Article: Thomas Gaflan
The Virgin Orgy: Queer Innocence and Online
Illustration: Wesley Ryan Clapp
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1. QUEER QUIZ
On 4chan, where anonymous internet users congregate and exchange images, about 30-40% of those images are pornography. One popular thread that repeats every few hours, it seems, is the diaper thread: someone posts an image that announces that it is DIAPER TIME, and everybody posts their diaper photos. Men in diapers, women in diapers, men and women soiling their diapers, people having sex with people in diapers. Sometimes people who don’t like diapers enter the conversation and post pictures of skeletal hospice patients in diapers, or corpses in diapers, or actual babies—forcing the real fetishists to scroll past undesirably disgusting images in order to get to the desirably disgusting images. People argue—more men, more messy, less messy, quit it with the men and post some women—but everyone looks at everything, even just the small-size image thumbnails, even if only to rule it out of their eternal search for imagery that fulfills the deep need.
Quick quiz: let’s pretend that the clock has just struck DIAPER TIME. What does heterosexuality mean now? Normativity? Who’s queer on diaper day?
On 4chan, new users are called “newfags.” Experienced users are called “oldfags.” Furries (people who are attracted to anthropomorphic animals) are called “furfags.” Users who are interested in political activism, or who oppose the circulation of pedophilic pictures, are called “moralfags.” The word “fag” is such a fundamentally crucial pronoun that the words “gayfag” and “normalfag” both exist. The site administrators apparently consider this broad use of the word objectionable or boring or both, and so they have put a script into place that automatically replaces every instance of “fag” with the word “roody-poo,” generating an endless string of “newroody-poo” and “burn in hell roody-poogot.”
It’s not that “fag” has become some kind of proud appellation, or that it’s not used to demean or dismiss difference: it’s that every single person is a fag, is different, and is somehow pitiful.
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3. I WAS A GOOD BOY
No drinking. No smoking. No bad friends (not so many friends). Didn’t talk back much, but wasn’t a pushover, either. Good at school. Easy to keep track of—I was probably in my room. Interests: literature and technology.
That was during the day. One night my lover and I decided that we would go out as a pair of femme dominatrixes, which I wasn’t totally crazy about, but whatever, and I created a female character and dressed her up appropriately. We met this submissive guy and got into it and my girlfriend was pegging him and I was flogging her so that she’d fuck him harder and she was yowling and giving it to him. And he was really getting off on it, at least in part because I really did think male submissives were kind of repellent from an aesthetic perspective. This looked, in the scene, like lesbian man-hating behavior, a favorite narrative of male submissives. My disdain for him and my punishment of her wasn’t because I hated men, though—I had a penis too, at some level—it was because I didn’t understand male submission, because I wanted to be strong, because I got beat up at school because in real life, I was a weak 13 years old. My girlfriend was actually 26, a married mother of a girl who was closer to my age than I was to my lover’s. The other guy: no idea, I never saw him again, although he messaged me occasionally afterward.
Once I was at a Quiz Bowl summer camp and my backpack was open, and this kid walking behind me picked up the fallen yellow legal pages I’d been using to write letters to that same woman (we didn’t have the internet at Quiz Bowl camp yet; I was going to type them later), and he pulled me aside and handed them back to me and said, “You need to be more careful about where you take these, and who sees them.” That was the sole intervention—the only thinning of the boundary between night and day—of my adolescence. And to that kid, who likely has children of his own, now: point taken, buddy. Good advice.
4. QUEER QUEER QUEER QUEER QUEER
Queer: turn your Google Images “safe search” off and type dinosaurs fucking robots.
Queer: a description for non-normative sexual behavior or identity that calls into question the genderedness of sexuality.
Queer: the further I get into this essay, the more I fear that I am the only person who has thoughts and experiences like these, even though I am intellectually convinced that such is not the case.
Queer: game situations experienced when children are told to play Monopoly with a chess set. Queens purchasing rooks. Pawns hiding underneath the board. The winner is the one who can spin around the fastest without getting too dizzy to stand up.
Queer: another one of those words that stops making sense when you repeat it often enough. When it becomes the new normal, it means that our language has fallen behind our practice.
5. QUIZ QUESTION NUMBERS TWO AND THREE, BUT #3 IS NOT A QUESTION
A hypothetical 17-year-old boy engages in three sessions of intense masturbatory activity a week, each lasting between four and six hours. His tastes in pornography range widely: from clothed Facebook pictures of girls he actually knows and admires to “Crack Whore Confessions,” a faux-reality (or faux-faux-reality) video series in which addicts recount their suffering in between sex acts performed for money and close-ups of them smoking drugs.
