Barsotti, Diogenes, and getting laid

(Obviously, some sexual vocabulary is coming, with discussion of the acts referred to in plain language, so not suitable for kids or the sexually modest.)

Arrived at my house a little while back: the excellent collection The Essential Charles Barsotti (compiled and edited by Lee Lorenz: Workman, 1998), a review of the life and work of cartoonist Charles Branum Barsotti (1933-2014) up to that point, with an appreciation and (affectionate) interview by New Yorker cartoonist and art editor Lee Lorenz. Out of all that, my attention was caught (on p. 58) by a Barsotti cartoon about the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who was perhaps most notorious in the lore of the ancients for his stunt of carrying a lamp during the day, claiming to be looking for an honest man:

(#1) How do you solve a problem like Diogenes? / How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

This cartoon was drawn for Playboy magazine, and it shows.

On Barsotti, in Lorenz’s Preface:

His editor at The Saturday Evening Post, William Emerson, described him as a supersophisticated yokel when he first arrived in Manhattan from Kansas City. On the other hand, his good friend Bill Porterfield, the writer, claims that Barsotti, though born and raised in Texas, sees the South through the eyes of an outsider.

… [a person] of contradictions: a cautious, reflective fellow who felt strongly enough about the Vietnam War to stand for Congress in opposition; a sensitive, caring chap who spent seven years running a school for mentally handicapped children and whose drawings have drawn blood from politicians, media hacks, and self-promoters of every stripe. [AZ: his cartoons about bosses and petty tyrants are often quite savage]

… Since childhood, he has shown himself to be a bit of an outsider. Outsiders abound in his work, and even his familiar King seems to wear his crown uneasily.

(There’s a Page on this blog about my postings on Barsotti cartoons.)

On Diogenes. From Wikipedia:

Diogenes … was a Greek philosopher and one of the founders of Cynic philosophy. He was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea coast of Anatolia (Asia Minor) in 412 or 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC.

Diogenes was a controversial figure. His father minted coins for a living, and Diogenes was banished from Sinope when he took to debasement of currency. After being exiled, he moved to Athens and criticized many cultural conventions of the city. He modeled himself on the example of Heracles, and believed that virtue was better revealed in action than in theory. He used his simple lifestyle and behavior to criticize the social values and institutions of what he saw as a corrupt, confused society. He had a reputation for sleeping and eating wherever he chose in a highly non-traditional fashion, and took to toughening himself against nature. He declared himself a cosmopolitan and a citizen of the world rather than claiming allegiance to just one place. There are many tales about his dogging Antisthenes’ footsteps and becoming his “faithful hound”.

Diogenes made a virtue of poverty. He begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar, or pithos, in the marketplace. He became notorious for his philosophical stunts, such as carrying a lamp during the day, claiming to be looking for a man (often rendered in English as “looking for an honest man”). He criticized Plato, disputed his interpretation of Socrates, and sabotaged his lectures, sometimes distracting listeners by bringing food and eating during the discussions. Diogenes was also noted for having mocked Alexander the Great, both in public and to his face when he visited Corinth in 336 BC.

Diogenes was captured by pirates and sold into slavery, eventually settling in Corinth. There he passed his philosophy of Cynicism to Crates, who taught it to Zeno of Citium, who fashioned it into the school of Stoicism, one of the most enduring schools of Greek philosophy. No writings of Diogenes survive but there are some details of his life from anecdotes (chreia), especially from Diogenes Laërtius’ book Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers and some other sources.

An artistic digression. Diogenes’s career provides a variety of dramatic and picturesque moments for artistic representation. On searching through these representations, I was pleased to come across a Diogenes painting (1882) by the “modern Pre-Raphaelite” artist John William Waterhouse, who appeared on this blog back in 2013:

(#2) Ragged, bare-footed Diogenes in the shade, in his tub in a corner at the bottom of the stairs, with the lamp in front of him — these contrasting with the women in their elegant robes and parasols, in the bright sun

From 8/29/13 in “Kissing the rose”:

(#3) The sensuous The Soul of the Rose (1908) by John William Waterhouse

The woman is smelling the rose, but she’s close to kissing it, close to treating it as a romantic partner (in which case the rose is a  symbol of the lover’s mouth). Other, more carnal, interpretations are available to modern audiences, for whom the rose can serve as a symbol of either the vagina or the anus.

… [from Wikipedia:] John William Waterhouse (born … 1849; died 10 February 1917) was an English painter known for working in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He worked several decades after the breakup of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which had seen its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century, leading him to have gained the moniker of “the modern Pre-Raphaelite”. Borrowing stylistic influences not only from the earlier Pre-Raphaelites but also from his contemporaries, the Impressionists, his artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.

