Book Club: Using Disgust for Politics

There was a lot of new ideas in the next fifty pages of Perv. I hope those of you reading along are enjoying the book. It’s definitely a great midrange book for people who have some understanding of sexuality already. I was trying to figure out what to talk about for the second week and instead of breaking down my notes I wanted to talk about disgust in particular. It’s an idea from the first reading but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I hope you’ll forgive me just the same.

Much of what I want to talk about is on pages 40-41. Bering discusses how, when we discuss homosexuality, there is inevitably a discussion about anal sex. Specifically he quotes “If your personal identity revolves around your lust for other men’s stinking anuses,” and “a particularly disgusting form of depravity” and “when did we base special rights based on fecal diseased sex?”

The quotes were from an article on the Free Republic website on an article about gay pride.

So what does disgust have to do with politics? If a certain group of people associates something with disgust, it becomes much more difficult for that group to appear legitimate. We might not want to think about that group because it may provoke a negative reaction somewhere deep inside of us. The HIV epidemic was, for a long time, a gay problem. While HIV was an epidemic among homosexual people, it was also a way to remove power from this group of people, and way to keep homosexuality quiet. You can see a pretty powerful example of this in the film Dallas Buyers Club.

The interesting thing about homosexuality and anal sex is that we immediately and somewhat passively forget that people who are straight have anal sex too. They do it frequently and for fun. Some even argue that anal sex is becoming a norm, no longer taboo, hardly a kink. (This I believe depends on your social circle and where you live, although I would agree that it’s hardly rare.)

The point is that no one cares if you’re straight and engaging in anal sex because it’s not as dirty as two men having anal sex. (It should also be noted that girl on girl sex is very rarely seen as “dirty.”) We simply have a problem with two dudes getting it on and because we don’t like to think about that, the disgust is used as a social tool to prevent same-sex equality.

I think it’s important to separate sexual orientation and sexual practice. Not everyone who is homosexual enjoys anal sex, much in the same way that not everyone who is heterosexual enjoys anal sex. (Homosexuality doesn’t give you different anal anatomy.) The problem is that we view sexuality through a heteronormative lens. When we think about two people having sex we think about men and women, one penetrator, one receiver. When we have two men it becomes a problem of “so who is on the bottom?”

Hopefully most of us know that sexuality is more complex and fluid than this. Heterosexual couples have a wide variety of sexual interactions with one another including foreplay, oral sex, touching, speaking, grinding, vaginal, anal, toys, and so forth.

The use of disgust goes beyond the discussion of sexuality. We can think about how disgust is used to limit the reproductive health of women – currently, and in the past. If we think of women who are having casual sex as “dirty sluts” it’s a lot easier to say that they should just close their legs and stop having sex than it is to provide them with health testing, preventative measures, plan b, and access to abortion. Instead of giving it to women that they are able and wanting to have sex, we ignore the fact that men are involved in many of these situations, and put the blame on women for getting it on when they “didn’t have to!”

Keep an eye out for how often disgust is used in the language of the news that you read or listen to. It is often subtle and progresses over time as people become more comfortable with accepting a particular notion.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I have happened upon rooms where anal sex had taken place less than an hour before I walked by. One had been the scene of gay male sex. The other had been the scene of Cave Man on his woman. Both smelled exactly the same.

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  2. Uplift says:

    On disgust as a “moral” concept, the psychologist Jonathan Haidt has researched this point. See http://www.moralfoundations.org/ for more information on this, and how conservatives tend to view “disgust” as a legitimate moral concern, whereas liberals tend to dismiss the concept as a valid basis for moral decision making (although do not necessarily dismiss the concept in all ways).

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    1. ST says:

      Thanks for the link, I wasn’t aware of this! I enjoyed his book “The Righteous Mind.”

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