[iDC] netporn midlife crisis?

Jordan Crandall jcrandall at ucsd.edu
Sat Nov 10 10:40:13 UTC 2007

6 scenes

1. Bar

I am standing at the doorway of a bar, in a strange city. A flight delay
has caused me to miss my connection, and I am stuck here for one night. I
am excited by the unique pleasure that this affords: that of being a
complete stranger, in a city that I have never before visited. To be the
mystery person, the screen upon which fantasies are projected. I step
through the doorway of the bar with a swagger, then pause to scan the
room. As if a stage actor in a solo scene, I do not meet the gaze of
anyone in particular. By not looking, I invite others to look. Due to the
fact that am alone, I invent a form of distributed companionship -- a
timeless consort who is everyone and no one, everywhere and nowhere. A
Knowingness that is above and beyond the here-and-now. This is not
intended to be read as arrogance, but rather, a potent combination of
presence and absence, availability and disinterest. Anything less would
dissolve the screen. Slowly and with confidence, I walk to the bar, while
absorbing the scene, mapping the space. I sip my drink and then almost
spill it, due to the startling appearance of an enormous, lascivious drag
queen, who now looms above me. She points a long, red-painted nail at me
and gives me the Call. With a parting of heavily painted lips and a
commanding, heavily-lashed stare, she intones: You! I offer some
resistance, then succumb. I am whisked away into a back room. I am
instructed in the new rules of the game, along with four other recruits. I
am now a Contestant. The drag queen stumbles out into the bar on shaky
heels, arms aflail. A breathless introduction ensues. The Contest has
begun. The bar crowd, which has now become an audience, applauds wildly.
One by one, each of us enters onto the rickety, makeshift stage clad only
in our underwear, as the drag queen, now wielding a bucket, hurls water at
us. We then work the crowd and solicit applause. To win this game, one is
expected to manage some degree of erection. If no degree of hardness is
possible, the wet underwear simply clings to the contours of the groin and
produces a small, unappealing mound. In this case, one must attempt to
fool the eye, in the grand tradition of the dancer, the courtesan, the
magician. What is sexuality if not a conjuring trick? Desire requires a
labyrinth. I know the moves from watching others, and I make these moves
work for me. I become someone I’m not. Yet perhaps I become more of the
person that I really am? The answer depends upon who, ultimately, I am
acting for, and the stakes that have been thereby raised. Stripped nearly
naked, a stranger in a strange town, with no social profile to uphold,
there is nothing much to lose. Yet there is certainly an amorphous judge
for whom I act. The audience is simply one dimension of it, the drag queen
its obscene face.

2. Sauna

I am in the sauna at the gym, relaxing after a workout. A man sits across
from me. He stares at my crotch for as long as appropriate, given the
protocols of sauna life, then looks away. A few beats later, his gaze
returns, sweeping across my body, circling around my midsection, resting
upon on the bulge cast by my penis. I am not erect, yet I feel the
stimulation of his gaze. I do not return his look, and so he must operate
surreptitiously. Yet I am aware of his gaze; I do not block it. He senses
this, and it affords him a certain level of permission. The dance
continues. The atmosphere heats up. He subtly lifts his towel to show his
hardness. He expects me to reciprocate, but I do not. Failing to rouse me,
he offers a question: Can I touch you? I am momentarily stunned by his
eruption into speech, and by his directness. Cruising is generally a
nonverbal endeavor; when it does involve dialogue it is indirect, at least
at first. I respond in the negative. At this point there are few avenues
left to him. Quietly, he studies his options. He looks at me, looks down
at my groin, looks at me again, then quietly asks: Can you show me? At the
onset of this question, I feel a jolt of sexual excitement. So direct, so
genuine. So powerful in its simplicity. The basic question that every
child wants asked, summoned by every plea of Look at me! I briefly
consider lifting my towel and offering myself to his gaze. Yet had I
succumbed, the question would have lost all its power and resonance. I
preferred to hold onto it. I held onto the query of Show Me, keeping it
under wraps, heated, sweating, in an ambiguous state of arousal, like the
concealed region of my body to which it referred.

3. Nightclub

The VIP room, tucked in the back of a large nightclub. People coming and
going, making deals, hanging out. A very tall and narrow space with spot
lighting that, due to the heat and cigarette smoke, generates a milky
haze. I am standing in this room, shirtless. A club promoter, who I had
only just met that evening, pulls my pants down, lowers himself to his
knees, and takes me into his mouth. He works on me with quiet
determination. My skin, slick with oil and sweat, shines under the
spotlights. I spread my arms straight out to my sides in a gesture of
surrender, or of heroic conquest -- though with my pants bunched at my
feet, I hardly look like a champion. Yet somehow I do seem privileged: the
chosen one, anointed. The promoter kneels before me in a position of
subservience, and this offers me the feeling of dominance. Yet, at the
same time, I am the one who is vulnerable, weakened though the public
display of my nakedness and hardness. Strength and weakness, private and
public, back and forth: the promoter works on me with the regularity of a
machine. Five minutes? One hour? Awash in the moment, time and space are
warped. The volume of the room expands. The pleasure spreads through my
body and into the social space around me; or rather, it comes from the
outside in, circulating through me and back out into the social
environment. If identity is social, coming from the outside, then perhaps
pleasure is too. Is that why masturbation is never enough? One always
wants a stage. Sometimes it is onset through the simplest means: a lens, a
text message, a glance. Desire requires an architecture, whether real or
imaginary. Secret spaces, performative arenas, labyrinths. Ways of
looking, ways of attracting, ways of belonging. The nightclub is one such
construct. One might go there for the possibility of sex, but after a
time, the sexual act itself becomes pointless. It is public-ized,
promoted, distributed throughout the connective space that the
architecture creates. And this is ultimately why we sign on.

