(Above: Detail from “The Shower After the Battle” by Alexandre Alexandrovitch Deineka, 1944.)
For some “gay” men, one of the most traumatic memories of high-school is the embarrassing and uncomfortable experience of gym class and the inevitable locker-room. The constant specter of that reality is repeatedly enshrined in gay porn which keeps the locker-room trope as one of its steadily popular fantasies. For myself, there was nothing from childhood that was more feared and fetishized than that steamy testosterone scented environ of mysterious manliness. Here, oftentimes, the schoolyard bullying and teasing was intensified and usually unrestricted. Away from the tempering influence of protective female schoolmates, as well as the watchful eye of women administrators and teachers, the potentially vicious pack mentality of men was given free reign. The pre-homosexual boy senses the danger and inescapable allure inherent with these situations. In contemporary American culture, because of political and societal pressures to curb the presence of harassment, the threat is far less ominous as it once was, but the lasting impact of rejection in “gay” men reappears in the persistence of “rough trade” and the uninterrupted phenomena, even in the midst of HIV, of back alley and bathroom anonymous sex.
Overseen by a distant and disinterested “coach,” the banter in locker-rooms wavered between the juvenile and the pornographic. Usually, the conversations centered within an elite group of sporty alpha-males who compared their anatomies, boasted of their sexual conquests, but most often – ridiculed the athletic and physical failings of those in their inner-circle. This barbing would carry with it vulgar jokes about the mock sexual assault of other weaker males. Within earshot, it was fascinating to listen to, only one dare not look in their direction. Unable to resist, when you did briefly glance, if your longing stare was recognized, a string of abusive epitaphs would follow: “Come over here and suck this – faggot!”
With the male PE Teacher as facilitator in the seemingly good-natured boys-will-be-boys ribbing, those with same-sex attraction begin to idolize the detached and elusive condemning male with the “coach” as a mirror image of our unloving father. For this reason, another mainstay of gay fantasy fiction is the older masculine athletic director or swaggering jock guiding and eventually initiating a younger pensive rookie. In the world of “gay” male prostitution and gay-for-pay escorts – there is an entire sub-culture of men who role-play the character of a gentle and nurturing coach or a sadistic and self-absorbed jock. This fantasy formed the basis for the homoerotic imagery in The Village People song “YMCA.” For the most part, the “gay” bathhouse is a collective way for the “gay’ male community to self-heal from the ordeal. But like in the persistence of “daddy culture” within homosexuality, the attempt to breach a childhood divide through sex proves ultimately shallow and unsatisfying.
Modern feminists have attempted in infiltrate and micro-manage masculinity from female reporters in the locker-rooms to so-called gender sensitivity training. The succeeding feverish hysteria over rape-culture, manspreading, and imaginary nano-aggressions on campuses has created a counter-reaction with the proliferation and popularity of unspeakably violent pornography. Consequently, in its rawest and most brutal form, in the real world – masculinity only strangely survives in American “gay” male culture. For, there are still male-only dungeons and rubber-lined sex-houses where women are strictly forbidden to enter. Inside, the sex talk is often kinky and horrifyingly degrading, but it’s part of the thrill. Here, the naked body is stripped of all artifice concerning class, social status, and education. Fundamentally, there is a locker-room return to the purely biologic and rank is usually determined by the size and musculature of the body and the length of the penis. And therein lies the fundamental flaw in the “gay” experiment: as the focus remains solely on the exterior while the deeper lasting wounds remain relatively unaddressed.
The endurance of raw masculinity within male homosexuality proves that the sexual differences go beyond the confines of mere social engineering. The increasing appeal of “gay” culture for a progressively confused and disaffected younger generation also points towards the failure of the heterosexual male as both a masculine figure and more precisely – as a father. Because the tauntings of boyhood can never, nor should they be, completely erased, as a world where everyone is cloyingly protected and dropped into ever larger safe-spaces, creates a neurotic adult in constant need of affirmation and protection. The vanishing domain of the male in contemporary society, a place once exclusive to boys and men located in the garage or workroom, has only survived in the suburban married guy’s obsession with a man-cave. Although this over-tech incarnation, complete with massive flat-screen TVs and video games, somewhat inhibits interaction, nevertheless these spaces are important, for without them, even if they become occasionally crude, masculinity is driven underground into the self-destructive realms of fascism, homosexuality, and pornography. Where an involved and loving father is present, the uncontrollable difficulties of childhood, especially for the awkward and the sensitive boy, will be mitigated by the compassion and encouragement he receives from dad. Boys need their fathers to maneuver through the often treacherous arena of manhood. Without it, that same child is destined to a life of reenactment with no real resolution.