Question two: considering for a moment that wish fulfillment is a kind of fantasy as old as wishing, and that reveling in the humiliation of others is as old as the will to power, does this new way to experience the virgin and whore, the simultaneous superimposition of the crackhead over the high school junior in two browser tabs, represent an object of desire that has never existed in the physical world? Which is to say, does desiring sex in this way make this kid queer?
Non-question three: the fact that all this goes on in perfect isolation, with no actual people involved, and that it is perfectly omittable from daily life, is itself something to fetishize. It is a perversion, an erotic displacement as sharp and particular as the distinction between a sex partner and their feet.
6. I WAS A BOY
I “broke up” with the 26-year-old woman I had been “seeing” because I went on a date with an actual girl, someone whose cleavage turned red when you touched her and who had fine, alien hairs all over her upper lip. I had perhaps the most uncomfortable break-up conversation I have ever had, during which I tried to get across that real-life romantic interactions would be healthier for this woman than continued time wasted with me, and that perhaps it was time to try to make a go of her marriage. The point was likely true, but saying it right then was so odiously self-serving and sanctimonious that it still makes me cringe. This common teenaged mistake was compounded by the fact that I was lecturing a woman who was 13 years my senior, and that I was doing it so that I could go play Parcheesi (not a euphemism) with a teenager who knew the libretto to “The Fantasticks.”
I had thought that insisting on one relationship at a time was a pretty honorable thing to do, but there was no sex in my new relationship, and I wasn’t about to press for any. So after some hasty rationalization, I ended up back on the internet. Attracting partners as a male requires a certain time investment and commitment to relationship-building—not much, but too much by my new standards—and that’s at least part of the reason that I became a woman. Well, not a woman. A 14-year-old boy’s idea of a woman, a slobberingly eager plaything who would turn brutally cold if her sex partner refused to capitalize sentences or failed to correctly navigate the elaborate chat programs I preferred (interests: literature, technology).
In my particular case, it was not the act of being a woman that was transgressive or exciting—I had not been the kind of child who fantasized about dressing or acting feminine—it was the sex act with strangers that I wanted, and being a woman was simply the best and quickest way to get access to those sex acts. Since then, however, the situation has changed. Now when I see standard male-gaze pornography, there is a way in which I visualize the violation or exhibition or worship happening to me. When that violation entertains or excites, I think of my destabilized gender perspective as something that technology has done for me; when it is uncomfortable, I think of it as something that technology has done to me. I am still coming to terms with the idea of this gender transformation as something that I did. That’s pending.
7. NORMATIVE AND DEVIANT
These concepts come in concentric, overlapping, brief circles, like throwing a spray of gravel into a pond. A thousand years ago, male aggression towards unwilling female partners might have been considered normal, and it was female desire that was considered deviant. Then monogamous romance, in which each partner uniquely and exclusively desires the other: in this case, it is non-monogamous desire that is considered deviant, in both men and women. Then perhaps there was a time and place in which unrestrained sexuality was considered normative and restricted or ritualized sexuality was considered repressed and deviant. Then it was deviant to be gay, then it was deviant to be too disgusted by gay people. The definitions overlap, they are regional and temporal, momentary ripples in a deep pond. Then we toss in the boulder of the Internet: the pond is annihilated and you’re just soaked, it’s in your mouth and your eyes and dribbling out of your hair.
8. SUPER DEEPTHROAT V1.13B
One of the very convincing arguments that internet sexuality is not innocent is the exploitation and objectification of male and female sex workers. Past the ongoing debate about whether or not pornography as a genre dehumanizes the men and women who perform in it, porn on the internet does not, in many cases, pay the actual person who has engaged in sexual activity for the benefit of others; when it does, the pay is rarely fair. This is even worse in the case of the increasing number of teenagers and young adults whose private sexual material has been leaked or stolen, and uploaded along with all the other porn. Any click—especially on the new video porn tubes that create a kind of pansexual mulch out of all their rehosted video—could be the commission of a crime. Look more carefully at your amateur porn. Does that couple seem like they’re planning to sell their tape to YouJizz? Look at the bedroom behind the girl fellating her boyfriend on the bed—is it frilly? Is it 19-year-old frilly, or 15-year-old frilly? Is that a Miley Cyrus poster?
