Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sunday Morning Questions: Hate Words Edition

When I first moved from a small Southern city to the U.S. Midwest, I felt as if I might as well have moved there from Kazakhstan. I was supposed to be among my intellectual peers in the grad school that had given me a full ride. Whenever I opened my mouth to speak during my first week of class, though, my peers would simply stare at me, agog. The first couple of times I thought it was because I’d stunned them with my intellectual brilliance, but no. They weren’t listening to what I was saying. They were stunned by—and giggling at—my accent. “You talk funny!”, one of them volunteered.

Even one of my professors, that first week, said to me, “What you just said might have been true for all I know, but I was too busy listening to that hilarious accent of yours to notice.”

Hilarious. Jesus. At worst, my Southern drawl was extremely mild. I learned very quickly to scrub my speech patterns and speak only in approved Midwestern tones. I wanted people to listen to what I was saying, not how I said it.

I also had to battle Midwestern perceptions about Southerners and race. It seemed that every Detroiter wanted to corner me and get the real deal on how we treated African-Americans. “I bet you’ve seen some rough stuff down there,” they’d say confidentially. “Beatings. Lynchings. That kind of thing.” Well, no. I didn’t.

The more unfortunate side of the Midwestern attitude toward race could’ve easily been summed up by something someone said to me my first month in Michigan: “I know the South is full of prejudice, right,” one white guy said to me. “It’s like, the only place in the country you can get away with saying anything about hating spooks.”

Nice, right? It’s okay to be racist in the Detroit—where one can actually draw on a map the dividing lines between the highly-segregated black and white neighborhoods. It’s just considered polite not to say anything about it in front of other, presumably lesser, races. And it’s considered acceptable, to a degree, because hey, they’re still way better than Southerners, right?

I always had to explain, rather stiffly, that I grew up in a Southern city that was richly integrated, that neither I nor anyone I knew had used racial invective, especially the word spooks, and that although the South had a deep history of shame when it came to race relations, I was finding Michigan simultaneously both self-congratulatory about its alleged liberality, and yet a hell of a lot worse than anything I’d ever encountered back home.

I’ve been trying to formulate a response to all the Paula Deen nonsense that’s been filling the airwaves and creating noise on the internet the last couple of days. If you’ve not been paying attention, the rotund Southern television chef gave a deposition in which she admitted that she has, in her lifetime, uttered the word nigger. Consequently the Food Network terminated her contract. The situation’s ugly and unfortunate on both sides. It’s an ugly and hurtful word. She shouldn’t have said it. No question about it. It’s reprehensible.

At the same time, though, I have some complex feelings about the response of both the media and the internet. I’m always suspicious of cultural events when huge groups of people dogpile on to express their outraged indignation about what someone has done or said. Justified or not, there always seem to be other motives at play—whether it’s the quick fix of a rush of adrenaline and self-righteous glee, or the schadenfreude to be enjoyed from taking a vicious swipe at a target already laid low.

I’m no fan of Deen’s—either her television personality or her cooking—but a portion of the excited glee that seems to be coming from kicking her while she’s down seems to arise from people who like to take cheap and easy shots. She’s a fatty—therefore you know she must be morally weak. She uses a lot of butter—she must have no self-control whatsoever. Then there’s the fact Deen is Southern. She talks funny. (She has exactly the same accent as my mom’s mother used to, so it’s not particularly comic to me.) Of course she’s said the word nigger. She’s from the South, right? They all talk funny and act like that down there. Not like the rest of us, the nice people.

I’ve seen outrage on social media from men I know who have absolutely no issue calling women who stand in their way words like cunt and bitch; I’ve seen moral superiority from a former school acquaintance who during the election was so loud and obnoxious about “Obama bin Ladin and the fags controlling him” that it’s tough to take anything she says seriously about how deeply shocked, shocked and appalled, she is about Deen’s admission.

All of us in our lifetimes have used hateful language. That fact excuses nothing. But to dogpile onto someone else when she’s been backed into a corner, merely to express our own superiority, is disingenuous. Finger-pointing accomplishes nothing; it doesn’t help anyone explore we we use hurtful words, or under what circumstances. And those are dialogues that we, as a society, really should be having, rather than resting on our perceived laurels and congratulating ourselves for not being as bad as other people.

Whew. Heavy topic this morning. Thanks for putting up with it. Let’s get to some questions from formspring.me.

