|Interview by Jack Nichols |
Bill Weintraub: Yes, I came out in 1972, in Boston, which I think was a very different place from the big cities like New York or LA or even D.C. Boston had a relatively small but very cohesive, committed, and intellectually lively gay and lesbian community. Free love was then in full flower, and the ideals of Gay Liberation and the counterculture flourished. So far as I could tell, no one sexual act was placed above another. So it was a wonderful and liberating time and place to be gay, and I'm grateful to have been there.
Jack Nichols: I vividly remember many gay men in those days gossiping with this tidbit: "Well, he's a brownie queen, you know." Anal sex, truly, was not chic. That's when I began realizing that no sex acts are written in stone. We change -- even from decade to decade! Isn't that what you're saying too?
Bill Weintraub: Yes, and it's somewhat amusing to me that some people have sought to label what I'm saying as extreme, even though the idea that much of our sexual behavior is culturally dictated and changes over time and place has been at the core of academic discussions about sexuality for two decades, and of course corresponds to our own experience. So it's hardly radical to assert, as I do, that we have at present a cultural dominance or tyranny of anal sex that shapes and guides the sexual behavior of the overwhelming majority of gay men, and in so doing effectively pushes some and coerces others -- I think a great many -- into having a type of sex that they don't really enjoy and would not, on their own, aspire to. The real question, I think, is why there's so much resistance to looking at the culture of anal sex. In part of course it's because anal sex plays so neatly into a patriarchal, dualistic, and essentially puritanical model of sex and relationship, but I suspect that it's also a consequence of decisions made in the community in 1984, when the first safer sex campaigns were being formulated. At that time, we were under unrelenting assault by homophobic and erotophobic bigots who wanted to persecute those who engaged in anal sex and to cruelly stigmatize those who were dying of a disease spread anally. And we all felt, and rightly so, that we had to defend our own people. So rather than look too closely at the culture of anal sex, which by then was almost 10 years old, social workers and sex therapists and others came up with safer sex guidelines which were nonjudgmental and uncritical, and which by and large accepted that anal sex was the key element in most gay sexual encounters. And I think there's still a strong residual feeling in the community that we ought never to attack anal sex, that doing so plays into the hands of our enemies. But what I'm trying to get across to people is that times have changed, and that though we're certainly not free of straight erotophobia, AIDS is no longer a reason for defending anal sex, quite the opposite, that our uncritical acceptance of the dominance of anal sex is, in my view, prolonging the epidemic by leading to new infections -- I think the barebacking debacle made that more than clear. So I'm arguing that anal sex has become a sacred cow, and one that we can no longer afford to unquestioningly protect. Instead we need to look very hard at the cultural dominance of this behavior, which can be deadly, and which is oppressive.
Jack Nichols: I lived at ground zero in the 1960s-70s sex revolution. I edited the world's oldest sex therapy magazine, Sexology, and was the first managing editor of SCREW (1968-69) and the co-editor of the original GAY (1969-1973). My lover and I once wrote an article singing the praises of anal sex, knowing how it had previously suffered so many disparaging digs. The article was titled: 'Cornholing is Christlike'. But I never really thought of anal sex as superior in any way to other sexual positions. Do you think there's such a thing as a superior position? Is Cockrub superior?
Bill Weintraub: Great title! As to Christlike -- I don't think that anal sex in and of itself is inferior to cockrubbing, but I do think that the way anal sex is presently practiced by the overwhelming majority of American gay men is psychologically, spiritually, and physically damaging. Cockrubbing, on the other hand, does not pose a health risk, does not play into the top/bottom, dominant/submissive mindset which I believe is terribly harmful to gay men, and emphasizes equality, sensuality, and prolonged full body pleasure, rather than a quick, anonymous fuck in which one man dominates another. In addition, there's a certain innocence and naturalness to cockrubbing that I think anal sex has lost. For many men, cockrubbing is their first experience of gay sex, something that, in the course of boyhood tussling or perhaps a sleepover, happens spontaneously. It's not something that has to be taught, it doesn't require a script or a set of societal guidelines. And most guys into cockrubbing will tell you that as adults it continues to feel instinctive, uncontrived and unconstrained, primeval and free. Anal sex, on the other hand, has now become so formalized and goal-driven, so hemmed in by health precautions, so often associated with drug use, and so co-opted by the condom, lube, and porn industries, that I think for many gay men it's become a morass, a dangerous act between two unequal partners that has to be carefully negotiated, planned for and even financed -- condoms and drugs, after all, are expensive, a trip to the doctor even more so. It's difficult to imagine that sort of sex having the playfulness and spontaneity that cockrub offers. And I just don't think that's what sex is about, or what it should be about. Now obviously there are guys out there who are practicing anal sex safely and lovingly and joyously. But I don't think they're anywhere near the majority. In any case, as I've made clear starting with my first cockrub article, Hyacinthine Love, no one in the cockrub movement has any interest in substituting one oppression for another. But we do want our form of sex recognized for the wondrous, hot, romantic, love and life affirming experience it is, and we think that a whole complex of attitudes around anal sex need to be looked at very hard.