Getting laid. First discussion of get laid on this blog — which I now think needs some correction and elaboration — in my 10/9/15 posting “Two New Yorker cartoons”, in a section on this Zach Kanin cartoon:

(#4) Says the Tin Woodman

The Cowardly Lion is an actual African lion, and so has an animal body, including (we can suppose) a penis (but a lion penis, not a human penis), but the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow are animated objects and so lack a number of human bodyparts, in particular a penis. The Tin Woodman just wants to get laid.

(I seem not to have looked at the fixed idiom get laid ‘have sex’, which allows a full range of inflectional forms for the verb get but otherwise has a restricted syntax.  And it’s lexically fixed: synonyms for laid, like placed or put, will not do. On the syntax, the idiom has get + passive VP, but at least with reference to  men, an agentive passive won’t do (*Tim got laid by three people last night ‘Tim had sex with three people last night’). Though the idiom is passive in form, its subject NP denotes not an affected person, but the agent in sexual relations; Tim wants to get laid is close to Tim wants to fuck (someone).)

Yes, an affected person, but affected (roughly) in the sense ‘be (fully) serv(ic)ed sexually, be provided with (full) sexual satisfaction’ — for a man, by being provided with a vagina or anus to fuck; for a woman, to get vaginally fucked; for a man (but probably not for a woman), to get anally fucked; for a man or a woman, to receive oral service; for a man or a woman, to perform oral service on someone of the same sex — perhaps more, depending on what counts as ‘having sex with someone’ for you.

But notice already how complex these things are. If a man fucks a woman vaginally, then they both have gotten laid. Similarly if a man fucks another man (anally); they both have gotten laid. Already there are complications: if the sex is non-consensual, then the receptive partner has gotten fucked, but they haven’t gotten laid. What’s important is not just the act, but the place of the act in a sociocultural system of beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behaviors, relationships, contexts, and regulatory institutions — in which consent is one of the constituents (and sexual satisfaction — see the previous paragraph — is another).

(Note: what I have to say here about current AmE applies more or less equally to get laidhave sexscoreget lucky, and get some; but the details of their usage are not quite the same. )

Now to oragenital relations. Once again, what is crucial in the usage of a lexical item is not the objective characteristics of its referent, but the function that the referent serves in human lives, its sociocultural function (which will of course vary according to subculture / social community). Oragenital relations serve a different function for other-sex couples (where they are, for they most part, adjuncts to everyday sex, to penivaginal relations, that is, fucking — adjuncts like nipple- or testicle-sucking or manual stimulation of the genitals) and for same-sex couples (where oragenital relations are, simply, everyday sex).

The result is that, for a great many straight people, if a couple hooks up and he goes down on her (cunnilingus) or she goes down on, him (fellatio), even to climax, and that’s the end of it, neither participant (even the participant who gets the genital stimulation) will say they got laid — because they “didn’t really have sex”. On the other hand, if one dyke goes down on another, or one fag goes down on another, then at least the recipient of the oral service can say that they got laid — certainly if that partner orgasms.`

Narrowing this discussion to the arena I know personally, I can say that in the world of man-on-man sex, cocksucking is like assfucking: if two guys do it, then they both can say they got laid. This is not because the two roles in these acts are valued equally — the guy who brings the dick to the encounter is widely, and sometimes quite unpleasantly, viewed as superior to the guy who services that dick (yes, a clear reflection of straight guys’ attitudes towards the role of women in sex, and then of their attitudes towards what they see as femininity in guys who take receptive roles in male-male encounters) — but it does reflect a view of those who take these roles as motivated by intrinsic desire and the seeking of sexual pleasure. And a belief that these motivations lead almost all gay men to be routine cocksuckers.

Putting all this together: back in the Pleistocene, when I went to the gay baths, I could report a visit there by saying that it was so busy that I got laid within ten minutes of my arrival, meaning that one of these things happened in those 10 minutes: I sucked a guy off, a guy sucked me off, a guy fucked me, I fucked a guy.

Dictionary time.

GDoS has a subentry under the verb lay 1 ‘have sexual intercourse with’:

verb get laid (orig. US) to have sexual intercourse [1st cite: 1927 John O’Hara letter: First I must get laid […] I haven’t had any poontang since I was in Germany — plus other cites using get laid ‘to have sexual intercourse’, referring to insertive vaginal intercourse for men, receptive for women]

The GDoS treatment of the sexual verb score is essentially identical.

The OED currently (OED2 in constant revision) has no (sub) entry for get laid, but has a subentry under verb-1 lay. The full subentry, with cites for get laid ‘have sex’ asterisked:

I. To prostrate.
2. b. To have sexual intercourse with (a woman). Occasionally intransitive, const. for: (of a woman) to have sexual intercourse with (a man). Also intransitive: (of a woman) to be willing to have (extramarital) sexual intercourse. slang (originally U.S.).

