At eleven, I am the youngest of eight boys lined up along one row of lockers in the otherwise empty men’s room at the swimming pool to which the day camp we are attending takes us every other day. Normally, I’d be changing with boys my own age, but a mix-up back at the camp grounds landed me on the bus with these guys, who are all twelve and thirteen. I turn my back to them to hide the erection that has taken hold of my body and which I am having difficulty fitting into my bathing suit. Despite my best efforts to remain inconspicuous, however, my movements attract their attention and one of them sneaks up behind me and looks over my shoulder. “Hey,” his voice rings out metallically, “look at the size of Newman’s boner!”
Like a pack of dogs that has been thrown a single piece of meat, the group surrounds me in a tight circle, while I stand there not moving, body pointing me into the air above the middle of the room, wishing I could vanish, that it would vanish, but no matter how much I will it, the damned thing will not go down.
“What are you, a homo!?”
“Other guys’ dicks must turn him on!”
“Wanna suck mine, queer!?”
The taunts continue for what seems like hours, though it is probably only a few minutes, and then the head counselor comes in and ushers us all out to the pool. I can’t believe he didn’t hear what the other boys were saying, but he acts as if he didn’t, barely looking at me as he shows me where the boys in my group have spread their towels.
Later that evening, while I’m getting ready for bed, I stand naked before the full-length mirror inside my door and tuck my penis out of sight between my legs. I’m not trying to imagine myself as a girl, but I am intrigued by the possibility of a body that does not have erections.
When I was a teenager, I read in Penthouse magazine a letter–I think it was in Xavier Hollander’s “Happy Hooker” column–in which a woman described how she and a friend took revenge on a man who’d tried to rape the friend. The writer of the letter arranged to meet the man at a disco, invited him to her apartment, and seduced him into being tied, spread-eagled, to her bed. Then the woman’s friend, who’d been waiting in another room, came in, and the two women teased the man sexually until he was begging them for release. In response, the women took out a razor and shaving cream, telling him that, if he ejaculated while they rubbed his penis, they would shave all the hair from his body. The letter went on to describe in great detail first the man’s pleading with them not to do it and then his efforts to keep himself from coming while the women took turns masturbating him. Finally, of course, he came, and the women shaved him, threatening to slice off his testicles if he didn’t lay still.
Now, of course, I understand not only that the letter might have been, that it most probably was, a complete fabrication, even that it might even have been written by a man, but also, assuming for the sake of argument that the events it relates actually happened, the fact that is was published in Penthouse means that its sole purpose was to feed, to shape and even to create the desires and fantasies of the boys and men like me who read the magazine. At the time, though, I read the letter naively, assuming it to be true–why, after all, would someone publish a letter that wasn’t?–and so it was clear to me that it described a rape. The woman who ostensibly wrote it didn’t present what she and her friend did to the man as anything else—except to make clear that it was motivated by revenge—and she never implied that he enjoyed it. Nonetheless, my sexual imagination was drawn to the story. For months, for years afterward, I fantasized about women tying me to a bed and creating in my flesh an arousal so all-encompassing that I too would be willing to beg for release. Yet no matter how hard I tried to imagine a conclusion other than the one in the letter, I always ended up the victim of some version of the revenge the writer and her friend took, and what I remember most about this now is how fully this ending short-circuited the fantasy, and when I say “fully short-circuited,” I mean fully and completely. If I was masturbating, I found it very hard to continue; if I was simply daydreaming, I’d have to stop and think of something else, not because I felt and was trying to avoid, or deny, the guilty, shameful pleasure that often accompanies “forbidden fantasies,” but rather because I was scared. I simply did not trust the women I imagined not to turn into the women described in the letter. More than that, though, I identified with their victim’s experience of having the pleasures of his body turned against him, and the knowledge that I could be shamed just as he had been shamed taught me only one thing: my body was always the potential weapon of my own defeat.
We’re sitting in a circle in a remedial composition class that I’m teaching. The students are reading aloud and commenting on fables they’ve written over the weekend. The prose is awkward and ungrammatical, though I am impressed with the imaginative effort some of my students have made. There’s a modernized version of Little Red Riding Hood, set in an upper class neighborhood with the most sought-after senior boy in the local high school taking the part of the wolf. There’s also a gender-reversed Sleeping Beauty, in which Princess Charming turns out to be the homeless woman who sleeps in the park. I’m about to move on to the next part of the lesson when Walter, who’d announced when we began that he wasn’t going to read what he’d written, asks whether I’d like to hear his story. Of course I say yes.