Jack Nichols: When I met one of my earliest macho lovers, he mistook my cruising as meaning I might want to fight him. His hillbilly dad had told him never to let a guy who wanted to fight to get behind him. He backed up against a wall. But, I must admit, the shape of his curvaceous butt, when he finally trusted me to walk away with him, became impossible to ignore. Many more women than men realize, admire mens' butts. They have no desire to penetrate them, I'd assume, but gay men attracted by the same luscious curves could hardly be expected to refrain from at least considering penetration, wouldn't you say? Isn't it mainly because of the possibility of disease -- specifically AIDS -- that you advise that there should be no more anal sex?
Bill Weintraub: No. And never for a moment have I called for the banning of anal sex. Again, that would simply substitute one oppression for another. But what I have called for is an end to the cultural dominance of anal sex, which without a doubt is perpetuating the epidemic. In my view this is not complicated. For the last 25 years, gay men have been told over and over that anal intercourse is the most important, the best, and the truest expression of male-male intimacy, and should be the culminating event of any act of male-male sex or love. If that's so, if anal sex is the best gay sex, then clearly its highest expression is flesh on flesh, unprotected anal sex. So it's not surprising that most men sooner or later, in a moment of high passion or simple lust, bareback. It's not realistic, it is not human, to expect people to behave otherwise. Sex, after all, is one of the most important experiences of our lives - with the right person, perhaps the most important. How then can we ask people, once we've told them that anal sex is the best sex, the sex that defines who we are as gay men, the sex that is the most profound celebration of love between two men, to forever have that millimeter of latex between them and their partners? We can't, and they won't.
Jack Nichols: In your gripping essay about Cockrub Warriors, I'd say that you've raised a legitimate call for our communities to consider fostering a wider sort of sensual awareness in our lives. I've always thought that in their sex lives, without knowing much about sensuality, people become far too goal-oriented, which spoils that playful, spontaneous, unplanned element that I personally associate with journeys into mutually satisfying sex. One thing I've thought about your Cockrub perspective is that it might very well provide a safer bridge for many conventional males who've been role-trained to repel invasion of any sort. What you offer makes same-sex romance and intimacy much more possible for these guys instead of so frightening. I'm willing to bet that if Cockrub ideas were better known, many more men would feel safe exploring their homosexual potentials. Have you thought about how your perspective could serve as a cross-over point for such guys? For the bi-curious and for philandering straight men?
Bill Weintraub: Yes, and clearly that's already happening. If you look at my club or a club like manlylatino's 'Cock to Cock Jack Off' on Yahoo, you'll see that both have many members who identify either as bi or straight. As a matter of fact, I just had an email exchange with one of my club members who differed when I described him as bi. He said to me, my relational life is totally heterosexual, I just like to fool around with a few male friends. And I said, well, I don't care what you call it, so long as you're enjoying it. But again, I don't necessarily agree with you about repelling invaders. I would suggest that something else is going on, once again something that the gay establishment doesn't want to look at. And that is an understandable distaste on the part of bi and straight men for what I call that parody of femininity that one sees most clearly in drag, but that comes out all the time in gay male life in bitchiness, attitude, and the use of she, her and girl to refer to other gay men. Those are among the most unpleasant and unattractive elements in gay male life, and if I were a straight man with a mild interest in sex with other men, or a bi curious guy, I wouldn't want to go anywhere near them. As I said in my GayToday Viewpoint piece, this parody of the feminine should not be confused with the psychologically desirable male goal of becoming aware of and comfortable with the intuitive or feminine part of one's nature. Drag and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“bottomÃ¢â‚¬Â mentality, the pussyboy, bitchboy, mancunt culture, have nothing to do with that. They have to do rather with internalizing a self-loathing caricature of what a woman is and what a gay man is. And I don't think you can separate that phony feminization from the dominant culture of anal sex. I think they are part and parcel of each other. And I think we really need to look at it, and look at the way straight people, not just bigots, perceive gay men, and think about our continuing rejection by large segments of American life, including the electorate, and begin to take some responsibility for the truly unpleasant sides of gay male life. I don't think it's treasonable to say that -- on the contrary, I think it has to be said. And I sincerely believe, and I sure hope, that in the not-too-distant future, drag and feminization will be looked at the way we now view Stepin Fetchit and Butterfly McQueen -- as terrible distortions that their respective minorities were able to outgrow.