With all the sexual encounters you have had, what was the wildest request for sex from someone you have done, and to compare what was the wildest request you wouldn't do?

I think the most offbeat request I ever had was to stretch someone's scrotum skin flat and tight, like a drum—or like Cassandra the Last Human on Doctor Who, for those of you who watch that—and drive sterilized finishing nails through it into a block of wood. That I had no problem with.

I did have a problem when the same guy wanted me to study up on genital scarring and perform some of those rituals armed with a sterilized skinning knife. I passed on that one.


As a married man do you find having a wedding ring attracts more attention? Also I’ve heard (not experienced) that married men usually make lousy tops supposedly because they're doing all the humping like they do in marriage & prefer to be done than the doing.

I was just noting last week that individuals tend to be observant about certain things. Some people are very observant, for example, about eye color, and could tell you exactly what hue a person is simply by talking to them once. (I am not good at that.) Other people are good about wedding rings, and can tell you immediately if an absent person wore one or not. (I'm not really good at that either. What I am good at is telling you exactly what I ate at any restaurant I've visited in the last 15 years, and probably what everyone else in my part ordered, as well.)

So for those people who just don't notice rings, no, mine doesn't really attract attention. There are men I've been with a dozen times who don't realize it's there. I'm pretty open about being in a relationship in online profiles, so that people can self-select whether they care to pursue anything with me or not based on that criterion.

However. For those who meet me and notice the ring, it often becomes a focal point of the encounter. There are a lot of men who like to kiss it or to suck the ring it's on. Some men like to have me remove it and place it in my pocket or on the table or somewhere out of sight, so that they can pretend I'm single and theirs for the duration of the encounter. Others like me to place it on one of their fingers while we fuck, as a bonding experience—like we’re temporarily married during the fuck.

I don't know where you hear that married men are lousy tops; I hear from my best bottoms that their best tops are usually married men who fuck women as well. There are a lot of married men who prefer to be done rather than do the doing, if that makes sense—but there are just as many gay men who are like that too.


Who was the first person you thought you were in love with? Do you still think you were in love with them?

When I look back on my teen years, I think it's odd that despite all the men I had sex with, I never really fell in love with any of them. I was fond of a few. I certainly enjoyed a lot of them. I saw many of them for years. But I assumed romance wasn’t in the cards, so I didn’t expect or look for it.

It wasn't until college that I fell in love for the first time, and it was with a girl in my sophomore dorm. She was smart as a whip and tolerably pretty, in the same way Hermione is pretty at Hogwarts though neither Harry nor Ron ever notice her through most of those books. But she was from Long Island (which was as exotic to me as Hogwarts would’ve been) and she caught my fancy. I spent most of my college years mooning after her from afar.

We were good friends, you see, but she was spending most of her college years mooning after another boy. And he treated her like dirt, while he kept her hoping for an eventual romance and traditional white wedding. He kept her on the hook, while she kept me on the hook, while I mooned after her and kept dozens of hopeful men on hooks of my own.

Was I really in love? Yeah, probably. But if I didn't have the nuts to tell her about it, I didn't deserve to have her. Simple as that. What it did teach me, eventually, is that sitting around and hoping is a piss-poor excuse for courtship. I never made that mistake again.


Rob, I feel I must thank you for sharing a private side of your life and innermost thoughts. I feel there are others like me who find it difficult to respond to you as we have very ordinary lives that may bore you. Thank you again.

I appreciate that you're grateful, my loyal reader. Thank you.

I wish you wouldn't refer to your own life as boring, though. Or if it is boring, make it exciting! You have the capacity to direct your life toward goals that are both exciting and fulfilling—but it’s up to you to steer in the direction you want to go. It won’t simply happen without you taking control.

8 comments:

  1. Rob-
    As always, interesting, insightful and introspective writing.

    Thanks for sharing

    Another Rob

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  2. Rob,

    Thank you for the most sensible words I've yet read about the unfortunate Paula Deen mess. You've put into words what I've been trying to say. The self-righteousness of the American public is always shocking but I guess we should be used to it by now. Let's kick her while she's down.

    You are, as always, direct and to the point, whether writing about your sexual accomplishments or a social issue. It is always enlightening to hear what you're thinking.

    Paul, NYC

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  3. I don't know what Deen's accent actually is. I'm not sure she does either.

