This is our truth, tell us yours
This is a blog written by an unrepentantly bisexual man who ends up being described as straight because that is how the world sees him. On the day that another man has committed mass murder it’s important to be clear about what I am, and what I’m not.
I am an odd confection of a man. My emotional side, right now, wants to find the local mens rights activist and punch him in the face. My human side knows that the women I love and care about don’t need another man doing the ‘not all men’ riff. I know, better than anything I know, that not biting as soon as a story hits the news is the healthiest option – the Elliot Rodger story becomes much more complicated once his dead flatmates get written into the text.
The feminists I care about don’t need me to be an ally, or an advocate; their project is not about me. It’s not my job to tell other people why they should trust me – trust is earned, not asserted.
Elliot Rodger killed seven people because, he claimed, women didn’t want to have sex with him. He apparently asserted that he was a virgin, and would take his revenge on the women who spurned him, because he was a 22 year old virgin in a community where sexual prowess was much prized.
I have a problem believing that’s the whole story.
I’ll tell you why.
Through my affection for Jem, and all the other lovely sex workers who let me share their lives, their tweets and their politics, I know that the sexual experience is a negotiable commodity. Or, to put it another way, if you’re desperate to have sex with someone, all you need is some cash and some knowledge of where to go. So if you want to find a cause, an issue to tackle, Elliot Rodger’s crimes might also be evidence of how pernicious whorephobia can be. However, given that paid sex apears to have been outside Elliot Rodger’s frame of reference, let’s address this on his terms. Elliot Rodger, apparently, regarded himself as having a problem picking up women.
Now, this man professses no particular expertise on picking up women. If I did, I’d probably have, as our first rule, Charlie Brooker’s third rule of the internet. Don’t be a dick.
Part of what I don’t get is quite why people in the USA think picking up women is something that needs so much attention. Is it really something that is at the heart of what’s wrong between men and women? Hardly. And yet, in the USA, there are TV programmes and intense conversations about how to pickup women, about tactics and strategies.
According to one blog “The pickup artist community, composed mostly of males who’ve turned to its techniques because they don’t have finely tuned social skills, in fact teases people with bad intentions, or so I’m led to believe by the e-mails that they’ve sent me.” Apparently “by their own account, the “pickup artist” uses the neg to “knock a woman off her pedestal” so that she’s “on the same level” as the beta male trying to pick her up.”
I haven’t a clue if Conor Friedersdorf, who wrote that epic analysis of negging, would consider me an alpha, beta or gamma male. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t give a shit, either. The blog on which his article appears is not likely to be a regular visiting place for me, but let’s have a think about the idea of being a pickup artist.
Bear in mind I’m writing as a man who likes sex, and can have sex whenever he wants, with someone he cares about deeply. Yes, me. I’m a wanker, dear reader. If I can’t have the sex I want with someone else, I’ll have it with myself. All it takes is a little imagination,and, sometimes, a little lube.
This helps with what would be the second rule of being a pickup artist if we had rules. Don’t be desperate. I speak not just as a man who can have great sex whenever he wants it, but as a man who has spent many years in what we Brits call HVVDE’s – High Volume Vertical Drinking Establishments. Clubs, bars, I’ve worked in many of those places where reckless drinking is the vertical prelude to a horizontal intention.
I learned at quite an early age that if you pick up women in bars when they’ve been drinking you might end up with their legs over your shoulders, or the contents of their stomach all down your back. Not a good choice, and a risky game – there is something especially sad, as I may have said before, about having to search someone’s house for something with the address on so you can phone for a taxi before they wake up. The prospect of getting informed consent from someone who’s intoxicated is also, I have to say, remote.
Being desperate for sex is a strange phenomenon anyway. It’s a problem that can be solved in lots of ways. Picking people up in bars is only one of them. It may not even be the best, or the most reliable. However, it’s marketable, both on reality TV and by pickup artists. I have a theory. It’s probably not original. I think most pickup artists are more concerned with how they’re perceived by other men, than with the sex they might or might not be getting. They hope that, by picking up women, they can make themselves look more like ‘alpha males’.
It’s possible, too, that Conor Friedersdorf, by denouncing pickup artists as beta males is asserting his own status as a ‘true alpha male.’ You never know, he may even believe he gets better and more fulfilling sex as a result. You go for it Conor, and thank you for opening the doorway to the possibility that lots of men are more concerned with their own self-esteem than anything else.