Jack Nichols: While I agree with ever so much of what you have to say, I seriously doubt that anal sex will ever disappear altogether, though its current domination of the American social scene may very well subside. I've been wondering: on the one hand, you seem to praise an earlier era when several sex acts stood on equal ground. On the other, however, your polemics seem to be using anal sex as a demon. A devil figure, Eric Hoffer writes, is what every successful mass movement needs in order to grow. People need to have some evil that they will willingly work, en masse, to supplant. I'd like to know, would you want to return to those sexual smorgasbord days when a variety of acts were found equal and acceptable? Or do you think that anal sex should no longer be a part of the mix?
Jack Nichols: From what I know of your ideas, I'd say that you'd probably go along, as I do, with the thought that "the personal is political." I think a lot of people have heard that statement but have no idea what it means. The status quo folks have relegated it to the 1960s counterculture and hope to see it buried. But it would appear that you and I see larger political picturesÃ¢â‚¬"culturally acceptable attitudes-- in popular individual sexual acts performed. You seem to see the current cultural dominance of anal sex as part of that old-fashioned patriarchal system to keep the tops on top and the bottoms on the bottom. Am I reading you right? Tell me.
Bill Weintraub: Yes, you sure are. I don't think it's an accident that the dominance of anal sex emerged at the same time that gay male life and American life took a sharp turn to the right, away from counterculture ideals of equality and social justice, and back to that dog-eat-dog puritanical vision of America which persists to this day. I think a lot of people were uncomfortable with the pace of change, and as the wildly popular Reagan counter-revolution, which had a lot of gay male support, made clear a few years later, many gay men wanted to return to a world with rigidly defined boundaries in everything -- social class, race, appearance, sex. And as I said earlier, I think the health crisis, which ironically was a creation of anal sex, made it very difficult to examine what was really going on. And yes, absolutely, anal sex now has become built into a bloated, wealthy gay establishment that, like the larger culture, is breathtakingly conservative. It's next to impossible to introduce a new idea with these guys. They know what they know and that's it. They're comfortable with the status quo, as dreadful as it is, and they don't want anyone rocking the boat. Of course a lot of this is just a basic class issue. We have an elite now of more-or-less-openly gay white men (and women who think like men) who are doing very well, or so they imagine. That's when they're not dying of HIV, or losing their health insurance, or struggling with alcohol or drug abuse, or beating up their partners, or pumping themselves full of steroids to look good and Viagara to have sex and Propecia to keep their hair and who-knows-what just to party. So I think in reality their lives are very rigid and controlled and are filled with self-loathing and that desperate middle-class fear of falling behind, of becoming declassed. And as part of that, they cling to this dangerous and outmoded form of sex. The thing about cockrub is that it stands completely outside these various patriarchal, capitalist, dom/sub matrices. It prizes equality -- if the guys are into some sort of contest, then they want a contest of equals. The mindset is so different from anal and the dominant culture that it's remarkable that it's been able to survive. To do so it's had to go underground. If you look at the Warriors Speak section of our website you can read accounts of people learning to keep their mouths shut to get by. It's very painful. So it's only been in the last year or so that the cockrub guys have felt strong enough, because of the net, to begin to fight back. That's a good development, but it may well be dependent upon the net remaining open and free. We don't know if that will happen. Certainly Bush and his gang would like to close it down -- like the anal establishment, they don't want new ideas floating freely around the ether, they don't like change, they want to keep hold of what grubby little power they have. And just this week management at Yahoo excluded teens from access to a yahoo club called "wrestling stories," in which cockrubbing is usually featured and there's very little anal sex -- some of my own cockrub fiction, aimed directly at teens, first appeared in that club. So where will gay teens go now to have sex modeled for them? Well, there are a lot of anal sites out there, aren't there, lot of bareback sites too. Great story for some reporter -- "Yahoo! to Gay Kids: Drop Dead."
Jack Nichols: Because I was at ground zero during the 1960s sexual revolution its been easy for me to keep track of its development and of the coups staged by old- fashioned macho-male-role enthusiasts to whom much of the heart of first revolution has since fallen. I think that in some important ways you may agree with me that this has happened. I see a Second Sexual Revolution on the horizon -- and you do too, don't you? What are some of the changes your Cockrub Warrior revolution would call for in our communities' social/sexual relating?
