Coming Attractions

Whenever we disagreed about a book or a movie, an old college friend of mine used to blithely say, with a rather strained smile on her face, “De gustibus non est disputandum.”  (It was the Ivy League; people dropped Latin into conversations the way Martha Stewart drops blue cheese into a salad.)  In other words, there’s no accounting for taste.  Which is pretty much how I feel about heterosexuality.  I’ve been there—or let’s just say I’ve gone through the motions—but I’ve never quite understood the attraction.  So while heterophobia makes complete sense, I must admit to being absolutely stymied by homophobia.  It seems to me that finding your own sex repulsive just can’t be healthy, from a self-image standpoint.  Straight men are forever saying they don’t understand what makes men attractive.  This suggests two theories:  a) they’re lying, or b) they’re lying.  Any man who wakes up in the morning, combs his own hair, and picks out his own clothes is obviously consciously trying to make himself look good.  I know there’s a fair number of straight men walking around in coffee-stained wife-beaters and shoes that don’t match the belt, but the overwhelming majority seem to do pretty well for themselves, so someone’s not telling the whole truth.

Of course, I also have a pretty good idea of what makes women attractive.  Give me a choice between Catherine Deneuve and Golda Meir, and I think I’d pick the right one.  But that doesn’t mean I have any grasp of the greatest of sexual conundrums (well, second greatest; we’ll deal with trannies later)—the bisexual. 

Take my friend Clay, for instance.  He’s never actually slept with a woman, but he is curious.  The closest he’s come is straight pornography.  Not just any straight pornography, though—more like gay straight pornography.  (It suddenly occurs to me that porno should have its own rating scale—not G to X, but 1 to 6, like Kinsey.  In Clay’s case, it would definitely be a 5.)  Clay’s favorite pornos are the ones that show women experiencing anal intercourse.  He can’t explain it himself, so I’ve stopped asking.

According to Clay, straight porn makers aren’t quite as creative as their gay counterparts when it comes to titles.  So while we have movies like Saving Ryan’s Privates and A Rim with a View, on his most recent trip to the “straight” side of the store, he rented something rather prosaically called Up Your Ass.  Actually, it was Up Your Ass, Number 17.  I guess the series is even more popular than the Halloween movies.

The problem came when he got it home.  He popped it into the DVD player and couldn’t find a single complete scene.  All he saw were previews—and previews can be especially frustrating in porn:  all that titillation and no payoff.  To save face, I would have just ignored the problem and dropped the DVD silently into the return bin the next day.  But Clay went back that night to complain.

“It’s all previews,” he said to the woman behind the counter—a short, pleasantly plump Latina who seemed not the least bit nonplussed.  Which really makes me wonder.

“Previews of what?” she asked innocently.

Poor Clay.  The woman had asked a simple question; his finely honed Southern manners told him that she deserved a simple, honest answer.  Up Your Ass, Number 18,” he said.

You could say the woman got what she was asking for.  After all, did she really expect that the previews would be for Lilo and Stitch?  But she was apparently a true professional who had seen it all before.  She didn’t bat an eyelash—which is more than I can say for Clay, who, as soon as the words were out of his mouth, realized that there were children all around him, pulling their parents madly toward the cartoon videos and M&Ms displays at the checkout.

“I don’t know,” said the clerk, gazing seriously into her computer screen.  “It’s been rented 28 times before with no complaints.  Let’s take a look.”  She led Clay to the office in the back of the store.  And there, in a cramped, windowless room with DVD and video boxes piled to the ceiling, the clerk turned on a TV on the desk and ran Up Your Ass, Number 17.

“This looks like a complete scene,” she mumbled as they both stared directly at the TV to avoid eye contact.  On the screen, a large-breasted woman was settling herself into place on a bed before a surprisingly hairy man.

The woman clicked to another track and they gazed silently for a moment.  “This looks okay,” she said dryly as another well-endowed thespian dropped to her knees.

The next click brought them to one of the scenes that gave the movie its name, and Clay felt sweat trickling down his face.  The clerk continued to call up scenes—a series of women crying out as their heads bounced uncomfortably against pillows and headboards and kitchen tables.  Clay kept his eyes anxiously fixed on the screen, but there was no risk of arousal under these circumstances.  He just silently prayed that his companion wasn’t watching him, getting any ideas he would be unable to fulfill.

The clerk stopped the player and pulled out the DVD.  “Here’s the problem,” she said, turning the disc over in her sweaty palm.  “It’s double-sided.  Look—the other side says ‘previews of coming attractions.’”

“Oh,” Clay said, a bit too loudly.  His voice echoed off the concrete walls.  “I didn’t know they made double-sided DVDs.”

“Oh yeah,” the woman said, snapping the disc back into its holder, “we get them all the time.  You gotta be careful.”  She snapped the box shut and handed it to him.  “You still want it?”

Again, Southern politeness.  “Sure,” Clay said nervously, taking the box.  “Thanks a lot.”  And he ran out of the store.

He watched the whole movie that night—two solid hours of big-busted women taking it up the ass.  He told me the whole story a week or so later, when he was finally able to laugh about it.  Despite the weirdness of watching the movie with the video clerk, the most embarrassing part for Clay was the fact that it had never occurred to him to simply turn the disc over. 

It’s hardly surprising.  When it comes right down to it, we all have a tendency to overlook the fact that there are two sides to everything.  One man’s turn-off is another man’s fetish.  In sex, like everything else, there really is no accounting for taste.  And if we insist on looking at the issue only from our own point of view—homo, hetero, or something in between—we might just miss the money shot on the other side.