For those whose sexuality includes empathy—the ethical sluts and white knights and humanist masturbators out there—this is an uncomfortable situation. Additionally, the superimposition of information on the Internet means that it’s increasingly easy to find out, for example, that porn starlet Allie Sin is actually Stephanie Draheim, who did her first movies as a means of survival after aging out of the foster care system in Flint, Michigan. The current system tells us less than ever about our pornography while we are masturbating to it—where it came from, how it was made—and far more than ever while we are not masturbating to it. This is not a sustainable system: as was true in agriculture a decade ago, we lack the practice of responsibly sourcing our pornography from well-paid owner-operators who have basic economic rights. It does not take many encounters with online narratives written by our porn stars’ child welfare case workers before we desire a change.
The solution—well, less a solution than something that happens next—is the cartoon simulation of sex. Super Deepthroat is a free, downloadable Flash game in which you use your mouse to force a customizable cartoon female to throatfuck a customizable male penis. You can change her hair color, facial features and body shape. You can turn her tears on and off, and adjust her propensity to retch. You can select her dialogue and affect from a list: insecure and eager to please, nymphomaniac, kidnap victim. At the same time that we free ourselves from the brutalizing habits of the porn industry and anonymous porn aggregators, we free ourselves to enjoy near-infinite, abstract brutalization. We will enjoy it like children, who assume that there will be no negative repercussions to their actions, who always already live in a story.
Super Deepthroat seems to update three to four times a month: it has a robust and engaged user community that is always suggesting improvements, and donating time and money. Last month, the code for the man penetrating the woman’s mouth has been improved so that the user can determine the size of his testicles. The whole thing is freaking ridiculous, right up until you press the space bar and jam her down on your dick and her eyes roll back.
9. QUIZ QUESTION NUMBERS FOUR AND FIVE: A HYPOTHETICAL
Let’s say you are the parent of a 15-year-old gay male. Which set of experiences would you prefer that teenager to have?
A: Your son is closeted at school, except for one or two close friends, none of whom are potential boyfriends. He knows almost nothing about being gay except the urban-legend reputation of a particular wooded area in a nearby public park. One night, emboldened by three Miller Lites and six months of abstract fantasies, he finally gets up the nerve to go and has a terrifying mutual JO session with a 45-year-old substitute high school teacher who has driven into town from a distant suburb for precisely the purpose of meeting men in the park. Your son swears to himself that he’s never going to do it again, but he does.
B: Your son is completely closeted at school, but out online, where he chats anonymously with other gay teenagers and gay adults posing as gay teenagers. He knows exactly what a condom is and how to use it, and intends on waiting until college to hook up with his first boyfriend. He has a terrifyingly large collection of pornography on his computer. He is particularly drawn to a video series made in Czechoslovakia, in which completely beautiful, completely hairless straight teenage boys are paid to act as gay bottoms for cartoonishly endowed African-American porn stars. He knows that many of these boys have falsified their ages to appear in these movies, that Czechoslovakia has high unemployment, and that an unknown amount of the discomfort they show in their videos is real. He swears that he’ll delete the whole collection as soon as he has a real boyfriend, but he doesn’t.
And question five: which one of these boys is an innocent?
10. GIRLWOMAN B AND MANBOY A
As far as I can tell, more men than women engage in sexual activity online (which is why this essay leans too far towards male experience). This led, in my young adult life, to several instances of the following general narrative: man A, a longtime user of internet pornography and explicit chat, enters into relationship with woman B, who has had zero or one sexual partners, and a fantasy life that centers around explicit passages in books and/or experiences that she is unwilling to talk about (because they are embarrassing, or have to do with another partner). Woman B is incredibly nervous; Woman B compares herself against the no-fluids, homogenized sex depicted in the movies; Woman B is pretty sure that there is something weird and wrong about her; Woman B has fantasies that she cannot cop to. Man A is able to be elaborately reassuring. No, there is nothing so strange about Woman B. No, there will not be so much blood the first time. Yes, people fart while they have sex. No, that particular fantasy or interest or predilection is not wrong. What becomes clear eventually, in insinuation if not in open conversation, is that Man A can do this in part because he has seen pimply, middle-aged Brazilians ecstatically humping German Shepherds in videos that they make themselves, and then distribute out of the sheer joy of it. He has seen virgins have sex for the first time on camera — fakes, he hopes, but designed to be convincing. He’s seen unintentional and intentional sex farting. If she surprises him with something he hasn’t seen, he looks it up. After the lines of communication open to a certain extent, the question changes from what is wrong with Woman B to what is wrong with Man A. Questions about impulse control and trustworthiness that come from the same source: does Man A needWoman B for sexual purposes, or doesn’t he? Can a real partner compete with a world of fantasy?
