Pleasure, Power, and Transformation
Kerwin Kay, Jill Nagle, Baruch Gould, editors
Harrington Park Press. $24.95
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,
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 societyinterracial
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
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."
that observation, Thompson scores
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
© 2000 Bob Guter
is editor of BENT.