The Remarkable Intersection Of Anal Sex And Toxic Masculinity

modified from flickr / Tony Alter
‘Being penetrated is a potent symbol of vulnerability!’ I thought another man could get through to my man-friend in a way I never could.

I was recently at a house party for Halloween; I incidentally had not gotten the memo from the friend who invited me that it was a space-magick theme or some such nonsense and I showed up as…Ursula; my dear friend was dressed as Bill Lumbergh, his center-part glistening beneath ’80s power-glasses.

We were not on theme; in fact we were sorely out of place. “Adventure Time” princesses sashayed; steam-punk cowboys swaggered about in velvet, leather, and goggles. We knew one person between us and after smiling and waving hello at our entrance that rivaled some of my more traumatic school dances — I had caught a tentacle in my spoke, tripping and dropping my bike when I walked into their yard — we found ourselves talking to each other in the corner of their porch.

I was nervously smoking spliff after spliff and sipping champagne from a solo cup. “We gotta get in there,” I said. “We gotta mingle.”

He winced, looking around. “Yeah, I mean, everyone is cool,” he said. “We should just go in and do a lap.”

“I just want to talk to you,” I moaned. “But we’re at a party right? We gotta…party?”

So we wandered in. We did our lap. And before I knew it I was happily drunk, drinking whiskey, and chatting with the human equivalent of a pitbull-meatball — a hulking, thick man with a Bic-ed head. He was dressed as, perhaps, an intergalactic monk?

In truth, I don’t know how we got onto the topic. No one believes me, but I really don’t. But we started talking about butt stuff. Straight cis men butt stuff.

And suddenly I heard myself say, “Oh man, my dear friend is a straight guy and he’s very intrigued by his asshole, but he can’t just, like, set himself free. He is so hung up on it. I feel like he’s got all this….” I waved my arm around, “maybe, homophobic shit around his own ass? And it’s just so sad because, like, ass stuff is the best!”

My new companion’s face lit up. Like Christmas.

The glorious prostate is a walnut-sized gland; you’ll find it between the bladder and the penis, just in front of the rectum.

The urethra, which carries urine and semen alike, runs through the center of this flesh-nugget. The prostate secretes a fluid that nourishes and protects sperm — father’s milk amiright?! — in addition to squeezing this fluid into the urethra when ejaculating.

It weighs about 20 grams.

The word “prostate” is taken from the Greek expression meaning “one who stands before,” describing the position of the prostate gland.

Most importantly, perhaps, you can also “milk” the prostate, massaging it with your finger until the man’s mind explodes in the most dizzying orgasms of his life. Or so I hear.

My dear pal, let’s call him Bernard (which incidentally was the name of my feral orange cat in Brooklyn), is conflicted. He’s a tender man; he’s not afraid to cry, and is eager to talk about his feelings. To process. He is generous of heart and spirit…

and he’s got a girlfriend very keen to explore his butthole.

“You gotta get your friend onboard,” my new friend half-yells, his eyes glittering. “The prostate is amazing, man, just amazing.”

“Yeah!” I said laughing. “I’m with you. I tell him all the time he should try and examine why he can’t just accept the physical pleasure of his own body…especially as his lady is butt-drunk in love.” I took a sip of whiskey and shrugged. “But yeah. You can bring a horse to water, but ya can’t make him drink. It’s pretty complicated I think.”

I thought we had covered it. I thought we had sufficiently shared a mutual sadness around the fraught-ness of straight cis men’s buttholes. But no.

Like a bad sitcom, I see Bernard’s head peek over the crowd. “Hi!” he yells and weaves his way over to me.

“This him?” this meatball asks.

I feel my face growing very very hot. But I’m also drunk and thinking to myself, maybe this will be good. I also don’t want to lie and pretend I wasn’t just talking about this. Just be cool. Be casual. We’re fine. This is all fine.

In her Guernica essay, Rebecca Solnit writes:

“Feminism needs men. For one thing, the men who hate and despise women will be changed, if they change, by a culture in which doing horrible things to, or saying horrible things about, women will undermine rather than enhance a man’s standing with other men. There are infinite varieties of men or at least about 3.5 billion different ones living on Earth now, Klansmen and human rights activists, drag queens and duck hunters…
[So much masculinity] is predicated on the idea that violating the rights, dignity, and body of another human being is a cool thing to do. Such group acts are based on a predatory-monster notion of what masculinity is, one to which many men don’t subscribe but that affects us all. It’s also a problem that men are capable of rectifying in ways women are not.”

It’s a long, complicated, and nuanced essay, as is Solnit’s way, but in short, I agree that feminism needs men. One cannot identify a Problem, remove responsibility from the Problem, strip it from the Solution entirely, and believe change will occur. If men don’t believe they’re part of the problem — by deed or mere privilege — then they remain a potent obstacle to equality. The key, for me, is getting everyone on board to recognize the widespread fuckery of all shapes, sizes, and creeds, and swinging a hammer at the piece you’re occupying.