My time in HVVDE’s was spent dealing with men who had all sorts of issues that might have bee rooted in low self esteem. Unhappily, I was sometimes responsible for even lower self esteem on their parts, since nothing makes some frustrated and angry young men feel worse than a good hiding off the bouncers before they make their way home alone. Someone else has to pick up those pieces eventually, and help the young man address the issues that make him measure himself, and his status on the alpha male scale by how much he earns, or who he can pickup, or how much he can drink, or the pricetag on his trousers…
I’m not telling these stories out of any desire to polish my reputation. I’m not even telling them in any ironic kind of way, a sort of look at me and how far I’ve come kind of way. One group of clever men asserting that other men aren’t as clever or as civilized or as desirable as them doesn’t solve a single goddamn problem. It’s just as much dick swinging as the younger me flexing my pecs as I stood on the door, proving that I was, in that HVVDE, at that time THE alpha male. Until the next one came along, that is. If I know anything about measuring yourself against others, and asserting that you are top of the tree, it is that someone else will always come along and challenge that assertion.
The name of the game for all males is not to measure ourselves against others, but to be the best we can be, by our own measures of what matters. In my experience, that has to be the healthiest way to proceed.
I don’t think it’s just about that though. I think it’s also about sex, and why we do it. Once, somewhere in my past, I sucked off a guy who complained that I didn’t say I loved him. Leave aside the cheap jokes about it being rude to speak with your mouth full (although, in truth, it wasn’t that full).
He was right. I didn’t love him. I liked the experience of being able to attract men, and being able to make them come. Far from loving him, from my position on my knees I was judging and assessing him. If I remember him correctly, he lost marks for the y fronts, the faintly off-putting smell of baby powder and the fact that he was struck dumb by the miraculous reality of being sucked off. The point is though that he thought I was performing the act because of something intrinsic to him, and I was actually performing the act because of something intrinsic to me. My sex life got a whole lot better, and less complicated, once I realized that the people who wanted sex with me would be acting out their desires and needs, not merely responding to mine.
Someone told Elliot Rodger that the world would assess him, praise him and hold him in a variable level of regard depending on his ability to persuade women to have sex with him.
Let me correct that. Some men told Elliot Rodger that was how he would be assessed. All men live with that meme, that idea, that we are only the reflection of our sexual prowess.There’s always some fuckwit in your life telling you that his way of having sex or getting sex is the way, the pathway to being a man. Part of that theme is often that paying people to have sex with you doesn’t count. Part of it is that being a man is part of a constant game of assessment and appraisal, the idea that being a man is something that other men determine.
Elliot Rodger could have had sex, quite happily, if only people hadn’t told him that paying people to have sex didn’t count. Or rather, if other men hadn’t told him that alpha males don’t pay to have sex. At this distance, in this confused story of Elliot Rodger and his death wish, it’s impossible to tell if being an alpha male was more important to him than not being a virgin.
I will make an admission here. I sometimes think the world would be a safer place if we shot all the psychopaths who proclaim themselves alpha males. If we shot all the people who proclaim themselves alpha males, on the grounds that they might be psychopaths, I could understand the logic.
It’s other peoples job to go away and think about how hard it can be to be sexually undesirable in a world where all the media you encounter tell you that your value, as a person, is related to how much you are desired.
I know that many women suffer from those sorts of judgements. I think it’s possible that some men also suffer from those sorts of judgements. We have written previously about the same issue on this blog, and probably will again.
I think that it’s possible, in the USA that men who think the gun is a symbol of masculinity might act out a crisis of their masculinity via the gun.
I think that there is no excuse for murdering people because you can’t always get what you want. Even if other men have told you that you are less of a man because you can’t get what they claim to be getting, there’s no excuse.
Right now, a lot of people are making a lot of claims about how the murders in Santa Barbara prove this point or that. I refuse to join in.
I know that as a man, I’m complicit in some of the culture that led Elliot Rodger to become a murderous bastard. All I can do to put that right is tell people, as often as I can, where I think the likes of Elliot Rodger have gone wrong.
Here’s my take on sex, and where guys like Elliot Rodger go astray. They’ve been brought up in a culture where, for men, sex is something you get. I believe the opposite. Sex is something you give to those who want to receive the gift.
Jem wrote beautifully the other day about us having sex. She touched on the thorny subject of who we are when we have sex. The thing I bring to the occasion of sex more than anything else is my peace, and my calmness. Whether it’s good sex or bad sex, I will walk away the same person as I arrived – albeit it often with a huge smile on my face. Of course people construct their own version of me out of my drives and personality, but the fact that someone sees me as their daddy or their master or ‘sir’ is entirely fantastic, in the sense that it is a construct of their fantasies and desires. The only way I can safely be those people that my partners desire is to know that the role, the designation, the pleasure and the risk, is about them and their desires, not me as a person. Being able to share my peace and calmness, my willingness to pursue risk and pleasure is not a measurement of how good a man I am, just a way of being at peace with myself. If I never had sex again, my peace and my calmness would remain intact.
One thing we can say with certainty about Elliot Rodger. He was not at peace with himself. As a society, as a world, we have to acknowledge that we made him that way. Today is a good day to be a man who says we should make peace with ourselves before we try to make love with others.