Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Inside Us: Poetry Scene’s Insidious Manlove: Case Study

What the fuck? Here’s the deal: I like men. I like women. I am in love with several men; not any sexy love… not yet. I am in love with several women; not any sexy love, either… not yet. But there are major differences in how I perform my loves for men and women, which I think is normal, which is to say, average, i.e. common but not necessarily proper. What I’m getting at is this: it’s not that I engage in women-disloving, but that, like some other young male poets today, I admit, I suffer from gratuitous manlove (and it’s recently started to bother my soul).

What I’m talking about here is that tendency between male writers and artists (and maybe athletes and business dudes and all men?) to engage in outward displays of affection and adoration with one another. Some examples as a fuller confession of my trespasses: I have “wooted” hyperbolically at the start of more than one friend’s reading; I called one of my manloves “Teddy Ruxpin” in public; I have kissed many a bald poet-head at after-reading bar parties; I regularly use the acronym “bf” to refer to my closest friend.

Ever since the grossly masculine nature of such gestures was brought to my attention by a fellow poet during a reading many weeks ago, I’ve been haunted by my manloves. And, as in most concerns of my life/thoughts, I have no answers/absolutisms, but only an inventory of my so-far consideration of the matter (madder, manner, men err):

a) Are such semi-sincere, explicit and gratuitous public displays of affection—from hugging and cheek-licking to butt-grabbing and penis-tapping—homophobic? Maybe the answer’s obvious, but I always kinda thought that kissing another man’s face on stage worked at least a little against homophobia (I know it makes my Dad beautifully uncomfortable). Or—talk about obvious— maybe as a hetero, I have a severely privileged perspective on what constitutes as “homophobic”? Or maybe I should just shut my face-hole. Or maybe I shouldn’t be considering specific acts here as much as the whole genre of boys’ club?

b) Why don’t/can’t/couldn’t I engage with female writers in the same manner at readings? I think/hope that my reserve isn’t misogynistic. It’s unclear to me how to traverse that broad line (no pun intended, of course, maybe) of sexual politics. Am I allowed to touch a women-poet on the cheek? With my tongue? If so, bring it! And please don’t mistake the enthusiasm of that exclamation mark for sexy-time antics, but that’s just it. Why am I “allowed” to touch/fondle/kiss manloves? Who gives me permission? And how do I ask for such permission from female colleagues (maybe I just fucking ask)? But maybe that’s the shitty binary of patriarchy: sued-if-you-touch, misogynist-if-you-don’t? Or that’s the problem—nobody needs to give me permission to touch a man because I’m a fucking man and I make the rules, unless you’re a woman (or a judge). So I should be able to just make/defer to new rules, right?

c) So, as a dude, I can reciprocate affection without fear of them being mistaken as sexual? Therefore, it’s a mockery of male-male sexuality (because men are never objects)? Homophonic! -obic! That is, if I were to engage in “manlove” with a woman, might she be disinclined to reciprocate for fear that I take her reciprocation as though she actually means sex-face? But how do I know? Dammit, or maybe it’s all so simple—why don’t I just ask female writers about all this? Or maybe I just did: respond!

AND SO! How to proceed with my life? Honest! Here’s where I think I’ll throw my puppy: towards being more self-eyeing when engaging in manlove with male friends and, instead of ceasing public displays of over-affection altogether, dial it back from a 10 to a 3 or 4, while initiating manlove with more women colleagues and friends, aiming for affection without groping, which will require some practice—trial and much error! So watch out ladies and gents, and beware heterophobia! I’ll try this for a bit, and if it doesn’t work, well… I don’t know. Tell me what’s really going on—I need knowledge and rules! You be the judge, but not the jury (or hangman)! Please teach me the politics of poetry sexy champion proper!


kevin mcpherson eckhoff lives in Armstrong, BC, with his non-poet human-love, Laurel, and his canine-love, Daisy the pit bull. Get this: he once wrote a book called rhapsodomancy. Wowie! Currently, he is exploring the meaning of "lorem ipsum."


georgemurray said...

I found your manlove charming, Eckie, though I didn't get licked. I just try to engage in "love", though. I'm sick of worrying, though I see the need for worry. There's enough of me to go around for everyone, anyway!