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The Homo in Ms. Jones

The conventional wisdom—at least in gay circles—is that “Sex and the City,” the TV phenomenon about randy urban women as alive now on DVD as it was on HBO every Sunday night, is really about gay men.  Surely, we say—hope?—women don’t talk about sex that much, that graphically.  Surely women don’t have sex that much, that . . . graphically.

And we’re not the only ones questioning the show’s veracity.  A woman friend of mine notes that straight men—her current and ex-boyfriends included—can’t stand the show.  They cringe at the thought of women sitting around talking about their sex lives—talking, in point of fact, about them (not to mention their penises).  They refuse to believe that it happens.  But, my friend assures me, it does.  It happens all the time.

Maybe that’s precisely what makes “Sex and the City” so fascinating—the fact that those of us who are not women have never heard these things coming out of women’s mouths before. 

Still, we gay boys do have a point.  It’s not hard to understand the confusion.  Tune in to any episode, close your eyes, and imagine the voices a couple of octaves deeper, and you could just as easily be overhearing the average Sunday brunch on Fire Island. 

That image got me thinking (this is where the camera would do a close-up on Carrie’s laptop):  Even though gay people are all over the media these days, does anyone outside of the gay world really know what we talk about?  Maybe it’s time they did.  Rather than putting our words in the mouths of fluffed, glossed, and mascaraed fashionistas teetering atop ridiculously expensive Manolos, I thought it was high time to let gay men speak for themselves.  Or one of them, anyway—namely me.  With a little help from my friends, of course.

I had a blind date recently—well, not blind exactly; we had seen each other’s photographs jpegged on match.com.  (By the way, my friend Dick refuses to call these obligatory meetings blind dates.  Since they’re always conducted at cafés and inevitably seem more like interviews, he stubbornly refers to them as “blind coffees.”)  Anyway, as I was in mid-sip on my no-foam latte (the last thing you want is a foam mustache when you’re trying to make a first impression), the inevitable question arose:  “Which character on ‘Sex and the City’ would you be?”  It’s become standard shorthand for getting to know people—the gay equivalent of Barbara Walters asking her guests what sort of twee they’d wike to be in their next wife. 

All the types are there—slutty Samantha, neurotic Miranda, innocent Charlotte, and woefully adjective-deprived Carrie.  But, despite this embarrassment of carnal riches, everyone claims to be Carrie.  No one will admit to being any of the others, least of all Samantha (now there’s a red flag on a first date).  Actually, it’s not hard to understand why:  in this fictional universe, Carrie is the only complete human being; the others are merely her id, ego, and superego floating around hopelessly, seeking completion in sometimes-slutty, sometimes-romantic, sometimes-together, sometimes-a-mess Carrie. 

Samantha, of course, is more fun:  like Carrie, we want to live vicariously through her life (and deny that we ever do the same things).  But to keep Carrie from being easily seduced by Samantha’s exploits, Charlotte sits demurely on her other shoulder, reminding her about romance, the perennially unproven theory that men are meant for more than fucking.  As for Miranda—well, she’s great to have around primarily so that Carrie can feel superior to her:  sure, she has a great job and a great apartment, but she’s the most neurotic creature to hit the screen since Alvy Singer met Annie Hall. 

But here’s the rub:  We may all want to be Carrie, but do we really want to hang out with her?  Do we really want to see everyone from all sides, all the time?  Do we really want to be reminded that other people, too, are fully fleshed human beings?

I’ll admit to lumping several friends into the more extreme categories—it makes life simpler.  If we actually acknowledged all people as complex characters, how would Jerry Springer earn a living?  We’d probably all walk around smiling all the time, saying “Have a nice day” to everyone we meet and actually meaning it.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like hell to me.  Or Cleveland.

Besides, to put it bluntly, who has time?  Let’s face it:  achieving a balanced, complete view of the self is a lifetime goal.  It requires years of reflection, meditation, therapy, weightlifting, endless shopping, and—for some of us—the occasional liposuction.  And still no one notices:  we are forever pigeonholed as somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s boss, somebody’s sex partner, somebody’s projection of their own unfulfilled childhood needs, etc.  No, it’s just too much trouble.  I’ll focus on my own wholeness, thank you very much; you take care of yours.

Which brings me back to Samantha.  Ask any guy who he’s like and, sure, he’ll say Carrie.  But ask him who he’d rather have a cosmo with, and there’s no contest.  Of all the ladies who brunch, the leggy blonde with the potty mouth is the one we prefer—by a landslide.  If our favorite foursome were ever magically transformed into men, she’s the one who would fit in the easiest in the Castro.  Carrie makes a fabulous fag hag, but with that fashion sense, she’d make one lousy fag.

Samantha Jones lives for sex, and that, apparently, is something we can relate to.  If men in general think about sex every five seconds, only gay men act upon it with anywhere near that frequency.  Samantha’s our vindication, our evidence that successful, professional, well-mannered people can still be sluts.  Every time you’re faced with a risqué temptation—the UPS man smiles a little too slyly in his tight brown shorts, a muscle boy removes his towel in the steam room, your local sex club places discount coupons in the newspaper—ask yourself what Samantha would do, and your fears are vanquished.

Every time I hear someone complain about Will Truman and Jack McFarland—the eunuch and the bimbo of sitcom-land—I like to refer them to Samantha, the only real gay man on television.