Kind of weird what you get when you run that L.A. Times article about Tim Gunn’s 29 years of celibacy through Regender.com.
The original article is kind of a piece of work. The reporter (and, evidently tens of thousands of people querying Google) are somewhere between shock, fascination, and denial that the Project Runway co-host hasn’t had sex since the early 1980s. All the more so because Gunn says it hasn’t been a very big deal for him.
The real hoot is that people who (correctly) don’t bat an eye that Gunn’s last relationship was with a man, nevertheless disapprove of his failure to be sexual at all for three decades.
Another weird thing about the original article is that the reporter asked, of all people, a surgeon who specializes almost exclusively in women’s health and sexuality to opine on Gunn’s “condition.” (You’d think they could find at least one psychologist or urologist in L.A. who regularly sees gay men. Or men period.)
Even weirder, or more like unpleasant, is what the surgeon, Dr. Jennifer R. Berman, has to say.
…Gunn’s 29-year, self-imposed dry spell was “not a natural state.”
Berman said that, if she were treating Gunn, she’d like to know: Does he continue to be celibate by choice—or out of fear? For example, she said, if we lived in a magical world where sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS were not an issue…would Gunn still abstain from sexual intimacy?
“It’s not a natural sort of decision, nor is it biological or physiological—we are not wired that way,” she said. “It sounds like there are issues relating to trust,” she added.
Or, as Jill of I Blame the Patriarchy put it
“If she were treating him for this ‘illness,’ she says, she would get to the bottom of his debilitating trust issues, for Man Must Boink!”
Look, I don’t want to single out Berman, or even the reporter, and certainly not all the people who think this is just earth-shattering news. Imagine, a man! Who doesn’t have sex! Inconceivable! Almost intolerable! But that whole “man must boink” business is as clearly socially constructed as a Windsor tie. What’s really chilling is that a man who doesn’t “boink” isn’t just weird, he’s broken and wrong and by gum we’d better fix him or else really break him!
Call it the opposite of the other obligatory gender construction, “slut shaming.” A man who, when given a choice to take it or leave it picks “leave it” ought to be ashamed of himself. And the only reason people don’t shame the crap out of them is there are just a whole lot more places to hide, and a whole lot fewer witnesses (how does one witness not doing it anyway?).
There are a lot of really bad consequences to this assumption that “man must boink.” Really bad. And given that, going back as far as the late 1970s, researchers have noticed that as many as 15% of adult men really would rather not, that’s a lot of potential bad stuff. For instance, you know that eternal “joke” about how 90% of men masturbate and the other 10% are liars? If you’re not one of the 100% who everyone “knows” wants sex, then you’re going one of a couple of ways, none of them very good and some really bad. For instance, you might do really ugly stereotype-ish things because you’re trying to “pass.” Or you might take the prim/prudish path and say all sex is sin and should only be done “for reproduction.” If that. Or you might just lie a lot. But since we live in a misogynist culture pretty much all the ways of “passing” involve misogyny, and since people trying to pass tend to be over the top then, yeah, you can end up with a lot of over-the-top misogyny.
Most of which (though not all) could be mitigated (though probably not eliminated) if the asshats at USAToday and “experts” from the L.A. Times would keep their ignorant, stereotype-enforcing pie holes shut.
A few years ago I got a brainstorm from one of Twisty Faster’s posts and decided that, in a lot of ways, it makes more sense to say that men are the “sex class” (meaning they’re the class constructed to be reflexively, uncontrollably, obligately sexual) while women might be better designated as the “no sex” class where it’s simultaneously inconceivable and intolerable that a woman would ever experience, let alone admit, sexual interest. In either case, people who don’t fit their respective stereotypes aren’t just thought to be somewhere on the normal bell curve, and they’re not just considered maybe a little quirky, and they’re not maybe just in a less-obvious part of the population, they’re broken, sick, wrong, and actually kind of a threat. One that needs to be “mended,” or explained away or even outright denied.
The opprobrium heaped on Gunn just makes the case. He’s male but not obligately sexual and he’s suddenly weirder than if he had three buttocks.
More proof, by the way, that society’s patriarchal. And classed. And gendered.
Me? I’m not on the same part of the bell curve as Gunn but since my first trip through a gym locker room in 7th grade I’ve experienced intense pressure not just to “be a man” but to be compulsively sexual. Sexual’s fine—I like being sexual—but compulsively? No, that’s not been good at all—it pushed me into places I’d rather not have gone, before I was ready to go there, and I’m just continuing to confront, over and over, the places that pressure told me to go that I really should never have gone and wish I hadn’t.
I wish Tim Gunn and all the other asexual and unsexual people in the world the best of luck, sure, but even more I wish they got a little more understanding too. Actually, more than that, earnestly hope someday they’ll be as tolerated and accepted and “not broken” as anybody else.
Ugh. Sorry about the rant. Hope it doesn’t sound like man’splaining, it’s just…I’ve got a lot of frustration about this. And I’m really glad you brought it up, Jill, because if we’re ever going to get out of the patriarchy/gender trap (I know we have different opinions about whether we can) we’re going to have to get people to stop contemplating psychiatric “fixes” for men who don’t fit the “and the other 10% are lying” stereotype.
Figleaf has been involved in sex information and referral services both in person and online since the early 1970s. He’s recently started re-entering the workforce after spending more than 15 years as a stay-at-home dad. For more than seven years, he’s blogged about the sociology and politics of sex, gender, and relationships at Real Adult Sex. Follow him at @talkingfigleaf.