Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Fragile Heterosexuality

According to Meghan Rourke in Slate, many believe that "a husband who finds his libido gone in the wake of the delivery room merits the same scorn [as] a man who leaves a woman after finding out that she has a black grandparent."

Believe it or not, I'm close to living both sides of this equation. Close, but not quite.

I didn't really see my first child being born. My face was planted firmly in my wife's armpit as she was pushing out our first daughter. My only thought was that I needed to keep breathing until the next push. It was true that I got to see the afterbirth, the placenta, and the doctor stitching up my wife's highly exposed vagina. The only thing I really remember about these events was the nurse saying "that's a really juicy one" when she got a look at the placenta. But that didn't really bother me. My wife's a nurse and I had learned that nurses were "like that." Where I came close to the guys who lose in the article is that I developed this fantasy that having sex with my wife would be a form of incest now that the baby was born. I forgot the logic, but it was something weird like having sex with my wife was the equivalent of having sex with my daughter. But I didn't give the fantasy a lot of energy and it lost its grip on me in a couple of weeks. So I can't say that I'm as big a putz as the guys in the article.What about these guys then? I have a thought. People focus so much on the straight/ gay divide that they overlook the fragility of heterosexual attraction. A lot of heterosexual guys--maybe most guys--find that their relationships with other guys to be a lot more satisfying, intimate, trusting, and physically comfortable than their contact with women. Their sexual orientation is heterosexual because they like fucking women but they aren't particularly comfortable with women's bodies, don't like being around women that much or don't enjoy talking to them. Being sexually oriented toward women doesn't mean enjoying women and a lot of guys find women to be repulsive, dangerous, threatening, etc. Consequently, a lot of heterosexual guys make heterosexual sex safer by constructing all kinds of symbolic and ritual barriers to keep it from "infecting" the rest of their lives. They have all kinds of fetishistic requirements for their wives and tend to sexually "disown" their wives if they step outside those boundaries. Guys who are super focused on their wive's looks are a good example of this. Now, there are few experiences that are more "outside" the usual lines of a guy's life than childbirth. So, it's understandable that guys with a fragile heterosexuality would be turned off by childbirth. In fact, I wonder if childbirth is so traumatic for them that they are less attracted to women in general and would have to retreat to (even more) masturbation. In that case, Meghan Rourke is right and they should be given a pass on the birthing scene.

As for the race side of the equation, it turns out that I did figure out that the rumors of a black grandfather in my first wife's family were probably true. My first wife "S" had olive skin and this wild-for-a-white-woman hair that she was always trying to tame with various perms. Finally, she had her hair straightened about a year after our divorce. At the time, I thought that "S" had straightened her hair just like so many black women did. About a decade later, it hit me that the family rumors were probably true and that she was partly African-American. So what would have happened if I had figured this out while we were married? Probably nothing. One of things that was really compelling about "S" was her powerful sense of the ugliness and injustice of white racism. By the time we got married, I had bought into that view wholeheartedly and would have grown into seeing her as partly African-American.


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