Bill Weintraub: Yes, Jack, I completely agree with you that the heart of the first revolution fell to macho-male-role enthusiasts. And yes, we're overdue for another sexual revolution. We've been where we are now far too long, in part because of AIDS, in part because the assimilationist gay establishment has allowed the religious right to dictate the terms of the debate. And it's been a disaster. 500,000 dead, terrible self hate which leads to all sorts of other human misery, and an out-dated sexual set-up that simply does not reflect the overall direction of global human development, which is towards more and more individual freedom. Cockrub Warriors are fighting for tolerance and equality. An end to the promotion of one sex act over another. An end to the sexual posturing and supremacy of domination/submission. An end to the self-loathing false femininity that insults both women and gay men. And for a celebration of sexual diversity, and of sex that is spontaneous, prolonged, sensual, and full-body. And for bi and pan sexuality too. A world where sexual energy can float freely again, pass between and among people to do what it's supposed to do, create peace and love -- not serve as an excuse for more slavery and pain.
Jack Nichols: My view of sex is that its behavioral patterns emerge from influences in the general culture, not because of biological fiat. When I was 12, I had passionate kissing/petting sessions with Iranian diplomats' boys, but our passions didn't get sexual. It was a very passionate platonic love these kids were showing me then, something my American friends, mostly, did not. Later, when I was 20, I learned that millions of American 'straight' boys -- many 1960s Marines in fact-- were willing to do everything sexual in bed except to kiss or talk about last night's all-male sex in the morning. The Marines, I noticed, as macho as they considered themselves, often begged to be anally penetrated. A close friend of mine who'd taught me the military ropes, said he thought it was something about their training in boot camp that made them want to get fucked. He thought it had something to do with the down-grading their commanders had foisted on them. You have some similar theories about the current enthusiasm for male anal sex, don't you?
Bill Weintraub: Yes, I think two things about this. The first, as you've just suggested, is that many bottoms crave and solicit pain and degradation because they think that, as gay men, that's what they deserve. So there are all those punishment scenarios floating around in porn and in real life. You've been a bad gay boy, now you're going to get punished -- that is, fucked. Folks can call it role play, but it's just another manifestation of self-hate. But I also think the prevalence of anal sex fits into a gay male culture that in some ways has become more straight than the straights, more royalist than the king. It creates a world that mimics the heterosexuality of our parents -- or grandparents. And it's certainly not unusual for minorities to do that, to take in the norms of the majority culture and exaggerate them. In the meantime, however, heterosexuals have moved on. It's very difficult to imagine a middle-class straight woman accepting the sort of sexual subordination expected of a gay male bottom. Or even many working class women. That was the whole point to Loreena Bobbit. Life has changed. Gay men haven't.
Jack Nichols: I've seen enough joy in the faces of men getting fucked that its hard for me to believe that they're inviting mere punishment or pain. A friend recently gave me a video showing an all-male orgy in Miami. I noticed a great deal of affection and cooperation going on -- as opposed to typical pushy macho values. Those who wanted to fuck did, however. Others made exquisite JO circles or enjoyed oral sex. But the video seemed to show an exception to the seeming rule that anal sex is merely a copy of male-female relations--what the1940s pejoratively called a daisy chain. Except for the first person and the last in this Miami 2000 chain, those who were fucking were getting fucked and, as a result, everyone was on an equal basis. What do you think about that as a sidewinder in the argument that anal sex is always necessarily dominating? Would you be willing to concede that it is less the specific sexual 'act'-- and possibly more the personal 'attitude' that accompanies it---that counts most?
Bill Weintraub: Well, yes and no. I wouldn't say it's so much the personal attitude, although that clearly makes a difference, as it is the prevailing cultural attitude and expectations. I think it's very difficult for most people to go against the prevailing cultural model. But obviously one will encounter, from time to time, people whose conduct transcends the current cultural norm. As I said earlier, I'm sure there are men out there practicing anal sex joyously and lovingly. But I don't think they're in the majority -- not even close. In any case, what I've said from the beginning is that it's not anal sex, but the way it's been practiced in the US for the last 25 years. Was it the same in Athens in 430 BCE? or in Whitman's America? Of course not. Our generation of gay men emerged after the most brutal period of persecution of homosexuals the world has ever known. I don't think it's surprising that it's taking us a long time to get the kinks out, or that we tend to find and even institutionalize new ways of hating ourselves.
