Oh Tracy Morgan! A couple of days ago you let loose a homophobic standup routine and then quickly appologized. I’m interested in the ideas you expressed before the apology. Here is one ugly nugget worth further discussion:
Tracy then said he didn’t f*cking care if he pissed off some gays, because if they can take a f*cking dick up their ass… they can take a f*cking joke.
Six thoughts come to mind about this expression:
1. This is a common idea. I’ve heard this joke performed by two other comedians. Katt Williams delivers a sweaty version. Similarly, I seem to remember Andrew “Dice” Clay looking arrogantly at the audience before exclaiming something similar. (Forgive my memory, it’s been at least a decade since I watched ‘the dice’). It’s commonality of usage might suggest it is worth examination.
2. It is a backhanded insult. While one might argue that the intent was to suggest that gay men are strong and resilient, the justification (reasoning) for this is because men can withstand being penetrated by a penis. It is valuable to be familiar with this kind of foolishness, a lot of racist, sexist crap comes out in so-called compliments.
3. At the core is the idea that the penis, used for sex, is a tool of punishment. Particularly, it is suffering to be penetrated. Consider the difference between “giving dick” and ‘taking dick.” It seems like the person-who-penetrates/person-who-is-penetrated split is central to the idea of disempowerment in this act. I’ve heard folks use this kind of language around tax time: “The IRS f*cked me in the ass!” Sporting events and political races get similar conversational violence.
4. It is not just penetration, but penetration of men which is implied to be particularly demeaning. It is explicitly gay male sex referenced in Tracy Morgan’s joke. This speaks to male paranoia and gender policing — the investment, surveillance and communications that remind men to act like other men (or the fictional uber-man). Central to the terrible homophobia of ‘taking the dick’ is the idea of men as penetrators and others (women, children, and other men) as penetrated. Jokes like these help to constitute the intellectual fabric in which we have to exist.
5. One potentially valuable reading is to shatter the central dichotomies about maleness presented in the joke. If we can name the essentialist assumption ‘penis+penetration=punishment’ then we can start to talk about how those ideas impact our daily lives. Including shifting the discussion from male/male penetration to speak more broadly to include heterosexual penetration.
Quite a few thoughtful people have pointed out that heterosexual humping-with-penis often hurts. Like painful. Acknowledging that this is a bit of a jump, I do think it is valuable to lay these two ideas next to each other. For one thing it might be valuable to remind heterosexual folks that the representation of disempowerment tied to gay sex might be also be associated with the sexism in heterosexual sex roles. ♣
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not into guilt about sex. I’m into reducing guilt through reflection and discussion. There is a healthy feminist lesson in the flash of the reaction to Tracy Morgan’s homophobia. It might be to challenge the prevailing discourse which makes Morgan’s joke ‘funny.’ IN order to do that we need to follow though the logic.
6. Sex doesn’t have to hurt.
Check out the Crunk Feminist collective on the likely unpleasantness of sex under patriarchy. The article itself is titled “A message to Women Who Frequently Have Horrible, Rushed Sex,” perhaps these ideas can give insight into the rest of our discussion.
Here’s a bold truth: I don’t enjoy penetration of any kind unless I’m wet enough to drown a dolphin. And this truth wouldn’t be a problem if sex weren’t always about penetration. One sex therapist put it best when she said, “If most women don’t have orgasms during ‘sex,’ but do have orgasms, perhaps we need to redefine sex.”
The article is a passionate advocacy for wet, woman-centered sex. Stupid people will argue that feminists hate sex, and that we are prudes or whatever. Crap. The feminist alternative to Tracy Morgan’s notion of the dick as punishment can only really be found with the help of some feminist insight. I honestly don’t think that most guys want to hurt the people that they have sex with. But changing this representation might mean men reflecting about men’s expectations of sex.
Now the Crunk feminist collective have a much less essentialist view of men and their dicks. It isn’t just about what you have, but how you act with that dick.
Since then, sex for me has been a series of negotiations. I know there will usually be a moment when a male partner is ready for penetration and often, that is before I’m ready/ comfortable/ wet / aroused enough. If sex were not a personal expression of political power, these moments would be no more than awkward. It would be like leaning in for a hug first only to find that the other person was disinterested. The problem is that men in a patriarchy are socialized to “lean in” first– always. And those who are not conscious enough to interrogate this socialization begin to believe that leaning in is their right, their privilege. So awkward moments can become coercion, assault, or rape. Or just horrible sex. But you know that already.
What you may not know is that with time, the right partner, patience and negotiation, it gets wetter. Believe you me.
Unlike Tracy Morgan, whose words lock in a toxic idea of male sexuality, the Crunk Feminist Collective invites ALL people to think about patience and negotiation during sex. Here is to communication, ethical eros and pleasure!
Tracy Morgan has apologized, but I think that the brief moment of logic exposed in his words can help us to better understand how ideas gender our lives. I refute the idea that the apology signifies a closure (‘aw leave him alone, he apologized!’) rather it is a reminder that the power expressed is visible and the meaning of words can be contested. The apology/justification are almost always the best place to begin the inquiry.
REFLECTION ON PRACTICE:
What a silly post! To respond to a stand-up comedian with a lengthy series of numbered arguments seems ridiculous. In my defense I tend to have to think through moments of hateful language — to unpack the ideas present in what they actually said and how I make sense of it. Often these expose some of the vulnerable ideas upon which they rest, hopefully giving me a chance when the ideas come up in conversation.
♣ A brief comment on S&M. This text is not intended to slight those who experience sexual fulfillment by making sex and gender roles more visible. Safe and consensual are the only two standards I believe in for sex.