HOT PANTS?

Male Lust:
Pleasure, Power, and Transformation
Kerwin Kay, Jill Nagle, Baruch Gould, editors
Harrington Park Press. $24.95

Bob Guter

Do we feel empowered when we feel sexual? How easy is it for disabled men to enjoy that feeling? Is lust ever positive? When I saw the wide-ranging table of contents of "Male Lust" I thought it might answer some of those questions. But first, definitions.

Lust. This is the Big Time. One of the Seven Deadly Sins, remember? Lust keeps company with Pride, Covetousness, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, and Sloth. Bad-ass companions, not the Seven Dwarfs. Lust is a serious matter. It draws us away from Love and Spirituality. Lust, you might say, is disordered, uncontrolled, and messy. Alas, so is this book.

"Male Lust" reads as if its editors had fastened on lust as an easy device to justify a whole bunch of disparate essays about sex. The book's cover is the first clue to its lack of focus: The photo and design suggest a certain species of gay pornography, something deliciously tacky, while the subtitle, "Pleasure, Power, and Transformation," reads like a parody of academic discourse. How, exactly, does lust engender pleasure, power, and transformation? For the most part, we never get to find out.

Some of the contributions really are about lust, especially the varieties of serious abuse that lust can lead to, rape and child molestation high on the list. But it's precisely this territory where readers can lose their way most easily, for the authors who treat these subjects too often fail to draw distinctions between lust as an expression of immorality, on one hand, and, on the other, evidence of sexual pathology.

Many contributors simply fail to address the subject. Essentially, their failure is one of language and definition. Lust means something specific. It refers to wantonness, lasciviousness, unbridled sexual impulse, not merely variants of desire or passion. Unless we understand those distinctions, there is no way we can investigate what "Male Lust" purports to be about.

This failure undermines the book's greatest asset, its undoctrinaire choice of contributors and the spectrum of sexual experience they are left free to investigate. Queer contributors abound, and they manage to get in some good but scattershot points about life on the "fringes" of our sexual society—interracial couplings, leather, S&M, bondage, role-playing, transgender issues. Even in these contributions, however, there is a tendency for New Age fuzzy thinking to obscure more than it reveals.

Disability is definitely left on the fringes, too. In his fictional piece, "Out of Isolation," Frank Moore assumes the voice of a man whose disability is never made clear (is it autism, cognitive disorder, profound paralysis?), but whose institutionalized existence embodies the dehumanizing power of medicalization. The narrator finds, then loses, affection and erotic connection. A thought-provoking piece, but is it about lust?

William Thompson's brief, first-person account, "Sex, Blindness, and the Way of the Wound," is one of the book's more successful contributions because of its direct, personal, and to-the-point focus. Thompson talks about how his disability has frequently made him feel "entirely unmanned," a kind of stranger in the world of sex. "Lust," he writes, "was body, and my body was flawed. I felt ashamed every time I lusted after someone and told myself that I didn't deserve to have an erotic life."

With that observation, Thompson scores
a direct hit for disabled readers. Would that the editors of "Male Lust" had followed his lead more often. Tim Beneke inadvertently sums things up when he opens his essay, "Some Screaming Notes About Male Lust," with these words: "The topic fills me with frustration, bewilderment, a flurry of disorienting insights . . ." So does this book.

© 2000 Bob Guter

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BOB GUTER is editor of BENT.