    If you watch her early shows (which I liked), she was folksy and had a quaint drawl. As time went on - and more shows added - that accent became as thick as the lard she'd use - ditto with the stupid turns of alleged Southern phrases she never used in the past. That was a turn-off enough for me to stop watching.

    I think some PR asswipe told her lay it on thick for her brand. She came off seeming much more inane and dumbed-down. That said, while the word isn't great by any means, we're not really talking about 20 yrs ago - which she claims. They're really getting to the heart that she said it in front of her employees at the resturant she owns. Recently.

    I don't care where you're from - no one should be that dumb. ...and Food TV didn't terminate her contract - they didn't renew it. Maybe a technicality, but there is a difference.

    10 yrs ago the Dixie Chicks didn't say anything nearly that bad - just they were embarrassed by Bush being from their state. Free speech for sure. and they were allowed that, but it doesn't mean there isn't a price to that speech. As much as I might have agreed w the Chicks and disagree w Deen, they evenly got the repercussions of that freedom.

    And I know I'd be fired from MY job if I used that word in the work setting....and rightfully so.

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    1. I'm not sure you're aware that you're actually proving one of my points rather than refuting it. The thickness of an accent has nothing to do—zero—with a person's education or intelligence. Yet you state that the more thick her accent became to you, the more inane and dumbed-down Deen seemed. That's a prejudice of your own that you really need to confront.

      I would posit that it's just as like that Deen suppressed her natural accent and turns of phrases—many of which my grandmother also used, by the way—during her initial years of television work, and that when she found the schtick worked for her, she let her own natural mannerisms creep back in. Either way, we have no proof.

      If she used hateful language, particularly a word with two hundred years of vile associations, in front of her employees, then yes, she should face the consequences. Absolutely. It hasn't been proved she did yet, so I didn't address that. But the network didn't terminate her contract because of the result of the trial; they did so because they perceived her as a liability after this scandal and because of her previous ones involving her endorsements. She's done bad stuff, yes. But a lot of the internet hue and cry that attracts media attention to these scandals has to do with dogpiling on the woman because of her Southern heritage...and faulting someone for where they were born is just as inappropriate as faulting them for what they were born with, whether it's blue eyes or black skin or an orientation toward boys instead of girls.

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  4. I was not surprised at all with Deen using the "N-word." I am surprised at the swiftness of the judgment of Food Network which has already convicted her, sans trial. What upset me was the idea of a plantation wedding with only black men serving so that it would appear as something from the antebellum South. That's way over the top for me.

    --bdlcub

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  5. Thank you for your take on the PD situation. I've never watched her show, but I have seen how quickly people have been to convict her. I think they ought to provide a list of all the known hateful words to TV personalities everywhere and have them certify that they have never once uttered any of them. People would be coming out of the woodwork to tell on that Hell's Kitchen guy.

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  6. Devil's AdvocateJune 24, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    I appreciate your well thought out views on the Deen situation. I don't watch Deen's show, but do know who she is. She doesn't generally seem like a bad person to me. I am often reminded of the biblical parable that He who is without sin should throw the first stone. I try not to throw many stones and it seems to me like many self appointed righteous people often do a lot of stone throwing.

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  7. The year was 1960 (yeah, old farts read this blog as well) and I was attending my first day of freshman orientation at a highly selective all-male liberal arts college in North Carolina. I was from the mid-Atlantic region and had never lived in the south before.

    The Dean of Students, who was actually filling in as Dean until a new one could be hired, was in his late 60's, and addressed us on things which we needed to know as D______n Gentlemen.

    Needless to say, my entire class was white. Each dorm had one or two older Black men who served as porters to us boys. They would help move our furnite into the dorms, run errands for us, fetch our laundry, and they were also responsible for more janitorial duties.

    In discussing the porters the Dean made a comment which has remained indelibly burned into my brain. "I want you to treat the boys kindly. You don't have to let them call you by your first name, of course".

    That paternalistic relationship to Blacks had existed in much of the south for generations and both sides accepted it. Then came the Freedom Marchs in the mid-60's and things kind of fell apart for both sides for a bit.

    Fast forward a few decades. The president of the student body (now coed) was a black man who subsequently became the mayor of Charlotte and was just recently confirmed as a member of the president's cabinet.

    Sometimes where you stand really does depend on where you sit.

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