you say yes. In a way it’s simple, with the foremost translation or definition given as “love of oneself as a woman”. There is a catch, however: this does not refer to self-empowerment among feminists, but rather to heterosexual men.


Try it this way:

…. I think of an e-mail I received shortly after the Curtis scandal broke. A friend, a sex researcher, read an item I posted about Curtis on Slog, The Stranger‘s blog. I titled my post “XXX-Gay,” a reference to the adult bookstore and the porn films Curtis purchased for Castagna to watch while the men had sex.

My friend was writing to say it was possible that Curtis was telling the truth when he said he wasn’t gay.

I scoffed when I read my friend’s e-mail. Curtis was recycling Larry “I’m Not Gay” Craig’s talking points, for crying out loud. That’s pretty damn gay. Curtis had been fucked in his ass by a dude. It doesn’t get any gayer than that.

Does it?

You would think Savage would have a point. By and large, the whole penis-butt thing seems a standard in American society. But as suggested by Britney Spears’ popularity, the ratings for reality television, or the 2004 election of George W. Bush, American society is, by its mass standards, horribly, horribly wrong.

Really, though. Even I thought the penis-butt thing was fairly sound. Especially at the point that Republican politicians with homophobic voting records are consciously sneaking around in order to get that kind of contact.

But no. It is never so clear. It is never so simple. See, it turns out that these gay Republicans aren’t actually gay. Because when these men need to receive another man inside them, it is, in fact, a symptom of their heterosexuality.

No, seriously. Dan Savage writes:

“When I first read about the Curtis affair, I assumed that Curtis’s principal sexual attraction was to men, that his marriage was essentially one of convenience,” writes Anne A. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., a Seattle physician and psychotherapist who specializes in gender identity issues. “[I interpreted] that his statement about ‘not being gay’ simply meant that he didn’t identify as gay, even though he was a man who had sex with men.”

But as more information came in about Curtis, Lawrence arrived at a conclusion opposite to the one everyone else was arriving at. The crossdressing, the rope, and, yes, even the anal sex—it all pointed to Curtis’s heterosexuality.

“The information that has come out about Curtis allegedly wearing women’s lingerie while engaging in receptive anal intercourse suggests the alternative hypothesis that Curtis’s principal sexual attraction is to women but that he is also sexually aroused by the idea of being a woman himself,” writes Lawrence. Curtis is so into heterosexual sex, according to this theory, that he wants to experience it from both sides. “Hypothetically, when being penetrated anally by a man, he might imagine himself as a woman being penetrated vaginally by a man. This hypothesis would also be consistent with his statement that he is ‘not gay.’


“A small percentage of men who are principally sexually attracted to women—perhaps as many as 2–3 percent—are also sexually attracted to the idea of being women themselves. Canadian psychologist and sex researcher Ray Blanchard coined the term ‘autogynephilia’ (literally, ‘love of oneself as a woman’) to describe this phenomenon.”

Autogynephilia most commonly manifests itself in erotic crossdressing—which is practically unheard of among gay men.

Roughly 30 percent of male heterosexual crossdressers report some sexual experience with men, so Curtis would not be unusual if he were, in fact, a heterosexual crossdresser who engaged in sex with men when crossdressed.

Shortly after the e-mail from Lawrence, another arrives from Ray Blanchard, Head of Clinical Sexology Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Blanchard, again, gave autogynephilia its name. He didn’t want to comment directly on Curtis but was willing to discuss autogynephilia.

“There is a class of heterosexual men called autogynephiles, who are sexually aroused by the thought or image of themselves as women,” Blanchard confirms. “They may act out this fantasy in various ways. One common way is to dress up as women and seek sex with men. It is not rare that they employ pornographic movie theaters for this purpose, although that strategy usually limits them to wearing brassieres or panties beneath their male clothes.”

Which is precisely what Curtis did.

“The exciting aspect of the men they have sex with is the symbolic value of the male partner, which enhances their fantasies of being women,” Blanchard continues. “Autogynephiles are not interested in men’s bodies, they rarely or never have sex with men when they are not crossdressed, and they are being truthful when they state that they are not gay. In their normal lives, they are unremarkably masculine and they often have wives or girlfriends.

But Curtis didn’t seek penetration only; he got a blowjob, he fucked Castagna—how does that jibe with his desire to be a woman?

“Some autogynephiles will allow or even seek to be fellated or to perform anal penetration on a partner as part of the interaction,” says Blanchard. “A penis is, after all, the sexual organ that they have, and if they want to achieve orgasm as part of the encounter, that is what they need to have stimulated, one way or another.”

Okay, did you follow all of that? Did your head explode?

Conflicting voices murmur in my head over this one. There is, after all, that part of me that wishes to simply nod and say, “Well, that explains it.” But there is another part of me that really wants a bong rip. I mean, come on. We’re hearing about this now? In the middle of a GOP moral meltdown, a tragic cycle of events that symbolizes the sickness of these socially-conservative persecutors, this is what we are coming up with?

I mean, I don’t think autogynephilia is going to get Bob Allen out of his fix. The Florida legislator (R-Merritt Island) was recently convicted in a truly bizarre gay prostitution scandal. Apparently, in Florida, ’tis better to be thought of as a pathetically idiotic and condescending racist (really, we’re supposed to believe that excuse load of …?) than gay. I have not heard that panties were involved.