4. Hotel

My hotel room is perched at the intersection of two freeways, and, with
the window open to let in the hot summer air, I can hear the comforting
hum of traffic. I have just gotten out of the shower and am starting at
myself in the mirror, deciding whether or not to shave. I hear a knock on
the door: it must be room service. With a towel around my waist, I open
the door for the waiter, who wheels in my breakfast cart. He nervously
fusses with the plates and flatware. I sign the check and thank him. He
opens the door to exit the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice
that he is closing the door very slowly, in order that he can watch my
reflection in the hallway mirror. Momentarily, I glimpse the raw desire in
his eye. Does his desire arise because of, or in spite of, the limits
placed upon it -- by the social contract, and by his employer? Still in my
towel, I take my breakfast plate from the cart and walk over to the chair.
As I approach the seat, I realize that my towel has loosened. I am holding
the plate with both hands and so I do not catch the towel. Rather, with
confidence, I let it fall. Standing, plate in hand, I feel the gaze of the
waiter upon me. I keep my back toward the door so as to bask in the
familiar glow of this look. Like the warm sunshine beaming in from the
window, cast against my skin, It affords me a blanket of comfort. Yet at
the same time it dispossesses me. Centeredness and dispersal, life and
death, as part of the same circuit. I sense the struggle is which he is
engaged -- how long can he remain, peering through a gap in the door,
before he is discovered, whether by me, another hotel guest, or his boss?
Embodying the struggle, he monitors himself. A space of tension has opened
up, a gap that only assumes its potency through the impending threat of
its closure, and of its subject's exposure. Perhaps his body takes shape,
as mine does, through the contouring properties of this space. It informs
him, gives form to him. Like the billowing curtains, shaped by the morning
breeze -- arising only because of the wind channel established by the open
window and the cracked door. Self-consciously, I stand there, and slowly
begin to eat from my plate. The clacking of my fork beats time like a
metronome, as the erotic energy -- always compositional, rhythmic --
circulates through the room with the hot summer air.

5. Studio

I am in my underwear, reclining in a makeshift bed, leaning back against
the wall. My left knee is slightly raised, my legs provocatively spread
apart. The position has been determined so as to accentuate the fill of my
briefs, my penis and testicles falling to the right, with attention given
to the contours they thereby produce. In actuality, I can only see my
position from my own vantage point. Yet I know from experience what will
look best, and in this sense I can see myself from the outside. My body is
positioned with attention to line. My muscles are flexed, though only
slightly, so as not to appear too rigid or eager. The ideal: an attitude
of utmost confidence and ease, of fully inhabiting my sexual power, though
in an open way, so that others can share in it too. Not a barricaded
sexuality, but a playful, circuitous one. My pose in place, my gaze
connects with the artists in the room, all of whom are now beginning to
draw me. Their eyes move between me and their sketch pads, repeatedly,
back and forth. They project their fantasies on me. I feel them, I can see
these fantasies in their gazes, and this affects me, arouses me. I meet
their gazes, lingering on each of them. The attention is reciprocated. It
volleys between us. We meet within this ambiguous space of arousal.
Drawings take shape there. I have a role in these drawings; I help
structure the erotic circuit through which they are produced. Yet I make
no claims on them. I simply want to be fully present in the process
itself. To completely inhabit the generating network. Not to reinforce my
body (or self), but rather, in a sense, to displace it -- to generate an
excess that always exceeds it. Ultimately it is this space of invention
that interests me, rather than the drawings that result. They do not
reveal so much as conceal.

6. Subway

I am riding the subway one night. It is very late, after the clubs have
closed but before the sun has started to rise. A few people sit quietly in
the jostling car. All of us, quite obviously, have indulged quite a bit in
drinking, dancing, or simply prowling the streets. Once dominating the
night, shaping it to our pleasures, we now surrender to it dutifully,
sitting docile in the subway car. We simply want to get to bed. One of the
passengers is a drag queen. Her makeup is a bit smudged, and her hair
askew, but otherwise she is impeccably dressed. Now spent, she struggles
to maintain her composure. At times, sleep claims her, and her head falls
to the side. Then, as her head begins to sink too low, she catches herself
and abruptly sits bolt upright, adjusting her wig and smoothing her dress.
This struggle plays out for several minutes. Down. Up. Down. Up. Soft.
Erect. We’ve all been there, I think. But never have I seen this struggle
carried out with such determination. In the liminal space between night
and morning, between masculine and feminine, she struggles to maintain the
performance. Never has the struggle to perform the feminine -- or the
masculine, for that matter -- been more clearly manifest. In this sleepy
hour, when one would otherwise think the act was over, the labor of
performing one's identity increases. The struggle never ends. There is no
audience, but there is always the potential one -- the chance that at any
time a glimpse might be taken of us. Should this happen, we want to be
ready. Rehearsed.

Jordan Crandall

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