Bizarro orientations

Two Bizarro cartoons from 2021, touching on questions of sexual orientation:

(#1) A Piraro Bizarro from 11/7/21: imperfect pun on sexual (orientation): sectional, as in sectional furniture ‘furniture made in sections’ — combined with a (perfect) pun on orientation ‘the relative physical position or direction of something’ (NOAD) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are, wow, 12 in this strip — see this Page.)

#1 raises the question of how labile sexual orientation might be: easily changed, like the arrangement of furniture in a room, just a matter of style, fashion, or whim; or more enduring and resistant to change.


(#2) A Wayno / Piraro Bizarro from 12/2/21:  a complex (but perfect) pun,  turning primarily on turn on ‘start, cause to operate’ vs. ‘arouse (sexually)’, but secondarily involving connection in both electrical and emotional senses (Dan Piraro says there are 5 of his symbols in this strip)

#2 is also a joke about visual pornography: the artwork depicts a 9v female connector, so it appeals to the 9v battery, but not to an AA battery, which needs a different sort of connective hardware.

Then there are the brand names: Enervator, a play on the brand name Energizer; and Zap, possibly a play on the Energizer MAX family of alkaline batteries, more likely just the vivid verb zap used for lightning strikes and the like.

Finally, #2 evokes two senses of hard-wired: in computers, ‘permanent, inalterable’; in behavior, ‘inborn, instinctive’. (The connecting idea is that what’s built-in can’t be changed.)

Sexual orientations. Many of them: complexes of sexual desires, sexual practices, and sexual identities  — each of these components themselves subject to great variability across populations (associated with place, social class, generation, and many other sociocultural variables), and, within individuals, to variability over time and in different contexts. That’s not to deny that there are recurrent patterns of considerable frequency, for which it’s useful to have labels (like gay, queer,  lesbian, bisexual, MSMstraight, etc.), but individual lives are extraordinarily complicated — each of us has their own story, unfolding in its own way over time, illustrating the many ways of fitting sexual orientation into all the arrangements of life, and combining with a range of presentations of self.

But what about hard-wired and inalterable? Well, here are two take-away quotes from my 5/24/22 posting “How did you come to be this way?”(drawing on some other postings of mine):

— clearly an enormous number of things that nature gives you are not present at birth, but are instead, potentials, which will (if not balked) unfold at various stages in your development or depend on your having certain kinds of experiences to unfold.

— The [NOAD] gloss [for congenital] ‘having a trait from birth’ … is far too strong, even for some physical traits. We want to say that [pornstar] Connor Kline’s large-boned frame is congenital, but only manifested itself as a direction of devopment (similarly for my small-boned frame), and we want to say something similar about same-sex and other-sex desire, which aren’t literally present at birth but manifest themselves during development, where they are experienced as discoveries (counterposed to cultural expectations or aligned with and supported by them, of course, but still as discoveries).

The same-sex scenario here is the classic Born Gay story, which fits a great many people, though it turns out that there are other same-sex scenarios and other experiences of same-sex sexual associations, lots of them, so that the Born This Way slogan doesn’t resonate with some people the way it does with, say, me.

.. in the dominant culture that surrounds me, the folk understanding not only of facial and bodily features, but of physical and mental states and abilities as well, is strongly in favor of BTW pretty much across the board, to the extent that the folk understanding looks a lot like a system of castes, hereditary (and thus enduring and largely inescapable) identities. These identities come with a highly culture-specific set of valuations: some identities are highly valued, some of lesser place within the sociocultural landscape (some people are born to be shopkeepers and merchants, that’s just the way the world is, and if you’re Indian and your family name is Agarwal / Agrawal, you are probably among them), some deprecated and despised.

The dominant culture that surrounds me is also ridiculously individualistic, in a variety of ways, one of them showing up in the [“I know you can’t help it, you were born that way, but] I’m no fag” story: my same-sex desire and sexual practices were viewed not merely as the working-out of what nature gave me, but were also viewed as personally reprehensible, an individual fault or defect, deserving of contempt.

Note, finally, the complexity of the idea that experiencing same-sex desire and engaging in man-on-man sexual practices should be understood as defects, rather than as merely minority options in the world of sexuality.

Then on the complexity of sexual orientations, from my 5/25/11 posting “Ralph and Monty”, in a section about:

a brief but intense relationship with a younger working-class English man — a hod-carrier from Nottingham — decades ago in Brighton, England [when I was in my middle 30s]

…Norman was 100% gay [in the sense that he was sexually attracted only to men], [immensely] affectionate, and a romantic (he fell passionately [and utterly unrealistically] in love with me), but absolutely rigid in his view of who did what to whom in sexual encounters [he was strictly insertive — found the idea of even handling a penis, much less taking one into his mouth, repugnant, and the idea of getting fucked unimaginable]. This view went along with his identification of the working class with toughness and masculinity and the upper classes with effeteness and femininity, and with his attraction to men of the upper classes because he saw them as sexually complementary to him [nevertheless, his very strong preference was for men with masculine appearance, musculature, and presentation of self — like, as he saw it, me].

Over a long life I have informally collected pieces of life stories from an enormous number of people, mostly men; the specifics are not for public exposure, ever, but there are common patterns, among them the man with a wife he’s deeply attached to and a family he loves, but an earlier history of deeply satisfying same-sex sexual relationships (abandoned but recalled fondly); or with a significant same-sex fantasy life; or with a subterranean same-sex life, either occasional or regular. Life is complex.

The first of these patterns is very common; examples from public figures are actually quite common. For me, it’s associated with the Parable of Paris — an exemplary tale whose source I can no longer identify; I believe I got it from another gay man, but I might have read it somewhere, or it might have come to me in a dream (that’s a genuine possibility; I have some very complex dreams).

I’ll Always Have Paris. In the story, I contract to spend a month’s vacation in Paris — not being touristic, but living in a pension as if it were home, speaking only French, shopping locally, strolling along the boulevards and in the parks, patronizing the local bistros, cafés, and restaurants, working on my writing for some fixed amount of time every day, reading the newspapers, generally inserting myself into the neighborhood. Quickly coming to feel that this is my spot, the place where I’m meant to be. Embracing all the details of daily life in Paris, even the annoying ones, taking delight in them.

At this point, many have made the decision that they simply have to move to Paris, they need to abandon their old life and commit to this new one. And they do it, with all the difficult adjustments that entails.

But in my story, I weigh the options, appreciating what I have back home and wanting to maintain and nurture that. So I go home. And Paris becomes a wonderful memory, giving me retrospective pleasure for the rest of my life. Here ends the parable.

In real life, of course, I relocated, figuratively, to Paris. It was far from an easy move, but it suited me. Other lives, other outcomes.

2 Responses to “Bizarro orientations”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Addressing only a side point:

    Dan Piraro says there are, wow, 12 in this strip

    That appears to be a Sunday strip, and I’ve observed that the Sunday ones tend to be more heavily populated with symbols than weekdays, and they’re often harder to find. (The one in yesterday’s newspaper purported to have 13, but I could only find 11, even after several careful searches.)

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