And it doesn’t help disgraced hypocrite and Idaho Republican Larry Craig, so I suppose I shouldn’t get too carried away with my shock, but I admit that the timing of this one is just amazing. In the middle of a Republican gay sex scandal, how are we supposed to handle the assertion that a man is so heterosexual that he needs to be penetrated by another man in order to fulfill his heterosexual needs?

And yes, I get the point. I won’t say autogynephilia isn’t real. But I do wonder if, just maybe, it isn’t also symptomatic. At some point, one’s sexuality can become too dominant an aspect of identity, and, you know, the point at which a man’s heterosexuality compels him to receive another man inside himself, we might well have crossed that boundary.

Try it this way: Maybe every heterosexual man, as a rite of passage, should receive at least one good anal reaming for his eighteenth birthday. You know. To affirm one’s heterosexuality, and prove to potential wives that they’re not gay.

Can we agree that it sounds just a little bit creepy?

We’ll catch up on Z later. And sigh our relief that I’m not trying to cram the other twenty-four letters in the alphabet into this vocab lesson.

Counting down the excuses: Top 10 quotes not yet heard in Richard Curtis hooker scandal

1. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb-bomb bomb Ira-a-an, bomb Ira-a-an ….”
2. “I wasn’t paying a hooker for sex. I was trying to stiff the hooker.”
3. “Why do you all hate Republicans? This is how they treated Dr. King, you know!”
4. “You know, Bill Clinton cheated on his wife.”
5. “You know, I was … just … experimenting. It was a … youthful indiscretion.”
6. “It was my liberal twin, Skippy, just having a joke.”
7. “It’s a media conspiracy!”
8. “I thought he was a doctor. He said he was doing a pelvic exam.”
9. “My mustache says it is not gay!”
10. “I’m not gay, I’m just heterosexually challenged.”

• • •

See The Stranger.

Who do I blame for progress?

It’s not exactly bellwether, but it’s one hell of a statement.

These are wrenching times for San Francisco’s historic gay village, with population shifts, booming development, and a waning sense of belonging that is also being felt in gay enclaves across the nation, from Key West, Fla., to West Hollywood, as they struggle to maintain cultural relevance in the face of gentrification.

I am easily reminded, when reading notes about labor actions abroad, that American strike actions must seem absurd to some insofar as some of our neighbors abroad would think, “I wish I could strike for something like that.” Indeed, such a thought struck me when reading of a French labor action in which firefighters were preparing to strike over the pension age. Was it fifty? Fifty-five? Of course, if retirement in France is anything like vernacular has it in the United States, the extra years of going crazy with nothing to do would explain a few things about what’s wrong with the French. So, yes, sometimes it does seem strange that American workers should strike over things like health benefits, cost-of-living increases, and retirement plans.

And so it is when homosexuals, as Patricia Leigh Brown’s article for the New York Times suggests, face the horrifying prospect of becoming passé.

Because, let’s face it, passé is, simply, a new height for any oppressed minority. Certainly, dressing and sounding like a street thug according to the latest record-label press release became so hip that we nearly drowned in the market saturation, but that, despite what some might say, had nothing to do with actually being black.

So the thought that actual gayness has become passé? It marks a new height in social evolution.

And that makes sense: the aesthetics of being gay are different from those of being black. Mainstream Americans–those who enjoy the benefits and vistas offered being part of the empowered majority–find it much easier to appreciate the appearances that come with being gay than being black. Homo chic involves dramatic clothing, sculpted hair, perfect nails. It involves picture-perfect settings drawn straight from the exaggerations of stereotypes and fashion magazines everywhere. The aesthetics of being gay involve beauty and purity. The aesthetics of being black, on the other hand, involve being black. For those isolated in the American mainstream, it’s an ugly proposition. They already know that being black involves being treated poorly. A ridiculous portion of American history involves the empowered majority doing everything it can to make dark-skinned people miserable. It involves rhetorical twists and ideological ironies on an artistic scale engineered to a pretentious vice akin to Boeing, Microsoft, or the United States government itself. It is an absurdity captured cinematically in small moments like Kathy Bates fitting South American tribal girls for brassieres, and however many real-world analogies such perspectives legitimately include. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation seems almost prophetic in its example: modern hatred is a fierce and determined caricature.

For those isolated mainstreamers, though, it is the practical consideration: all they need to do is be stylish and organized and dynamic and whatever else the homosexual stereotype demands. They get to envy something they would otherwise dislike. Sure, they might fit a gay stereotype, everybody knows they are not actually gay. And they figure it should be just as easy for gay people to pretend they are not gay.

Which really screws up what would otherwise be a beautiful symptom, what makes the whole mess so tragic. It’s a disaster.

But life, despite daily suggestions otherwise, is not a bad movie; and I, for one, am not C. Thomas Howell.

Homosexual rights activists will frequently remind that Huey P. Newton told his Black Panthers that they should relate to their homosexual neighbors because their struggle, too, is the real thing. That relationship, however, is inherently challenged by the diverse relationships between these neighbors and their common oppressor, e.g., the empowered majority. While the stereotypes suggest that heterosexuals expect a good deal of pretense in their dealings with homosexuals, such pretense is not possible between whites and blacks.

And that is what we must remember. If the establishment could ask black people to pretend they’re not black, they would.

So when I look at the idea of an oppressed minority becoming passé, I should probably not be so amused at the notion that the constriction of a people to mere style suggests progress. “You’re passe,” he said, without spending a heartbeat to consider the irony of such a charge.

See? It is entirely possible to take what looks like a sign of progress and find a reason to blame somebody for something.