Sunday, May 29, 2011

A "Truly Queer Theory" on Sex

Although I didn't agree with everything the late D. Stephen Heersink wrote (both on his Gay Species blog and in comments here at The Wild Reed), I nevertheless appreciated and respected his erudition and prolificacy as a writer.

I also found much of what he wrote to be very insightful and helpful, in particular the following – parts of which I've previously shared in my Wild Reed post "Dew[y]-Kissed." This particular piece by Heersink is excerpted from his September 19, 2006 Gay Species post, "Sex, Erotic Play, and Love," and I'm curious to hear how it resonates with my readers – gay and straight, male and female.

Unleashing the repression of Puritanism has not made many of us much happier. Watching some documentaries about the Seventies where sex was the national obsession, I find it utterly demeaning to have sex with three or seven different people in the course of a single day (assuming male virility can perform that often), and then have an orgy that night. Sex is unquestionably pleasurable, perhaps one of the highlights of life itself, but so many different partners in so little time suggests no one was really getting off, except on the idea of getting off. Parading in the shadows of the bath houses, the street yards, the parks, the bars, with a different "member" in play every hour seems to have made sex less satisfying, not more. And the less satisfied, the more one pursues it, of course. I suspect many of us, gay and straight, have become obsessed with the idea of sex, so that no amount of actual sex is ever satisfying.

Now I have a truly queer theory about this sort of thing. Mechanical Sex, the kind that sex manuals teach their readers to enjoy with abandon, quickly becomes pedestrian, indeed mechanical. Get it up, get it in, and get off. On the opposite side of the spectrum is sexual, or more accurately, "erotic" love. These extraordinary occasions are pregnant with meaning, intimacy, caring, sharing, mutuality, and immersion. But this requires an investment in the other, and some measure of self-control by one's self. The "significance" is when the eyes, lips, and breath of the Other is itself so captivating that one is not aware of any of the mechanics.

Obviously, not all intimate encounters can be so pregnant. Those occasions require the right chemistry, the right mood, the right person, the right idea, and something more than getting off. But there seems to be an intermediary position that most of us, straight and gay, are ignoring. Sometimes "erotic play" is just the touch we want, no deep commitments, no heavy intensity, no mechanical sex, just a sense of mutual interplay without the seriousness of love, but without the recklessness of hedonistic or raw sex. In this twilight one simply "plays" in the truest sense of the word. Conversation, stroking, laughing, erotic pleasures, but only tinged with a hint of actual sex. . . .

– D. Stephen Heersink
"Sex, Erotic Play, and Love"
The Gay Species
September 19, 2006

Heersink's acknowledgement of a spectrum of sexual experiences/encounters reminds me of Thomas Stevenson's observation in Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men.

There is a difference between losing oneself and losing oneself. On the one hand, [many gay men] are concerned with the ways in which promiscuous behavior can leave one with a sense of emptiness, or destroy one’s self respect or even one’s life. These are very real possibilities of losing oneself. On the other hand, there is the losing of oneself in an ecstasy of giving and receiving persons. Whereas the first way of losing oneself tends to lead, in matters of degree, to nothingness, the second tends to lead, in matters of degrees, to fullness and bliss.

Now the question is: Can such a "queer theory" on sex be incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church's understanding of human sexuality?

Actually, I think it already has. Not yet at the "official" level, mind you (that's always been a bit slow when it comes to such things), but definitely among the church as "people of God." One only has to look at the non-reception of the clerical caste's ban on contraception. It seems clear that straight Catholic couples recognize that there is more than one purpose of sex; that sex isn't just about making babies.

And in the academic sphere, too, some very important work is being done by Catholic scholars, theologians and writers to develop a sexual/moral theology that acknowledges and takes into consideration the experiences and insights of all of us – gay, straight and everything in between. I think in particular of the pioneering work of John McNeill; the invaluable insights of Daniel Helminiak, Daniel Maguire, Margaret Farley, Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler, Joan Timmerman, Mark Jordan, and Mary Hunt; and the important contributions that Thomas Stevenson makes in his book Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, and that William Lindsey, Colleen Kochivar-Baker, Joseph O'Leary, Terence Weldon, Jaydon Cameron, Karen Doherty, Phillip Clark, and many others make through their online writings.

I think Heersink's "truly queer theory" on sex is actually a "truly human" one. And I'm happy to see that the formulation and articulation of such a reality-based understanding of human sexuality and its expression is taking place within the Catholic church – with or without the support or approval of its clerical caste.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 1)
Sex as Mystery, Sex as Light (Part 2)
Human Sex: Weird and Silly, Messy and Sublime
Real Holiness
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the "Wisdom of the Body"
Quote of the Day – April 11, 2011
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Standard of Sexual Ethics
Jesus, Sex and Power
The "Wild Gaiety" of Jesus' Moral Teaching
Italian Cardinal Calls for New Vision of Sexuality
What Is It That Ails You?
The Prison of Pornography


3puddytats said...

Interesting article...

As a straight woman--and that is my only qualifications onthis subject--there may also be the distinctions of how men and women view sex. I remember years ago the lesbian woman I worked for as a housesitter said only another women really KNOWS how to touch a woman..not just physically but emotionally. Men may feel the same way.

In my wild oat-sowing days before I became a chaste single Catholic woman I was in search of the elusive "perfect orgasm" that everyone seems to write about. The right time, the right place, the right person, the right time of the month, never seemed to come together, as elusive as the planets aligning. Maybe sex just is what it is , and not what the romance novels or movies drum it up to be.

Nice visiting your blog Michael...I'll stop by from time to time.

PS for the record I'm straight and always will be but love and support my LGBT friends.

brian gerard said...

Great post MIchael. I do think Gay Species is on to the right thing. We are accustomed, socially, to only seeing sexual expression at two poles - promiscuity or monogamy. There is a mid-space I think where real and deep beauty occurs, maybe is created. "In this twilight one simply "plays" in the truest sense of the word. Conversation, stroking, laughing, erotic pleasures, but only tinged with a hint of actual sex. . . ." I wonder sometimes whether queer love (non-procreative) is best expressed with just the barest amount of sex.

The White Dragon said...

I'm not sure I really understand this. Is this author simply saying that although being very promiscous will leave you feeling down you don't have to be completely monogamous either. Is he saying that it's just a matter of degree, and of finding a middle way?

His blog seems to have been abandoned or hacked.