1934 J. O’Hara Appointment in Samarra ii. 38 I’m going to take Teddy out and get him laid tonight.

1934 J. O’Hara Appointment in Samarra vii. 212 ‘You’re wrong about one thing,’ said Julian… ‘I didn’t lay that girl.’

1936 J. Dos Passos Big Money 305 ‘Gosh,’ he was saying at the back of his head, ‘maybe I could lay Elsie Finnegan.’

1938 G. Greene Brighton Rock v. v. 214 I’m marrying her for your sake, but I’m laying her for my own.

1950 A. Wilson Such Darling Dodos 123 As soon as he laid a new wench..there was always a shift round of staff.

1955 ‘H. Robbins’ Stone for Danny Fisher i. vii. 55 ‘Does she lay, Danny?’.. His face was flushed as his eyes followed the girl on to the porch.

1956 H. Gold Man who was not with It (1965) xviii. 164 Whore! Baby~whore! She been laying for you.

1960 J. Updike Rabbit, Run 184 You’ve laid for Harrison, haven’t you?

*1965 W. H. Auden About House (1966) 15 A great-great-grandmother who got laid By a sacred beast.

*1969  P. Roth Portnoy’s Complaint 182 All I know is I got laid, twice.

*1973  B. Broadfoot Ten Lost Years viii. 83 The guy who knew her was one of our gang and he was laying her.

Meanwhile, there are 10 quotations in other OED2 entries, among them these 4:

— from the entry for the noun zit:

1974 Parnassus (Northern Essex Community Coll., Mass.) Fall 17/1 ‘Yaaa-hooo! Friday night and I’m gonna get laid!’ ‘Not unless you put a bag over your head, zit-face.’

— from the entry for the adj. leafy:

1988 H[anif] Kureishi Sammy & Rosie get Laid in Coll. Screenplays (2002) I. 119 (stage direct.) A leafy North London suburb, tree-lined, sedate, quiet. [the title of the film is the point here]

— from the entry for the noun laugh:

1999 Elephant & Castle (Coventry Univ. Students’ Union) Oct. 15/1 Take four guys who all vow to get laid before their Prom night and you get a film that’s full of laughs!

— from the entry for the adj. and noun around-the-world:

2001 J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand xlvi. 241 ‘I’m on the Strip, and I want to get laid for a hundred. Where do I go?’ ‘Try Louis at the Flamingo… You get an around-the-world for a C-note.’

All of this is resolutely heterosexual and, except for the last, penivaginal. Crucially, the last cite is about the services of a prostitute. Prostitutes (of either sex) offer sexual services, intended to bring their (usually male) clients to orgasm. A prostitute standardly offers, at different prices, sexual skills of several sorts: masturbation, fellatio, and intercourse (a male prostitute with male clients will usually offer both insertive and receptive versions of all three acts). The point is that a straight guy whose girlfriend gets him off with a hand job or a blow job will not report that as having gotten laid (because that isn’t having sex), but will report — to his buddies, say — that he got laid by a prostitute’s hand job or blow job (because in the context of a prostitute’s services, that is having sex).

(Note: the sexual service named in the James Ellroy cite is a complex act of which fellatio is a component. See my 5/28/21 posting “Customer care and the holiday weekend”, with a section about the sexual act around the world (essentially anilingus plus fellatio), and a note about the sexual verb service as well.)

Once again, the use and import of a lexical item — the verb get laid — depends in a complex way on the surrounding sociocultural context

How to get laid. And then we move from the heterosexual to the homosexual realm, to discover that get laid is often more broadly understood there (as well as in the prostitution context).

(#5) Finding a guy, attracting him to you, … and then? (advice from a 2005 book)

You set out, with a pressing sense of urgency, to get laid — by cruising in public; by hooking up on-line; by connecting at the baths, a back room, or a sex club; in a t-room encounter; whatever. Each of these contexts is its own sociocultural world, with its own routines, expectations, regulation, and so on. All involve negotiation, whether straightforward or indirect, as to how this scene will unfold. The book cover in #5, with a guy fiercely tearing open a condom, supposes that fucking is on the program, but some of the cruising contexts are heavily tilted towards cocksucking: t-rooms, in particular.

In any case, cocksucking is just so much easier: it can be managed, in comfort, pretty much anywhere, with no special preparation or clean-up needed, and it’s satisfying (though in very different ways) to both partners. So if you’re going to have rapid, impromptu sex in semi-public spaces, it’s your top choice. As a result, in the world of man-man sex, giving or getting a blow job is having sex: getting laid.


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