Erin Wunker said...

Kevin: Awesome, thank you for this thoughtful, self-reflexive, and wittily written critique.

Gillian said...

Gotta say I'm glad you've never licked me. Actually, I'm glad no one has ever licked me in a poetry context.
Man-love (platonic, fraternal) that I've witnessed at readings is exuberantly exclusive of gay men and women, for the most part, and can be read as enthusiasm for poety but isn't, really. It's a funny sideshow, sometimes. Sometimes it's a not-funny sideshow. It's not just you, it's all over the place.
It doesn't bug me too much but I think you're right to consider these questions (especially because it was fun to read your wonder). Listen, we women and others could get up to such antics, too, who knows why we don't?

gary barwin said...

I didn't realize that I could love anyone but myself at a poetry reading. This changes everything!....................................................................................................Thanks for this (as usual anarchic, social satirical --sat(l)yrical?-- brilliantly witty and insightful piece, Kevin. We can count on if you were a man abacus.

Helen Hajnoczky said...

good post. i think if you lick a woman's face after she finishes a reading it would make it seem like while she's on stage you've been observing her not as a woman writer and an intellectual, but as 'just a girl.' it's probably that women have had to (still have to?) endure a lot of unwanted and inappropriate sexualized or patronizing touching, so that it seems demeaning and not fun to touch women in a vaguely sexualized way even as a joke. so, often, respecting a woman means respecting her right to personal space, and control over her own body. if she welcomes face licking tho, meh. i wonder tho- if men touched women in the same vaguely sexual non-sexual jokey ways as they touch other men, would it be the same? probably not exactly. but if women don't participate in the jokey boy touching, then they're left out. so you're either sort of having your space and dignity invaded, while trying to act like one of the guys, or you're being excluded as a prude, or something. this whole thing reminds me of anecdotal stories about hockey team dressing rooms. hmm.

gary barwin said...


I agree with what you've said. Actually, I read Kevin's post as a problematization of the issue of gender in Poetanada. I'd don't think he meant actual licking (O Kevin, I defy you to kiss my bald head, O lippy Western smoochomancer!) but just to examine the role that gender plays in such situations. For men, this issue can be a bit invisible or at least not considered.

Bernadette said...

A hug I'll take. A smooch on the cheek, I'll take. A high five, a handshake, yep, yep. But literally, a lick? Ugh! That's just gross and reminds me of the creepy family friend who'd give quarters to the girls who let him kiss them on the lips. And he'd slip in the tongue. I got a poem out of it. My social worker friend says that today it'd be considered to be sexual assault of a minor.

Helen Hajnoczky said...

Gary- I just thought I'd seize upon the face licking as a good example, but I think we're in agreement, yes. But I must ask- are you absolutely sure kevin doesn't want to lick all of our faces? ;)

Gillian said...

the latest Open Letter (14:4) has reference to this 'homosocial' behaviour in Jason Weins' piece on Bowering (p. 36). timely and timeless, I guess, plus very BC.

Lemon Hound said...

Thanks Gillian. Alas, not very BC, or only BC. And it's funny above, but the implications for women are fairly serious actually. The dudes in the sauna thing goes back to the Romans. Women can show up at the events, but they're never *in* on the jokes...

kevin mcpherson eckhoff said...

Thanks for engaging!

GM: You don't know badly I wanted to pinch your face-cheek erotically; age and gender are both direct currents.

Gillian/Bernadette: I'll be happy to cease licking and focus on free hugs for everyone, for now!

Gary and Helen: For the record, and without betraying my preceding promise, I'd be happy to lick anything, anytime. Thank you for participating in the conversation and in the eventual conversion of power from few to many!

LemonH: How to create a sauna-world wherein EVERYONE towelwhips
EVERYONE else unselfconsciously, without "in" jokes, but with much laughter?

Lemon Hound said...

Good question, Mr. I think awareness of the sauna is a good start.
Nice Chihuahua.

Daniel Zomparelli said...

The man love and butt grabbing humour can implicitly be homophobic, but if one man is homosexual (such as me) then it becomes bromosexual, and that's like totally fine. I await my kisses.

Great post!

nikki reimer said...

I wish I could appear in a loincloth in my own bio photo.