Jack Nichols: My own first sexual experiences with other guys -- when I was 6, 11, 13 and 15 involved what you call frot. Quite honestly, I can still easily climax that way, but I've noticed that a lot of guys think they can't. Have you run into that?
Bill Weintraub: Yes, but I'd put it a bit differently. It's not just that men think they can't climax that way, it's that they believe that cockrubbing is a junior league form of sex, and that it's degrading or essentially unsatisfying to climax that way. So they try to sweet talk or pressure you -- or worse -- into a more socially acceptable scenario. It's not uncommon for cockrub guys to have to physically restrain men who want to fuck them. And I've got a true life account posted right now in Warriors Speak from a man who sero-converted as the result of unwanted anal penetration. So you're constantly coming up against varying levels of coercion -- ranging from "Gee, you've got a really nice ass, I'd really like to fuck you," to "I don't think you're really gay unless you get fucked," to some guy trying to push you down and climb on top. This is after you've explained, usually more than once, that you're really not into getting fucked. At best it's tiresome, and at worse it's horrific. And that behavior, which I've experienced and which I hear about from club members over and over again, is just one more reason to speak of a cultural tyranny of anal sex, and of bullies, and of a buttfuck dictatorship. Because clearly a lot of men think of anal sex as both a right and a necessity.
Jack Nichols: Could you explain in some detail what you consider to be the cockrub joys? What do you see as its merits?
Bill Weintraub: Gladly and with pleasure. As I talk about in "Hyacinthine Love," cockrubbing has always been more than simply a sexual act to me, it's an ethos that I evolved in my childhood and that led me to seek a certain kind of partner, a man I thought of as a hero. To me this man would have mythic qualities, just as I thought my own life did. What's remarkable, I think, is that I actually found him, my very own cockrub warrior, my lover Brett Averill, and had a very passionate, very ardent cockrubbing sexual life with him, along with a very romantic relational life, until his death from AIDS. It was very difficult, in a gay world based upon anal sex and dom/sub and dopey bourgeois values, to do that, to actually find a lover who shared my vision of a union, sexual and otherwise, of two equally noble beings. But I did, and we did. Now of course most people in America, and in cockrubbing too, do not share my mythic or heroic vision -- it's very much discouraged and often viewed as being anti-democratic, although, in my writing and in my club, I do all I can to encourage people to recognize both the mythic and heroic elements of their lives, which are almost always there. In any case, the idea of equality between partners is clearly intrinsic to the cockrub way. I hear that all the time from club members, and you can read about it in Warriors Speak on our site. I think that such equality is really precious. I mean it when I say that it was the great gift of the Greeks to world civilization. Then there's the romance of cockrub. The fact that while making love you're holding each other face to face, heart to heart, cock to cock, and that you may cum together, and be bathed and share in this wonderful male essence. And too there's just the anatomical reality that cockrubbing brings together each partner's most erotically sensitive areas, so that it's physically very intense. And that it's also prolonged and full-body. You feel all of your partner's body against yours, and there's no hurry or sense of rushing to a climax, or even that a climax has to occur. So much of what one sees in anal porn is quick and with the partners barely touching -- how satisfying can that be? Much of it has to be something that's being played out in the participants' heads, not in their bodies. Not so for cockrubbing -- it is sex in the body, not in the mind. And, as I said earlier, there's that cockrub innocence as well. Toby Johnson, editor of White Crane, wrote an article way back in '83 for the Native when my lover was editor called "In Defense of Innocence." And he talked about how much of homosex, particularly for the young, lay outside the norms and expectations of straight society, and how that gave it a certain innocence and spontaneity. And to me cockrub still has that, it's not scripted the way straight sex or anal sex so often is. Cockrub is innocent and free and, very often, playful and boyish as well. And I think that's good. I don't think we need to be adult all the time, I think one of the most wonderful things about being gay is that we can retain a certain childlike quality. About 20 years ago I met Isherwood, who was at least 70 if not older at the time, but he looked like a little boy, a little boy with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. And I thought, what a wonderful way to have lived one's life. So it's curious, I suppose, because to me cockrub has an heroic or warrior aspect, and also this very boyish and innocent quality as well. And that's how I think of cockrub and myself. I don't think of myself as a man in his 50s. I think of myself still as the boy I was, setting out to find his heroic friend.
Jack Nichols: Bill, I now have a much better understanding about what you and the Cockrub Warriors are saying, and I thank you for that. You've made some extraordinarily important points about personal relating and our communities can't afford to ignore them.
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