News for penises: NCOD, Portlandia

(Some plain talk about male bodies and man-man sex, but nothing extravagant. Use your judgment.)

Yes, I will make a connection, via my guy Jacques Transue: our anniversary is National Coming Out Day, that’s today. Marky Mark will be involved (because sexy underwear), and finger pointing (thanks to Portlandia) and Kyril Bonfiglioli and men’s ties.

How NCOD came to be our anniversary, when we never got to get married, is a story I’ve told elsewhere, but the short version is that if you haven’t had the ceremony you get to choose a date, and J suggested this one as symbolically fitting and not interfering with other events and holidays whose dates might have been more biographically significant.

So typically we took each other to dinner, often sushi (something I lured him into) and had noisy celebratory sex in the living room afterwards (the bedroom is so everyday, and the kitchen is way too small, unless you’re midget acrobats).

I’ll note here that neither J nor I was likely to be picked out as gay on the street. We dealt with our (potentially concealable) sexual identities in two very different ways. J sailed along in life just doing what he did, including some decidedly gay stuff, and talking about things matter-of-factly, so that he was often, ridiculously, surprised that people pegged him as queer. In no way distressed, just surprised. Absolutely endearing.

On the other hand, once I realized that I could do a kind of community service by being visibly, flagrantly, sometimes in-your-face, queer, through writing and incendiary clothing, I went for it. And Jacques was with me every step of the way, his arms around my shoulders, admiring the earnestness of my commitment, and clearly enjoying my performances. He never once suggested I was Going Too Far, and once, when we were in private, he actually applauded me and kissed me.

He always said the political and public stuff wasn’t his thing, but obviously it was, he just got to do it through me. I was his vehicle. (Yes, I miss him terribly, even after 13 years.)

When I started writing extremely personal stuff abut my sexual experiences, in the belief that writing about such things intelligently would be useful to others (and, of course, yes, fun), I asked J what his limits were for my writing about him, our sexual lives together, and our sexual experiences with other men, and he just said, write about whatever you want, all of it, just so long as I don’t have to read what you write. I said, you know this could mean you’re going to meet people who know really intimate details of your (extensive) sexual history, your body, and our lovemaking. So what?, was his response. He had no reputation to protect, he was just a guy, I was the guy with the reputation, and if I could write about my times at the baths or in t-rooms, who would care about his times cruising at the gym, or our anniversary sex in the living room?

In the end, of course, he wanted to read some of it, in postings to the Usenet newsgroup soc.motss, and he thought it was really really hot. And often funny. And sometimes perceptive. (Over the years he was a helpful critic of my writing and teaching.)

Seque to J’s Calvin Klein briefs (white and tight) from the local Macy’s. On sale, and at the store it came with a cardbord cutout of Marky Mark in those briefs. J talked the salesguy into giving him the cutout along with the 3-pack of briefs and installed the thing on his dresser in our bedroom. I kidded him about having a shrine to Marky Mark and his dick, but J was unfazed. Of course: who wouldn’t find that hot?

Marky in a famous underwear pose, though not the one in J’s shrine:


J and I shared many things, and differed saliently in many ways, but at the time we were (relatively) young gay men with strong sex drives, so one thing we shared was a deep and unapologetic appreciation of dick. (It was also important to both of us that Marky was smiling in the cutout. We might have been dickpigs, but we were also sweet guys, affectionate and affiliative, so the Marky Fantasy included kissing him passionately.) Still, no question that the two foci of the photo were the guy’s face and his crotch and its treasures.

Now we are in Penisland. Which brings me to an episode of Portlandia I saw today in a Netflix binge. The central characters are in their bookstore, coping with a customer who has a list of books she wants, all of which they (apparently) have, but not within easy reach, so the customer points a finger at one of the books, just beyond her reach, and one of them is upset, outraged even: a pointing finger is phallic, therefore an imposition on women and an insult to them, in particular to her. (The character is remarkably sensitive on this point. In another episode, an air-conditioner repairman arrives to fix things and she is unhinged by his use of the words unit, box, and equipment, which she insists he must avoid or leave immediately.)

Ok, any long thin thing is a potential phallic symbol, and a pointing finger certainly counts. But pointing at inanimate objects usually escapes censure. On the other hand, from a website on hand gestures:

In America and European cultures, it is considered rude to point fingers at others. This hand gesture is an indication of a dominant – to – subordinate behavior in the professional world. It is considered a gesture to single out an individual from a crowd. This aggressive signal is not liked by many, as no one likes to be singled out.

Much more significantly, finger-jabbing is certainly aggressive, and usually associated with displays of masculine aggression, as in the American buffoon Herr Drumpf’s public performances.

It would be nice to ban aggressive finger-pointing with a graphic like this:


Lovely graphic, but it was designed to warn against pointing fingers (only) in the metaphorical sense:

point the finger openly accuse someone or apportion blame. (NOAD2)

Meanwhile, pretty much anything you can point at someone is automatically phallic. Guns, especially. Which brings me to a literary reference of sorts:


Mortdecai is a series of comic thriller novels written by English author Kyril Bonfiglioli. The book series deals with the picaresque adventures of a dissolute aristocratic art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai, accompanied on his adventures by his manservant Jock. The books consisted of Don’t Point That Thing at Me, After You with the Pistol, Something Nasty in the Woodshed and The Great Moustache Mystery. The books have been translated into several languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German and Japanese. First published in the 1970s, the novels have since attained cult status.

Bonfiglioli’s style and novel structure have often been favourably compared to that of P. G. Wodehouse, Mortdecai and his manservant Jock Strapp being described as bearing a fun-house mirror relation to Wodehouse’s Wooster and Jeeves. (Wikipedia link)

Definitely campy.

At this point, I searched on “pointing as phallic symbol” and similar strings, and was led, somewhat astonishingly, to men’s neckties and a document (riffing on psychoanalytic precursors) attributed to one Lynford Heron on several sites, including this one:

Ties which both hang flaccidly from the neck to the groin like a penis, and also point to it, are the very symbol of the phallus, which is so envied by other men and women not for its actual qualities, as much as the social meaning attributed to the gender of its owner.

The tie is thus a symbol of the domination of men over women, and of power in general.

… [wildly overheated, but basically right about the etymology of cravat:] The tie was born soaked in blood.

The word “cravat” comes from “Croat”, the nationality of the soldiers who won Turkey (previously in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) for Louis XIV of France, and who marched victoriously into Paris adorned in colourful silk handkerchiefs tied around their necks.

The French King soon copied this style and began a similar fashion among the European aristocravats, (pun intended.)

Indeed, Louis XIV called an entire regiment the Royal Cravattes.

The tie evolved from the French cravat, a scarf tied around the neck.

The French called it a cravat in reference to the Croatians, who wore colorful scarves around their neck in battle.

Two warring significations here. On the one hand, neckties are symbols of masculinity (and are valued in many workplaces for this). On the other hand, neckties are constraining, holding the wearer’s neck in a symbolic noose, and are often deeply resented by men who are obliged to wear them. (As a result, going open-necked is at once an embrace of the feminine, an abandonment of phallic privilege, and also an embrace of working-class masculinity, a liberation from stifling middle-class norms of dress.)

(Deference here to some wonderful Facebook postings by Steven Levine, with a fresh vintage necktie for every day of the year; discussion on this blog here. Much affection for the garments, but also a guying of them.)

One Response to “News for penises: NCOD, Portlandia”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Robert Coren in Facebook:

    But here it says that those who point,
    Their manners must be out of joint.
    You *may* not point —
    You *must* not point —
    It’s manners out of joint, to point!”
    — W.S. Gilbert, Ruddigore

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