So you may have already heard about Tom Coburn’s chief of staff, Mike Schwartz, declaring that all porn is actually gay porn; I heard it first from Sir Charles at Cogitamus:
all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants.” You know, that’s a, that’s a good comment. It’s a good point and it’s a good thing to teach young people.
Sir Charles suggests that the generational decrease in homophobia is great enough that many if not most young teens won’t be so easily deterred by calling porn gay. I agree. I’ve noticed a very significant shift in men’s attitudes toward homosexuality among the students I teach. They’re increasingly live-and-let-live about other people’s orientation, and this lets them feel more secure about their own desires. Just today, my intro class discussed this in connection with the rise of the bromance movie. Compared to guys I taught five years ago, my current male students are comfortable getting closer and more physical with their guy friends – although, as one male student hastened to add, “Not too close!” Okay, so they’re not yet perfectly secure, but hey, change takes time.
Schwartz’s argument is also ludicrous because really, he’s implying that all solo sex is homosexual. That objection probably wouldn’t faze him, because I’m willing to bet that Schwartz is also officially anti-masturbation. (What he does in private is a whole ‘nother question, and given the family values crowd’s track record on sexual hypocrisy, we can’t rule out his harboring a secret kink or two.)
Of course Schwartz’s argument is silly. But for a while I’ve thought that any porn that shows M/F couples has potentially homoerotic elements. (Note: my argument below is directed only toward visual material showing both a man and a woman; I’m not addressing fake lesbian scenes or actual gay porn.) Where else but in porn do straight men routinely watch other naked, aroused men? I understand that the viewer is intended to identify with the male porn star or imagine that the female lead might prefer the viewer over the actor; hence the prevalence of money shots and the transcendent ugliness of Ron Jeremy. I don’t doubt that such identification occurs.
Even so, imagining oneself taking the place of the male actor doesn’t nullify porn’s homoerotic elements. First, there’s its visual language. The simple fact that men have an outie and women have an innie makes the man’s genitals easier to photograph than the woman’s. And so they’re apt to loom large, even if they’re of average size (which Ron Jeremy is not, and boy, that’s a sight I’d have rather left unseen). Close-ups of blowjobs showcase an aroused cock and … a part of a woman’s anatomy that’s visible every day, an entirely public feature: her mouth. Of course, you also see her expressions of faked ecstasy, which only serve to underscore that only one participant is definitely aroused. Even in footage of intercourse, the cameramen have to work hard to find angles that show the ladyparts as clearly as the manparts.
Then there’s the structure porn creates: a lone male viewer symbolically occupies the third position in a threesome. It’s not, however, the threesome with two women that quite a few men readily admit to fantasizing about. It’s a threesome involving two guys. Now, my life is dull enough that I’ve never experienced either of those scenarios personally, so I’m relying on second-hand knowledge, but from what I’ve read, straight men are typically less enthusiastic about a threesome involving another man – if they’re not entirely put off by it – and of those who try it, many try to avoid contact with the other man’s genitals. I know that some men do consider an MMF threesome a hot scenario, and bisexual men wouldn’t be so squeamish about other men’s genitals, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Finally, there’s the social setting in which men watch porn. Most often, they’re alone, and some watch with a female partner. Sometimes, though, they watch it together with other men. I understand this is supposed to be an exercise in male bonding, but again, what does it mean to watch material meant to arouse you while in strictly homosocial company?
Luce Irigaray’s essay, “Commodities among Themselves,” suggests one answer. She theorizes that the exchange of women as commodities – be they as wives, mothers, or prostitutes – serves to cement bonds among men, and those bonds harbor a homoerotic element that must be repressed:
The use of and traffic in women subtend and uphold the reign of masculine hom(m)o-sexuality, even while they maintain that hom(m)o-sexuality in speculations, mirror games, identifications, and more or less rivalrous appropriations, which defers its real practice. Reigning everywhere, although prohibited in practice, hom(m)o-sexuality is played out through the bodies of women, matter, or sign, and heterosexuality has been up to now just an alibi for the smooth workings of man’s relations with himself, of relations among men.
(Luce Irigarary, “Commodities among Themselves,” in This Sex Which Is Not One, p. 172. The creative spelling of “hom(m)o-sexuality” is a play on words in the French, where “homme” means “man” or “husband.”)
Certainly, industrial pornography commodifies women. It commodifies men, too, though the fact that female porn actors vastly out-earn the men suggests that the main wares are in fact female – if that’s not already evident from the fact that straight-identified men are its main consumers. Applying Irigaray’s framework, pornography is one more area where repressed homosexuality and homosociality are at once enacted and denied through the commodification of women.
So no, I’m not at all suggesting, along with Mike Schwartz, that pornography turns boys and men gay. What intrigues me is a more subtle idea: that heterosexual porn featuring M/F couples allows male viewers to indulge possible homoerotic impulses even as it confirms their orientation as unimpeachably straight. I’m not saying, either, that all purportedly straight men are actually gay or strongly bisexual. I’m just speculating that porn offers a culturally safe place for any repressed homoerotic impulses to take flight, perhaps on an unconscious (and thus unverifiable) level. In order to feel “safe,” though, any such impulses have to be instantly repressed again; and so, instead of dismantling homophobia, the homoeroticism in straight MF porn ultimately reinforces it.
I could be wrong – there’s a good chance of that whenever I drag Luce Irigaray into a discussion! Plus I obviously can’t inhabit a man’s body and feel what he feels when he views porn. So I’m keen to know what other folks make of this.