Walter’s narrative takes place in the future and involves a very powerful drug dealer whose organization has been infiltrated by a top female narcotics agent posing as a prostitute. When the dealer’s lover, who also works for him as a prostitute, learns that the operation has been compromised, she tells him immediately. Armed with this information, the dealer exposes the spy and has her tortured slowly and painfully to death. To express his gratitude, he takes his lover to bed, giving her, in Walter’s words, “the literal fuck of her life, pounding away until she was no longer breathing.” The story ends with a description of the lavish funeral the dealer gives her.
When Walter finishes reading, he looks around the circle with a sarcastic and self-satisfied grin. The rest of the class is silent, no one except me willing to meet his eyes, and I’m hoping that one of his peers will be the first to speak, condemning what he’s written not in the voice of authority—which my voice would inevitably be—but in the voice of his own community. A minute passes before I realize that his classmates don’t intend to respond, and so I call on a few students by name, male and female, to see if I can draw them out. The men all say that the story is “sick,” while the women tell me they think it’s not even worth responding to. Yet it has to be responded to, and so I ask Walter if he really believes that fucking a woman to death could be an expression of gratitude.
“Of course,” he says, “For the woman it’s the ultimate fulfillment, and for the man it’s the ultimate proof.”
“Of manhood,” he responds, “Women would take tickets and stand in line to be with a man powerful enough to fuck them like that.” He says these words with a conviction I at first can’t think how to argue with, but then I wonder aloud if he would include his girlfriend or his future wife in that line of women.
“I’m not talking,” he says, “about doing this to someone I love. I’m talking about the pieces of trash you can pick up at the local bar, the sluts who give it away, the hookers who do it for money, women who are asking for it.”
“Why,” I ask, “do they deserve to be murdered?”
“They’re whores,” he responds, “No one cares about them.”
I take a different tack, asking him if he’s ever killed anything other than an insect. When he says no, I ask him if he realizes that he’s talking about using his own body, his penis specifically, as a murder weapon and that the murder he says he would like to commit is not simply one in which his victim dies in his arms, but is also one in which he would feel against his own flesh the internal process of her dying.
“Yes, I do,” he says.
Trying again, I go back to what he said about not wanting to fuck to death a woman he loves and ask if he makes a distinction between the sex he would have for pleasure with that woman and the power he says he would like to experience of using sex to kill. Walter looks at me with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Power,” he says, “is pleasure.”
Class ends. As I’m putting my papers in my briefcase, Walter steps up to my desk. “Now that everyone else is gone,” he says, his voice full of conspiratorial camaraderie, “be honest. Wouldn’t it feel great to take some slut to a hotel and then meet your buddies later and tell them you’d killed her with your dick?”
“No,” is all I can think to say.
“Sure, maybe now that you’re older and you can’t get it up like you used to–I was in my thirties–but when you were younger, when you were an undergraduate, wasn’t fucking something you did so you could share it with your buddies, and impress them, and wouldn’t they have worshipped you if you told them you’d fucked someone to death?”
I decide that monosyllabic answers are the best way to deal with this line of questioning. “No,” I tell him again.
Walter waits a few seconds for me to say more. When I don’t, he mutters something under his breath of which I think I hear the words pathetic and excuse. Then he walks out, and it’s the last I see or hear of him until I get my final roster with a W for withdrawal next to his name. Of course there are many reasons why he might have had to withdraw from the class, but it’s hard for me not to think he did so because I wasn’t “man enough” to be his teacher.
In an episode of the long-and-deservedly-defunct TV series She-Wolf Of London, a very old man is brought into the hospital dying of unknown causes. The doctor on duty believes the old man is either senile or insane because he keeps insisting he is actually twenty-seven years old and that he was turned into an old man by a woman. As the doctor leaves, he orders a nurse to give the old man a sedative. Once the nurse and the old man are alone, however, she unzips her uniform to reveal black-lace lingerie, and the old man recognizes her as the woman who has aged him—one of what the viewers will later learn is a group of succubae who have opened an escort service in England’s capital city. As the old man looks on in helpless terror, the succubus begins to climb into the hospital bed where he is laying. As she does so, she reminds him in the voice of a predator enjoying the powerlessness of its prey that all he has to do is not want her and he will be able to live. All he has to do, in other words, is not have an erection and she will not be able to fuck him to death.
Cross-posted on It’s All Connected.