11. FINGERPAINTING IN FLESH TONES
Because it dissociates the meat of sex—around which we have created generations of legal precedent about what exactly you can and can’t do with another person’s body—the ethics of the world of Internet sexuality is closer to the ethics of art. The ethics of art are different than the ethics of meat: we hang Manet’s Olympia in plenty of rooms where we would be uncomfortable entertaining a nude prostitute.
The effects brought about by the causes of art are obscure. Did Wagner operas embolden the Third Reich? What did the kids at Columbine listen to? Does pornography cause rape? Nobody knows—and I mean this literally, as in “people who tell you that they know the answer are mistaken or lying.” We are like children in this way: driven towards all manner of experience by forces we do not understand, ignorant of the domino of outcomes, at first we know only whether a thing is pleasurable and whether it is frightening.
This is visible in the way in which sexuality on the internet reaches for our most elemental experiences. Furries—people who are attracted to, or attracted to being anthropomorphized animals—are clearly an outgrowth of the incredible amount of Disney and other cartoon animal animation consumed by children who grew up between 1960 and 1990. Now there is an (admittedly small) group of Zentai fetishists, people who eroticize the wearing of skin-tight, full-body garments: the result of years engaged with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. There are an uncountably large number of Internet image files that depict the characters of Pokemon (the animals themselves included) coupling with one another.
What has happened to us, and what will happen to us, is not clear. The record of Internet sexual culture is like the one painting on the kindergarten wall that seems dramatic, violent, important—the mark of a child who has deep trauma, or a broad imagination, or both.
12. ALLISAE’S DREAM WOMB
I once encountered a character on a furry fantasy roleplaying game—by which I mean a fictional character created and acted out by an anonymous user of an elaborate text-based chat program—who I will call Allisae. Allisae was a feline-human hybrid (white fur, human hands, cat whiskers) and a hermaphrodite (a penis, a vagina, two rows of four teats, and a set of gender-neutral pronouns) with a breeding and pregnancy fetish. When shi had sex with online partners, shi would immediately become pregnant, and would then role-play the pregnancy with those partners. But Allisae did not have a regular womb: inside hir belly was what shi called a dreamtime, a special region of imaginative control that allowed hir to accelerate, slow, and branch off each new insemination and pregnancy. If you made hir pregnant, and then shi wanted to be made pregnant again by you (or more likely, someone else), shi would branch your plot and your pregnancy off from the act of mating with hir next partner. If you wanted hir to be eternally pregnant, shi would be pregnant for you every time you met hir. Shi could have a baby or a litter or give birth to whatever in the space of five minutes: shi could then choose to have those children grow to adulthood (or teenhood, as per request) immediately, so as to join in the next round of breeding.
Functionally, these are all things that the technology of role-playing games allows: you can change your self-description at will, so if you decide to be pregnant, you are, quick as that. If you can get your partner to pretend that you’re both making out with your miraculously full-grown child, then that’s what “happens” as much as anything happens. Allisae had mythologized and fetishized these capabilities by drawing them into hir own fictive body. She was a sexual entity whose genitalia was an imagination.
As a community, our new sexual body also contains this dream womb, this nightmare organ. What comes from it is something we create and which we are responsible for, but which we do not understand.
13. WELCOME TO DIAPER TIME
I understand that it’s likely that the readers of this essay do not interact with thewhole of Internet sexuality, because you are not sexually driven to experience every single bit of it. Perhaps there is only one thing—a kind of image, a situation, a type of story or a particular genre of dating profile—that you find exciting online, or perhaps you haven’t found it yet, or perhaps you’ve never looked and you never will. Your presence and your choices are part of the online experience: we who engage in one or another queerness on the Internet feel and know that there are many people who would never do such a thing, or lack the capability.
Similarly, though, as we move forward you will come to feel—either through the offline media, or your personal relationships, or just cultural osmosis—the presence and experience of those who are queer on the Internet. Sexuality is community: the virgin exists in relationship to the slut, the gay to the straight, and we define each other in part through our relative positions in a large cultural field. It is always diaper time somewhere.
I don’t have an argument about what this new infrastructure for queerness means: as sexualities go, it is a newborn baby. We—you included, no matter what your personal sexual activity is like—are writing it as we go. We are doing so, individually and as a community, without knowing the possible outcomes, ignorant and innocent like children. We have been born as isolate dreamers, alternately creators of and slaves to our dreams in a tight, obsessive circle. Even these closed experiences, though, may center at a similar set of questions: are you there? May I touch you? When will we meet?
Article: Nicholas Hiromura
Endnotes to an Ode on a Grecian Urn
Illustration: Wesley Ryan Clapp
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