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.