What gets slippery and exponentially more confusing for me is when men, identifying as feminists, are in actuality perpetuating the same dangerous shit — often unbeknownst to them — all wrapped up in the “right” rhetoric and bright smiles.

“This, indeed, is him!” I smile into Bernard’s face and give him a Christian-style side hug. Act like you’ve done nothing wrong. You’ve done nothing wrong!

“You were talking about me?” he says, all innocent curiosity.

“Oh yeah man. We’re talking about the prostate man. Male anal!” the meatball says, turning to face Bernard squarely in the face.

I choke-laugh on my whiskey. I’m trying to stuff my entire head in the cup. Maybe he can’t see my face in here.

“Dude you gotta let your shit go man,” yells meatball. “I let my girl get in there and I’m hands-free man. I’m coming and coming like a firehose — I’m flaccid but it’s pouring out of me. Hands free! It’s the most intense shit of my life.”

I am delighted. I am horrified. It’s better and worse than I could have ever imagined.

“Did you pay this gentleman for this rant?” Bernard laughs, incredulous. “You should trademark that phrase man, ‘hands-free coming.’ It’s good.”

“You laugh dude, but do you know the kind of vulnerability it takes to take it in the ass from a woman? Do you understand the inverse of the power-play that happens?”

“I think I do … yes.” Bernard stutters.

“It’s intense. Now she’s in control. You think your girl likes it when you’re just pounding away” — he slams his fist into his palm again and again and again — “no she doesn’t! You’re just BAM BAM BAM and she’s lying there like…”

I raise my hand. “I like being pounded. It’s really not that simple. One doesn’t really have much to do with the other necessarily. Rough sex can be consensual and amazing! I hear you that …”

He interrupts me to slap a friend’s arm who’s at the makeshift bar to get his attention.

“Yo, Miles! You feel me right? You know the pleasures of the ass, right? Tell this guy!”

“I mean, I really do like it,” Bernard insists. “I do! And I do it. It’s just a little hard for me and I don’t really like being pegged.”

“Pssssh. C’mon man,” the meatball scoffs. “You can be a man and wanna get pegged.”

“I…didn’t say you couldn’t…I just, don’t like it myself,” says Bernard.

“Ya gotta get over it; you’re depriving yourself man!” Meatball grips Bernard’s shoulders like a father sending his son to war. “Let her get in there man, you won’t regret it.”

“…I…have…and I don’t regret it. I wear it like a badge of honor! And I’m thankful because I think it did make me vulnerable — it’s really different when your partner is looking down at you and realize how little control you have…and I get it. Some people get off on that lack of control …but I don’t?”

Meatball snickers and swaggers away shaking his head.

I stood there—stunned. It was a complicated treatise on the strange and far-reaching tentacles of toxic masculinity.

Here I was, maybe betraying my dear friend’s confidences because, fuck it. Women never get to talk about fucking; they never get to take aim at men’s hangups around sex or discuss their own pleasure without being accused of being “too much,” self-destructive, promiscuous, craving attention, falling prey to the very trappings they’re trying to escape.

Maybe I thought this anal sex banter was giving me some kind of social collateral — I’m a girl who “gets it,” ya know?!

But there was also genuine confusion and sadness for Bernard. There was a real desire, a genuine belief that I might be able to use this stranger-man to get through to my friend-man. As Solnit says, I realized I wanted to enhance Bernard’s standing through the exposure to another man’s supposed feminism.

I thought another man could get through in a way I never could.

I thought that Bernard’s ass-pleasure was suffering at the hands of toxic masculinity. Being vulnerable is important to being human! Being penetrated is a potent symbol of that vulnerability! Let your body conquer the shitty steepings of your mind! Set yourself free!

But instead I exposed him to an even stranger brand of toxic masculinity. A man who thought himself enlightened because he had embraced the physicality of being penetrated—because he had had a singular thought about what that meant in terms of his own vulnerability.

I thought this anal sex banter was giving me some kind of social collateral.

But all he was doing with his supposed revelations on physical and emotional pleasure was using it as a tool to glean more power. To insist he was more enlightened. A better, stronger, more powerful man than other men. He was using his supposed newfound softness to make another man feel small, ashamed, un-evolved.

It was the same awful, aggressive shit. I’ll show you what a real man is.

I felt I could hear the gears turning in Bernard’s head.

Maybe I am shut-down. Maybe I am a weak man. Maybe I am homophobic and kind of pathetic and caught up in a narrative I thought I was working against.

It was a really twisted piece of alchemy, let me tell you.

We laughed, and I hugged Bernard tight. I told him he was exponentially more evolved than that shitty blowhard — even if he couldn’t come “hands free” and maybe didn’t want to, and maybe never would.

But inside? I felt awful. I thought about the brown and pink puckerings of Bernard’s orifice — that little starburst-ed sphincter that sits at the crux of so much.

I wanted to give it a kiss and say, we’re all in this together. I know you’re trying and it hurts a lot. Take all the time you need. But keep trying. Because we need you.

*This story was published with Bernard’s consent

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